“Peace” is heard often at Christmas time. Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be called the Prince of Peace. And the angel announced to the shepherds “peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (NLT) But what kind of peace and when, and who will enjoy it? Consider these possibly confusing quotes from Jesus and Paul in the New Testament:
Jesus: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” He then describes how families will be divided on the basis of their belief or disbelief in Him. (Matthew 10:34)
Jesus: Peace I leave with you…not as the world gives…let not your heart be troubled/afraid. (John 14:27)
Paul: Having been justified by faith, we have peace toward God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
Paul: Christ is our peace, reconciling Jewish and Gentile believers (Ephesians 2:14,15)
The key is to realize that “peace” has several different senses and to understand each reference in the way in which it was intended. The following four senses of “peace” are listed in the American Heritage Dictionary:
- Absence of hostility / war
- Harmonious interpersonal relationship
- Public security
- Inner calm, serenity
Can you match the above references with these different senses?
Another key is to see how these various senses relate to one another, especially within the kingdom of God:
- Christ’s mission was to reconcile people with God by dealing with the sin problem.
- Those who have been reconciled with God can forgive and accept one another, living in harmony.
- Trust in God’s love, power, and goodness brings inner calm.
- And someday, as Isaiah and the angel said, Christ will rule over a harmonious, peaceful Kingdom where all will be secure. This is what is often referred to as “The Peaceable Kingdom” where children, wild and domestic animals will all frolic together.
But all of this is possible only under Christ, the Prince of Peace!
All other so-called “peace” is shallow, artificial, and short-lived.
During Christmas, “Peace” is prominently displayed, echoing the words of the angels who announced Jesus’ birth to shepherds and then concluded with,
“…peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:14)
But turn a few pages and read Jesus startling words, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!” (Luke 12:51 NLT)
So did Jesus come to bring peace on earth, or didn’t he? What seems to be a contradiction becomes clear when we look at a couple of things:
1) The context. In the first, peace is announced “to those with whom God is pleased,” which would exclude those who reject him. In the second, Jesus goes on to explain that even families will be divided because some will believe in him and others will not. We’ve all seen plenty of examples of this at all levels of society!
2) The meaning of “peace.” As with many words, this one has several senses. The kind of peace Jesus did not come to bring was smooth personal relationships between people when some reject him. What he, the Messiah, did come to bring was reconciliation with God and all the blessings (security, harmony, well-being) that would involve for those who submit to his rule and become part of his Kingdom. Will you be part of his Kingdom and enjoy that wonderful peace?
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men
Within a half hour of reading in the minor prophets (those short books at the end of the Old Testament) I came across these two verses that seem to contradict each other:
“Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears..” (Joel 3:10 NIV)
“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks..” (Micah 4:3, also Isaiah 2:4)
I am told that in that day, people could and actually did convert these tools into weapons and vice versa, depending on whether it was a time of peace or war.
With that insight and looking at the context of these two verses, we see that Joel is warning Israel’s enemies to get ready for the war that God will wage against them.
On the other hand, Micah is describing the state of eternal peace that will be inaugurated when God finally rules all nations and hearts without rival.
God’s arrival can mean disaster or peace, depending on whether we’re on His side or not. Which side are you on? Are you looking forward to His direct intervention in world history or dreading it?
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.
Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. (2 Peter 3:9-13 NLT)
The headline today says “Peace for Our Time.” When have we heard that before? Here’s a headline from 75 years ago:
1938: ‘Peace for our time’ – Chamberlain
The British Prime Minister has been hailed as bringing “peace to Europe” after signing a non-aggression pact with Germany.
Look at the date and remember what happened shortly after this optimistic pronouncement. Think about the trustworthiness of the other party in the agreement.
I’ve been reading the writings of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, in which God says this about the leaders of His people:
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
they do not even know how to blush.
So they will fall among the fallen;
they will be brought down when I punish them,”
says the LORD. (Jeremiah 6:14-15)
And within a few years that nation was indeed wiped out by a powerful enemy.
So today do we actually believe that world leaders will bring us real peace? Only the Prince of Peace can do that—Jesus Christ. He has come once to capture our hearts, and He will return again soon to capture all nations and set up the only kind of peaceful kingdom this world will ever know.
While other houses around here are sporting fall and Halloween decorations, we got a jump on them and put up Mom’s Christmas tree already! This is something I thought I could do for her during my short visit, but it does bring a sense of excitement to see it shining there in the dark of the early morning. Another part of Christmas that I look forward to is listening to Handel’s “Messiah,” even if it’s only on a CD.
Part of that musical work is based on Isaiah 9 which I read this morning. The light shining in darkness is even more poignant as the world grows dark around us and we long for the light at the end of that tunnel.
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine…
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
In my Bible I have written “Jesus!” in the margin. It’s a very familiar passage which we associate with Christ’s birth at Christmas. But the next lines have definitely not yet been fulfilled:
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice
from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!
Oh, how I long for this part of the prophecy to be fulfilled! Jesus Himself will rule singlehandedly with true peace, justice and righteousness. No more scam, scandal, selfishness, secrecy, oppression, violence, deception and all the other things that characterize government and society today. I am committed, by God’s grace, to stay the course. Not to give up in despair or to give in to the forces of evil (even those in sheep’s clothing). It will be worth it all when that glorious kingdom arrives!
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!
