In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Some of the most familiar and happy words of Christmas are these from Luke 2:
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:11–14).
I want to exult with you this Christmas over the wonders in this text, with our focus mainly on verse 14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
It Was a Real Day
“For unto you is born this day . . .” (verse 11). It happened on a day. A day in history. Not a day in some mythological, imaginary story, but a day when “Caesar Augustus was the emperor of Rome and Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
It was a day planned in eternity before the creation of the world. Indeed the whole universe — with untold light-years of space and billions of galaxies — was created and made glorious for this day and what it means for human history.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16).
For him! For his appearance. For this day of his appearing. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). It happened on a day. The perfect day. In the fullness of time. The perfect time appointed by God before the foundation of the world. “For unto you is born this day!”
It Was a Real City
“. . . in the city of David.” It happened in a city. Not in Narnia. Not in Middle Earth. Not in a galaxy far far away. It happened in a city about 7,000 miles from Minneapolis. The city still exists today. My mother was killed in a bus accident just outside this city. This city is real.
The city’s name is Bethlehem (Luke 2:4, “Joseph also went up from Galilee . . . to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.”) Bethlehem, six miles from Jerusalem. Bethlehem, the city where Jesse lived, the father of David, the great king of Israel. Bethlehem, the city that Micah prophesied over:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2).
It happened in a city. A real city, just like Minneapolis, or Burnsville, or Mounds View.
Savior, Messiah, Lord
“. . . a Savior . . .” “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” A Savior. If you have ever sinned against God you need a Savior. The angel said to Joseph, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Only God can forgive sins against God. That is why God sent the eternal Son of God into the world, because he is God. That’s why Jesus said, “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Therefore, a Savior was born.
“. . . who is Christ . . .” “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ.” Christ is the English for Christos, which is means “anointed one,” which is the meaning of “Messiah” (John 1:41; 4:25). This is the one long-predicted, long-awaited, the one anointed above all others (Psalm 45:7). The final anointed King. The final anointed Prophet. The final anointed Priest. In him all the promises of God are yes! (2 Corinthians 1:20). He would fulfill all the hopes and dreams of godly Israel. And more, vastly more. Because he is also . . .
“. . . the Lord.” “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The ruler, the sovereign, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father. The Lord of the universe.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6–7).
Christmas in Sum
The Lord of never-ending, universal, sovereign governance. The Lord of all lords.
- On a day — in real history.
- In a city — in a real world.
- The Savior — to take away all our guilt.
- The Christ — to fulfill all our hopes.
- The Lord — to defeat all our enemies, and make us safe and satisfied for ever.
So I exult with you this Christmas that we have a great Savior, Jesus, the Christ, the Lord, born on a day in a city to save us from our sins — our many sins.
Two Great Purposes for This Great News
And when the angel had announced this news to the shepherds (verse 11), and pointed them to the very animal shed where the baby lay, suddenly an army of angels appeared in the sky. Evidently, one angel can bring the news, but it does not suffice for one angel to respond to the news. The meaning of this news, the ultimate outcome of this news — that demands an army of angels. Verse 13:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host [army!] praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13–14).
The joyful news that on a day, at the perfect fullness of time, in the perfect prophesied city, a Savior was born, who was Christ, the Lord — that news has two great outcomes. Two great purposes. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
God’s Glory and Our Peace
The coming of this child will be the greatest revelation of the glory of God even among the heights of heaven, and the coming of this child will bring peace to God’s people — who will one day fill the whole earth with righteousness and peace. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end (Isaiah 9:7).”
First and foremost, God is glorified because this child is born. And second, peace is to spread everywhere this child is received. These are the great purposes for the coming of Jesus: Glory ever-ascending from man to God. Peace ever-descending from God to man. God’s glory sung out among men for the sake of his name. God’s peace lived out among men for the sake of his name.
There is hardly a better way to sum up what God was about when he created the world, or when he came to reclaim the world in Jesus Christ — his glory, our peace. His greatness, our joy. His beauty, our pleasure. The point of creation and redemption is that God is glorious and means to be known and praised for his glory by a peace-filled new humanity.
To Experience the Peace He Brings
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace
among those with whom he is pleased!”
The old King James Version translated verse 14b, “and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Virtually all the modern translations agree that this was not an accurate translation. The NIV says, “ . . . and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” The NASB says, “. . . and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.” And the ESV says, “. . . and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
The point is that, even though God’s offer of peace goes out to all, only his chosen people — the people who receive Christ and trust him as Savior and Messiah and Lord, will experience the peace he brings.
You get a glimpse of this meaning in Luke 10:5–6, Jesus says to his disciples, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ [that’s the offer of peace to all] And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.”
God’s peace in Christ is offered to the world. But only the “sons of peace” receive it. How do you know if you are a “son of peace”? How do you know if you are part of the angels’ promise, “Peace among those with whom he is pleased!”? Answer: you welcome the Peacemaker, you receive Jesus.
Three Relationships of Peace
My great desire for you this Christmas is that you enjoy this peace. We know that there are global aspects to this peace that lie in the future when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). When, as Isaiah says, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).
But Jesus has come to inaugurate that peace among God’s people. And there are three relationships in which he wants you to pursue this peace and enjoy this peace. Peace with God. Peace with your own soul. And peace with other people, as much as it lies in you.
