December 10, 2022 | Brian Bill
Several years ago, the BBC ran a story with this headline: “Priests Brawl in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.” Fights broke out between rival groups of Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics in a turf war over control of the church, built on the spot where many Christians believe Jesus was born. The article described bemused tourists looking on as about 100 priests fought with brooms while cleaning the church in preparation for Christmas.
The Bethlehem police chief reported, “It was a trivial problem that…occurs every year…no one was arrested because all those involved were men of God.” The 1,700-year-old church, one of the holiest sites in Christianity, is in a bad state of repair, largely because the priests cannot agree on who should pay for its upkeep. The article ended with these sad words: “Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where many Christians believe Jesus’ body was taken after the crucifixion, has also seen similar incidents.”
If priests who serve in the place where peace was proclaimed by the angels, and priests at the site where Jesus was buried can’t get along, is it any wonder we often go to war with fellow image bearers?
According to the 2022 Global Peace Index, the average level of global peacefulness has deteriorated for nine of the past 13 years. In 2020, worldwide prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25% according to the World Health Organization, particularly among teens and young adults.
Coupled with a news cycle dominated by ceaseless reports of bad news and a nation hopelessly divided, we shouldn’t be surprised we’re all dealing with increasing amounts of crippling anxiety. Political debate has become a blood sport, leaving many of us feeling fractured, frustrated, and frightened.
This week, our own community experienced shootings in Rock Island and Davenport, a lockdown at Hy-Vee, the stabbing of a 15-year-old girl, and juveniles arrested for stealing guns.
All of this leaves us feeling stressed out, maxed out, and burned out. One pastor said it like this: “In a culture and time such as ours, true peace feels like it might be on the endangered species list.”
We’re continuing in our series called, “The Promise” as we’ve been looking at promises from the prophet Isaiah and finding their fulfillment in and through the characters of Christmas. Christmas can be summarized with four words: Promises made. Promises kept. A promise is an assurance that certain things will come to pass.
Are you aware there are more than 300 prophetic promises fulfilled with pinpoint precision by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? In addition, as we learned at our Prophecy Conference, there are scores of additional prophecies which will be fulfilled at His second coming. Christmas has its roots in the Old Testament. Here are just seven prophetic promises from Moses to Malachi.
- The Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10).
- The Messiah will be presented with gifts from foreign leaders who fall before Him (Psalm 72:10-11).
- The Messiah will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).
- The Messiah will minister in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2)
- The Messiah will be a descendant of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1).
- The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
- The Messiah will be preceded by a messenger (Malachi 3:1).
The only way to have peace is to give glory to God and to know the Prince of Peace
Last week we considered Isaiah 9:1-2 and discovered this truth: No matter what happens, hold on to hope. We’re going to return to this chapter today as we see how the promise of peace was foretold and then fulfilled in Luke 2. Our main idea is this: The only way to have peace is to give glory to God and to know the Prince of Peace.
In Isaiah 9:4, we read how the enemies of Israel had burdened the people with “the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder.” When the light of life comes, this heavy yoke will be shattered. Instead of wiping us out, Jesus says in Matthew 11:30, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” In the place of burdens, God wants to give us blessings.
I talked to someone recently who told me her shoulders are heavy because of all the burdens she is carrying. I smiled and reminded her Jesus came to bear our burdens and He’s holding the entire world up right now.
Drop down to Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Verse 6 sets forth the indescribable uniqueness of Jesus. Notice how both His humanity and deity are on display.
- Humanity: “For to us a child is born.” This describes the birth of Jesus as a baby.
- Deity: “To us a son is given.” Jesus is God’s eternal Son given as a gift to us.
The child was birthed in Bethlehem and the eternal Son was given to us as a gift. One commentator noted, “The Son wasn’t born, the Son eternally existed; the child was born, the Son was given.” Charles Spurgeon went deep when he preached these words:
He is as truly born, as certainly a child, as any other man that ever lived upon the face of the earth. He is thus in His humanity a child born. But as Jesus Christ is God’s Son, He is not born; but given, begotten of the Father from before all worlds…not made.”
On top of that, the “government shall be upon His shoulder.” This means that all the expectations of the throne of King David are fulfilled in Christ (see 2 Samuel 7:13-16). The baby bundled in the straw holds the universe together. The one nestled on Mary’s shoulders, bears everything on His shoulders. He is redeemer and ruler of all.
Part of the reason we have been inoculated by the incarnation and even bored with the baby is because we tend to focus only on the infant Jesus. The phrase, “and His name shall be called” means “He will justly bear this name…”
Let’s look at His four-fold name. For the sake of time, I’ll list the first three quickly because we’re going to linger on the last description.
- He is Profound – “Wonderful Counselor.” This title literally means “a wonder of a counselor.”
