Good morning – As you know, we’ve been looking at four words that we often see a lot around Christmas, in advertisements, they are in the Christmas carols we sing, no doubt you have a stack of Christmas cards on your kitchen counter or somewhere that has some of these words on them, but these words are Hope, Joy, Love, Peace.
And over the Advent season here, we’ve been talking about these words one at a time, because each one of those words are found in the Bible. Those aren’t words the advertisers made up. These are words with a deep and rich history, and we’ve set out to see what they mean from God’s point of view.
I won’t go back and recap all of those for you – you can check them out on our website, which is where all of our past sermons live – but today we come to the last of these words, which is probably the most popular of them all, in terms of Christmas. And that is “peace.”
I’ve asked you this question before, so for the last time, here it is again: what would you suppose someone who has no desire to follow Jesus, no desire for God’s glory in the world, no zeal for his word or for seeing the nations come to know the truth – what do you suppose that person thinks about when they hear the word “peace”?
I think there are two main ways we use the word “peace” these days:
- The absence of war. If we are not at war with another nation, we would say we have a peacetime President. It used to be a big thing to pray for and talk about world peace.
- We talk about “peace of mind” through health insurance, or retirement accounts, or flood protection, child safety devices, or bomb shelters, or having a firearm in the nightstand, or center console.
I think those are the two main ways we talk about peace. Oxford Dictionary sort of combines those two and says the definition of peace is “freedom from disturbance; tranquility.” So that could be either of the ways we use the word: freedom from political disturbance – the absence of conflict – or freedom from disturbance in our minds – peace of mind.
One more time, I want to go back to the book of Luke, to the birth announcement of Jesus. You’ve no doubt received a birth announcement in the mail before. A friend had a baby, they send you a card with a picture of the baby, the name is there, the birth date is there, weight length sometimes.
But nowhere on this card does it say this child will bring peace. In fact, most of the time when we find out someone is expecting, we tell them the opposite, right – oh, man, are you ready to never sleep again? Are you ready for diapers and car seats and milk and spit up and oh just wait until they start to crawl! Then they become toddlers, and you can never turn your back on them – when the house gets quiet and you know they’re not sleeping, just go ahead and assume they are doing something they shouldn’t be. Oh and just wait until they become teenagers.
That’s usually the conversation that revolves around newborns, right? But here is Jesus’ birth announcement:
- Don’t be afraid. This isn’t a message of fear.
- I bring you good news of great Joy!
- Today your Savior has been born. The Messiah (which means, he’s the king who will crush Satan and bring his kingdom here on earth)
- Glory to God in the highest heaven
- And peace on earth to people he favors.
According to the angels, this child will not bring chaos – he will bring peace. Isaiah 9 calls him the “Prince of Peace.” The leader of a government that is marked by peace.
But here’s the problem with this: If the word “peace” simply means “the absence of conflict” or “freedom from disturbances”, then the angels were full of garbage or Jesus did a terrible job and failed miserably at what he came to do. There is conflict everywhere! There is conflict between races. Conflict between ethnic groups. Conflict between political parties. Wars are going on all the time between tribes. Some of you may have experienced some conflict over the weekend at Christmas dinners, when someone brought up something about masks or vaccines and all of a sudden things turned out a little less peaceful than they were.
If Jesus came to bring the absence of conflict on earth, he was a pretty lousy king. But in Matthew 10:34, Jesus says, “Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
So which is it, Bible? Are the angels right that Jesus came to bring peace on earth? Or is Jesus right that he did NOT come to bring peace, but conflict? Which is it!? If you’re a skeptic of the Bible, you point to this and say “aha! You can’t take the Bible seriously because it contradicts itself.” (Came to bring peace; did NOT come to bring peace)
What if the problem isn’t what’s being said, but how we understand it? What if the problem is with us? What if our definition of “peace” is incomplete?
The angels’ announcement is in two parts:
Glory to God in the highest heaven
This points everything back to the source. The angels are pointing to Yahweh, the Creator of heaven and earth as the instigator of this salvation. This good news is from heaven. This Savior, King, Lord – this baby that has been born is all the working of God. Glory to him! Praise to him! Worship belongs to him! That’s the proper outcome of Jesus’ coming – that his Father gets the glory!
The discussion about what love really looks like that Steve walked you through last week, the discussions about hope and joy in previous weeks all begin with glory to God in the highest. So our discussion of peace starts and ends here as well. This isn’t about glorifying people, or places or governments, or ideas, or things – this is about glorifying God, the maker of heaven and earth, Yahweh, the covenant-keeping God.
