This article was written by Dr. Stan Norman, President of Williams Baptist University
I recently watched an online production dealing with some of the serious problems facing our nation today. Issues such as racism, racial conflict, social/political unrest, economic duress, and so on, were the topics of discussion between the host of the show and his guest. Their treatment of the issues was candid, specific, and in some instances, emotionally raw.
As the program was concluding, the host asked the guest what we as a nation could do to solve all the problems discussed. Without hesitation, the guest said, “Pass more legislation. Pass more laws. We need more laws to heal our divisions and bring peace to our nation.”
I confess I was saddened, though not overly surprised, by this response. The vast majority of people in our world, and especially in our nation, believe that peace can be had through legislation. These individuals believe if we pass enough laws, or the right kinds of laws, with the right kinds of penalties for violating these laws, we will solve our problems, bring goodwill, and establish peace between one another and among the nations.
I remember the days when the Marxist socialism of the former Soviet Union (known as Communism) touted the promise that their political ideology could create real, actual peace among its citizens. And for a generation, it appeared the Soviets had delivered on this promise. Many ethnic groups living under Soviet rule seemed to have set aside previous ethnic hostilities to embrace true, lasting peace. They lived together. They worked together. They socialized together. The promise of the Soviet Union seemed to have achieved its promise of true, lasting peace.
Then, the Soviet Union crumbled. The Berlin wall came down, and the guns came out. The ethnic groups that seemingly had been at peace with one another engaged in horrific, genocidal conflicts and bloody wars against each other. The Soviets may have created a truce, but they had not established peace.
As Christmas 2020 approaches, I find myself regularly asking, where is our “peace on earth to those He favors?” In the midst of a pandemic in which the COVID virus wreaks havoc on our nation and world, where is peace? When many, many families are struggling financially as a result of the economic duress created by the pandemic, where is our peace? In a time when the coronavirus is causing the deaths of so many family members and friends, where is peace? When our churches, our schools, our businesses, our healthcare systems, and other social entities struggle to stay open and function with some semblance of normalcy, where is peace?
In light of these realities, I find comfort and wisdom in at least two biblical truths. First, human effort cannot create true, lasting peace. As one politician has said, all human beings can hope to achieve is an armed neutrality based upon suspicion. This statement, in many ways, applies to many, if not most, of our relationships. I do not look to human effort to bring the kind of peace our hearts yearn to have.
Second, God has done something about our peace problem. God has acted in a decisive, unequivocal way to bring us peace. This is what God did that first Christmas. This is the promise of Christmas.
We are not the first generation to face political, social, and economic problems. We are not the first generation to have a pandemic confront us with our mortality. We are not the first generation to experience racial, political, and social unrest and division. In fact, this was the situation in the first century when God acted in human history to bring us true, lasting peace.
A Universal Desire – Everyone Wants Peace
Peace is a reality that every person longs to have. We hunger for peace. We desperately want peace. We pursue, connive, scheme, and struggle to achieve peace. The reason for this is that, as creatures made in God’s image, we were created for peace. God made us to pursue His peace. Because of sin, however, we do not pursue the right kind of peace and instead seek counterfeit expressions.
The harsh reality of life in this world is that we do not have the peace our hearts long to have. Left to our own devices, peace will always elude us. In our world today, peace seems far from being a “real thing.”
Relationally – our family life, our friendships, and work relationships are marred by conflicts, misunderstandings, hardships, and hurts. There is no peace.
Inwardly – our hearts and souls are filled with pain, disappointments, and regrets. We feel torn and fragmented. Any wholeness or joy we seem to capture is gone as quickly as we get it. There is no peace.
Historically – the story of the human race is a long tale of perpetual conflict and unrest, of unceasing pain, suffering, conflict, and war. There is no peace.
The human race has a tragic record when it comes to establishing peace. We never get it right. We are never successful when it comes to creating lasting, meaningful peace – the kind of peace our hearts long to have. To some degree, we can regulate behavior and create cultural/political pressures that bring momentary reprieves from conflict and hostility. Laws and legislation may help guide behavior, but no human law ever changed a human heart.
Christmas is our celebration of God acting in human history, and acting decisively, to bring His peace to His creation. God’s solution to our peace problem is incarnation. We find the account of bringing us the gift of His peace in Luke 2:8-14.
In that Christmas event, an angel of the Lord was sent by God the Father with a declaration that God has manifested His glory, and that God’s glory was found in the incarnation of the Son of God, a babe born to a virgin named Mary. The angel’s message was delivered to shepherds tending their flocks around Bethlehem. God sent good news to some of the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low. God’s message was given to shepherds.
The contrast pictured in this scene could not be more pronounced – an angelic messenger, delivering a message of the glory of God, good news from the highest of the high to the lowest of the low. After the initial declaration of the reality of the incarnation to the shepherds, the heavens were filled with a multitude of angelic beings praising God and declaring His glory.
As Christians, we speak much of God’s glory, especially at Christmas and Easter. We preach, teach, and sing a great deal about the glory of God, but we often do not truly understand what it is we are saying.
