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Peace, Good Will Toward Men?

posted Dec 24, 2015, 11:34 PM by Nathan Wheeler   [ updated Apr 11, 2018, 4:13 PM by Nathanael Wheeler ]
A couple years ago, I was sitting at work, listening to Spotify radio, as I so often do, and I heard something that I had never heard before. I heard Jeremy Camp reading Luke 2:8-14 on his album “Christmas: God With Us”. I believe almost everyone should be fairly familiar with the words of this passage:

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men.'" - Luke 2:8-14

I want to focus on this last verse, Luke 2:14. We all know the story here... Some shepherds are in this field, watching some sheep. An angel pops up out of nowhere, the glory of the Lord “shines around them” (which, I might add, few, if any, of us have ever really seen) and the shepherds are terrified. The angel starts talking to the shepherds, and tells them this Good News which will be told to the entire world, repeating the prophecy found in Matthew 24:14:

"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." - Matthew 24:14

Then the angel tells what the Good News is, that the Savior was born, and the angel tells the shepherds how to find Him. Then all the sudden there’s a bunch more angels who are quoted in Luke 2:14 as saying:

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

We’ve all heard these words. Henry Longfellow wrote a song with them in 1864 that we still sing today -- “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

But what happened next? Sweet little baby Jesus who was born to bring peace to the whole world grew up into a man, preached for a few years, then was violently crucified. Then all but one of His first followers were martyred over the next few years. And over the next couple thousand years hundreds of thousands of people are killed either for being Christians, or by people claiming to be “Christians” -- through holy wars, crusades, hate crimes, etc.

Why? Why has there been nothing but violence on the Earth since this announcement of peace? Why have so many followers of Christ been slain? Why have so many “followers of Christ” slain others? Peace? Good will toward men? Where is this peace, and where is this good will?

Going back to when I first started writing, I said I heard Jeremy Camp read this passage, but I wrote the words with which you’ll likely be most familiar. What Jeremy Camp read was actually slightly different. It was from a different version of the Bible, rather than the King James Version, and it went like this:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
- Luke 2:14

That’s a little different. When I first heard this, I had a bit of a knee jerk reaction. My first thought was that this peace was for all men, and where did the good will go? I thought they had omitted the good will, and I was a little offended. So I looked it up, and I researched the verse a while. What I came up with was interesting.

In 12 out of 19 versions of the Bible I compared, while the wording may be slightly different, the thought was close. The “good will” wasn’t toward men. The “good will” described the men. The peace is toward the men. The men are men of good will. The word that is translated as “good will” in this place is can also be translated as “desire” or “of pleasure”.

The only people who God finds desirable, the only people with whom God is pleased, and the only people in whom is found any truly “good will”, are men who follow Christ. True believers in Christ are the only ones who receive any peace from the Good News. This theme is echoed throughout the New Testament: Paul and Silas singing in a jail cell, Stephen falling asleep in Christ as an angry mob stoned him, the list goes on and on.

We, especially in America, have come to expect peace. So, we mistake a “peaceful life” for the peace of God. Because of this false belief, when trouble comes our way, we mistakenly believe that our peace has been taken away, shattered. When we look at the peace that the great men in the Bible had, we should realize that the peace isn’t in what’s going on around us. The peace that they had was found in the Good News that their Savior had come to Earth and died for their sins. Their peace was found in the fact that, whether alive here on Earth or dead through various means, they would live on, they were forgiven - they were chosen of God to be His children.

We look for peace in material things, in an easy life. We talk about how blessed we are to live in this great country and how easy we have it. We talk about how God has blessed us by meeting our needs with abundance. Could we still say the same thing if we were locked up in a jail cell for spreading His Word? Would we still praise God and show His love, forgiving others as they stoned us for telling the Good News?

I’ve often heard people say things like, “Well, I know I must be doing the right thing because God is just blessing what I’m doing and life is great.” I’ve never heard anyone say, “This must be exactly what I’m supposed to be doing because I have a peace about it and everyone around me hates me and wants to kill me.” I’m guilty of it. If you’re honest, you’ll admit to being guilty of it as well. Jesus even told us that things here in the world weren’t going to be easy. He promised us a life of trouble.

"These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." - John 16:33

We don’t have peace with the world. We don’t have peace with unbelievers or people of other religions. This doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to pick fights with them, or go to war with them, we’re required to love them. They, however, won’t love us, and that’s ok, because we know God loves us. Romans 5:1 tells us what the peace that we have is:

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:"
- Romans 5:1

We have peace with God. The Good News that the angels brought the shepherds in the field is just that simple - men on Earth can have peace with God! The war between God and man is over, no more sacrifices, no more death - we have eternal life and peace with God. Hallelujah, and amen!