The gospel according to Luke records that on the night of Jesus’ birth an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in a field outside the Judean village of Bethlehem. The angel announced “good news of great joy” which included the benediction: “Peace on earth” (Luke 2:10, 14).
Peace had come to earth in a person. The “Prince of Peace,” prophesied centuries earlier by the prophet Isaiah had come (Isaiah 9:6). In a mystery never to be fully fathomed, the “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father” was born a child with flesh and blood to dwell on earth for a season (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6; John 1:14). And as the Bible repeatedly demonstrates, whenever the living God comes to dwell among his people, he always brings peace.
But what is peace? The word is not difficult to define. Peace is the calm that prevails in the absence of war. It is the serenity that marks freedom from hostilities, strife or dissension. Peace is a paucity of agitation, upheaval or chaos. Although used in an array of contexts, the definition is fairly straightforward.
Peace is far more difficult to identify and experience. There is peace which is really no peace at all. False peace shatters many lives and poisons many souls. There is peace in the midst of hostility—peace that operates at full throttle in the war zones of human experience. There is peace as ethical responsibility. There is peace we desperately want, but can do nothing to attain.
In the midst of a holiday season in which peace is commonly announced but too seldom experienced, a few spiritual reflections on peace may be fitting. Many draw their understanding of peace from self-determined assumptions; I offer here meditations rooted in biblical revelation. The peace on earth announced by the angelic messengers to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth was rooted in God’s grand salvation plan. That concept of peace included several components.
Peace as an attribute of God. God is the source of all peace. Peace flows freely from his being. God executes and finishes wars, he does not start them. He is not a pugnacious God who is always looking to pick a fight. God is a God of peace who will not rest until peace reigns on earth. This goal requires war (Rev. 19:11-20:15). Yet war is a necessary consequence of sin, not a product of God’s nature.
Peace as a gift of God. The ultimate war is between sinful people and God. In his boundless grace, God issues his moral law for the good of humanity. For our good, he commands us not to cheat, steal or lie; not to yield to lust, pride, greed or gossip. He commands us to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as we love ourselves. But we respond to God’s law by running our own way and doing our own thing. This rebellion renders us enemies of God in his perfect righteousness and renders us objects of his just judgment (Rom. 5:6-8).
But in his mercy, God provides justification—imputing the righteous standing of Christ to the account of those who trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection to secure their salvation from the punishment of their sin. Jesus bears the penalty of our sin and dies in our place; we receive his righteous standing and live. What is the result? “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1-2). This is the quintessential peace on which all other experiences of peace ultimately depend.
Peace as an ethical responsibility in relation to others. Those who receive the gift of peace with God are called to pursue peace with others. This is not always possible, but as far as lies within us, we are to be peacemakers on earth (Matt. 5:9, Rom. 12:18). The peace God gives at the cost of sacrificing his Son serves as the ultimate motivation for his followers to seek peace in all their relationships.
Peace as a disposition of the soul. Believers who have received the peace of God as a gift, continue to battle the agitation of soul that comes with life in a troubled world. In consequence of what Jesus has done to secure peace with God, his followers are liberated to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” to make their prayerful requests known to God. As they obey this directive, the Bible promises that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). The orientation is not to search for peace within; it is to experience inner peace by means of a dependent relationship with God.
Peace as a condition of nature freed from the curse. The peace on earth Jesus came to establish will ultimately encompass the physical universe. When Jesus calmed the storm that was riling the Sea of Galilee, he did not simply say “Stop.” He said, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). This miracle foreshadowed the day when the returning Christ will suspend the earth’s curse. The desert will blossom as a rose, the lion will lay down with the lamb, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, straight-line winds and volcanoes will all cease (Isa. 11:1-11). In that coming day, peace will reign on earth—just as the angel said it would.
May peace with God, and the peace of God, rest upon you.
Dan Miller has served as the Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in 1984 and his graduate degrees include the MA in history from Minnesota State University, MDiv and ThM from Central Baptist Theological Seminary and DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dan is married to Beth and the Lord has blessed them with four children: Ethan, Levi, Reed and Whitney.