In fact according to the prophets, God’s glory filling the whole earth is where everything is headed. That is the chief end of man - to glorify God and enjoy him forever. So whatever peace really is, it points to the glory of God.
Peace on earth
The word peace in the Old Testament Hebrew is the word Shalom, and in the New Testament Greek it’s the word eirene. Both words can refer to the absence of conflict, but they don't stop there. It’s not simply peacetime because there is no war.
You remember how we talked about repentance a couple weeks ago, where it’s like taking off an old pair of shoes and putting on a new pair. It’s not simply saying “I’m sorry for my stealing” it’s also doing something righteous instead, like being generous.
Shalom and Eirene work the same way. It’s not just taking away conflict, it’s putting on harmony and wholeness and blessing in its place.
These words are used in the OT to describe a stone that has no cracks. It is whole. Complete. It has shalom. Or if you have a stone wall where pieces have started to fall out of it and gaps appear in the wall, it has lost its peace – lost its shalom. So to bring shalom is to repair the breach. To restore completeness and wholeness to the wall (Bible Project).
Relationships work the same way. To be reconciled in a friendship or a marriage, to bring shalom is not simply to stop fighting, but it’s to restore wholeness, completeness, to repair the breaches.
Isaiah 9 – The Messiah is the prince of peace; there will be a government marked by peace. The Roman government at the time of the angel’s announcement to the shepherds was a self-described government of peace. Pax Romana, or Roman peace. But that was simply the absence of war. It had nothing to do with wholeness or harmony. They were oppressive and abusive to those under their rule.
This Messiah, however, Isaiah prophesies, will usher in and lead a government that is marked by wholeness and harmony forever and ever.
Jeremiah 16:5 – God’s judgment on a nation was to remove its shalom, to take away it’s harmony and wholeness, which is to let it break down.
Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah would “proclaim shalom to the nations.”
Ezekiel prophesied that God would one day establish an everlasting covenant of shalom with his people, which would eliminate dangerous enemies, but also usher in security and bountiful harvest, with no more famines, no more fear, no more insults from other nations.
So the people of Israel lived in expectation of a coming shalom. Not simply the absence of conflict in their lives or in the world, but harmony with God. Restoration to the brokenness of sickness, disease, sin, sorrow, suffering, enemies. Wholeness.
The angels proclaim, that kind of peace, that shalom, is attached to this baby that you will find in a manger.
To people he favors.
In first-century Judaism, this phrase “to the people he favors” means God’s elect.
If that is a new term to you, God’s elect “refers to the people God has chosen to move toward (through Jesus) who will experience the harmony and benefits that God gives to his own people.” (Bock, 220-221).”
It started with Abraham and his family, which would become the people of Israel: Deuteronomy 7:6 – The Lord your God has chosen you to be his own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth. Why? Not because you were a great nation. But because he set his heart on you and loved you.
In the New Testament, since Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, God’s elect are those he has called from death to life, not because they fear him, but so that they will fear him, believe in his name, and call on him for salvation. The idea here is this:
Sin doesn’t make us bad, it makes us dead. Ephesians 2:1 If that is true, spiritually dead people cannot believe or have faith or pray a prayer of repentance or do anything that honors God unless they have been resuscitated by the Author of life himself once again, like he did with Adam in the garden of Eden.
When God brings you from death to life, you are a new creation 2 Corinthians 5. It is then and there, after God brings you to life, that you can repent and believe and call on his name. The ones God brings spiritually to life are “the people he favors.”
So back to Jesus’ comment that he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection divides the world into saved and not saved; followers of Jesus and enemies of the cross; those who have peace with God and those who are lost.
The good news of great joy is that we’re not all in the lost category! The good news of great joy is that God has taken the initiative and moved toward sinners, softening our hearts, opening our eyes, giving us faith to see what God has done for us so that we respond in faith to him.
Grace is not what you get when you choose to follow and believe in Jesus. If God waited for us to respond, no one would be saved. Grace is what happens so that anyone at all can be saved.
While some of us might really struggle with understanding that or even liking the sound of it, the angels are blowing up the sky over it! They tell us this is good news of great joy that God is choosing anyone at all! This is worth rejoicing over and celebrating!
God has moved toward humans in grace! Not just so you can have fire insurance and peace of mind. But so you can have the same peace toward God that Jesus had!
Just moments before Jesus went to the cross, he stood in a room full of his disciples, and he looked at them and said: “Peace I leave with you.” But this isn’t just the absence of conflict: Then he continued, “my peace I give to you.”
