Peace on Earth … When?
The Silence of the Stable, Under the Shadow of the Cross
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,
goodwill toward men!” Luk 2:14
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.
I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Mat 10:34
How to Reconcile the Paradox
How can we reconcile two such contradictory statements concerning the purpose behind our Lord’s coming? The story of the nativity holds all the keys to unlock this riddle. The Lord God Almighty steps down into history as a frail infant born to a peasant family. Conditions are orchestrated such that the birth comes at the end of a long arduous journey, and there is no room for them in the Inn. The Christ-child is born in a stable and is laid in a feed trough. But the stockyard cradle rested under the shadow of the cross. Though worshiped by Angels, humble shepherds, and later by Persian Magi, he becomes the target of murderous intent. The forces of hell are marshaled in the form of Herod and his mercenary soldiers. The extermination edict is given, and the powers of heaven intervene, as Joseph is led by a vision-dream to flee to Egypt. Later, Joseph and the sacred family return, and by Divine guidance, they make their humble home in Nazareth. This backwater village gave birth to a scornful proverb, which would later be applied to the Son of God Himself, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Joh 1:46). All the eyes of heaven and earth begin to be drawn to this luminous figure of the Nazarene as the salient point of the invisible war launched by Lucifer against the Most High God.
The Offer of Peace with God
Seven hundred years before the Son of God became Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Mat 1:23), the prophet Isaiah prophesied, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6). God foretold His own invasion into human history. The purpose of that Divine intervention was to reconcile sinful man to a holy God. Even though man was the guilty offender God our creator chose to become our Redeemer. In the book of Job, the earliest of Old Testament writings, we find the only hope of mankind through the ages. The suffering Job, accused by his “friends” of hidden sins, triumphantly declares, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25-26). In the same confidence of Job, Abraham, and indeed all Old Testament saints, later joined in looking for the coming Savior (Joh 8:56). In the infinite wisdom of the heavenly Father the birth of Christ initiated the offer of peace with God through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. “For it pleased the Father that in Him (Jesus Christ) all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” (Col 1:19-20). The offer of this costly peace is freely given to all who will in humble child-like faith trust in Jesus Christ. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:1). The assault of the enemy of men’s souls, launched in the Garden of Eden, is forever repulsed and defeated in the souls of those who receive the gift of pardon and peace offered in Jesus Christ!
The Offer Rejected
As the spiritual forces of Heaven and Hell engage in mighty conflict over the glory of God, the focal point of the battle becomes the souls of men. Before history ever began, the message was proclaimed throughout Heaven that God would redeem a fallen race called “men” (Tit 1:2). To the assembled angels it was revealed that for the accomplishment of this plan the second member of the Godhead would enter the human race, and by its guilty hands, die on a cross for sinners (Rev 13:8). To the astounded angelic host it was revealed that out of this insignificant race of men God would call a company of saints foreknown even before the Angels existed (Rom 11:2; Rev 17:8b). That from this company would come some who would even be exalted above the angels, (1Co 6:3), and would be seated with Christ Jesus in the Heavenlies (Col 3:1-3). To these mighty spirit beings it was then revealed that their role in this great plan of redemption was to stoop to act as servants and ministers to this lowly being called man (Heb 1:13-14). The glory of the angels, in reflecting the glory of God Himself, would be in their willingness to stoop in humble service to puny and fallen mankind. I believe it was at this point when Lucifer, the mightiest and most powerful of angelic beings, stepped forth in defiance and declared his rebellion against such a plan (Isa 14:12-15). By this act the “anointed Cherub” himself sinned, and was cast forth from Heaven, along with his followers (Eze 28:14-16; Rev 12:7-9). By this act Lucifer became Satan, the very agent of the fall of man, and the instigator of man’s need for a Savior! As Satan rejected God’s revealed plan for him, so he deceived mankind into a like rebellion against God. That rebellion reached it’s climax when the multitudes in Jerusalem screamed, “Crucify Him”, and “Let His blood be on us”, and “We will not have this man to rule over us” (Mat 27:25; Luk 19:14; Joh 19:6). Thus the battle that began in Heaven over the creation of man became focused on Earth over the man, our Redeemer. “Behold the Man” (Joh 19:5)!
The Omniscience of Immanuel
Throughout His earthly life, Jesus knew He was born to die. At His birth He was wrapped in cloth, like a body for burial (Luk 2:12). At the age of twelve, the time when a young man chose his life-work, Jesus said to His Mother, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luk 2:49b). Throughout His earthly life Jesus lived in conscious commitment to His “hour”, for which He came. In the agony of the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” (Joh 12:27-28). Our Savior knew that the inevitable consequence of His coming to bring peace would be the response of the sword. As it was at His birth, so it was at His death. The world that had no place for Him in the Inn at His birth had no place for Him in the end but a cross and a borrowed grave. The sins of all mankind brought Him forth in mercy, but the greatest sin of human history was when the Redeemer of sinful men was crucified by those He came to save. He came to offer peace, but His coming also brought forth the sword of human hatred. And all who choose to follow Him will, in some way or another, taste the cold steel of that sword.
