God’s Unimaginable Peace

Unbelievable Trajedy
Young children wait outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, CT.

Will there ever be Peace on Earth? We rejoice at the angels announcement to shepherds about “peace on earth to people He favors.” We long for peace on earth, but really wonder where is that peace – especially on a day like today. Where is peace on earth when our hearts ache for all those whose lives are devastated in Connecticut by latest in a series of shootings that have tormented the United States? It seems we shouldn’t need so many reasons each day to hold our children extra tight and pray for those that cannot today.

There is just so much tragedy and pain in this world. Peace means different things to different people. What does peace mean to a soldier? The mother of a colicky infant? The father of arguing kids in the backseat? A child whose parents won’t stop fighting? A teacher who witnesses bullying in the classroom or, unbelievably, the unimaginable rampage of a gunman. Peace usually means the end of something—the end of a war; the end of non-stop crying; the end of a heart-wrenching dispute, the end of tragedy.

In Luke 2:14, the angels of the Lord announced to ordinary shepherds, “Peace on earth to people He favors!” Peace on earth is so much more than the end of conflict or pain. Peace on earth is more than just my grown-up Christmas list. We long for peace on earth even though most of us would simply settle for peace in our homes. So what kind of peace are the angels referring to? Is there a promise from the angels of an end to conflicts? No, not really. All those are at best temporary forms of peace. The reality is that wars will break out, again. Babies will cry, again. Relationships will get strained, again. And unfortunately, gunmen will kill, again.

Herod gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem after Jesus' birth.
Herod gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth.

In many ways, the world didn’t dramatically change after Jesus was born. Not outwardly, at least. Just look at the sorrow surrounding His life. Just like today, there was “weeping and mourning” because the mothers and fathers around Bethlehem could not be consoled by the senseless killing of their children. King Herod ordered the massacre of dozens of baby boys because his own paranoia when he found out about the baby the wise men called the “King of the Jews.” (Matthew 2:16-18). Later, Jesus was publicly humiliated, beaten, and executed for daring to share the audacious message that He was providing a way for you and me to live at peace with God. When the centurion who was guarding Jesus on the cross, and those with him, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons saw all that Jesus endured, they were terrified. The Centurion cried out at the injustice, “This man really was God’s Son!”  (Matthews 26:54-56). Where is this “peace on earth” that the angels announced?

The peace that only Jesus Christ can bring is a personal, permanent kind of peace—peace between self-absorbed, willful, sinful people like you and me, and the Holy God. By His grace, God gives peace to those who have received His gift of rest in Jesus Christ by faith.

In Christ, we have peace that surpasses every thought and imagination. The biblical concept of peace, rooted in the Hebrew shalom (שָׁלוֹם), includes the sum of God’s blessings, not just the end of hostility. In Israel today, people greet each other with the words mah shalomka, (“what is your peace?” “how are you doing?”) and they ask about the “peace” (“well-being”) of one’s family.  The use of shalom in various forms is found some 237 times just in the OT. Here in Texas, we would say, Shalom Y’all!

Shalom also signifies a peace that is indicative of a prosperous relationship between two or more parties – whether neighbors or nations. The presence of peace in any of the Old Testament passages was not considered as the outcome of human endeavor, but ultimately, as a gift or blessing of God (cf. Leviticus 26:6; 1 Kings 2:33; Job 25:2; Psalms 29:11; 85:8; Isaiah 45:7).

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” – Isaiah 26:3

In the Psalms, peace is pictured as restful sleep.

I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me.  -Psalm 3:5

I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, Lord, make me live in safety.  -Psalm 4:8

The people God favors can experience peace – rest and sleep – because He will protect and provide for them.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for peace, eirēnē (εἰρήνη), describes harmonious relationships between men (Matt. 10:34; Rom. 14:19), between nations (Luke 14:32; Acts 12:20; Rev. 6:4), and between believers in the church (Romans 12:18, 1 Cor. 14:33). Most importantly, peace describes the restored relationship between God and man accomplished through the gospel of Jesus (Acts 10:36; Eph. 2:17) and the sense of rest and contentment that we have because we are at peace with God (Matt. 10:13; Mark 5:34; Luke 1:79; 2:14; John 14:27; Rom. 1:7; 3:17; 8:6).

This peace on earth is what the angels sang about in their Gloria (Luke 2:14) to the shepherds: God’s greatest provision for all of humanity is the gift of His Eternal Son, Jesus. Later, Jesus would comfort His disciples saying, “My peace I give to you.” (John 14:27). Furthermore, Paul tells us, “He [Jesus] is our peace” who has removed the barrier of sin between us and a Holy God, and thus made it possible to be at peace with other believers in Christ (Ephesians 2:14). Not only is He the God of peace, but we can experience the peace of God.

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:6-7

It is the peace of God that comes to us when we pray because we enter into the rest of God’s own presence. This peace, or release from tension, is something that we cannot fully comprehend – it surpasses every thought and imagination.

Look closely with me at the angels’ Good News in Luke 2.