- He is Powerful – “Mighty God.” This adjective means “strong one” or the “powerful, valiant warrior.”
- He is Personal – “Everlasting Father.” He lives forever and He loves like a Father. Christ is holy and human, dwelling on high while lying in the hay.
- He is Peaceful – “Prince of Peace.” This phrase can be translated, “The prince who’s coming brings peace.” A prince in Bible times was the “General of the Army,” and describes leadership and authority.
Jesus came in the cradle in order to go to the cross to purchase our peace. When He comes again, He’ll be wearing a crown and will usher in His reign of peace. Look at Isaiah 9:7: “Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
Luke 1:23 picks up on this prophecy in describing the future role of King Jesus: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
I love the last phrase of Isaiah 9:7: “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” The word “zeal” means “intense desire.” Isaiah 59:17 says God has “wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak.” God is zealous to see His plan of redemption accomplished in your life.
The phrase “Lord of Hosts” means the “Lord of Armies.” God has at least three kinds of armies at His disposal. He uses national armies like the Babylonians to accomplish His purposes, He enlists the stars of creation to do His bidding, and He drafts the angelic hosts to do His work. He unleashes all of His passionate zeal and all of His resources to bring to completion all of His purposes.
Consider this: God used all three of these armies to activate His plan that first Christmas.
- He mobilized the Roman government to call for a census so Jesus could be birthed in Bethlehem.
- He caused the star in heaven to burn bright enough to get the attention of astrologists living hundreds of miles away in another country.
- He unleashed an army of angels to announce the good news of glory to God and peace to people as a result of the Savior’s birth.
After the one angel appeared to the shepherds in Luke 2:10 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 the heavenly host came unexpectedly, busting out into praise, shouting into the stillness and silence of the previous 400 years!
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 arsenal of angelic 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 “…things into which angels long to look.” 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 explode with adoration. This doxology was God-centered and glory-focused. Can you imagine how loud this must have been?
The promise from Isaiah 9:6 of the coming of the “Prince of Peace” reverberated across seven centuries, echoing through the hallways of heaven, finally culminating in an expression of angelic adoration in Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”
Let’s look at the two aspects of this birth announcement given to a group of simple shepherds.
1. Glory to God.
In the first stanza the multitude of the heavenly host praise God and say, “Glory to God in the highest.” The original meaning of glory is the idea of weightiness. God’s glory is the sum total of the weightiness of all His attributes. It includes splendor, brightness, shining, radiance, brilliance, status, praise, honor, wonder and supernatural power. It has to do with the fame of God’s glorious name and the heaviness of His holiness.
But there’s more. Notice all of this is in the superlative – “in the highest.” This refers to the “loftiest and most elevated.” God is at the highest level, the peak, the summit. He is the most beautiful, the brightest and most brilliant. There is no one higher and there is nothing greater. Among the Jews, the “highest” is Elyon, the main name for God. The angels are publicly acknowledging the weight of God’s glory in an act of worship, and the shepherds get the joy of joining them in praise.
The first part of the story is all about God’s glory. The second part is all about the peace He extends to those with whom He is pleased.
2. Peace to People.
The adoration of the angels led them to declare a proclamation of peace in the second stanza of verse 14: “…and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”
It’s possible these worshipping warriors divided into an antiphonal choir. I wonder if half of them chanted, “Glory to God in the highest…” and the other half responded with, “…and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased?”
One Greek scholar renders it like this: “Peace among those 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.” 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, repent, 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. We must keep together what the angels kept together – Glory to God and peace to people. A heart bent on showing and sharing the glory of God will know and grow in the peace of God.
One pastor says it much better than I can:
“If you say, ‘I don’t have any interest in…the glory of God; I just want the peace,’ then you won’t get it. You can’t separate the two. The angels won’t let you. God won’t let you. God’s purpose is to give you peace by being the most glorious person in your life…If we want peace to rule in our lives, God must rule in our lives…A heart bent on showing the glory of God will know the peace of God.”
While this is a sentimental time of the year, there is nothing special 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” 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
The only way to have peace is to give glory to God and to know the Prince of Peace.
Peace with God
Before we can be at peace with God, we must come to grips with how ruptured our relationship with God is apart from Christ. While God loves us and cherishes us, He is filled with indignation because of our incessant 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.
Ephesians 2:14 declares, “For He himself is our peace.” Colossians 1:20 says that Jesus reconciled Himself to all things “making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.”
Peace only sounds wonderful when we recognize 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 and the curse of sin is reversed by the Savior: “No more let sins and sorrows grow…far as the curse is found.”
Propitiation brings peace. Once we are justified by faith, peace is a primary reality for the believer. We can face a holy God because we’re now glued to Him by the finished and final work of Christ on the cross.
No matter how far away you are, 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.’”
