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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Can You Find Peace On Earth?



Luke 2:8-16 
King James Bible

8  And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15  And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16  And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

The adoration of the shepherds is an important part of the Christmas story in the Bible.The scripture describing the events during the birth of Christ is taken from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. As shepherds were tending their flocks in the countryside near Bethlehem, they became terrified by the appearance of an angel. This angel carried the message of good news for all people that Christ, the savior, had been born in the town of David.

Soon, many more angels appeared with another message (The blog today details the contents.), and then the shepherds decided to travel immediately to Bethlehem, where they found Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus lying in a manger.

If you can imagine this spectacular scene, you can understand the trepidation of the shepherds. The unearthly appearance of a multitude of angels delivering their rather pointed yet hopeful message while illuminating the dark skies would put any human in a state of awe and bewilderment. After all, these shepherds were busy with the routine work of tending their flocks. Would any of them imagine messengers of God would deliver this information, one of the most earthshaking news stories of all time, to them at such a time and place?

As the "multitude of heavenly hosts" praised God, they spoke words that have been recorded (depending on  the version of the Bible) as...

Luke 2:14 (KJV)
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Luke 2:14 (NKJV) 
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Luke 2:14 (NASB) 
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Luke 2:14 (NIV)
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

All of these translations are fairly similar; however, depending upon their syntax and vocabulary, they show a great difference as to the angels' intended message. It is evident in the translations that the first part of their message is praise to the glory of God. But, two camps of Biblical scholars have debated the interpretation of the second part of the message -- the promise of peace to mankind.

The King James version of Luke 2:14 is widely accepted today as meaning "peace" and "goodwill" came to all on earth with the arrival of the savior Jesus Christ. The New American Standard version and the New International version, however, denote peace came to those people in God's favor.

What Was the Peace Brought To Earth?

According to scripture, the Savior was said to be the Prince of peace.

Isaiah 9:6
New International Version (NIV) 


6 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.

What exactly is the "peace" that Jesus brought to the world? Christ, Himself, may be representative of "peace" because he is the donor of all true peace and real prosperity, both external, which his people have in the world, and with each other; and internal, which they have in their own breasts, through believing in him, and attending on his ordinances; and eternal, which they shall have for ever with him in the world to come. (http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/luke-2-14.html)
 
One basic understanding of the world is that sinners are at war with God and against each other. Yet, Jesus came to make peace; and this he did, in the following ways (http://bible.cc/luke/2-14.htm):

1. By reconciling the world to God by His atonement.


2. By bringing the sinner to a state of peace with his Maker; inducing him to lay down the weapons of rebellion and to submit his soul to God, thus giving him the peace which passeth all understanding.


3. By diffusing in the heart universal good-will to people - "disposing," people to lay aside their differences, to love one another, to seek each other's welfare, and to banish envy, malice, pride, lust, passion, and covetousness - in all ages the most fruitful causes of difference among people. And,


4. By diffusing the principles of universal peace among nations. If the gospel of Jesus should universally prevail, there would be an end of war. In the days of the millennium there will be universal peace; all the causes of war will have ceased; people will love each other and do justly; all nations will be brought under the influence of the gospel.

 
To Whom Is Peace Given?

The free will of man, constantly sought by God's infinite Love, is a guiding thread in both the New American Standard and New International versions. God wills [wants] that all should be saved, without geographical limits, without privileges of race, of traditions, of culture, without any other discrimination that is not the free choice of man -- from whom is required at least the will not to oppose any resistance to the benefit of redemption.

Are not people, small or great, measured by their own capacity of adhering to the action of God, or by their stubbornness in rejecting it? Two examples, among the most representative: Mary of Magdala, who willed [wanted] to redeem a life of sin; Judas of Kerioth [Iscariot], who did not will [want] to, and broke a life of election.

Perhaps the original Greek text of the scripture can shed light on the gift of peace.The Greek text that is accepted by most modern scholars today uses the words epi gēs eirēnē en anthrōpois eudokias (ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας), literally "on earth peace to men of good will," (Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, 1997)

Thus one common understanding of Luke 2:14 
may be gained by reading these English words: 
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, 
and on earth peace among those whom he favors."

