Wonder: The Mystery of Peace

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 12/16/2018

Some shepherds were out guarding their flocks at night when an angel appeared to them saying, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.’ And Luke tells us how a great multitude in heaven broke out in song with the angel, praying God, singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”

Have you ever wondered, what is this “peace” Christ was to bring? Where is the evidence of it? We look out into the world and we see so much darkness. Would you say you’ve found peace? Maybe you’re familiar with the original Christmas song:

I heard the bells on Christmas day… Their old familiar carols play… And mild and sweet their songs repeat… Of peace on earth good will to men; And the bells are ringing… Like a choir they're singing… In my heart I hear them… Peace on earth, good will to men; And in despair I bowed my head… There is no peace on earth I said… For hate is strong and mocks the song… Of peace on earth, good will to men.

But the bells are ringing… Like a choir singing… Does anybody hear them? Peace on earth, good will to men; They rang the bells more loud and deep… God is not dead, nor does he sleep… The wrong shall fail, the right prevail… With peace on earth, good will to men.

(1) Peace as Wellness. When a lot of people hear “Peace”, they think of three questions. Am I healthy, wealthy, and happy? When you are young, you take your health for granted. But it isn’t long before health becomes an obsession. The single most recorded prayer request is, “Make me healthy…” or “Make those I love healthy.” We also pray for affluence (financial peace), and happy circumstances. To the degree that our health, money, and circumstances are in order we feel inner peace; and to the extent these things are out of order we feel anxious and hang our head is despair.

Part of the Wonder of Peace is that God is not dead, nor does he sleep. Could you imagine the terror of those Shepherds as the light of heaven pierced the darkness of the night sky? Imagine if the door of heaven cracked open, and you were allowed to gaze upon the glory of God. The most startling thing you would realize is that God cares about your life! In 1 Peter 5:6-7, the Bible says, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time. Cast all your anxiety upon him, because he cares about you.”

It’s not bad that we think about these things, its that we don’t think about “more” than these things. In Matthew 6:25 Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” Our idea of peace has to go deeper than these things.

(2) Peace as Forgiveness. An even deeper reality of peace, is Matthew 1:21. An angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and says, “Joseph, Son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save his people from their sins.”

A far deeper need than greater health, wealth, and happy circumstances is forgiveness from sin. To what degree have you internalized your own need for forgiveness? Forget about everyone else for a moment. What about you? From what do you need to be forgiven? How have I come up short in my love for God? How have I come up short in my love for people? Can I even be honest about that to myself?

If I use others as a standard, maybe I feel pretty good about myself. Though I’ve come up short, I’ve at least made an effort to love God and people. How easy it is to point toward people who haven’t made any effort, or people who just flagrantly sin against God, against people, or against themselves.

But my standard isn’t other people’s righteousness; It’s God’s very own goodness, righteousness, and holiness. If I have any sense of God’s holy character, if I have any knowledge of God’s holy word whatsoever, I’m immediately faced with the crisis of my own salvation. Just how many commandments have I broken? How stubborn, rebellious, and hostile have I been to the things of God? In the Bible I read the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses and David. The Apostles, Peter, Paul, John. If they had such a profound need for God’s grace, how much more do I need that grace? If the Apostle Paul considered himself “the worst of all sinners” how much more should I consider myself the same? If Jon Morrissette hasn’t broken the letter of the law, he’s certainly broken the spirit of God’s law.

Salvation is our single greatest crisis. Suppose I set aside God’s law for a moment. Suppose I was just to be held accountable by the law of Jon Morrissette. Imagine if Google gathered up every sermon, I’ve ever preached (that’s actually possible, I have full manuscripts of every sermon from Day 1 on my computer!). Imagine if I were to be held accountable for every word, thought, opinion, and judgement I’ve ever made about others in life. In Romans 2:1-3 Paul says, “any one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same thing… do you really think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgement?”

If we’re guilty by our own standards, how much are we guilty by Gods? What if God said to you, “Earn it. Earn my forgiveness. Earn my grace. Earn my mercy. Fix your sin mess. Sanctify your own sin-sick soul. Justify yourself, defend yourself in God’s holy court of law. Pay for your sin.” In Christ Jesus we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. God forgives, justifies, sanctifies, takes our punishment. We have peace in Him!

