One of the most important elements of inductive bible study (at least in my opinion) is the search for patterns and the importance of repetition of words. Often these things are overlooked and sometimes in our haste, we just plain miss them. My discipline over the last 3 years has been to use a 1 year reading plan to digest the entire canon of scripture chronologically each year. It has been at times difficult, but more often it has been incredibly profitable. A couple of years back as I was reading the Gospel of Luke the Lord pointed out something to me that I missed in every other reading of Luke through out my life. It was the connection between a couple of verses separated by about 17 chapters. The first verse comes from Luke 2:
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14 NASB)
Most of you reading this will immediately recognize the narrative from which this verse comes. It is of course one of the most commonly read passages during the Advent (Christmas) season. I would argue that this verse is a short form thesis of the mandate of the earthly portion of Jesus ministry which is described in more detail in chapter 4 when He quotes from Isaiah. So what is the mandate declared by the angels? Here we have lowly shepherds going about their normal business of shepherding when an angel of the Lord appears. Luke describes the shepherds as being “terribly afraid” and I think with good reason. This would be enough in ancient days to have put a fearful fear into anyone. This angel of course spoke of a newly born child who was both a savior and also the Christ. For the first century Jew this was a huge declaration- the long expected Messiah had finally arrived. There after a multitude of the heavenly host (as if 1 angel wasn’t enough) appeared in the night sky. The content of their message was anything but fear provoking. It started with a declaration of praise and worship to the almighty God, followed by a promise- a promise of peace. The birth of this savior child was to be a game changing event. The sin of Adam and Eve long before had brought a terrible curse upon the earth- peace of any kind was an empty notion. If there was any sense of peace at all it was a rare and temporary occurrence at best. The angels declared “peace on earth”, but not as any human understood it. The arrival of this child savior initiated the restoration of the world. This savior was to offer a peace which would transcend simple cessation of hostilities between warring peoples and nations. It was the type of thing that would speak peace in the midst of suffering, pain, grief, loss, emptiness and hopelessness- all of which were things long since lost from the time of the sin of Adam. The world had been longing for this. Now at long last, at the fulness of time heavenly angels came from the throne room of God to declare the arrival of this symbol and source of peace for humanity- Jesus, the only son of almighty God.
So how then did Jesus go about bringing peace to the earth? Answering this question could take a very large number of blogs posts to do it justice, so lets just look at some. One of the first things that came to my mind as I was pondering this was the Gerasene Demoniac. Here was a man under the influence of a a legion of demons. A man tortured and so devoid of his faculties that he was not living in a house (let alone in a community of people) but in the tombs among the dead. His rational mind so seized by the demonic that he was not even wearing clothing. I think most would agree that he was man without any peace at all. His plea to Jesus at the outset seems strange in that it almost appears as if he was expecting Jesus to increase his suffering and is asking him not to. However a closer look at the verb from the Greek sheds some light on his plea. The UBS Handbook of the New Testament notes “that the verb may be rendered, ’cause to suffer’, ‘inflict- pain- on’, ’cause- distress- to’, ‘give plague to’, or, an expression carrying the idea of being twisted, figuratively spoken.” The plea then is that Jesus would end the man’s suffering and torment. Put another way: Jesus bring me peace!!!!
How about the woman with the issue of blood? The text tells us that she had been hemorrhaging for 12 years and no one had been able to heal her. In the parallel passage of Mark’s gospel, we are told that she had spent all that she had and endured much at the hands of many physicians but had only gotten worse. Imagine for a moment the hell that this would have been for this woman. 12 years of mess, 12 years of constant exposure to doctors (with probably many different treatment regimens) and to top all of this off, she was living in a Jewish context where the Levitical law declared that due to the blood she was ceremonially unclean. Her involvement with anything related to temple sacrifices and worship was certainly impossible. In order for her friends and family to remain ceremonially clean, they would have to avoid contact with her. In essence she was a social pariah- a social outcast. If anyone needed a savior to bestow peace, it was her. So out of complete desperation she sneaks into the crowd of people that were pushing in on Jesus and she grabs hold of a piece of his garment. She didn’t even ask, she just tried to get it on her own; simply touching the hem of Jesus’ garment brought complete healing. When woman finally confessed that it was her that had touched him, instead of being angry, Jesus simply states “Your faith has made you well; go in peace”
In Luke 7 we have the story of when Jesus attended a dinner feast and a woman anointed his feet with her tears and perfume and Jesus told her that her faith had saved and that she was to go in peace. When Jesus sent out the 72, He commanded them to enter a house and offer peace. Even His parables speak a message of peace. Consider for a moment the Good Samaritan story. Samaritans and Jews were not friends and would avoid each other almost at all cost. In this story we see how a Jewish man who has been beaten and left for dead has the peace demonstrated to him by his enemy when the Samaritan man cares for his wounds and takes him to an inn for further care. Truly an act of being a good neighbor, but also an incredible act of peace. The list goes on.
