All I Want for Christmas Is…Peace
December 9, 2007 | Brian Bill
I want to begin with a Christmas Quiz this morning. There are seven of them and I’d like you to use your fingers and count how many right answers you have when we’re all finished.
Joseph was born in what town?
- Green Bay
Who told Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem?
- Mary’s mom
- No one
What did the innkeeper tell Mary and Joseph?
- “There is no room in the inn”
- “I have a stable you can use”
- None of the above
- Both of the above
How did Joseph and Mary get to Bethlehem?
- Mary rode a donkey and Joseph walked
- Who knows?
The wise men met Jesus in a:
How many angels spoke to the shepherds?
- A multitude
- A whole host
What song did the angels sing?
- “Joy to the world”
- “Glory to the newborn King”
- “Glory to God in the highest”
- None of the above
It’s not easy keeping all the facts straight about Christmas and it’s also not easy to get our faith and our feelings lined up either. Does Christmas really bring joy and peace and forgiveness and hope? According to most studies, this is a season of stress and distress, of sadness not gladness. A group called Mental Health America did a survey to find out what anxieties people have this time of year. The results showed that failing finances, missing a lost loved one and having too much to do were the top stressors. Dateline NBC conducted a scientific poll and found that 41% of us are maxed out this month, rating it right up there with asking the boss for a raise or going to the dentist.
Last week we focused on the joy that only comes from a relationship with Jesus: The gift that was on the way is Jesus who is the only way. This morning our attention is on peace. After the one angel appeared to the shepherds in Luke 2:14 announcing “good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” suddenly an entire army of angelic messengers filled the sky with an outpouring of adoration and said in verse 14: “Glory to God in the highest…” While angels do sing in other instances this time they “say” these words of worship. The word “suddenly” means that the heavenly host came unexpectedly.
It’s as if one angel announcing the news was no longer enough. The sky is suddenly filled with a multitude of messengers, a great company of warriors, perhaps more than 100,000 worshipping with the widest and deepest and highest praise possible. They couldn’t help but praise because Savior-Christ-Lord had been born. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us that “…angels long to look into these things.” This has the idea of angels “peering into” redemption. These angels were waiting a long time for the birth of the baby and now they bust out with adoration. This doxology was God-centered and glory-focused. Can you imagine how loud this must have been?
Peace comes to those who praise Him and grace to those who give Him glory
Their praise then led them to declare a proclamation of peace: “…and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” While commentators differ on how this should be understood, I prefer this translation: “On earth peace, among men who are the objects of his pleasure.” We could say it this way: Peace comes to those who praise Him and grace to those who give Him glory. One Greek scholar renders it like this: “Peace among men who are recipients of God’s good pleasure.” Bruce Larson adds: “If you are able to receive what God wants to give, the message of peace is for you.” The highest degree of glory to God is connected with the giving of the Son. It all starts in heaven with God’s perfect plan and it arrives on earth where peace comes to those who personalize the message. It’s available to all but activated only for those who accept Immanuel, for those who believe and receive (see John 1:12).
Notice that peace comes only after praising. We must put God and His glory first and then peace will come. While this is a neat time of the year, there is nothing magical about this season if one does not know the Christ of Christmas. The phrase “Happy Holidays” is meaningless without an acknowledgement of the holiness of God. The precondition for peace is to first praise God for His glory and grace.
The word “peace” appears over 400 times in Scripture. In the Old Testament, “peace” is the word shalom, and is a state of wholeness and harmony that is intended to resonate in all relationships. When used as a greeting, shalom was a wish for outward freedom from disturbance as well as an inward sense of well-being. To a people constantly harassed by enemies, peace was the premiere blessing. In Numbers 6:24-26, God gave Moses these words to use when blessing His people: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”
In this series called “All I Want for Christmas is…” we’ve been camping in two primary passages. We begin in Isaiah 61, written some 700 years before Jesus was born and then we move to a scene in a synagogue where Jesus applies these words to Himself in Luke 4. We’re linking these two passages together by drawing from the Christmas narratives in Luke 2 and Matthew 1.
Turn to Isaiah 61:1:“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” Jesus came to bring joy and He came to bind up the brokenhearted. This is echoed in Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
The word “brokenhearted” denotes those who are broken, deeply afflicted and saddened, downcast and dejected. Bruce Goettsche (unionchurch.com) says it includes those who are:
- Crushed by loss
- Trampled by circumstances
- Broken by bereavement
- Beaten down by abuse
- Despairing because of disappointment
- Incapacitated by physical ailments
- Smothered by loneliness
- Victimized by aggressors
- Rejected by those they love
- Paralyzed by bad decisions
- Destitute because of sin
Brokenness hits us physically, relationally, emotionally, financially and spiritually. In times like this, I take great comfort in Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Aren’t you glad that Jesus “binds up the brokenhearted”? Isaiah 9:6 tells us that one of His names is “Prince of Peace.” This literally reads: “The prince whose coming brings peace.” And verse seven adds: “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” Isaiah 53:3 says that that Jesus is “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” He bandages that which is broken. Jesus gives each of us personal attention; soothing the pain; healing and restoring us to wholeness. In short, He brings peace where there is no peace and as Isaiah 40:1-2 says, he does it with tenderness: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.”
You know what? We’re all broken in some way. Some of us just hide it more than others. We could say that there are “camouflage Christians” here. Maybe you’re hurting but you hide it from others. Friends, Jesus came to bind up the brokenhearted. One pastor put it this way: “He whose heart was broken for sinners knows how to heal broken hearts for sinners.”
The word “peace” in the New Testament means to “join together; to set at one again.” It has the idea of gluing something back together and is used in at least four ways.
