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?