Even before this announcement, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, foretold of Christ’s coming that would “give light to them who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79 KJV).
Each year at Christmas time, when we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, one of the most used words in our greetings is the word “Peace.” Christmas cards prominently display the word peace, and in our Christmas carols, we sing of peace. Every year we hear it said that our greatest desire is for “Peace on Earth.”
Christmas is, after all, the celebration of the coming of the Prince of Peace. It may even be that we have heard these words so much that it has become a cliché.
Nevertheless, despite all of our talk of peace, every year it seems that we again face a year not of peace on earth, but rather conflicts on every side. In recent years, we have seen the brutality of man against man to an extent of raw violence that we have not seen since the middle ages. We might say the same as true of our day as it was when the prophet Jeremiah of old said, “They say ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.”
We do not know what the future may hold in present day world relations. The only thing that we can say with certainty is that it all remains uncertain.
What is troubling to many is this: if it has been two thousand years since we have been visited by the Prince of Peace, why is it that we continue to face only conflict?
Misunderstandings Concerning Peace
There are some misunderstandings about the announcements of the peace that Jesus brought. They are not only misunderstood today, but they were also misunderstood in Jesus’ own day. The times in which Jesus was born were, like our own times, were those of constant conflict and war. Like us, the people of that day were striving for peace and looking for one who would bring peace.
However, it is not enough only to go on talking glibly about peace. It is important to understand a couple of things about peace that are foundational.
First of all, we sometimes assume that everyone in the world actually desires peace. I do not think that this is an assumption that we should make. In the most areas of the United States and in some other areas of the world, people may be accustomed to living their day to day lives in relative peace and security. We look at war and outward conflict as an unnatural state (at least within our own borders). But this is not so in some other parts of the world. There are some areas that have lived with strife and warfare for so long that it has almost become part of their culture.
In a few countries, generations of people have lived their lives knowing only war. In these places, the citizens do not even have a clear idea what it is to live in peace. I have often wondered if this fact in itself is the biggest hindrance to peaceful solutions to the conflicts of some areas of the world. The people have never known true peace. How can one strive to accomplish something with which they have had no experience?
“Too long have I lived among those who hate peace” said the Psalmist. “I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:6-7 NIV).
The second thing that we should understand is that when Jesus came, although he was called the “Prince of Peace,” he himself did not actually speak much on the subject of peace in this present world.
Jesus understood something about our world that we forget. Despite all of the peaceful words that we speak through the governments and alliances of governments in this world, we should remember that this world really is still one that is in fundamental rebellion against the original intentions of the Designer.
Jesus wants us to understand that this is a rebellion against the Creator God that will not succeed. Nevertheless (and interestingly enough), it is important to understand that neither is the rebellion against him one that he means to correct in this age.
Man’s rebellion against God is one that will continually increase in wickedness until it becomes obvious to all that it really is a regime of evil. At the present, we can still be deluded by a doer of evil who claims he or she is working for righteousness. We can even delude ourselves. But there will come a time when no longer will people who commit wicked and violent acts be able to claim that they are fighting for what they call a “just cause.” It is only when all of this has been revealed for what it truly is, that God will at last crush the rebellion.
Words of Peace from the Prince of Peace?
The fact that Jesus will eventually crush all that oppose him seem not to be peaceful words from Jesus, and as a matter of fact, they are not; at least in the present sense. In regards to his role in bringing world peace, Jesus said this: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
In fact, as Jesus continued in his explanation, it only seems to become more difficult to hear. “For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36 NIV).
However, just as the Christians of the first century misunderstood much of what Jesus was saying, in the twenty-first century we continue to misunderstand. To be honest with ourselves, we must hear the whole message of Jesus.
We should not think that Jesus is talking about taking up arms against all that oppose his teaching. Rather, it is those who oppose his teaching who will be the ones to act in violence against the followers of the Lord. This is the source of the violence that Jesus spoke about. We saw this even in Jesus’ own experience when he suffered at the hands of man, even though he himself did only good.
The peace that Jesus is to bring is not one that will be applied to present day world politics. A peace that is real and is lasting can never be dependent upon human institutions, even human religious institutions.
This includes, as we understand by the words of Jesus quoted above, even the institution of the family. It is true that both governments and families were created and ordained by God (Romans 13:1-7; Genesis among others), however, these institutions are not greater than the direct relationship that God has with each of his children as individuals.
Attempts at Peace
Any level of peace that we are able to achieve presently among the governments of the world and sometimes even within families is reached only by compromise between the two offending parties. In the process of peace talks between two nations, for instance, each nation brings its grievances and its demands to the table, and if all works well, each decides which of their demands they are willing to compromise with the other nation in order for some of their grievances to be addressed.
However, this is not a simple process, as we have seen in the decades-old (centuries old) problems in the Middle East. Nor is it usually a lasting peace. The old grievances still exist, and the old demands are not forgotten. It may be a decade later or a generation later, but the two nations again come to the place of warfare.
This is not the kind of peace which Jesus means to bring. The peace that Christ will finally and completely bring will only occur when he reigns on earth, as he does even now in heaven. The Christian’s prayer states, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This will not be a peace that will be brought about through compromise.
Nevertheless, despite the elusiveness of peace in this life, there are some things that we can do to achieve peace in this present life.
