Peace on Earth

On the night Jesus was born, the angel of the Lord approached nearby shepherds who were tending their flock. After announcing the birth of the Savior, his royal destiny, and where he lay, an entire chorus of angels appeared, singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Lu 2:14). David had promised that God would one day "bless his people with peace" (Ps 29:11). Years later, Isaiah prophesied the birth of a child on whom the government of this peaceful kingdom would be laid, calling him, among other things, "The Prince of Peace" (Is 9:6). Isaiah's prediction was fulfilled when Mary bore Jesus.

Since creation, the world has not enjoyed peace. Daily disputes and discord interrupt any serenity found in life. Conflicts within families, between neighbors, and among nations sometimes erupt into violence or escalate into war. Naturally disposed to serve and protect his own interests, each person struggles to meet his needs and wants, which struggle generally includes competition. Since violence is the fruit of competition, people are naturally predisposed toward conflict.

The reason all must endure opposition is that each person is opposed to God. After all, in Adam we all disobeyed God and suffered a just condemnation. Each of us has rebelled against his Creator and uses creation for personal pursuits. This rebellion springs from within the body. Our minds can never fully discipline it. Occasionally, passions erupt to spoil the peace our minds seek. Since none of us control the making of our body, we blame our Maker for our condition. Adam told God his disobedience was due to the woman God had given him.

Some suppose that every person can find peace and fulfillment through proper education. They conclude that if enlightened teachers demonstrated peaceful living by either words or example, the world would eventually learn righteousness. God has already taught the world about righteousness. From the beginning He commissioned men, some prophets and some preachers, to deliver His message of peace and reconciliation. These revelations, wrapped with glimpses of eternal glory, disclosed part of the felicity waiting those continually clinging to God. Despite His words and examples most people prefer the pleasures confined to this life. They misuse or ignore divine revelations to pursue their personal goals and fulfill their private dreams. When the old world strayed from righteousness, God sent Noah to invite their repentance. While everyone may have wanted the tranquility accompanying God's holiness, they also coveted the wealth and gratification disobedience promises. Their lusts corrupted whatever peace they may have sought, so that "the earth was filled with violence" (Gen 6:11). No educator, minister, prophet, or angel can sufficiently unfold the peace of heaven so that people will prefer it to the selfishness naturally springing from their mortality.

Others believe that if people were disciplined by the proper code, they can be trained to live peaceably. God sent Moses to give the Hebrews His law. In it almost every daily duty was proscribed. The Israelites were told how to worship, how to arrange their government, how to deal with their neighbors, how to respect their families, how to organize their calendar, and even how to prepare their food. Although the law was comprehensive and able, if followed, to promote peace throughout the nation, it never achieved the desired effect. It prohibited murder, but David placed Uriah "in the forefront of the hottest battle, that he may be smitten and die" (2 Sam 11:15), so that he could marry Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. The law also forbid covetness, but Achan still hid the silver and gold in hopes of possessing it. Solomon, Ahab, Manasseh, and other Hebrew kings worshiped idols in violation of the law. The law can define sin, but it cannot keep people from sinning.

The reason that people continue to sin when taught by divinely commissioned ministers or schooled in scared law is that neither can transform their hearts. The knowledge revelation brings puffs up those not converted to Christ. The discipline obedience yields inflates those not submitting to the Father. The unrighteous boast in what they understand or how well they obey and remain unable to cease their evil works. Neither knowledge nor discipline gives peace.

When the Amalakites threatened to destroy the peace the Hebrews had, God called a servant to rescue them. Originally named Oshea (Nu 13:8), God changed his name to Jesus, Joshua in Hebrew, so that the name of their Creator might rest on their deliverer. Oshea means "deliver," but Joshua means "God delivers." As Joshua, the bearer of the Savior's name, engaged the enemy in the valley, Moses stood on the hill above, making the sign of the cross. His arms were stretched out as he pled for divine mercy to spare his nation. The battle was so arduous that Caleb and Hur stood on either side to hold out his hands as they grew weary. Jesus of Nazareth also held out his hands while pleading mercy for his people. Nailed to the cross he battled and defeated the enemy of righteousness. The only messenger from God who can deliver His people or provide them peace is Jesus Christ. It is not his example nor his discipline, but his sacrifice, that saves people from their sins.

During the reign of Judges the Hebrews lost the law. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli were wayward and arrogant. They took the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the law, to their battle site with the Philistines, believing it would give them the victory and restore their peace. Instead of saving them, it fell into the possession of their enemy. The Philistines took the Ark to their capital where they endured a series of calamities while keeping it. To escape the continuing plagues, they decided to release the Ark to the Hebrews by placing it on a new cart pulled by two milk cows whose calves were kept at home. The milk cows ignored their natural instinct to nurse their young and returned the Ark to Israel, stopping in the field of Joshua (1 Sam 6:18). This shows that the law only leads to Jesus. Paul agreed, saying, "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ" (Gal 3:24). The proper code of conduct may take one to God, but it cannot make him godly.

Since neither messenger nor message, discipline nor law, can make people holy, they cannot restore peace to earth. This is because men must be changed in ways none of them can do. To make this change, God became a man. The Creator of heaven and earth took upon himself our form, our limitations, our infirmities, our sicknesses, our temptations, and our sins that he might bear all of them upon the cross and crucify them in his body. The justice of God always demands retribution for sin, but the consequences of sin when applied to each sinner can never restore any of them to God. Such a judgment can only seal them to eternal separation from His presence. Jesus became incarnate to bear the consequences of sin for each person. Because he was without sin, the penalty he endured can substitute for the debt all sinners owe. His death paid the price of our transgressions and broke down the hostility between Creator and creation. The heavenly Father can look at the sins of the world hanging on the cross and see them punished. We can look on the mercy of God hanging on the cross and see ourselves forgiven. No longer need we blame God for sinful nature. We can escape it by yielding to his son. Through Jesus Christ our dispute with God has been settled. God in Christ paid the penalty for sin so that man through Christ can be raised into heavenly places. This is how Jesus restores peace to earth.

The crucifixion created the opportunity for peace, but it did not make people peaceful. Anyone can reject the truce offered by the Savior and continue to oppose God. These must endure the consequences of their conflict, which are condemnation and destruction. No person can prevail in a struggle against God.

Those willing to accept the offering made by Jesus are reborn. Although remaining in their mortal flesh until this life is over, they are baptized by both water and spirit so that God by the Holy Ghost lives in them. Paul said, "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal 3:20). Regenerated, believers become new creatures. Their "old man," like their Master, is crucified. Then, like the Christ, they are christened with the Holy Ghost so that their bodies become the temple of God. They are no longer at war with their Creator. Instead, they abide with him through his spirit. Bearing in their bodies the spirit of Christ, they use its members to fulfill God's will instead of their own. Reconciled to God, who dwells in them, they live in peace and contentment.

When every person on earth submits to the gospel and is reborn, then the earth will be at peace. With this goal, Christians invite those not regenerated to come to Christ and be perfected by him. He will cleanse them from sin, heal their wounds, remove their guilt, anoint them with his Spirit, and restore their peace. Then, they can bask in the felicity of heaven.

One day Jesus will return to earth. All remaining under his rule will be at peace with God and with each other. God promised that in that day "they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain" (Is 11:9). Peace will finally reign on earth. The babe born by Mary and laid in a manger negotiated its terms, paid its price, and regenerated his people. He will descend with power, giving glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good will toward men.