And by peace I mean not only the absence of conflict and animosity, but also the presence of joyful tranquility, and as much richness of interpersonal communication as you are capable of.
So let’s look at each of these three peaceful relationships briefly and make sure that you are enjoying as much as you can. The key to each of them is not to separate what the angels kept together: the glory of God and the peace you long for. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.”
The Main Point of Peace
God’s purpose is to give you peace by being the most glorious Person in your life. Five times in the New Testament he is called “the God of peace” (Romans 15:13; 16 :20; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20). And Jesus said, “My peace I give to you” (John 14:27). And Paul said “Jesus himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14).
What this means is that the peace of God, or the peace of Christ, can never be separated from God himself and Christ himself. If we want peace to rule in our lives, God must rule in our lives. Christ must rule in our lives. God’s purpose is not to give you peace separate from himself. His purpose is to give you peace by being the most glorious Person in your life.
So the key to peace is keeping together what the angels keep together: Glory to God, and peace to man. A heart bent on showing the glory of God, will know the peace of God.
And what holds the two together — God getting glory and us getting peace — is believing or trusting the promises of God obtained by Jesus. Romans 15:13 is one of those fundamental texts pointing to this crucial role of faith. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” In believing. In other words, the way God’s promises become real for us and produce peace in us and through us is “in believing.” When we believe them. That’s true whether we are talking about peace with God, peace with ourselves, or peace with others.
Peace with God
The most basic need we have is peace with God. This is foundational to all our pursuits of peace. If we don’t go here first, all other experiences of peace will be superficial and temporary.
The key passage here is Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith [there’s the pivotal act of believing], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justified means that God declares you to be just in his sight by imputing to you the righteousness of Jesus. And he does that by faith alone: “Since we have been justified by faith.” Not by works. Not by tradition. Not by baptism. Not by church membership. Not by piety. Not by parentage. But by faith alone. When we believe in Jesus as the Savior and the Lord and the supreme Treasure of our lives, we are united to him and his righteousness is counted by God as ours. We justified by faith.
And the result is peace with God. God’s anger at us because of our sin is put away. Our rebellion against him is overcome. God adopts us into his family. And from now on all his dealings with us are for our good. He will never be against us. He is our Father, and our Friend. We have peace. We don’t need to be afraid any more. This is foundational to all other people.
Peace with Ourselves
And because we have peace with God because of being justified by faith, we can begin to grow in the enjoyment of peace with ourselves — and here I include any sense of guilt or anxiety that tends to paralyze us or make us hopeless. Here again believing the promises of God with a view to glorifying God in our lives is key.
Philippians 4:6–7 is one of the most precious passages in this regard: “Do not be anxious about anything [the opposite of anxiety is peace], but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God [in other words, roll your anxieties onto God]. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The picture here is that our hearts and our minds are under assault. Guilt, worries, threats, confusions, uncertainties — they all threaten our peace. And Paul says that God wants to “guard” your hearts and minds. He guards them with his peace. He guards them in a way that goes beyond what human understanding can fathom. Don’t limit the peace of God by what your understanding can see. He gives us inexplicable peace, supra-rational peace. And he does it when we take our anxieties to him in prayer and trust him, that he will carry them for us (1 Peter 5:7) and protect us.
When we do this, when we come to him — and remember we already have peace with him! — and trust him as our loving and almighty heavenly Father to help us, his peace comes to us and steadies us, and protects us from the disabling effects of fear and anxiety and guilt. And then we are able to carry on and our God gets the glory for what we do, because we trusted him.
Do that this Christmas. Take your anxieties to God. Tell him about them. Ask him to help you. To protect you. To restore your peace. And then to use you to make peace.
Peace with Others
The third relationship where God wants us to enjoy his peace is in our relationships with other people. This is the one we have least control over. So we need to say it carefully the way Paul does in Romans 12:18. He says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
For many of you when you get together with family for Christmas, there will be some awkward and painful relationships. Some of the pain is very old. And some of it is new. In some relationships you know what you have to do, no matter how hard it is. And in some of them you are baffled and don’t know what the path of peace calls for.
In both cases the key is trusting the promises of God with heartfelt awareness of how he forgave you through Christ. I think the text that puts this together most powerfully for me again and again is Ephesians 4:31–32, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Continually cultivate a sense of amazement that in spite of all your sins God has forgiven you through Christ. Be amazed that you have peace with God. It’s this sense of amazement, that I, a sinner, have peace with God, that makes the heart tender, kind and forgiving. Extend this to others seventy times seven.
It may be thrown back in your face. It certainly was thrown back in Jesus’ face on the cross. That hurts and it can make you bitter if you are not careful. Don’t let it. Keep being more amazed that your wrongs are forgiven than that you are wronged. Be amazed that you have peace with God. You have peace with your soul. Your guilt is taken away.
Keep trusting God. He knows what he is doing. Keep his glory, not your success or your effectiveness in peacemaking or your relationships, supreme in the treasure chest of your heart.
And then you will be like the angels: Glory to God in the highest is the first thing. Peace among his people is the second thing.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This is why he came — on a day, to a city, as the Savior, Messiah, and Sovereign. That God would get glory, and that you would know peace. May the God of peace give you peace, and get his glory.