“And on earth peace, good will to men.”
The birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ is indeed a day full of contrasts. Jesus is born, and for Him of Whom the Scriptures declare that the ends of the earth have been given Him for an inheritance and that He is the King of kings, there is no room in the inn. His birth is announced by angels, first by Gabriel, and then by an heavenly chorus. And it is announced to shepherds as they were watching over their flocks, and at night. Mary is the mother of Jesus and she is a virgin! The Babe is Lord of all, and yet the Servant of servants. He is the Eternal Who is also temporal, the Infinite Who is also finite, the Almighty Who is also weak, God Who is also man.
It is ever thus when Christ is involved. We have here the Absolute Contrast, the Absolute Antithesis, the Either—Or. He is received or not received, worshipped and loved or hated and despised; you embrace Him or you reject Him; you lay your all at His feet or take from Him even the swaddling clothes, and finally nail Him to the cross.
The same contrast characterizes this Scripture: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.” On earth peace! Peace then? Peace now? Through Christ? What an amazing message of the angels!
Peace on earth—what an amazing paradox! The angels sing here of peace on earth. Peace is harmony, unity, agreement, fellowship, concord. The opposite of peace is discord, enmity, hatred, war, misery, and death. We read here of peace on earth. That simply means that peace has come upon earth, this earth. Peace upon earth, also today, and this in spite of wars and rumors of wars! Moreover, we simply read of peace on earth. Notice, there is nothing uncertain here. The text does not speak of a possibility of peace, or that the reality of peace is predicted for the future. Scripture here simply speaks of a fact; the text informs us that with the birth of Mary’s firstborn peace has come upon the earth.
Imagine the setting of this announcement of the angels! The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ occurs in Israel’s darkest hour. It is some four hundred years ago that the last prophet, Malachi, had proclaimed the word of the Lord. There had been no word of God since. The office of the high priest had become a plaything in the hands of Rome. The king, too, who sat upon the throne of David, was appointed by Rome. And at the time of Jesus’ birth none other was kind but Herod the Great, a monster of iniquity, an Idumaean and not even a Jew. Rome exercised complete dominion; Israel appeared completely under the domination of the carnal element; the people of the Lord who looked and longed for the realization of the promise were so painfully few. Peace on earth? Where? Is it not a good thing that the announcement of Jesus’ birth, this so-called Prince of Peace, was limited to a few ignorant shepherds, and this in the middle of the night?
What was the peace which this Child brought upon the earth, and as long as He was upon the earth? What was the effect upon Herod when, the news was brought to him by the Wise Men from the east concerning Christ’s birth? It is Jesus, we understand, Who presents His credentials to Herod, through these wise men. The Babe of Bethlehem directs these Magi to Herod, to announce to the king the birth of the King of the Jews. And the result? Immediate steps are taken by King Herod to destroy the Babe of Bethlehem.
Besides, did this Jesus bring peace upon the earth? It seems that wherever He went and preached, the very opposite of peace was the result. To be sure, people followed and acclaimed Him, but only as long as they did not understand Him, as, for example, the Galilean multitude of John 6. People surely had the opportunity to express themselves with respect to Him. Jesus did not isolate Himself from the children of men, did not operate in some remote corner. He was constantly in the limelight. He taught in the temple, went up and down in the land; His Name was upon the lips of all. And their reaction to Him? He was called a gluttonous man and a winebibber; they called Him an ally of Beelzebub, a friend of sinners, a deceiver, a mad man with whom nobody could do anything. Did He bring peace upon the earth and was He received as such? We know better.
Finally, they disposed of Him upon the cross of Calvary. What a miserable failure He was, this Prince of Peace! In fact, He even opposed all efforts on the part of His disciples to unite behind Him and establish an earthly kingdom! And this is not all!
What happens with respect to the church after His death and resurrection and glorification? Persecution and tribulation are the lot of those who would follow after Him. And is there peace on earth? Wars and rumors of wars continue throughout the ages.
Jesus, the Prince of Peace and War—how real and understandable! He is surely the Prince of Peace! Peace, we have noted, is harmony, unity, agreement between two or more persons who are united in a bond of love and fellowship. Bethlehem’s Babe is indeed the Prince of Peace. God is the God of peace. There is in God no discord. The peace in God is that perfection in the alone living God, whereby He, as the Triune Jehovah, in the bond of infinite perfection, is in eternal harmony and fellowship with Himself. Understanding this, we understand that the natural man is a child of war. He is that in himself, in all his heart and soul and life. He is a child of war and of hell; because he hates God; there is no fear of God in his heart, no will or desire to love Him, to seek Him; he hates the living God, always holds the truth, that God is God, under in unrighteousness. Christ alone is the Prince of Peace. He is that in Himself as the eternal Son of God, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father and the Spirit. And He is the Prince of Peace as Man. All men are by nature enemies of God and of one another. He alone is at peace with God; He alone is in perfect harmony with God. Also, as far as His calling is concerned, He knows no other desire than to do the will of God.
