First there was but one angel who appeared to the shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem as they kept watch over their flocks by night. Seeing the glory of the Lord shining round about them, the shepherds shrank back in fear. “Fear not,” said the angel, “for I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Then the angel proceeded to inform the shepherds of his glad tidings. The promised Savior, the Christ, had been born that very day in the city of David. And the shepherds could see him. They would find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And then, suddenly, the heavens were filled with multitudes of angels, praising God for the birth of the Christ child. The angels were obviously filled with great joy. The birth of the Christ child was glad tidings also to them. So overjoyed were they that they could not help but break forth in this doxology of praise to God.
Glory to God in the highest!
And on earth peace, good will toward men!
Let us now consider the beautiful song of praise that reverberated in the heavenly realm!
Glory is the revelation of that which is awesome, spectacular, and praiseworthy. The Bible speaks for example of the glory of the sun, of the moon, and of the stars (1 Cor. 15:41). How spectacular they are in their heavenly abode! The Bible calls our attention to Solomon who in his great glory was not arrayed like the lily of the field (Matt. 6:29).
Overshadowing all the glory of creation is God’s glory. God is the God of all virtue and perfection. Whenever and wherever we see God’s virtues on display, we see His glory.
We see God’s glory in the creation. The glory of the sun, moon, and stars are really God’s glory. The same is true of the glory of Solomon and the lily of the field. This is because all creation is the handiwork of God that reflects his virtues and perfection. And so the psalmist breaks forth in praise, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Ps. 19:1).
But now the angels that appeared to the shepherds outside Bethlehem direct our attention to the little babe born in Bethlehem’s manger. There they saw the glory of God more brilliantly displayed than in any other of God’s handiwork. So much is this true that a multitude of them joyfully broke through the darkness of the night to proclaim to the shepherds God’s glory revealed in Bethlehem’s babe. Never has this happened before. And it will not happen again until the appearance of this same Christ as He comes in His glory from heaven at the end of the ages.
In their joy the angels proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest.”
“The highest” refers not to God as the highest, although this is true, but to the highest region of God’s creation, which is heaven. Heaven is called “the highest” not because of its physical location but rather its exalted nature. Heaven is God’s dwelling place. It is true that God dwells everywhere as the omnipresent God. Yet God dwells in heaven in a very special and unique way as the covenant God, so that it is in heaven that you find the fullness of God’s friendship and fellowship. For that reason, heaven is also the dwelling place of the holy angels. The angels were created as the highest of God’s creatures, whose dwelling place therefore is in heaven.
In response to Jesus’ birth these angels proclaim to the shepherds and to us, “Glory to God in the highest.” The meaning is that in the height of heaven the angels were giving glory to God at the birth of the Christ child. They were acknowledging the glory of God in His birth and giving God the praise and honor due to Him for His glorious work.
We may wonder what was so glorious about the birth of Jesus. He was born in squalor. His parents were poor, so poor that they were not able to make any other arrangements than to find shelter in a filthy cattle shed. And there the Christ child was born. His bed was a manger, a feeding trough for animals. What was so spectacular about this work of God to bring the angels from heaven to proclaim God’s glory?
It is through this babe that God will bring peace on earth!
There has been war and strife on the earth from the early history of mankind. It is all the result of sin. Before sin entered into the world there was only peace on earth. Adam and Eve lived in peace with each other and, more importantly, in peace with God. But then they rebelled against God in sin. God punished this sin by placing mankind under the power of sin so that he is filled with hatred, envy, anger, and desire for revenge. This has resulted in war and conflict on every level of man’s life. Fallen man is at war with God. Man is filled with bitter hatred against God. Originally, man was the friend of God who served God in love. Now he has become the enemy of God who opposes God in all that he does. This brings upon man the terrible punishment of God that leads to his ultimate ruin. But strife and conflict have also reigned among men. The hatred that fallen man has towards God is also a hatred for his fellow man. And so there have been strife and conflict on every level of society—in marriage, the family, among the races, and between nations. The history of this world has been a history of strife and conflict.
And the world seeks to find peace. Sadly, the world is not interested in making peace with God. Because of their deep hatred of God, they are not concerned to be reconciled with God and live at peace with Him. The world is interested only in peace on the human, earthly level. It wants to put an end to war among the nations, bloodshed on the streets, conflict in marriage and the family. Its motive is not love for God or reconciliation with God. Man wants to enjoy his earthly life to the full, including the pleasures of sin. War and strife stand in the way of this. Prosperity is generally found only in the midst of peace. And so mankind seeks peace among himself so that he can enjoy life on the earth—a life without God, a life enjoying the pleasures of sin. Mankind seeks to accomplish this peace through treaties, arbitration, compromises, and counseling. And the world is brazen enough to cite Jesus Christ as the bringer of this kind of peace.
The peace that Jesus Christ brings to the earth is far different.
The peace He brings is first a peace with God. Jesus Christ is the Son of God in human flesh whom God sent to bring reconciliation between God and men. God has eternally chosen to Himself a people with whom He desires to live eternally in the joys of His covenant. To that end He sent Jesus Christ to reconcile them to Himself so that they would live at peace with Him as friend with friend. This reconciliation takes place not in the way of negotiations and compromise but in the way of atonement or payment of sin. Atonement requires that Jesus take upon Himself the guilt of sin and endure the awful penalty of sin. It requires the humiliation, shame, and the agony of the cross. The lowly circumstances of Jesus’ birth were designed by God to be an indication of this great humiliation and shame. The result of Christ’s atoning death is peace with God. It covers our sins so that we are forgiven. It also transforms us from enemies to the friends of God so that we live with Him and enjoy Him in the bond of peace.
The peace Christ brings to His people also creates a wonderful peace among the people of God. If we by the power of the cross have come to love and serve God in peace, it will also fill our hearts with love for our neighbor. The cross that transforms us into the friends of God also transforms us to be friends of each other. And so there is also peace on earth among men. You will find that peace in the church and in the covenant home.
However, that peace also brings strife and conflict, at least for the present. In Matthew 10:34–35 Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” The point that Jesus makes is that those that stand outside the redeeming, transforming work of the cross remain in their sin. They are filled with hatred not only against God but also against all those that are the friends of God. This will bring the sword of opposition and persecution upon the people of God. This may even be found in your home. And so we look to the day when the Prince of peace will return from heaven to finish His work and perfect His peace by destroying His and our enemies.
The source of this peace is God’s good will toward men.
God’s good will is His kindness and benevolence.
This good will God has towards men. These men are His elect church that forms the heart of the human race.
In His good will, God will bring peace to them on earth.
This is His good will even though it means the suffering, shame, and hellish death on the cross of Bethlehem’s babe, who is His only begotten Son.
The angels recognized God’s great glory in all this and joyfully filled the heavens with praise to God. We who have and enjoy this peace must with the angels of heaven praise God for His glorious work of sending His only begotten Son into our world as the Savior, which is Christ the Lord. We must do that in song and prayer. We must do this by living and enjoying the peace God has brought to us in Jesus Christ.