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Peace on Earth: Reflections on Luke 2:13–14

By Lloyd Kim, Dec 25, 2023

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”
— Luke 2:13–14 (NIV)

What does the message of Christmas have to do with the war we see all around us? What does Christmas have to do with the war that wages in our own hearts? 

Luke 2:13–14 describes a peeling back of heaven giving us a glimpse of the spiritual realm. We see an army of angels praising God and announcing peace on earth, goodwill toward men. It is this scene that helps us recognize the judgment we deserve, our peace with God, and our peace with others.

Judgment We Deserve

What would you do if you saw an army of angels appearing in the sky? Whenever I read this passage I can’t help but think of those Marvel superhero movies, when the heroes are on earth and then all of a sudden outer space aliens start appearing in the sky, armies of warriors coming to attack the earth saying, “We will destroy you!”

That’s what makes this biblical scene so unusual. The typical first century Israelite would interpret the appearance of armies of angels to mean only one thing—the destruction of the world, the end times. So when the armies of angels appear and say, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” there seems to be a dissonance between the messengers and the message. 

What the shepherds may have heard was, “Peace for you, great destruction for your enemies!” I think we do the same when we are in the middle of a conflict. We want God to side with us and punish our opponents. But what happens if our opponents are other Christians? What if they are asking God to side with them to punish us? Something is missing here. When we think of God as someone who is there to push forward our agenda, then something is wrong.

Whose Side Are We On?

What is more helpful than asking if God is on our side is asking if we are on God’s side. When we ask this question, then we recognize that often we are not on God’s side. We are those who rebel against Him. We are those who deny Him. We are those who try and use God for our own purposes. Scripture tells us, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:10-11), and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The appearance of these armies of angels should help us recognize the judgment we deserve. 

And yet, the heavenly host proclaimed, “And on earth peace, good will toward men” (KJV). This leads to the second point, peace with God.

Peace With God

The peace that is being announced is first about how sinful people can have peace with a holy God. How then can sinful people have peace with a holy God? It is through the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. As the angel says, this is good news “for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Jesus came into the world to pay for our sins through His death on the cross and to rise again from the dead guaranteeing our new life in Him. In a remarkable twist, peace is not achieved through the destruction of the world. But through the sacrifice of the Messiah king, who loves us. 

I recently saw a movie on the plane called “Riceboy Sleeps.” It’s a story about a single Korean mom immigrating to Canada with her young son. In the movie, she tells the story of a son and his sick, elderly mother. She begins by saying that in the old days in Korea, when people got really old their sons would carry them to the top of the mountain top and leave them there to die. This was when the country was poor and there was not enough food to eat. The son lies to his sick, elderly mother and tells her he is going to take her to the mountains to see the flowers. She is so excited. She gets on his back, and they walk a very long time though the mountains. 

Finally, she realizes what her son is doing, where he is taking her. But she doesn't say anything. Instead, she picks pine needles from the trees along the way and drops them on the ground as they go up the mountain leaving a trail. The son does not think anything about it, he just thinks she is too old and not in her right mind. Finally, they arrive at the top. He sets his mother on the ground and tells her he'll be right back, and heads back down the mountain by himself. But by this time it is too dark for him to see his way back. Then he sees the pine needles on the ground which lead him back home. He realizes what his mother was doing for him the whole time. Even though she was on the way to her death, she never stopped loving, never stopped worrying about her son. 

This love is only a reflection of the kind of love we receive from another who went up a hill knowing He was walking to His death, abandoned by the ones who claimed to love Him, and the whole way never stopped loving those who were leading Him to His death. The way to peace is the way of repentance and faith in the one who came and died and rose again for us. We cannot buy it, we cannot earn it, we cannot inherit it. It is simply a gift He gives those on whom His favor rests. We simply need to believe and receive this gift by faith.

Peace With Others

This life changing gospel also enables us to have peace with others. But maybe you are asking, “Why then is there so much conflict? Even in the church?” Good question. I don’t know. But I do know that one day all our conflicts will be no more, when Jesus comes again in power and glory. And until that time, God is choosing to use us to declare the good news of His kingdom and to demonstrate its power in this world until He comes again.

While there is still sin and brokenness in this world, the gospel has power to break down walls of hostility. The gospel has power to reconcile sinners one to another. Do we believe this? Yes we do. We know it is true, because the gospel has changed our lives and brought peace between us and God. He calls us now to be His agents of peace in a world full of conflict and war.

So can I encourage us all to receive the peace that God has for us in His Son. And then to ask how we might be agents of peace toward those in our family, among our colleagues, our neighbors, and the world. Merry Christmas!

Lloyd Kim

Lloyd Kim is coordinator of Mission to the World. He is a former PCA pastor and a former missionary with MTW in the Philippines and Cambodia. He holds an M.Div. from Westminster Seminary in California and a Ph.D. in New Testament studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. Lloyd and his wife, Eda, are the parents of Kaelyn, Christian, and Katy.

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