Hence, Jesus and enmity are inseparably connected. What else can one expect in the midst of an evil and corrupt world! What else can we expect when the one and only Servant of Jehovah confronts the natural man who hates God? What else can we expect of a Herod, of the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees? What else can be expected of you, of me?
Nevertheless, there is peace on earth. There is peace on earth—in Him! Indeed, the angels may surely sing: Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth. This peace is a fact, because Christ is born. Ever since Adam turned his back upon the Lord and allied himself with the father of lies, this earth has become a spiritual inferno of hatred and enmity; upon this earth .God looks down from heaven to behold the children of men, and, lo, there is none that seeketh after God, none that doeth good. But now in Bethlehem a mortal is born, in whose heart and soul is peace, the first of His kind in all the history of the world.
And there is peace on earth, through Him. He is the Prince of Peace. And that He is the Prince of Peace means also that He bestows peace. He is the Princeof peace, leads us into peace, the blessed covenant fellowship with God in everlasting and heavenly immortality. He is this because He is Immanuel, God with us. That He is Immanuel means that God Himself came to us. We did not go to Him. God placed Himself, the Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, underneath the burden of our enmity and sin and guilt—this is the key to our salvation, the how and why of our salvation.
And as that Prince of Peace He realizes this peace. This happens centrally upon the cross. He realizes the state of peace. O, He does not change a hating God into a loving Father. For God so loved the world, . . . He reconciles us to God, bears all our sin and pays all our debt, and merits everlasting life. As the Prince of Peace, He also realizes this peace throughout the ages. No, He does not work or pray for the peace of the nations. As far as the wicked are concerned, He brings, not peace, but a sword, sets father against son, etc; He calls into being the red horse and the black horse of Revelation 6. He realizes peace, by His grace and Spirit, in the hearts of His own. He delivers us from our natural hatred and enmity against God, sheds God’s love abroad in our hearts, and gives us the unspeakably wonderful assurance that all is well between us and the living God. And He will come again upon the clouds of heaven. He will return, not as He came to us in Bethlehem. But He will come again, personally and bodily, in great power and glory, to realize for all His own God’s eternal and heavenly tabernacle with man.
This peace, of course, is very particular. We do not read here literally: peace on earth, good will to men. But we do read this: peace on earth in men of good will. O, this does not mean: peace on earth in men who are kindly disposed. There are no such people. Then peace would never be ours. The text, however, means: peace on earth in the men of God’s will, God’s good pleasure, in them who are the objects of God’s sovereign good pleasure and to whom it pleases the Lord to bestow His peace.
Now we see the beauty of this word of God. O, it may at first glance appear strange that the angels should exercise their talents before a few shepherds, and that the most wonderful choir should display its musical talents in the presence of a few humble shepherds who undoubtedly were not too musically inclined. What of it? This peace of God belongs only to a few. There is peace on earth only in those who are the objects of God’s sovereign love and good pleasure. Now everything becomes beautifully understandable. There is peace on earth, now, in Bethlehem, only in the elect, for Christ is born, and Christ is the Head of the elect; He came for them and for them alone. There is presently peace on earth, only for the elect, also on Calvary. Indeed, do not be surprised that Jesus then stands alone, that all forsake Him, also His disciples. We have peace only through Him and apart from Him we are all enemies of God! How understandable that we should crucify Him. But He is the Prince of Peace for us. Also and particularly when we kill Him! For He came to save us, and, as the Prince of Peace, uses our enmity to realize His cross, and the eternal salvation of His own. Indeed, He loved us while we were yet sinners.
And so there is peace on earth, in the elect of the living God, throughout the ages. Be not alarmed about wars and rumors of wars; a world at peace would be far more horrible than a world at war. Christ, then, would never return, inasmuch as wars and rumors of wars are also the signs of His coming. Do you have and taste the peace of God in your hearts? Seek not the things that are below; trust not in worldly peace conferences; all these peace efforts are doomed to fail; God sits in the heavens and He laughs. at them. Trust in God and in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who saved you, and look forward to the day of your .perfect and everlasting deliverance.