Remember – if peace is not just the absence of conflict, but wholeness and health and completeness, restoration and hope: How much of that would you say Jesus had? How much wholeness did he have? How much completeness? How much hope and joy and love? Overflowing, right?
How much conflict did he have with his Father? None. Zip. Zero.
And he looked at his followers and said that is the kind of peace I’m giving you.
If I’m a disciple in those days, I’m thinking Are you kidding me?! Not only don’t you treat me as my sins deserve, you welcome me into YOUR wholeness!? Not only do you not see me as any enemy anymore – you don’t just end the war – you invite me to the table in YOUR home! Not only do you take my sin away so that you don’t refer to me as a sinner anymore, you’re not ashamed of me for the sin I have committed; you’re not disappointed in me for not getting things right again this week; you’re not brow-beating me or giving me the dirty look so I straighten up, but you’re giving me YOUR perfect track record of never sinning?!! 🤯 You’re giving me YOUR wholeness and harmony with your Father???
“I do not give [peace] to you as the world gives.” This isn’t fire insurance, or conceal carry kind of thing. That’s peace the world gives. That’s peace of mind. Best case scenario is that if something bad happens, you’re taken care of. That’s great. But the kind of peace Jesus gave just moments before being crucified is peace of heart, not just a hopeful solution for potential future problems, but for your confidence is settled and anchored and complete in Jesus Christ as your Savior, Messiah, and Lord today:
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled or fearful.”
And Jesus said, I’m leaving you with that kind of peace. But again, peace is, just like joy and love, is a fruit of The Counselor, the Holy Spirit. Peace, wholeness, completeness, harmony is one of the fruits that will grow in your life as a result of his presence in you. The Holy Spirit intends to grow in you the same fruit of peace that he grew in Jesus.
And now, as a follower of Jesus filled with his Spirit, not only are you given shalom, you bring shalom. Blessed are the “peacemakers” Jesus said. Blessed are the shalom-makers – why? Because where there is peace on earth, there is glory to God in the highest heaven.
This week, one of our family kind of lost their cool at someone else in the family. There was pain inflicted. Tears of hurt. A breach in the wall of that relationship that could have lasting effects. But an hour later, that wall was patched up. That gap was repaired through asking for forgiveness, and forgiveness granted. That’s being a shalom-maker, a peace-maker, seeing the same kind of shalom-making and forgiveness and grace here on earth as it is in heaven.
So next time you see an insurance commercial telling you how you can have peace of mind, you can chuckle and say, oh my, State Farm, you have the discount double-check, but I’ve got peace of heart. Farmers Insurance, you might have seen everything and covered everything, but I have peace of heart. Thank you Liberty Mutual, but you and your emu might be able to give peace of mind, but you can’t give me peace with God – I’ve got that in Jesus, and even if persecution or death or loss come, I’ve got the policy right here in Ephesians 2: that God who is rich in mercy, because of the great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ, even though we were dead in trespasses. I AM SAVED BY GRACE!
He raised us up and seated us with him in the heavens with Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. We’ve been saved by grace through faith; it’s nothing we’ve done for ourselves, it’s God’s gift to us so that we can have peace here on earth, and all the glory goes to God in the highest heaven!
And when I’m on my deathbed and someone says to me “have you made your peace with God”, I can laugh and say, Oh my no – through the blood of his son Jesus, God has made his peace with me. I’ve been seated with Christ in heaven for a long time already.
That kind of peace is only found in Jesus. It’s an outcome of being filled with his Spirit.
If you want all the benefits of God’s shalom – wholeness, harmony, joy, hope in your life and in the world – but you don’t want Jesus, you will never find it. You might enjoy the absence of conflict in your relationships, but the kind of peace with God, the kind of shalom we’re talking about today is only found in acknowledging and believing that God sent Jesus to live a perfect life according to God’s righteous standards in our place because we weren’t. Then Jesus died the traitor’s death we all deserved for our rebellion against a holy God. God accepted Jesus’ death as the final payment for every single sin, by raising Jesus back to life on the third day, and ascending him back to heaven where right now he sits at the right hand of God the Father, praying for you, pleading for you, to know the grace and the peace he offers.
Oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and untraceable his ways!
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? And who has ever given to God that he should be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen.
Bock, Darrell L. 1994. Luke: 1:1–9:50. Vol. 1. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Piper, John, in My Peace I Give to You, a sermon given June 9, 2012 (https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/my-peace-i-give-to-you), accessed December 20, 2021
The Bible Project, Shalom (https://youtu.be/oLYORLZOaZE)