December 21, 1997
GLORY AND PEACE
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14
If you had to pick a theme song for the average news broadcast, what would it be? It wouldn’t be “Joy to the World,” would it? The news is usually anything but joyful. It’s full of crimes and scandals and conflicts and disasters. Instead of “Joy to the World,” a more fitting song for most newscasts would be “Gloom, despair, and agony on me; deep, dark depression, excessive misery.”
Why is the news usually so bad? One reason is that bad things do happen. There really is a lot of crime and scandal and tragedy. But another reason is that the news media tend to report what is bad and ignore what is good. They ignore what is normal and report on what is sensational. Millions of people get up in the morning, work hard at their jobs, and then go home to their families at the end of the day, but they don’t make the news. The headlines go to someone who commits a sensational murder. Thousands of airplanes reach their destination safely with no news coverage; the only plane that makes the news is the one that crashes. Thousands of pastors and priests who minister faithfully get ignored; only the rare exceptions who molest children or embezzle money are likely to make the news.
If our news media had been reporting 2000 years ago, they would have been telling of the scandals and wild parties and underhanded politics in the Roman Senate and the court of Caesar Augustus. They would have told about social problems and wars. They would have commented on the latest tax system. In fact, if you read ancient writers like Tacitus and Suetonius who did report on those times, you’ll find that’s exactly what they wrote about. Things haven’t changed much. Those ancient reporters were as focused on bad news and power politics as our modern media.
It’s no surprise, then, that when a baby boy was born in the obscure village of Bethlehem, not many people noticed. Who would be interested in a poor young woman giving birth to her first baby, when they could get in on the latest scandal in Rome? Like today’s reporters, the people back then were too busy talking about other things to take note of the birth of a baby.
But God’s reporters saw things differently. They looked where most reporters would never look, they saw good news, and reported it. Whom do I mean when I talk about God’s reporters? I’m talking about angels. The word angel in the original language means “messenger.” Angels are God’s reporters. These reporters from heaven knew that the birth of the baby Jesus was far more important than any of the events that seemed important at the time, and they were delighted to bring good news of great joy rather than bad news of great gloom. In Luke 2 the Bible says,
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
What exactly is that good news? According to the angel, the good news of Christmas is this: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). In that one sentence the angel uses three keywords to describe the baby Jesus, three words that ring with good news: Jesus is Savior, he is Christ, and he is the Lord.
Christmas is good news, first of all, because it is the birth of a Savior. All people are prone to sin, and we need someone to save us from our sins. We need someone to rescue us from the punishment we deserve, and we need someone who can help us to stop sinning. We need someone to save us from the grip of death and enable us to live forever. We need a Savior.
If the world’s greatest need was information, God would have sent an educator. If the world’s greatest need was technology, God would have sent an inventor. If the world’s greatest need was money, God would have sent an economist. If the world’s greatest need was counseling, God would have sent a psychotherapist. But the world’s greatest need is salvation from sin and death, so God sent a Savior. “For God so loved the world,” says John 3:16-17, “that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The very name Jesus means “The Lord saves.”
God had every right to condemn the world for its evil–he could have destroyed us all and been perfectly just in doing so–but instead he sent his own Son on Christmas to be the Savior of the world. When you believe this good news and put your trust in Jesus, he saves you from God’s wrath against sin; he saves you from the bondage of Satan; he saves you from ruining yourself; he saves you from death and gives you eternal life. It is indeed good news of great joy that a Savior has been born.
A second word the Christmas angel used for the baby Jesus was “Christ,” and that word, too, is full of good news. When I was growing up, I thought that “Christ” was simply Jesus’ last name. I’m David Feddes because my first name is David and my last name is Feddes, and so I figured that the child born on Christmas was called Jesus Christ simply because his first name was Jesus and his last name was Christ. But the word “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It’s not a name at all. It’s a title. “Christ” is from a Greek word which means “anointed one.” The Hebrew equivalent of the word “Christ” is “Messiah.” The angel was announcing that the anointed one, the Messiah, had been born.