So, were the angels in Luke 2:13-14 saying there would be (at the time or in the future) peace for all people on the planet or were they saying that peace would be bestowed upon those who please God the Almighty? Might the popular King James version of the text be an example of an inferior translation?

Biblical scholars look elsewhere in the gospels for answers. Jesus, Himself, prophesied that the future would bring “wars and rumors of wars” and that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” (Matthew 24:6-7) Even more than that, Jesus flatly said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." (Matthew 10:34)

And yet, the Bible speaks of a time yet come when there will be peace on earth, and Jesus will be the cause of it. That time will be His 1,000 year reign upon this earth. Isaiah 2:4 describes it this way:
"He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people. They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."
Did the shepherds witness the true grace of God? The angels' message, meant for those who maintain favor with the Almighty, may be peace among believers -- a salve for those who are weary from trying to meet the expectations of others, for those who worry about uncertain futures, and for those who worry about their worthiness of salvation. The arrival of Jesus secured the promises of peace defined as "freedom from civil disturbance" and defined as "a personal state of concord or tranquility." Consider these words from Colossians:

Colossians 1:14-20
American Standard Version (ASV)


 14 (Jesus) in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins:
 15 who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
 16 for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him;
 17 and he is before all things, and in him all things consist.
 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
 19 For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell;
 20 and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.

Who Possesses Peace?

People who wish the peace of God to rule in their hearts must utilize their free will to accept Christ as their savior and seek his favor whether they desire external, internal, or eternal peace. The angels in the Biblical account of the adoration of the shepherds came down from heaven to bring this message to the world. I view this peace more as a contract between God and humans than a gift from God with "no strings attached."

Just for simplicity, let's say our Maker, through the multitude of angels gathered  over the fields near Bethlehem at Christ's birth, has offered a contract of peace to one of the shepherds below. The shepherd recognizes a good deal and accepts what he believes will bring peace to his life as a generous gift from God.

But, after some time, the shepherd realizes he has been dealing with a lot of strife and feels he has been denied the promise of peace. He decides to file a complaint as a plaintiff thus requesting a proper remedy. So, to resolve their differences, the two parties, God and the shepherd, have decided to have their dispute settled by the popular television host Judge Judy. (Just one of her many wonderful quotes: "On your best day you're not as smart as I am on my worst day.")

The day in court commences. In a case that deals with contract law, Judge Judy has no problem seeing that both parties are competent and the purpose of the contract is legal (holy in Christian terms, at least). In addition, the judge rules proper consideration (benefit to the "promiser") has been met through the initial "glory" and "praise" first given by the awestruck shepherd in the field.

And, after reviewing Luke 2, Judge Judy determines that a definite offer has been made. Now, let's say the judge accepts the Greek translation. She quickly notes a condition in the offer as "peace on earth among those He favors." It is evident that peace was not a gift since it was given with these terms of acceptance. If peace had been a gift, no obligations would need to be met.

Yet, in order for a contract to be binding, acceptance must be held in strict compliance with the terms of the offer. The shepherd, unfortunately, has been acting in ways undesirable to God. He had done many things to fall out of the Almighty's favor. And, when the judge hears this convincing testimony from Almighty God, she believes the shepherd has been trying to "pull the wool" over God's eyes. (Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun.) No wonder he had been experiencing unrest and very little peace.

Judge Judy determines that since the shepherd did not maintain strict compliance to constitute acceptance of the promise for "contractual peace," the contract is void. She declares the Almighty owes no peace to the shepherd, and she finds for the defendant.

The point I am trying to make is that God offers the promise of peace to those who maintain his favor. That peace came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ. Those who choose to have that peace must believe and live in ways that uplift God through Jesus.

Money, power, beauty, high position, even good health cannot guarantee peace. So many today believe that their temporal existence can be made peaceful through their own calculated, often greedy, manipulation.  Without God, a person is denied the peaceful promise spoken by the angels; they do not realize that the gift of Jesus must be accepted within conditions that require them to act in ways pleasing to God. Jesus can bring the sinner like you and me to a state of peace with God that passes all understanding.


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