Even knowing the fact that we can never obtain perfect peace among the nations and the people of the world, this does not mean that the peace of Jesus has no application for us today. We as individuals, can know his peace. Even if we are not able to achieve peace in the world, then at least we ourselves can have peace in the midst of the world.
Here is what Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John NIV).
How, we might ask, is Jesus able to say that? It is one thing to recognize the fact that we should not be afraid, but quite another to calm our hearts and have peace in an unstable world.
When Jesus spoke of his peace, we must understand that this peace is based upon where our hope for peace finally lies. If we are hoping that we will one day know true peace through this world system, we will be disappointed. However, if our hope for peace is based upon the words and works of Jesus, then we can and will know his peace.
This is not to say that we should ignore the needs of this world. It is our duty to work for peace in this world. After all, some other words of Jesus were “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 NAS).
We should be the greatest advocates and friends of peace in this world, but we should also be realistic in our expectations. Peace can never come in its entirety to this fallen and rebellious world. That final and complete peace will come in another world.
“Let not your heart be troubled,” Jesus told His followers, “believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so I would have told you; for I go and prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3 NAS).
Knowing Full Peace
It is also important for us to know that the Biblical concept of peace is not simply the absence of hostility. The peace that Jesus talked about is more akin to “fullness,” or “prosperity.”
This fact is illustrated in the case of the woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years. When she finally managed to touch the cloak of Jesus and was healed of her affliction, Jesus turned to her and said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be whole (KJV) of your affliction” (Mark italics added).
The absence of hostility is a precondition, but true peace goes far beyond a mere cessation of warfare or fighting. To know true peace one must come to the point of knowing a full and flourishing relationship with others and with God. An absence in hostilities that is lasting can never be reached through compromise, at least a compromise as it is commonly understood.
Peace can only be reached when one has all of one’s needs fulfilled. True peace can only come when one feels not only an absence of hostility, but an absence of want and an absence of emptiness.
Counting the Cost
In the book of Luke (-33), Jesus is teaching the people what they must do if they would be his disciples. Their commitment to him, Jesus told the people, must go even beyond that of the commitment that they had even for their own families. This should be understandable to us since, as we have seen, true peace can only come from something that goes beyond and is higher than any human institution.
Jesus next told the crowd that they must first count the cost of being his disciple, or, as he put it, they must learn to “carry [their] own cross.” The illustration that Jesus used here to help his hearers understand is the example of a man who wished to build a tower.
“Do you not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if you have enough resources to complete it?” Jesus asks. “Otherwise, after the foundation has been laid and you then run out of money, you will be a subject of ridicule. People will say ‘This man began to build but was not able to finish.’”
Becoming a disciple of Jesus, we can see, is something into one must enter with great thought. According to Jesus, the same can be said regarding peace. In achieving peace, Jesus uses the following illustration:
What king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace. So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions (Luke -33 NAS).
In some significant ways, this illustration is not unlike the example I earlier gave when two nations come to the peace table. The king in this example is also looking for the terms of peace. However, this illustration of Jesus is also unlike the earlier one in some significant ways.
A Christ-like Compromise
The reason that I earlier qualified the meaning of the word “compromise” by noting that it is commonly understood only in one certain manner, is because of some other words of Jesus concerning the peace that he means to bring to the world.
In the example above of the two kings as it relates to following him, Jesus says that the cost of discipleship is not a compromise in the sense that we give up some things to Jesus and then he concedes some things to us. Jesus said that no one can be his disciple unless he gives up all of his own possessions! This is not compromise in the traditional sense. We would instead call this surrender.
Indeed, it is surrender. That is exactly the point. In order to know the peace of God and the completeness and fullness of that peace, we must come to the point where we realize that we have nothing at all to contribute to establishing the peace. The Prince of Peace has come, and the terms of the peace are that we give him everything.
This may not at first seem to us to be such good negotiation terms, but we forget the kind of peace that the Prince of Peace is promising. This is not a peace that is merely the cessation of hostilities, but it is a peace that brings completeness and fullness. All of those things in our lives for which we have fought and continue to fight in order to maintain some level of stability, will now be supplied to us! In Jesus, we find that these are not gained through hostilities, but in times of peace.
This peace is not reached at a peace table and hopefully maintained for some years, but it is a peace that will last for eternity. Hostilities will cease. Grievances will be forgotten.
Knowing Peace Despite Living in a Culture of War
In order to experience the peace of God today in our daily lives, we must understand that despite all of our talk and attempts at peace in this world, a true and lasting peace is foreign to the culture of the world. As a matter of fact, we who are in the world are so accustomed to war that, in the end, we really do not know what it means to live in peace. True peace will only come when we allow the Prince of Peace to reign.
Because our culture in the world is a culture of war, in our governments and even in our families, we find ourselves in the unlikely situation of saying that we are working for peace without really knowing what our goal is. We have nothing in our background or our education to help us to ever have known experientially what it is to live in peace. How can we strive for something for which we have never really understood?
It is exactly for this reason that we need a Prince of Peace. We not only need one who will bring us peace, but one who will first teach us what peace is. It is so that we might understand this that Jesus tells us:
Jesus has said to us, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NAS).