- Peace with God – that’s the vertical dimension
- Peace of God – this takes place internally
- Peace with others – that’s peace horizontally
- Peace for others – that’s the proclamation of peace in the gospel
1. Peace with God.
Before we can understand this first dimension of peace we must come to grips with the state of our relationship with God apart from Christ. While God loves us and cherishes us, He is filled with indignation because of our sinfulness. Romans 1:18: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” In his classic book called, “Peace with God,” written over 50 years ago, Billy Graham hits it on the head: “The greatest warfare going on in the world today is between mankind and God. People may not realize that they are at war with God, but if they don’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior…God considers them to be at war with Him.”
Romans 5:1 gives the good news: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because of what Jesus Christ did on the Cross, you and I can now be at peace with God. God the Father poured out His wrath, fury, and indignation on His Son, who died in our place, as our sin-substitute. Immanuel is our intermediary. Colossians 1:20 says that Jesus reconciled Himself to all things “making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.”
Isolation has been replaced with intimacy
Peace only sounds wonderful when we recognize that we’ve been at war. It’s a radical thought that God’s anger is satisfied because of the sacrifice of His Son. God’s fury is fully absorbed by the death of Jesus. Once we are justified by faith, peace is a primary reality for the believer. The word “with” God points to a person’s relationship with God. There’s a face-to-face aspect that indicates a relational reconciliation has taken place. Isolation has been replaced with intimacy. We can face a holy God because we’re now glued to Him.
Listen carefully. We don’t deserve this peace to men on whom His favor rests. In fact, what we deserve is death and eternal punishment. But, because of God’s great love, He provided a way for us to be set at one again with the God of the universe. God’s joy and His justice converge on the cross of Calvary. His love and His law find full satisfaction through the sacrificial death of His Son. God is both just and the justifier.
Let’s look at Luke 4:18 again as Jesus stands up in the synagogue to read. He’s quoting from Isaiah 61:1: “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed…” This is the Messiah’s mission statement. Everybody loved that the Lord said all this. They were amazed when He said that He fulfilled this Scripture. Everything was going great in verse 22: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips…” That is, until He quoted other sections of Scripture that shows how much God loves the whole world.
The Jewish people at that time looked down on those who were lost around them. When Jesus talked about healing for the hurting heathen, joy for the Gentiles and peace for pagans, the religious people went crazy. They wanted a safe Savior who met their needs but didn’t really want one who came alongside the broken and beat down. Verse 28 is pretty sad: “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.” Jesus is the good news of great joy for all the people.
Friend, do you have peace with God today? Or are you far away from Him? Do you feel disconnected? If so, the first part of our mission “is to connect people to Jesus.” We’d love to help you do that. No matter how far away you feel allow the truth of Isaiah 57:19 to wash over you: “‘Peace, peace, to those far and near,’ says the Lord. ‘And I will heal them.’”
2. Peace of God.
In order to have the peace of God internally, we must first experience peace with God vertically. The upward dimension must be taken care of before inward peace can permeate our lives. Those at peace with God can experience the peace of God. Shortly before Jesus died, He declared in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” This inner peace is a gift from Jesus and comes to us as a key element of the fruit of the Spirit.
We will experience this peace in proportion to the room we give the Holy Spirit in our lives. I talked to someone this week who told me that God has given her peace about a decision that has been very difficult. She described the peace she is experiencing as surprising. I reminded her that this is the “peace that surpasses all understanding” from Philippians 4:7.
Zechariah, prophesying about the coming of Christ, said this in Luke 1:79: “…to guide our feet into the path of peace.” As God gives us peace, let’s reach out with this peace to others, remembering that God loves broken-hearted people. Bruce Goettsche perceptively adds: “Sometimes the church seems to imply that a hurting person is a deficient person. We think they don’t have enough faith or they just aren’t living right. A hurting person is just human. People hurt. And God knows that we hurt. God not only understands…He wants to help. He sent Christ because He loves the hurting of the world.”
God understands. He always understands. Can I challenge you to look for the hurting during this holiday season? Make a point to reach out to someone who has gone through a death or a divorce. Include those who are alone.
3. Peace with others.
When we’re at peace with God, and we have internal peace, we can then be at peace with others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: “The followers of Jesus have been called to peace. When He called them they found their peace, for He is their peace. But now they are told that they must not only have peace but make it.” Jesus said in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t tell us to be “peacekeepers,” but instead “peacemakers.” This could be translated as “peace workers.” It takes effort to bring conflict to an end. When we work at resolving conflict we are doing what God does. We’re called to make peace when we’re involved in conflict. Romans 14:19 lays out our responsibility: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
Here’s a question. Are you planting peace in others or are you sowing seeds of strife? Determine right now to be a planter of peace not a sower of strife. Is there anyone you need to make things right with? Anyone you need to “be at one with”? Some of you are dreading Christmas because you’re in conflict with someone in your family. Maybe a root of bitterness has gone down deep in your life. It’s time to let it go.
4. Peace for others.
The only way for people to have peace with God, to have peace inside, and to be at peace with others, is for people like us to tell them about he gospel of peace. Peter summarizes the essence of the Incarnation when he declares in Acts 10:36: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” Just as the shepherds hurried off to tell the good news, so too we must share peace with others.
I read a survey this week by Bill White that said 82% of people without a church are receptive to attend church if invited and escorted by a friend. That’s good news, isn’t it? Here’s the bad news. Only 21% of church-going Christians invited someone to church last year.
Here’s another quiz question. How serious are you about wanting peace this Christmas?
- Not sure
- I want to learn more
- I’m ready to receive the Prince of Peace into my life
- I will use the invites to tell others how to find peace
Benediction: From 2 Thessalonians 3:16: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”
Quiz Answers: 1-C, 2-A, 3-C, 4-D, 5-D, 6-D, 7-D.