And that was good news. For centuries God had been promising to send his people the perfect ruler, the Messiah. For example, seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah wrote about the Messiah and even said where he would be born.
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.
[Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.]
He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace. (Micah 5:2-5)
Any Israelite who understood this tremendous, 700-year-old prophecy knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and that his birth would change the world. So you can imagine the excitement the shepherds must have felt when they heard that the Christ, their Messiah, had been born in Bethlehem. God had kept his word. The ancient prophecy had come true. The ruler who would change the world had come at last.
The good news that the one born on Christmas is the Messiah, the anointed one promised by God, is proof that God always keeps his promises. Every word God speaks is fulfilled. Even if the Lord says something hundreds of years before an event occurs, it happens exactly as he said it would. If you’re ever tempted to doubt that Jesus is the Messiah, remember the prophecies that were fulfilled down to the last detail when Jesus was born. Not only was Jesus was born in Bethlehem just as Micah predicted, but his Kingdom has spread throughout the entire world, just as the prophet said it would. Jesus the Messiah has brought hope and peace to the lives of millions of people, and he is coming again to restore everything to perfection. It is indeed good news of great joy that Christ, God’s promised Messiah, has been born.
A final word that the angel used to show why Jesus is such good news is the word “Lord.” This may be the most astonishing word of all. That little baby lying in the manger was none other than the Lord, the living God, come to earth in the form of a human infant. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this centuries earlier when he wrote: “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, [and listen to this!] Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
That was what Isaiah had said, and at Christmas it actually happened! God himself came to live with his people. The Son of God who sat on the throne of heaven, who ruled the universe by his power, whose divine majesty dazzled even the angels–this great Lord left the splendor of heaven and became a newborn child who cried when he was hungry, who shivered when he was cold, who nursed at his mother’s breast, who dirtied his diapers, who was just as human as any baby that has ever been born. The Lord became one of us. Jesus was still God, but at the same time, he was just as human as you or me.
Why is this good news? Why does it matter that Jesus is both God and man? To begin with, Jesus had to be God in order to save us. No mere human could live a perfect life, but the Son of God could. No mere human could bear the sins of the whole world, but the Son of God did that when he died on the cross.
So it’s good news that the Lord Jesus is God, but it’s also good news that he is human and identifies with us. He was made like us in every way so that he would understand our hurts and so that he could serve as our substitute and pay the price of our sins. By sharing our humanity and dying our death and then rising from the dead, the Lord destroyed the power of Satan and freed his people from death. He is also able to help us when we are tempted by sin and when we are tested by suffering, because he has endured these things himself. Never again can we think of God as some being in a distant throne room who has no idea what it is like to be human. Our Lord became one of us, and he understands us completely and is able to save us. It is good news indeed that Jesus was both a human baby and also the divine Lord.
Savior, Christ, and Lord–those three words of the angel show why the birth of Jesus is such good news. Those three words show who Jesus is and what he came to do.
And why did he do it? What was his ultimate goal? Simply put, Jesus’ goal was–and is–to bring glory to his Father and peace to his people. In his identity as Savior, Christ, and Lord, Jesus inspires praise and honor to the glorious God who would give such a great Gift, and Jesus brings peace and wellbeing to the lives of people chosen and precious to God.
When the angels exclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest,” they weren’t just rattling off some nice-sounding words. They were praising and adoring the great and eternal God who brings glory to himself in everything he does. The supreme motive in every action of God is to show forth his own splendor and wisdom and power and holiness and justice and love and mercy and to make his glory known. We don’t understand Christmas at all, and we don’t understand anything God does, until we realize that the most basic reason and the ultimate goal of everything God does is to bring glory to himself and magnify his own holy name.
The Old Testament book of Isaiah is filled with prophecies about God’s promised Messiah and the Lord’s great salvation. Over and over, as God announces these things in advance, he makes it clear that the promises are rooted in his determination to show forth his own glory and to demonstrate that he alone is God. In Isaiah 42, for example, God speaks of a chosen servant, anointed by his Spirit, who will be a light for all nations and open blind eyes and set prisoners free. Right after making that promise, God declares, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare to you; before they spring into being I announce them to you” (Isaiah 42:8-9).
