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Over two thousand years ago, an event occurred which was easily the most significant moment in human history up to that point. It was not hidden; it did not come unannounced. Yet even among those who professed to be waiting for it, all but a few remained unaware of what was occurring right in their midst. Still, despite the lack of human acclaim, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.
Immediately following the great rebellion of Adam, God made the promise of one who would come, who would redeem mankind from the state into which Adam had delivered them. This promise was repeated, and unfolded, down through the centuries, particularly to the children of Israel. The Scriptures of the Old Testament abound with detail regarding his birth and his purpose. Believers in the Old Testament times looked forward to his coming. Simeon and Anna recognized him as “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25–38). Wise men from a far country came to worship him (Matthew 2:1ff.).
Years later, when he was embarking upon his earthy ministry, Jesus announced by declaring, “The time has come! The kingdom of God is near! Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15 — NIV 1984 translation) One of his early disciples reported, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write.” (John 1:45)
Sadly, many remained blind to the clear testimony of the Scriptures, and its clear fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, in both his birth and his later work, he remained largely unnoticed and unknown on the earth.
But heaven noticed! At the moment of Jesus’ birth, praises resounded in heaven. In fact, a group of shepherds who had been tending their flocks near Jesus’ birthplace were able to witness at least a portion of the celebration.
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 Saviour, 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.
Wow! The angels of God certainly recognized what was occurring that day!
They also understood its ultimate purpose. When we consider the words of the multitude of angels (often repeated in holiday songs and greeting cards), three great truths are revealed. I’d like to consider them in reverse order.
First, “good will toward men.” This seemingly simple statement is often taken to mean that men should be nice to each other (especially during a particular season). However, these angels were messengers from Almighty God, and thus their words were not a plea to “get along,” but rather a proclamation that the will of God, the desire of God, the intent of God towards man is good!
What a contrast to the ways in which God is so often portrayed to us: at best a passive observer, at worst a tyrannical ogre. These words blow man’s stupid assumptions to smithereens. Yes, God is just and awe-inspiring in His holiness. But His dealings with man—even His commandments—have always been for man’s benefit. Though some may invite calamity through their own blindness and disobedience, this is not the outcome that God desires. His will is good for man.
Consider the following:
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us.
Since the beginning, God’s intentions and actions toward man have been consistent in their goodness. This was never more clearly demonstrated than in the birth, life, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He certainly is no less good to us today. Yet, two millennia after the angels’ pronouncement, this “good news” still needs to be heard.
The angels also spoke of “on earth, peace.” Again, we need to consider the far-reaching significance of these words. They are much more than an observation that “war is bad” (which is obvious) or a command to “stop fighting” (which is impossible). The peace they spoke of is indeed a cessation of hostilities, but not those between tribes or kingdoms: those between man and God.
God’s Word declares that, due to Adam’s choice, each of us begins life as an enemy of God. (See, for example, Romans 5:6ff.) No effort on our part would ever be sufficient to extricate this inborn enmity against Him and His ways. For this, we needed the help of another.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
You will note that the above verse does not speak about the peace of God (which is indeed another great benefit of believing on Christ), but rather of peace with God, which is something much more fundamental and essential. Further, having peace with God, people are then able to have true and lasting peace one with another. Ephesians speaks of this peace which can triumph even over the centuries-long enmity between Jew and Gentile.
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.
The completed work of Jesus Christ brought reconciliation between God and man, altering both the reality and the effects of mankind’s rebellion. And yet his work of reconciliation extends even beyond this. For God’s Word declares that, in the future, Jesus Christ will be the agent who accomplishes the repair of an even more crucial breach, one which was caused by an earlier rebellion.
That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.
The Scriptures tell us very little about the original rebellion of Lucifer. But we know that, as a result of this rebellion, havoc ensued. And, due to his later deception, the rule of this world fell into his hands. But that rule—and he himself—will be terminated. And, through the work of Christ, heaven and earth will enter into the relationship that our good God had always intended. Though these events are still in the future, they too were paid for by his redemptive sacrifice on the cross.
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they are things in earth, or things in heaven.
As the angels declared, that modest, largely-ignored birth in Bethlehem was the opening scene of God’s great plan of redemption. And, as such, it proved indisputably that God’s will is good. What can we say in response to this, but, “Glory to God in the highest.”
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.
Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.