Today we start a new sermon series called "The Carols of Christmas," where we will look at a few of the favorite carols and consider their Biblical message for today. Today we are looking at peace. We lit the Advent Candle of Peace this morning and you heard David read a few verses concerning peace. Henry W. Longfellow wrote about peace as we had sung this morning:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day, Their old, familiar carols play, and wild and sweet, The words repeat, Of peace on earth, good-will to men! (1)
We heard the bell choir this morning play familiar carols. But what about peace? Longfellow had an issue about peace or rather the lack of peace:
And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Today we’re going to looking at those words: “peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
Just what is peace? It is not simply an inner disposition or the absence of war, but evokes a whole social order of well-being and prosperity, security and harmony. We will consider that peace we each have with God so that we can experience the peace of God. We are going to see that Jesus is peace. Let’s look to a very familiar passage:
Luke 2:13–14 (NKJV) 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, goodwill toward men!”
The cruel miseries caused by the Civil War greatly distressed the beloved American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. With heaviness of spirit he put his thoughts into words to create this fine carol. Since he was the most influential American poet of his day, Longfellow brought fresh courage and renewed faith to many of his countrymen who read this poem. In 1861, two years before writing this poem, Longfellow's personal peace was shaken when his second wife of 18 years, to whom he was very devoted, was tragically burned in a fire. Then in 1863, during the American Civil War, Longfellow's oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, joined the Union Army. Charles soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, in late November, 1863, he was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church (in Virginia), during the Mine Run Campaign. Charles eventually recovered, but his time as a soldier was finished. Longfellow hated the Civil War and he received news of his son being wounded in early December. While tended to his sons wounds and seeing many other wounded soldiers from other battles, Longfellow asked friends and his God, “Where is peace in all this?” Then picking up pen and paper he attempted to answer that question. It was perhaps the inspiration on hearing the bells on that Christmas day 1863 that he wrote this poem. It was first published in February 1865 and music was added in 1872 by an Englishman named John Baptiste Calkin. Two verses are not included in our hymnals, those verses having obvious reference to the Civil War. Here is one of them:
Then from each black, accursed mouth, The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound, The carols drowned, Of peace on earth, goodwill to men! (2)
There are a great number of things that work against peace in our world today. We know that we are living in troubling times; the economy is tight, jobs are scarce, corruption and crime is all around us. The world is not a safe place with wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and hunger. Drugs and alcohol destroy families and lives. Hate seems to be the rule of the day. Where is peace?
These things are nothing new. 2,000 years ago the nation of Israel was an occupied land. The Romans ruled that world with an iron fist, showing little mercy to all. There was no security, nothing was certain; there was no peace in the land.
Then Jesus came. The first recipients of that joyous news were poor shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem. In general shepherds were dishonest and unclean according to the standards of the law. They represent the outcasts and sinners for whom Jesus came. Such outcasts were the first recipients of the good news. (3) Let’s look closely at what the Angels to those shepherds:
Luke 2:10–11 (NKJV) 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
The first word I want to look at is “Joy.” Throughout Luke “joy” (chara) is often associated with salvation. (4) Second, the phrase: “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” We understand the term savior. In Matthew we read:
Matthew 1:21 (NKJV) And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua, which quite literally means “YAHWEH saves.” Now keep this in mind.
"Christ the Lord" – Christ is simply the Greek word for the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Messiah means the anointed one. The anointed one, "the Lord." "Lord" here is used because the Jews did not use the proper name of God which is YAHWEH. The Greek OT was translated using “The LORD” for YAHWEH as we do today. Look in your OTs and you will see “the LORD” with LORD in all caps. The Hebrew has "YAHWEH."
In effect, the Angels, who probably made the announcement in Hebrew or Aramaic, made the announcement that born in Bethlehem was the One who will save the people from their sins, who was none other than the Messiah, who is God Himself. This God, who came in the flesh of a mere man.