(3) Peace as Forgiving. I wonder if you’ve ever felt the pain of those lyrics I read at the top of this message: “I heard the bells on Christmas day… Peace on earth, good will to men; And in despair I bowed my head… There is no peace on earth I said… For hate is strong and mocks the song…” Suppose God answered all your prayers for health, affluence, and happy circumstances. Suppose God answered your cry for salvation. In Christ Jesus, God forgives your sin, not counting your trespasses against you. Is there still more than to consider than just personal wellness and personal forgiveness?

I found myself struck this week by the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah concerning the imminent birth of John the Baptist and Jesus. In Luke 1:13-17 Gabriel says, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or beer. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.”

If that is all there was to peace, maybe the angel Gabriel could have stopped there. But there is more, verse 17, “And John will go before Him [Jesus] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of righteousness, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”

Now probably that verse doesn’t mean much to you, but what if I told you this verse superglues the Old Testament to the New Testament? The very last verses, the very final note, the lasts words of the Old Testament are Malachi 4:5-6. In Malachi, you had Fathers abandoning their marriage covenants, forsaking the wife of their youth to marry foreign women. They were writing their wives and their families off with certificates of divorce. Families were being ripped apart. Homes were riddled with anger, bitterness, and violence. And the final note of the Old Testament is God promising that on the day of the Lord he is going to heal families. Faithless men, betrayed wives, exasperated children, shattered homes will be put back together!

There is no doubt that we need “World Peace” right? The Americans, Russians, Chinese, Iranians, North Koreans, Israelites, Palestinians are all at each other’s throats. There is no doubt we need “Political Peace” right? Do you not think the people in Bible times had it far worse? They were worried about a worldwide battle in the valley of Armageddon just north of Jerusalem. They suffered infinitely more politically than any of us ever will in a lifetime. The Angel told Mary “His Kingdom would endure forever (1:33)!” Mary praised the news of Jesus’ arrival, understanding that Jesus would “topple the mighty from their thrones and exalt the lowly.” (1:52) He would “Satisfy the hungry and send the rich away empty.” (1:53). Jesus would bring societal transformation… peace! It’s all in the Christmas story.

But the first place the peace of God would show up was in families. You know that of all the pain/anguish you experience in life, the very worst/harshest pain is that of family pain. The pain of an unfaithful spouse. The pain of a rebellious, wayward child. If you have a strong family/marriage you can endure most any hardship. But if your family is fractured, all the other pains of life are infinitely magnified. When your family unraveling, it feels like everything is unraveling, it feels like there is a dark cloud, that there is no hope, that there is no glimmer of light. It feels like you are under a curse.

This Christmas, it’s one thing to contemplate the miracle of “forgiveness”—that God forgives you. But what about the miracle of “forgiving?” The miracle of “forgiving” is when God enables you to do for others, what he’s done for you. Peace isn’t just God destroying the dividing wall of hostility between you and Him. Peace is God destroying the dividing wall of hostility between gender (male/female), ethnicities (Jew/Gentile), the over/underprivileged (Free man/Slave). Peace is God healing your marriage. Peace is God bringing your prodigal son/daughter not just to their senses, but back home! Peace is God taking two people who have written each off and, by his own mercy/grace, helping you write a new love story.

Remember Colossians 3:12-15? “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. 14 Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful.”

The full miracle of Christmas is you experience peace as you trust God with your practical needs—your health, your finances, your circumstance. You trust God to forgive you all of your sin. But then you let Christ bring peace into your family, as he enables you to hold out to others the same grace you’ve received. If you have a grievance against your spouse. If your child has turned away from you. If you’ve carried a mother wound or father wound all these years. If bitterness, hatred, pain, strife has dominated your relationships… are you willing to invite God to establish peace?

There are two crisis we experience in relationships. There is the initial crisis of betrayal, hurt, pain. The other party seems to have the power, control. But then there is the crisis of reconciliation. The crisis of reconciliation is that a person now stands before you asking for your mercy. The power/control is in your hand to forgive.

Where hate is the strongest that God’s peace must prevail… and this is the Wonder of Peace. Colossians 1:19-22.