Peace of God
Only those at peace with God can experience the 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. Only 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 is 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 a while ago who told me how God had given her peace about a very difficult decision. She described the peace she experienced as surprising. I reminded her that this is the “peace that surpasses all understanding” from Philippians 4:7.
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 said it like this: “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 Jesus didn’t call 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.”
Whenever I read the story of the shepherds, I think of Linus reading Luke 2 on Charlie Brown’s Christmas. That reminds me of a discussion Lucy and Charlie Brown had in which Lucy said, “Charlie Brown, since it is Christmas, I suggest that we lay aside all our differences and be friends for this season of the year.” Charlie Brown smiled and responded eagerly, “That’s a great idea, Lucy, but why does it have to be just at this time of the year? Why can’t we be friends all year long?” Exasperated, Lucy looks at him and says, “What are you, a fanatic or something?”
Within a country and community filled with chaos and conflict, are you willing to be a peace fanatic? 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”? Do you need to forgive or ask for forgiveness? 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.
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 the gospel of peace. Peter summarizes the essence of the Incarnation when he declared 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 because this good news of great joy is “for all the people.” That’s why we partner with missionaries like Aaron and Amanda Langworthy who are headed to Uganda to work with the Aringa people, Uganda’s last known unreached people group.
The only way to have peace is to give glory to God and to know the Prince of Peace.
Here are a couple other ways we can get the message out.
- Invite three people to one of our three Christmas Eve services. Many people are looking for a church to attend and will consider coming if you invite them. In a recent poll of 1,000 Americans, Lifeway Research found among those who don’t attend church at Christmas, a majority (57 percent) say they would likely come if someone they knew invited them. Extra invites are available around the building. I invited a waitress Thursday night and she seemed very interested. I also invited a guy on Friday.
- Share an invite on social media. We are using some strategic Facebook ads this year to get the word out. If you’re on Facebook a simple thing you can do is share this invite to your wall.
Are you out of sorts with God? Repent and receive the Prince of Peace into your life and be made right with Him immediately. Are you all shaken up on the inside? Give all your anxiety to the Almighty and His unexplained peace will give you calm in the midst of chaos. Are your relationships ruptured? Do the hard work of being a peacemaker. And then go and spread this message of peace.
Let’s go back to the first three words of Isaiah 9:6: “For to us.” This phrase is repeated twice: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Now, let’s look at Luke 2:11 again: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
- In Isaiah, it’s in the plural – “to us.”
- In Luke, it’s personal – “unto you.”
It’s one thing to say Jesus died for the sins of the world; it’s another thing to say He died for me.
Jesus was born to the whole world, but He was also born “unto you.” Christmas is his-story but it must become your story. Luke 2:11: “For unto you is born [personal] this day [that means right now – don’t hesitate or procrastinate] in the city of David [fulfilling prophecy] a Savior [one who forgives sins] who is Christ [the long-awaited Messiah] the Lord [Master and Leader].
- Is He “Savior” to you?
- Is He “Christ” to you?
- Is He “Lord” to you?
The mighty choir of Heaven is proclaiming onto you the glory of God wrapped up in the gift of His Son for you. God gets the glory when people are at peace. Will you receive the gift of salvation right now?
Luke 2:16 says the shepherds “went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” The shepherds ran to find the Prince of Peace. Will you run, will you repent, and will you receive the Savior who is “born unto you?” He was born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us second birth.
Ten years ago, Beth and I had the privilege of taking a trip to Israel. I had the humble honor of preaching at a Baptist Church in Bethlehem which was a highlight of our trip. One of my lowlights also happened in Bethlehem, when we toured the Church of the Nativity. I didn’t like all the commercialism, relics, images, ritualism, and how people appeared to be worshipping a place, instead of the Prince of Peace. One review on Trip Advisor made this claim about going to this church: “Get Peace by Kissing the Birthplace.” Peace doesn’t come from a place but only from a relationship with the Prince of Peace! It made me want to look for a broom so I could chase people out of there.
While I didn’t see priests whacking each other over the head, I did experience something which really impacted me. I’ll never forget walking across a large plaza and then coming to a door which was so small you had to duck down low to get inside. This rectangular doorway is less than 5 feet in height and is called, “The Door of Humility.” This entrance to the church was deliberately made low because several centuries ago, men were riding their horses right into the sanctuary. The caretakers of the church felt that was inappropriate, so they lowered the entrance to force proud people to dismount and bow down before entering the church.
Listen. If you want to go to heaven, you have to get off your high horse. Until you do, you’ll never be saved. And, if you want to experience peace, you must get rid of your pride. Give glory to God. Then receive peace personally.
The only way to have peace is to give glory to God and to know the Prince of Peace.
Check out these words from, “O Little Town of Bethlehem:” “No ear may hear His coming but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in. Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today…O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”