Then Armies of heaven, million upon millions of angels appeared, breaking out in praise to God. What a sight that must have been. What did the Angels say? A bit of trivia, nowhere in the Bible is it recorded that Angels sing. Notice most all the modern translations have the Angels “saying.”
Luke 2:14 (NKJV) “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Not glory to a God, but to THE God. All glory goes to God. These poor shepherds were privy to a scene that the rest of us have to wait till we are in the presence of God in heaven to witness. Glory to God in the highest. None is higher than God.
And on earth peace – The Greek grammar, here in these phrases, is not the normal grammar experience elsewhere probably due to the attempt to translate into the Greek the Aramaic or Hebrew directly as spoken by the angels. This is not God wishing peace for the earth. This is the announcement that Peace Himself had come. Peace has arrived and is now lying in a manger in Bethlehem. What do we read in Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Jesus?
Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV) For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Jesus is the Prince or the Ruler over peace. Later in Isaiah, he says the peace is the one who:
Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV) You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.
Trusting in God, and the NT sense, trusting in Jesus keeps one in peace. The world may be going crazy, but those in Christ have peace.
Ephesians 2:14a (NKJV) For He Himself is our peace . . .
Jesus is peace. God is not wishing it, but God sent His Peace to those who will receive it. Let’s look at the rest of that phrase that the Army of Angels where saying in their praise to God:
"goodwill toward men!" As I said, the Greek Grammar is irregular. It is not God wishing men well, but rather it toward men which God has His goodwill. But considering the irregular Greek grammar, the NASB, HCSB and NIV has the better translations:
Luke 2:14 (NIV84) “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Let’s put this together. God did not wish or bestow peace on the earth to everyone, God sent Jesus, who is God Himself, and who is Peace, to those people who have accepted Him, and those who believe in Him, God has placed His favor.
Now here is the cold reality, with Jesus there is peace, without Jesus there is no peace. Why is there no peace on earth as Longfellow wrote? Most people in the world are without Jesus and lost, and without peace.
Isaiah 48:18 and 22(NKJV) 18 Oh, that you had heeded My commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, And your righteousness like the waves of the sea....22 “There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.”
God does not desire for anyone to be lost, to be without His peace.
Ezekiel 18:23 (NKJV) Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?
When Jesus had his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a mere 5 days before they crucified Him, Jesus wept over the city.
Luke 19:41–42 (NKJV) Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
That day it appeared they were welcoming a King, but a few days later they put to death the Prince of Peace. The only one who could really bring peace. And as Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24, some 40 years later, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed. Those without Jesus are destined for eternal torment, an eternity without peace. But that is not what God desires for anyone.
2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Repentance and calling upon God, claiming the blood of Jesus shed for our sins, all claimed by faith in Him, will bring about peace with God.
Romans 5:1 (NKJV) Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ
And with the making of the peace with God, we can experience the peace of God:
Philippians 4:7 (NKJV) and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
And we are called to let the peace of God rule in our hearts:
Colossians 3:15 (NKJV) And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
God sent our peace to earth in Jesus. Jesus is that peace. That peace is for those who belong to Him. Jesus said:
John 16:33 (NKJV) These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
All is under God’s control. The world may be at war, but we can have peace, His peace, which is the only true peace.
Longfellow’s poem ended in with hope.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.
God is not dead nor sleeps- quoting from Psalms 121:4. God is in control. Even when we think He is distance or does not see. The fact is you can have peace with God and experience the peace of God, even with the whole world at war. God desire that all know Him. God has made know His salvation to all:
Titus 2:11 (NKJV) For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men
Have you responded to that salvation His grace has revealed to you? Have you tasted His peace?
There is no way we can make ourselves presentable to Him. We let Jesus clean us up. We come “Just as I am.”
(1) Henry W. Longfellow, I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
(2) Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 382. and Ace Collens, Stories Behind The Best Loved Songs of Christmas (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2001), 81-85.
(3) Robert H. Stein, Luke, vol. 24, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 108.
(4) John A. Martin, “Luke,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 208.