Peace On Earth: What Did The Angels Mean?
Many will no doubt have received cards on which the sentiment "Peace on Earth" such as these are expressed. It is almost universally the case that these words have been taken and used in this context - a desire for peace and harmony in the earth.
This we are told is what the season of Christmas promotes.
A Christmas Carol written at the time of the American civil war expresses the desire of its author for peace, and “man at war with man hears not the tidings which we – the angels – bring”.
Another writer composing at the same time wrote: “There is not peace on earth, I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men”.
But the incident which stands out amongst them all is the cessation of hostilities during the first Christmas of WW1 – when opposing forces stepped out of their trenches shook hands wished one another a Happy Christmas and even, it is suggested, played a friendly game of football. Only to resume the following day to blow one another to pieces.
What did the Angels say?
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:13-14 KJV)
Here it is from different translations of the Bible:
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom God’s favour rests (Luke 2:13-14 NIV)
And on earth his peace for men on whom his favour rests (Luke 2:13-14 NIB)
Peace on earth to men that are God’s friends (Luke 2:13-14 Knox)
Peace among those with whom he is pleased (Luke 2:13-14 ESV)
From this we discover that rather than these words being an expression of a general desire for political peace – an absence from conflict, these words were not initially concerned with Man’s relationship with man BUT with God’s relationship with man. The Peace is to men on whom God’s favour rests.
Words that Zechariah said about John the Baptist:
And you, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for you shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)
From this we learn that firstly - the babe whose birth the angels heralded would eventually be a saviour - To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.
And secondly he would give light to those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, which as a result would guide our feet into the way of peace.
There is then a close connection between:
And guiding feet into the way of peace.
Salvation and the remission of sins
Giving light to those that sit in darkness
We find similar words in the prophecy of Isaiah:
I the LORD have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. (Isa 42:6-7)
them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
To give light to them that sit in darkness and in
To bring out the prisoners from the prison, and
the shadow of death,
To open the blind eyes,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Another comparison from the same prophecy of Isaiah and what was pronounced about Jesus in the New Testament:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.
A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles.
He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.
He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.
And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.
The context important – Jesus is surrounded by his enemies:
Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. (Matthew 12:14)
If Jesus had chosen confrontation he could have demolished his adversaries. But he chose rather to teach and encourage the un-influential and the more truly devout section of Jewish society. Jesus demonstrating in his ministry of word and work the very purpose of his existence which was to bring Peace on earth to men that are God’s friends
At the heart of everything that Jesus came to do lies one incontrovertible fact: Human beings are by nature an enemy of God.
Human beings are by nature an enemy of God.
Genesis presents us with a picture of God's creation in harmony, with man created in the image of God, when all things were pronounced very good. After the transgression of the human pair, where there had been peace there was discord and enmity. There was therefore a need for a reconciler, this reconciler is described in the Genesis record as the seed of the women.
The Hebrew word peace - shalom – is worth considering in this context, because it does not merely describe a settled life free from conflict, but it is a word which goes to the very heart of relationships, and particularly of those between God and his people..
Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,
As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. (Joshua 8:30-31)
The detail of the peace offering can be found in Leviticus 3 and Leviticus 7. To summarise: In the wilderness every meal of meat was to be constituted a Peace offering (Lev 3:1-6). The offerer must bring the offering to the door of the tabernacle and kill it himself (Lev 3:1). To the officiating priest would be given the right thigh. The priests in general would be given the breast. The fat was constituted the food (Lev 3:11) of the offering and was Gods portion. The offerer and his family ate the remainder. As well as other cereal offerings leavened bread was used.
The peace offering was a celebration of the unity that God desired between himself and his people, and also a celebration of the mediation that he had established to bring this about. The shedding of blood and its association by sprinkling, underlined need for sin to be forgiven, this at the heart of God's desire to have peace with his people.
Sin prevented peace.
The right thigh - the choicest cut of the meat - given to the officiating priest, indicated that God desired the best of the offerer’s life, however freely given, this could only be accepted through the mediation of the priest. Reliance on the priestly work was emphasised yet again by the giving of the breast to the priests in general. The fat described as the food of the offering indicated the desire of God to, as it were, share a meal of fellowship with the offerer and his family, who were to eat the remainder of the carcass accompanied, remarkably, by leavened bread.
This offering shows God's desire to be at one with his people, and even though they were leavened, he was prepare to accept them, through the priestly mediation he had provided. Although God was prepared to accept the blood of the offering as a token of forgiveness the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin.
Yet despite this weakness the Peace Offering spoke eloquently of a peace offering yet to come, an offering, which would be made once and for all.
Remarkable, then when the angels sang at Jesus’ birth they DID sing of Peace on Earth. Not just a desire for the absence of political conflict and an opportunity to live peaceful lives - but of a peace which spoke of the reconciliation of man to God. This to be accomplished through the life and death of God’s Son who presented himself as a peace offering for all.
Therefore when he was about to be offered he spoke to his disciples of the peace he was to accomplish.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)
The Jewish world of animal sacrifices could not bring a lasting peace. In contrast the peace brought by the work and sacrifice of Jesus was permanent. Because of Jesus it was now possible to humankind to be reconciled to God. There was also tangible evidence of this in the relationship between the Jews and gentiles.
