It is common to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as the coming of the Son of God to make peace. Surely, such celebration is right. His angelic heralds went before Him announcing peace on earth (Luke 2:14). One of the earliest prophecies of His coming called Him Shiloh, the Peaceful One, who gives rest (Gen. 49:10). On taking leave of His disciples in the crucifixion and ascension, Jesus Himself left with them as His parting gift, peace: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John 14:27).
The peace of Jesus is the tranquility of soul of the guilty sinner who has been reconciled with God by the forgiveness of his sins. The peace of Jesus is the harmonious life of the church in the oneness of the faith of God by the unifying power of the Spirit. The peace of Jesus is enjoyed by a godly husband and wife in a marriage without strife and by a covenant family in a home without uproar. The peace of Jesus moves Christians to make peace among themselves and to live peaceably as much as possible with all.
One day—the Day of Christ—the peace of Jesus will reign in all the renewed creation. Nations will learn war no more; swords will be beaten into plowshares. The wolf and the lamb will feed together. Creation will not convulse in quake and storm. In Christ Jesus, Prince of Peace, the new, elect humanity will be perfectly at peace with the God of peace. The entire, vast creation will be the peaceable kingdom of Psalm 72.Christ came for peace.
What is not so common is that we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as His coming for war. This is strange, inexcusable, really, in light of Scripture’s painting the birth of Christ in hue of bloody red.
The first promise of Christ’s coming had the Seed of the woman coming to crush the head of the serpent and the serpent’s seed (Gen. 3:15). This would be the bloody climax of the age-old hatred and war between the serpent and his brood, on the one hand, and the woman and her children, on the other hand. Christ would be born to kill and destroy. He would kill and destroy Satan, personal archenemy of God and His chosen people, and Satan’s offspring, reprobate wicked men and women.
Christ came for war.
When He came, war raged. It raged because of His coming. His enemies furiously opposed Him. The notion that everyone has a soft spot in his heart for the baby Jesus is gross heresy and arrant nonsense. The heathen raged; the people imagined a vain thing; the kings of the earth set themselves; the rulers took counsel together, against the Anointed of Jehovah (Psalm 2). He united everyone, to be sure—against Himself. He made peace among all peoples, all right—the peace of a common hatred of Himself.
Before He was two, the army of the world-power marched on Bethlehem to assassinate Him, with the connivance of the false church.
And although His foes are foolish to oppose Him, because the opposition is futile, they are shrewd in their recognition of Him as their one great enemy.
Christ came for war.
As the Christ of war, He was announced at His birth, and not only as the Christ of peace. Through Simeon, the Holy Spirit told Mary that her child would be “spoken against” (Luke 2:34, 35). The contradiction would be widespread and violent. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel would say “no” to Him by mockery, official condemnation by church and state, and nailing Him to a cross. On His part, the child is appointed by God, not only for the rising but also for the fall of many in Israel. They will stumble over Him as the great stumbling-stone in human history. Their fall is their spiritual and everlasting perdition.
Christ came for war.
By His cross, He won the war. Giving Himself over completely to the power of His enemies, to kill Him and apparently defeat Him utterly, in fact He spoiled the principalities and powers. He made a spectacle of them openly, triumphing over them in the cross (Col. 2:15). For, giving Himself over to His enemies, He gave Himself up to the righteous God, satisfying God’s justice regarding His church and His creation. Christ stripped the old serpent of all right to the seed of the woman and the world, their home. Christ now has the right to elect humanity and the universe.
Christ came for the cross.
At the present time, Jesus Christ is carrying on the great war of the holy God in history. By the gospel and the sacraments, Christ defends His kingdom and its citizens against the murderous assaults and fiery darts of Satan and his hosts. Christ is also pulling down the strongholds of the kingdom of darkness; hardening and blinding reprobate sinners in their unbelief and disobedience; and rendering the world of the ungodly ripe for the final judgment.
The warfare of Christ can come, O, so painfully close to us. We confess that Christ did not come to send peace on earth, but a sword, with broken hearts and copious tears. For He wields His sharp sword within our closest family-circle, cutting through the precious ties of flesh and blood. His doctrine and life set son against father, daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. A man’s foes are those of his own household. Those who are Christ’s are called to endure hatred from their nearest and dearest and to hate their own loved ones for Christ’s sake (Matt. 10:34-37; Luke 14:26).
Christ came for war.
All war has an end. If the warring parties know what they are doing, if they know the fundamental law of warfare, the end is the subjugation or destruction of one of them. Christ’s war, too, has an end. The end has been decreed in the counsels of Almighty God before the war began. It is assured by Christ’s atoning death and bodily resurrection. The end of the war will be the total and lasting victory of Christ.
But the end of the war will be bloody. The last, decisive battle in the war will begin with the all-out attack upon Christ, as He is present on earth in those who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ,” by the world-kingdom of Satan under the Antichrist. For the first time in the history of the present age, the instituted church will be broken worldwide. The blood of martyrs will flow in rivers. The name of blasphemy will be exalted in all the world. Christ’s name will be obliterated for a short while, save in the hearts and on the lips of the few, harried saints who survive.
The last, decisive battle will conclude with the all-out and triumphant attack upon Satan and his minions by the returning Christ. In righteousness will He judge and make war. Treading the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God, He will kill and damn all His and His church’s enemies. Their blood will be sprinkled on His garments and will stain all His raiment (Rev. 19:11-21; Isaiah 63:1-6).
Christ will come for war.
If in our celebration of the birth of Christ we ignore all this biblical testimony to the coming of Christ for war, our understanding of the incarnation and virgin birth is seriously deficient, and our celebration is superficial.
If, sadly or even angrily, we react against the biblical testimony to the Christ of war as an unpleasant disturbance of our merry celebration of a sweet, tender, loving baby Jesus, whose intentions are only the best for everybody, we show that we know neither Jesus Christ nor the peace that He brought.
The Christ of Scripture brought peace to earth on behalf of God, not regardless of God. There is peace only for those sinners who are reconciled to God by the cross, Word, and Spirit of Jesus Christ. For impenitent rebels, Christ has only the rod of iron.
The peace of Jesus Christ kisses righteousness, acknowledges the triune God as sovereign, and is established in the world only in the way of Christ’s war with ungodliness and the ungodly.
He came fighting for peace.