The Eternal Enigma: To Save or to Lose
And so the stage is set. An eternal option is set before the souls of men. The ultimate question of life is this; will we choose for or against the Prince of Peace? To choose for Him is to become the enemy of this world. To choose against Him is to remain an enemy of God. In confronting the enormity of this decision Jesus declared to His disciples, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luk 9:24) There is no middle ground on this issue. The desire to save my life is to live for the moment, to “eat, drink, and be merry”, to seek my own gratification above all else, and at the cost of rejecting His forgiveness and life-transforming work in my life. Thus if I “gain” my life, I have “lost” it in the end. But if in faith and surrender to Him I “lose” my life (in that it is His, and no longer mine), then I “gain” life, both eternal and abundant. (Joh 10:10b). Immediately upon being confronted with the Person and work of Jesus Christ the soul is offered peace, but is also conscious of the sword. Faith in Jesus Christ means not only possible future persecution for my faith, but immediate loss as “master” of my own life. Slave though we are to Satan and sin, yet we cling to the illusion of “freedom” to go our own way. The moment of faith in Jesus means death to self, and the creation of a new creature, designed to serve Him (2Co 5:14-17). As the “sword” of the Gospel pierces my innermost being (Heb 4:12-13), I find that I too am crucified to this world, so as to be a slave of my Redeemer (Gal 2:20, Gal 6:14). “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). With that peace comes also the sword. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me (Jesus) before it hated you.” (Joh 15:18).
Blessed Are the Persecuted
When we possess peace with God we desire to share it with others. In telling others of what God has done for us we become ministers of reconciliation (2Co 5:18-21). Jesus said to His disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mat 5:9). But the messengers of peace are sure to meet the sword. The “peace-makers” will ultimately meet their “persecutors”. This is why Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Mat 5:10). Jesus was speaking of the peace-making that works to reconcile men to God through faith in Christ. It is inevitable that the truth of the Gospel is exclusive of all other claims to peace with God. If Jesus Christ is the only way into a right relationship with God, as He Himself claimed (Joh 14:6), there can be no other way! Therefore the Christian becomes the target of hatred both of the governments and of the religions of this world. Persecution today is at its greatest peak in history. Throughout much of the world today, at this Christmas season, believers in Jesus Christ are subjected to intense oppression, privation, torture, and death. They clearly see that Jesus brought, not only peace with God, but a sword on this earth. Yet though they suffer and die in their thousands, they are not the losers but the winners. They know that the peace is worth the sword. They know it is nothing to lose this world to gain the life to come. And they know the Prince of Peace is coming again, and that He will execute with His sword those who reject His peace and reign as King of Kings forever (Rev 19:11-16).
“Peace, Peace!”; When There is no Peace
The weary world wants all that Jesus Christ has to offer….but without Him. As world population passes the six-and-a-half billion mark, our world is ravaged by war, violence, and crime. We see the words of Jesus fulfilled as we hear of “wars and rumors of wars….nation rising against nation….famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places (Mat 24:4-7). To this prophecy Jesus solemnly added, “All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Mat 24:8). Yet in the face of overwhelming evidence of God’s coming wrath, politicians and world leaders continue to promise peace, not knowing that they themselves are part of prophecies fulfillment. Speaking by the Spirit of God the Apostle Paul declared, “For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1Th 5:3). Jesus came offering true peace and man gave Him the sword. Now man proclaims his own brand of peace, peace without the Prince of Peace. And man will keep his appointment with the sword of truth!
The Coming Prince of Peace
On the last night of His earthly life, Jesus met with His disciples in the upper room. There He spoke to them in unmistakable terms of what was soon to come. In the face of their growing sorrow He made them a promise. “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart…..Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy” (Joh 16:6, Joh 16:20). This experience of the disciples is also the experience of all who trust and follow Him. As the world hurtles toward its destined judgment, we weep and the world rejoices. It was put so well by Paul, the most persecuted of all believers, when he said, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2Co 4:7-10). The inner “treasure” that sustains the saint through affliction, fire and sword is the gospel promise giving absolute assurance of eternal life through Christ. Paul goes on to say, “Therefore we do not lose heart….For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2Co 5:16-18). What we look for this world cannot see. Jesus said to His disciples on that last night with them, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (Joh 14:2-3). Therefore we live our lives, “Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:13). May this be our conscious focus this Christmas season. Though the temporary sword may hang over our lives, may we hold to the eternal peace that is ours in Christ Jesus. And may we silently join in the chorus of the saints through the ages, “Even so, come Lord Jesus” (Rev.22:20).