Here was tangible proof of enmity abolished, the fracture between Jew and gentile healed, with the result that both were now fellow citizens of the household of God. All accomplished by the reconciling work of Jesus.
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of two one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; (Ephesians 2:14-22)
Enmity is a word of strife that emphasises separation and disharmony. A word which explains the predicament of humankind in relation to their creator. In Ephesians 2 this enmity is described as the law of commandments contained in ordinances
Similarly in Colossians:
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us. (Colossians 2:14)
Though the emphasis is on the written Mosaic law, we are in fact being taken to the Garden of Eden to the source of all enmity. This enmity had been codified in the hand writing of ordinances that was against us - the written Law, “for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).
Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (Romans 5:20)
This Law emphasised the weakness of sinful flesh, because it was impossible - even in its observance to keep it. Sin estranges men from God, and has it’s origin in Adamic sin. Paul describes it in Roman 7 as a law in his members warring against the law of his mind.
A stark reality
“PEACE ON EARTH” spoken in such generalist terms and which is applied almost exclusively by those about us in terms of a sense of well being and good cheer, has nothing to do with such sentiments at all, for this peace applies only to those on whom Gods favour rests.
God cannot extend his peace to those who do not acknowledge or believe in the work of his son. Such peace is only for those who have faith in him as Paul in says:
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1)
Human kind without God are described as ENEMIES!
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:10-11)
You that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind….hath he reconciled (Colossians 1:21)
Alien from which alienated is derived describes one who does not belong, one who, because of a different culture and language cannot participate in the life, for example of a nation. To be alienated from God therefore is to have a mind contrary to his ways, which is exhibited in language, and ideas, which are foreign to the status of those who have been translated into the kingdom of his dear son. Paul has explained in the clearest of language the position of humankind estranged from God, they are enemies!
He has also told of the nature of the reconciling work of Jesus that has brought peace with God. The means - how this has been accomplished- is also explained- in the body of his flesh through death.
In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight (Ephesians 2:22)
Flesh here does not just describe the substance of which we, and all mammals are made, but stricken human nature; those who are linked to Adam, not just by common ancestry, but by a solidarity with his fallen nature. This is NOT just of the fact of mortality, which Christ so obviously shared, and which would in the fullness of time have brought about his death but of Jesus linked to Adam’s children by the propensity to sin. Sin against which he struggled and triumphed.
The temptations which Jesus endured - in the wilderness, in the garden and throughout his life were real. He was "Tempted in all points as we are yet without sin." Heb 4:15
His flesh was miraculously provided - by the operation of the Holy Spirit on the womb of Mary. But the infant that was born was made of the seed of David according to the flesh. (see Romans 1:3)
Jesus describes himself as heavenly provided bread which if a man eat he shall live for ever, but this is not the pre-existent Christ of the Trinitarian, but as Jesus tells unequivocally the miraculously heavenly provided bread was his flesh.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:51)
The miracle of this provision is not just in the means whereby it was accomplished, but also in its effect. Christ as the representative man was able, by his triumph, to redeem himself and others. Indeed such is the power of his sacrifice that on the basis of faith – belief - we can be covered by his righteousness, so that he will present us HOLY UNBLAMABLE AND UNREPROVABLE IN HIS SIGHT
The sacrifice of the peace offering of Jesus is not a temporary ritual, but a permanent accomplished fact. By His sacrifice He presents us HOLY - separated from sin, and therefore consecrated to God. How starkly this stands in contrast to those things which alienate us from God
Adam's Children part of an unregenerated creation.
Presented Holy = Adopted sons and daughters by faith - part of the New Creation.
Enemies in your mind Wicked works
How remarkable this is? That we, to whom blame can rightly be attributed, are accepted as unblamable, and we who should so easily be reproved are presented unreprovable.
The Greek word translated unblamable is a most astonishing word - "anenkletos". This is a legal term describing one who after public investigation cannot be called to account. It implies not merely acquittal, but the absence of even a charge or accusation. This of course is the very opposite of our natural position - until we notice the phrase "In his sight". Because of the work of Christ these blemishes so readily observed and so clearly present in all of us, can be in his sight as nothing.
Such is the graciousness of the God of Israel that that which is impossible has been accomplished. There is nothing that we can do to change the circumstances of our weakness, no amount of earnest endeavour will ever remove the weakness that we bear!
Yet the promise is. If we respond in faith we will be accepted. But this does not mean inactivity or idle resignation. There is one essential condition governed by that little word IF
If you continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; (Colossians 1:23)
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom God’s favour rests
The peace of which the angels sang is concerned with the reconciliation of men and women to God, which can only come by a belief in His Son and all that he has accomplished. For having made peace by the blood of his cross he reconciles us to God. This peace is for those on whom God’s favour rests. There is however one last and important step which is, that this peace and reconciliation - now available to those who believe on him, will, in the not too distant future be more fully realised when Jesus returns to establish a Kingdom of which he is the promised King. A promise also made as his birth.
He shall be great and the Lord God will give unto him the throne of his Father David and of his Kingdom there shall be no end. Luke 1:32
Creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:20-23)