As the youngest child in our family, it was customary for me to read the Christmas story in our home before we opened our gifts. As you might guess, I probably had my mind on the presents under the tree rather than on the words I was reading. Even so, I often was puzzled by the promise of the angel, “Peace on Earth.” Even back then I knew that there was little peace in the world.
I’m sure you know the story. The shepherds are tending their flocks on the outskirts of Bethlehem at night. They are startled when suddenly “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear” (Luke 2:9). The angel calmed the shepherds, assuring them that they were not to be afraid. Soon there was a “multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13-14). This is essentially the same promise made by the Prophet Isaiah who predicted the Messiah would be “The Prince of Peace.”
How does this promise apply to our chaotic and broken world? Watch today’s headlines, and the promise “Peace on Earth” sounds like mockery. The year 2020 will not go down in history as peaceful, given the worldwide pandemic, lawlessness in our streets, racial conflict and ongoing political wrangling. Whether in the United States or in other countries of the world, peace is the exception, not the rule.
How does this promise apply to a family who has lost a loved one to COVID-19, or a homeless teenager, or a heartbroken parent? Peace is a gift we would all like to have, but it seems as if the world has been left to manage as best it can without it.
So, did Jesus bring peace to the world or did He not?
To begin, we must realize that Jesus did what no other teacher or guru has ever been able to do: He alone established peace between us and God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). All other teachers and religious leaders can only suggest we rectify our behaviors; Jesus rectified our relationship with God by removing the sin barrier between us and the only true God whose holiness is beyond our comprehension. And there is more: The redemption that Jesus purchased on our behalf changes our very aspirations; new desires are actually birthed in our hearts by God. This change is supernatural; we are described as being “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Someone has said that every human being fights a “civil war” within. Guilt, anger, fear and disappointment drives people to despair. Or we are plagued with the conflict of human relationships, injustice, selfishness, fueled by hostility and resentment. And yet, in the middle of such unrest comes this promise, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Imagine such a promise in the mouth of Sigmund Freud, or any psychiatrist trying to help anxious and fearful clients. Yet, Jesus spoke these words with authority; the peace He offers is a special gift that only He is qualified to give. This promise of peace is not dependent on our human determination to “think positive thoughts,” nor is it dependent on the improvement of our circumstances. It comes to us from above. It is a divine gift.
But what about the larger question of COVID-19, hurricanes, famine, political deception, injustice and death? Where is there “Peace on Earth”? The answer is that this universal peace is on the way! In the final redemption, nature will be restored, and peace will yet encompass the earth.
This Christmas many of us will again sing, “Joy to the World,” a favorite carol written by Isaac Watts. You might be puzzled over the last stanza, “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness …” Watts wrote those words in anticipation of Christ’s future reign. Dozens of passages, especially in the Old Testament, predict a time when Jesus will indeed rule directly in this world (see Numbers 14:21 and Habakkuk 2:14). The curse of sin will be broken; gone will be war, plagues and natural disasters. He will not be an elected ruler, but He will reign by virtue of who He is; “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Today He brings peace to individuals, but the day is coming when He will bring peace to the nations.
Perhaps you are a Christian and you wonder why you are not experiencing the personal peace promised for us today.
Ask God to help you pinpoint the reason for your fears, your anxiety or distress. Is the cause a sin that needs to be confessed? Or is it a circumstance you can’t control? Here is a promise to claim: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, emphasis added). This peace can be ours even as we struggle with sickness, regrets, loneliness and uncertainty.
If you are not sure of your relationship with God, come to Christ to receive the forgiveness and cleansing promised to repentant sinners. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). And included with that “right” to become a child of God, is the gift of peace.
Be assured, Jesus keeps His promises. ©2020 Erwin W. Lutzer
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
Erwin W. Lutzer is pastor emeritus of The Moody Church in Chicago and is an award-winning author of numerous books.
Photo: AP Photo/Noah Berger