When God forgives and saves his chosen people, it’s not because they are so good, but simply because God decides to display the mercy and love that are part of his own glorious being. God says in Isaiah, “But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses. I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (43:24-25). “Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior, there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (45:21-22). “For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you… For my own sake, for my own sake I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another” (48:9,11).
God is supremely important and beautiful. He does not like being ignored or taken for granted, and he refuses to let anything else receive the glory that is his alone. God always acts for his own name’s sake, to show that he alone is God. He cannot deny himself or pretend to be less than he is. He delights in being known as the magnificent, mighty, holy and loving God that he is, and it is this delight in showing forth his own character that is the ground of everything he does.
God sent Jesus into the world on Christmas, not because we are so lovable, but because God’s character is so loving, and he delights to display and demonstrate his love. Christmas is not a tribute to our qualifications but to God’s character. And so Christmas is a time to join the angels in exclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest!” Jesus wasn’t just a sweet baby. He was, and is, the supreme revelation and gift of the almighty, most high God who acts to bring salvation, not because he sees something glorious in us but so that we might see his glory in Christ.
One of our favorite themes in the Christmas season is peace on earth. And that is certainly a wonderful part of the chorus of the angels. But notice that peace on earth is the second part of the refrain, not the first. “Glory to God in the highest” comes first. God’s glory always comes first. God’s glory comes ahead of human wholeness. There is no peace for us where there is no glory for God. But in the coming of the Christ child, God’s glory shines into sick, restless lives in a way that brings peace and wholeness through our Savior, Messiah, and Lord. It is good news of great joy that a God who could have glorified his holiness and power simply by wiping out his enemies has instead decided to glorify himself by showering his favor on millions of people and giving them peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And that brings us to another point at which we sometimes distort the angels’ chorus. Not only do we sometimes pretend that we can have peace on earth without giving glory to God, but we also are tempted to think that the peace of Christmas is a vague sentiment that applies to everyone in general.
Many of us are used to a version of the angel chorus which speaks of “peace on earth, goodwill to men,” but that old translation isn’t quite accurate. A literal rendering of the best ancient manuscripts would be, “on earth peace to men of good pleasure”–and the original word for “good pleasure” refers to God’s good pleasure. The New International Version captures the meaning of the original when it says, “On earth peace to men on whom God’s favor rests.” Christmas is not just a vague wish for general peace and a positive attitude among people in general. Jesus is not just a general, hopeful feeling. He is a definite, specific divine gift to definite, specific people. He is God’s gift of peace to the people of God’s good pleasure.
Now, there’s no denying that Christmas often brings with it a pleasant general feeling of peace and goodwill. The birth of Jesus is so wonderful, and the Christmas season is so beautiful, that even people who don’t care to glorify God or live under his favor can still enjoy some pleasant side effects of Christmas. But only when you trust that Jesus is your Savior, the promised Messiah, the Lord of all creation in human flesh, do you have a faith that brings glory to God and gives you peace with God.
Glory and peace go together. When God’s glory shines upon us in Christ and we trust and worship him alone, we enter into peace and wholeness. And that, in turn, causes his glory to shine even more brightly: when we experience that forgiveness and peace and fullness of life in Jesus, then our hearts and voices praise God and reflect his glory back to him. So while it’s true that we can have no true peace apart from God’s glory, it’s also true that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. He is most praised in us when we are most at peace in him. Peace and glory, glory and peace–these go together, and they are found only in Jesus, our Savior, Messiah, and Lord. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
O Jesus, you truly are good news of great joy. Thank you, Savior, that you rescue us from sin and give us eternal life. Thank you, Christ, our Messiah, that every promise of the great and glorious God is kept in you. Thank you, Lord, that you left the splendor of heaven and humbled yourself as a baby in a stable and that you understand us completely and call us brothers.
And now, Jesus, help each of us to receive this good news with joy and to trust in you, that we may give glory to God in the highest and know your peace here on earth. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.