Angel and ShepherdsThe first angel brought the Good News of Great Joy in verse 11: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”  What was the Good News? Not that God had sent a soldier or a judge or a reformer, but that He had sent a Savior to meet man’s greatest need. The angels announcement was a message of peace to a world that had known so much war. Jesus would make peace possible by His work on the cross. He will establish universal peace when He comes to reign on earth as Messiah.

The great company of angels brought the commentary on the Good News in vs.14 in the form of a song. It is composed of two parts. The first phrase is about what this Good News means for God. The second phrase is about what it means for all of us.

The angels chorus sang of  the Good News of God’s Glory. It’s because of Christ that we gather Sunday after Sunday to sing songs of worship. The issue is not whether you love a particular hymn, song, or Christmas Carol. The issue is do you love and trust the One the song is about? As Isaiah called Him, “Immanuel,” God with us!” If we could somehow–just one time–grasp the love of God that exists right behind these familiar stories, every one of us would shout out loud with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest!”

The angels first ascribed glory to God in heaven where He dwells. Then, God revealed His glory by sending His Son. Consequently, it is appropriate to ascribe glory or praise to God. The impact on humanity of Jesus’ coming is peace- peace on Earth.

The angels sang about the Good News of God’s Peace for us. In this song, the angels proclaim of the opportunity for God to affect our past, our present, and our future.

We have unimaginable peace from our past. Jesus made peace possible by His work on the cross. As a result, Peace is a settled confidence that comes from knowing that one is right with God.

He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. -Isaiah 53:5

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. -Romans 5:1-2

If there is anything in your past that still causes you shame, embarrassment, or guilt, this song of the angels promises you can be at peace with God.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. -Psalm 103:12

We have unimaginable peace in the present. When the baby in the Christmas story was at the end of his life, he said to his followers, I am leaving you with a gift – “My peace I give to you.”  He gives you and I peace of mind and heart! And the peace He gives isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

We are so bombarded by the peace that the world offers, all of which is temporary at best and fatal at worst, that we fail to truly believe the peace proclaimed by the angels and promised by Jesus Himself. It’s wishful thinking to believe that because of Jesus we will never experience tragedy, interpersonal conflict, or be free from conflict between nations and people.

We often think of peace as a being without trials and troubles – the absence of pain and suffering and heartache and tragedy. That kind of peace, while admittedly nice, cannot be sustained – not in this world. We need a peace that transcends circumstance. Peace that allows us to rise above the urgency of the immediate. Peace that allows us to have a clear head and a Above the Cloudscalm heart in the midst of the chaos. Peace isn’t the absence of storms, but rising above them to rest in God’s presence. That’s what the angels’ song is all about. Jesus is born! God is with us!

Last week, we flew home on an airplane out of New Orleans just as a storm blew in. On the ground there was heavy rain and strong winds. As the airplane took off, we were soon above the clouds. The sparkling sun was spectacular. It was blinding in it’s brilliance. In the same way, the peace of Christ comes to us when we rise above the storms of this life to see the Son of God who reigns as the Prince of Peace.

Finally, the angels’ song gives us the hope of unimaginable peace for the future.  Anxiety about the future will always rob the peace and tranquility of today. Do any of these fears for the future these sound familiar: What if my child dies? What if my company goes under? What if I lose my health? What if my spouse leaves me? What if unspeakable tragedy happens to us?

The truth is that any of those things could happen to any of us. However, dwelling on our worst fears does nothing to prevent them. It robs us of our sleep, our health, our joy, and our peace of mind today.

King of the JewsHistory shows that from the time of Jesus until today, there has never been a single day on this planet that there was not a war raging some place. Human cruelty and lack of regard for the sanctity of life has always been with us. It’s not any better or worse today than at any other time in history because human nature does not change. There are still places on this planet so overwhelmed with poverty and injustice that it defies description. There are still dictators and evil regimes that will stop at nothing to accumulate power and wealth. There are still gunmen who initiate unthinkable violence. So it has been and so it will be.

Tragedy has, does, and will come to us. But one thing will not change. The Savior that the angels sang about is still alive and involved in this world. This song, in a very real sense, is still being sung. Ultimately, Jesus will establish universal peace when He comes to reign on earth as Messiah. The Lord will give true peace to those who consistently trust in Him.

You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You. Trust in the Lord forever, because Yahweh, the Lord, is an everlasting rock! (Isaiah 26:3–4)

Peace can be found no matter what the circumstances. Therefore, we can lay our heads to rest in the God of peace to experience the unimaginable peace of God.

Over the last month, our family experienced the peace of God, even in the middle of sorrow and loss.  Although we are hurting and deeply saddened over the death of our brother-in-law, Jeff, and greatly concerned for DeeDee’s sister and niece, we can trust in the Lord’s promises and provision. We can focus our attention on the unseen things above the storms to see His perspective and rest in His peace.

If we could get a glimpse of heaven today we would hear the angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors.” Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed peace with a song of his own:

NativityScene“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” -Isaiah 9:6.

In Christ, we have His peace, the peace of God, that surpasses every thought and imagination. Even those who are mourning today in Newton, CT can experience peace on earth because of the peace of God. Lay your head and heart to rest on Him today – until He comes, again.

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