On a long plane flight the other day, I watched one of those beautiful documentaries about African cats—lions and cheetahs. Their darling babies and family loyalty on one hand, and their struggles for survival on the other. Those that prey on them and terrorize them (hyenas, rivals), and those on which they themselves prey. When the “hero” of the story is a cheetah who needs to feed her babies, I struggle whether to root for her or for the beautiful, innocent deer that she’s pursuing in a life-or-death chase.
But one day that will change. I’ve been reading through the book of Isaiah with its depths of doom and heights of ecstasy, and here at the end I welcome that famous line,
“The wolf and the lamb will feed together.
The lion will eat hay like a cow…
In those days no one will be hurt or destroyed on my holy mountain.” (65:25)
I really look forward to getting up close with those beautiful animals!
But to be fair, we have to look back at the beginning of the chapter to see just who will be enjoying this new world of peace. God says that those who have ignored Him and chosen to do what He despises are destined for destruction, starvation, and despair (65:11-14). It is rather those who are truly God’s servants who will eat, drink, sing for joy, and and enjoy that beautiful new earth where peace and prosperity reign (65:13-25.
I hope you’ll be there to enjoy it with me—by God’s grace. It will be worth it all!
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!
Joy, peace, love and hope are all over the place at Christmas time. On cards, decorations, hangings, etc. As they should be. But sometimes familiar words get so familiar they bounce right off our ears. I thought I’d go on a search for the most superlative presentation of each of these three gifts in God’s Word.
Joy–You love [Jesus Christ] even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 1 Peter 1:8 (NLT)
When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! John 15:10-11 (NLT)
Peace–Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give. Set your troubled hearts at rest, and banish your fears. (John 14:27 REB)
Love–May you have the power to understand…how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. (Ephesians 3:18-19)
Hope—With eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (from Romans 8:19-23 NLT)
“Peace on earth.” We hear it frequently at this time of year in carols, on Christmas cards, and elsewhere. This was part of the angels’ message to the shepherds in Luke 2. But how about Jesus’ words ten chapters later (Luke 12:51-52) where he says, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.”
So what’s going on? Maybe it has something to do with the meaning of “peace.” As a Bible translator, I’ve observed several different senses of this word.
–Sometimes it refers to cessation of hostility, as in “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
–In some places it refers to smooth interpersonal relationships, such as “Be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50)
–It can also mean freedom from worry, as in “…my peace I give to you… Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage.” (John 14:27)
–But in yet other places, “peace” might be better understood through the Hebrew perspective of “shalom.” One of the resources I use regularly says, “It is connected with the messianic salvation and concerns the whole social order, referring to well being, prosperity, security, and harmony. It refers to all the blessings resulting from the coming of the Messiah.”
Now, which sense of “peace” do you think is meant by the angels in their announcement to the shepherds?
And which sense is meant in Luke 12?
Jeremiah has a lot to say about peace. He pens the word “shalom” 31 times in the book that bears his name. But it’s mostly about false hopes of false peace based on false prophets’ promises of peace for people rebelling against God, refusing to listen to Him, and plotting against their neighbors (6:10, 14; 9:8; 23:16-17 et al.).
Of course they hoped for peace, especially protection from the threatening Babylonian and Egyptian superpowers (e.g. 14:19) which were playing tug-of-war over them. But what God promises them instead is destruction and devastation. In fact, this is what happened and is mourned by the same writer in his book of Lamentations which mentions “shalom” only once: “Peace has been stripped away!” (3:17)
In the end there is hope—but only under God’s conditions. After all the judgment and devastation, God will heal, restore peace, rebuild the ruined nation, cleanse his people of their sins and forgive their rebellion. This is the only positive reference to peace in the book:
“Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Israel and rebuild their towns. I will cleanse them of their sins against me and forgive all their sins of rebellion. Then this city will bring me joy, glory, and honor before all the nations of the earth! The people of the world will see all the good I do for my people, and they will tremble with awe at the peace and prosperity I provide for them.” (Jeremiah 33:6-9)
When I read about the people of that day, I want to shake those deluded peace-dreamers awake and help them get a grip on the source of true peace. But no, they had to suffer excruciatingly for their willful blindness. How about us today? I pray God will have mercy on us, opening our eyes to see the way to true peace. And most of all, I look forward to the rule of the Prince of Peace on this earth.
Your kingdom come! Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Amen!!!
God’s chosen nation was collapsing from the moral vacuum caused by rebellion against God and corruption in leadership. And on the outside, Nebuchadnezzar’s army was attacking. God’s patience had finally run out.
Jeremiah was God’s man on the scene. A dozen times in his book he debunks the false prophets’ repeated assurances that all would be well. Like this in chapter 14:
13 Then I said, “O Sovereign LORD, their prophets are telling them, ‘All is well—no war or famine will come. The LORD will surely send you peace.’ ”
14 Then the LORD said, “These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts.
But there is hope of peace after the punishment has been endured and the hard lessons have been learned. Peace on God’s terms necessarily involves cleansing from sin and rebellion. But wow, the benefits are out of this world!
“The time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Israel and rebuild their towns. I will cleanse them of their sins against me and forgive all their sins of rebellion. Then this city will bring me joy, glory, and honor before all the nations of the earth!” Jeremiah 33:6-8
What kind of peace are we looking for in our world and our lives?
A fragile peace on this earth, IF nations and individuals can solve their differences and piece back together shattered economies?
Or the true and lasting peace that comes only by turning to God and accepting it on His terms?