God’s glory often evokes images of great, overwhelming light; great demonstrations of supernatural power; or other types or divine activity or events that defy human explanation. And rightfully, these types of expressions can reveal the glory of God. At its core, however, the glory of God is the manifestation of His deity. God’s glory is the clear revelation of the deity of Almighty God in whatever form God chooses to reveal it.
In times past, God revealed His glory in the Garden of Eden; in the ark of covenant; in the tent of meeting; in the Tabernacle; through the Old Testament Law and the nation of Israel; in the Temple; through angelic visitations; through supernatural acts and events; and so on. God has been actively manifesting glory throughout human history.
The angels were declaring that day that God had now revealed His glory in the most supreme way conceivable. God’s glory had come in the incarnation of His Son.
The angel declared that a babe would be found in the village of Bethlehem, wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger. This is where God was now revealing His glory. God’s manifestation of His deity would now be revealed in the person and work of His Son. God’s glory would now be “incarnated.” God’s glory now had flesh and bone.
The manifestation of God’s glory in the person of His Son, in the Babe of Bethlehem, is the highest expression of His glory.
“Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;”
“Hail the incarnate deity.”
“Pleased as man with men to dwell”
“Jesus our Immanuel.”
God’s glory in the incarnation is our everlasting peace!
God’s Peace Has an Ordered Path
One of the promises that comes to us in the incarnation is the reality of true peace – peace with God and peace with those God favors. In order for this to happen, we must embrace God’s path to peace.
When we read Luke 2:14, our attention typically runs to the phrases “peace on earth,” and “to people He favors/goodwill to men.” These two concepts in v. 14 are all incredibly important and needed. The order of the phrases, however, is divinely inspired, and we must recognize the ordering to rightly understand the work of God’s peace: first – glory to God in the highest; second – peace on earth; third – to those God favors.
The path to peace, the way to acquire the peace we desperately, achingly long to have, begins with “the Glory of God in the highest.” The highest, greatest, most powerful, most exalting, most satisfying, most “fill the void of my soul and cure the aching of my heart” peace, is found in the One about whom it is said, “God is with us.”
God’s Peace is “Someone”
The Old Testament contains many prophecies about the coming Messiah, and one of those prophecies states that God’s peace would foremost be a “Someone.” In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet declared that the coming Messiah would be the Prince of Peace. When the Messiah came, He would be a King who would exercise His divine rule by means of peace.
The peace that God gives, and the peace our hearts passionately yearn to have, is found in the Messiah, the Prince of Peace. Luke 2:8-14 connects God’s peace to God’s Son. The promise of Christmas is that God’s peace has come in the person of His Son – peace is incarnated in human flesh. Jesus Christ Himself is our peace.
God’s Peace is Relational
God’s peace comes to those who have embraced “the Prince of Peace,” to those who belong to Christ. God the Father relates to those who have been born again in the peace of Christ. As such, God’s peace is a status of relationship – “to those He favors.” Followers of Jesus relate to God the Father through the peace of Christ. The Holy Spirit imparts God’s gift of peace to the hearts of Christians. And, the people of God relate to one another in the peace of Christ.
God’s Glory – Our Peace
God’s glory brings us a real peace with tangible expressions for the Christian. I call these expressions the “no mores” and the “yeses” of God’s peace. The “no mores” of God’s peace include:
No more hostility with God
No more judgement and wrath
No more guilt and condemnation
No more separation, alienation, isolation, division
No more brokenness or shame
No more ruled by the power of sin
No more living in darkness
The “Yeses” of God’s peace include:
Yes to a personal relationship with God (God’s favor and goodwill)
Yes to God’s ongoing, unending presence with us
Yes to receiving and giving the love of God
Yes to real justice and removal of hostility and conflict
Yes to God’s fatherly care and provision
Yes to forgiveness of sin
Yes to things being transformed into the way they ought to be
Yes to having meaning and purpose to life
Yes to answered prayers
Yes to belonging to a loving, gracious community (the church)
God’s peace is a gift received by grace through faith. The gospel is a message of good news that peace has come in the incarnation of the Son of God. God’s peace is the way He relates to those who belong to Him, and God’s peace is the way we who belong to Jesus relate to our Lord and to His people. In every way, God’s peace brings the gift of a right relationship with God and a right relationship with others. God’s peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, is only expressed to those who belong to Jesus.
God’s peace is found in God’s glory – in the Babe of Bethlehem who became the Man of Calvary, Jesus Christ the Lord. In the midst of a pandemic; in a world marred by division and conflict; in a world of hardship and trial, we can have true, lasting peace. Our peace is found in the glory of God and God’s glory is named Immanuel.
On behalf of the Williams Baptist University family, we pray that God’s peace and favor would belong to you and your family this Christmas 2020. The Christmas promise of God’s peace is still true and is offered to you in Christ. We pray that your voice can sincerely and wholeheartedly join with that angelic multitude and declare
Glory to God in the highest heaven
And peace on earth to people He favors.