Two Great Purposes for This Great News
And when the angel had announced this news to the shepherds (Luke 2:11) 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.
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!” (vv. 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 com- ing 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” (Isa. 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 trans- lated 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, where 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!”? An- swer: you welcome the Peacemaker; you receive Jesus.
The Main Point of Peace
God’s purpose is to give you peace by being the most glori- ous person in your life. Five times in the New Testament he is called “the God of peace” (Rom. 15:33; 16:20; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20). And Jesus said, “My peace I give to you” (John 14:27). And Paul said, “[Jesus] himself is our peace” (Eph. 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 we 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.
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 knowl- edge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). When, as Isaiah says, “Of the increase of his gov- ernment and of peace there will be no end” (Isa. 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 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.”
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 justi- fied by faith” (Rom. 5:1). 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 are 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 deal- ings 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 peace.
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, believ- ing 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” our hearts and minds. He guards them with his peace. He guards them in a way that goes beyond what human under- standing can fathom—“which surpasses all understanding.”
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 Pet. 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 in which 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 relation- ships. 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, tender- hearted, 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’s 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.
This sermon is from The Dawning of Indestructible Joy – Daily Readings for Advent by John Piper. You can download the entire book as a free PDF or purchase the Kindle or hard copy versions here: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy – Daily Readings for Advent