As I mentioned earlier, there is verse that I believe is very strongly connected to Luke 2:14. We find this other verse in chapter 19:
As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting: ” Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19: 37, 38 NASB)
In chapter 2, there was a phrase of worship and praise to the mighty God and the language used there is very similar to chapter 19. Chapter 2 gave us “Glory to God in the highest”. In chapter 19 we have “Glory in the highest”. Going back to chapter 2 we read “And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased”; back to 19 we see “Peace in heaven.” In my estimation this is too coincidental to be a coincidence. As my friend Sean says “Its “Godincidence”. I would argue that Luke has recognized a pattern here and has brought it out in his documenting of Jesus ministry. Up until this point in the story (The triumphal Entry) Jesus ministry has been very much marked by preaching, teaching and bestowing a gospel of peace: Healing the sick, restoring the blind and the lame, driving out demons and even raising the dead. All of these are the fulfillment of not only the Isaiah 61passage that Jesus quotes and attributes to Himself in chapter 4, but they are also fulfillment of the message of peace delivered by the angels that came from the heavenly realms to herald the coming of the Messiah.
In Luke 19, we now have an interesting juxtaposition. Instead of angels declaring peace on earth, humans (who have experienced and seen the peace that Jesus brought in His earthly ministry) are now prophetically declaring peace in the heavenly realms as Jesus rode into Jerusalem 7 days before His ultimate sacrifice for the sin of humanity. If Luke 2:14 serves as a declaration of the earthly mandate of Jesus’ ministry, then Luke 19: 37, 38 serves as declaration of heavenly mandate of Jesus’ ministry. So how then did Jesus bring about peace in heaven? This question is seemingly simple and yet difficult to answer at the same time. Obviously heaven was not a war zone and heaven was certainly not a realm devoid of peace, so we cannot seek answers that have these types of ideas as a foundation. The answer requires us to back up almost to the beginning. In Gen 3:8 just after Adam and Eve have disobeyed God we read that:
“(Adam & Eve) heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Gen 3:8 NASB)
As I mentioned earlier, the sin of humanity had brought a curse upon all things. The greatest element of this curse was the breaking up of the fellowship that humanity experienced with God. Sin had shattered this fellowship and peace with Him was lost. From the text it appears that God came and walked and talked with with Adam and Eve. The mention of the cool of day reminds me personally of those times in the summer that I sit out on my deck, enjoying the cool breeze and relaxing and reflecting on my day. It seems a very reasonable speculation that God would come and they would enjoy a conversation about all that they had experienced and discovered about the world their creator had built for the. Gen 3:8 essentially implies a familiarity or an intimacy that the first humans had with God. We could call it a deep fellowship. The JFB commentary makes this comment about this verse:
“The divine Being appeared in the same manner as formerly– uttering the well- known tones of kindness, walking in some visible form (not running hastily, as one impelled by the influence of angry feelings). How beautifully expressive are these words of the familiar and condescending manner in which He had hitherto held intercourse with the first pair.”
With the entrance of sin into the world this fellowship with God was broken. God, entirely holy and righteous would not have a close relationship with those who had been tainted by sin. For humanity on the other hand it was not a matter of “would not” but radically “could not”. Sin prevented humanity from entirely having a relationship with God that was not initiated by Him. In the end sin of humanity robbed humanity of the peace that exists and is characteristic of a intimate and deep fellowship with God.
Back to Luke 19:38. Here we have Jesus embarking on the next stage of his ministry; the event which changed everything. Jesus was about to bring peace in heaven. He was soon to restore fellowship between man and God. The apostle Paul puts it this way:
“For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Col 1:19,20 NASB)
The peace that people that declaring prophetically that would be brought about by Jesus was an act of restoring the fellowship had been lost through the taint of sin. The word that most accurately describes this is ‘reconciliation’. Humanity was unable to bring about reconciliation. As a child I would always get the order mixed up, I would say that God needed to be reconciled to man; this was of course incorrect. Man needed to be reconciled to God and only God could do it and His choice instrument was His only son whose blood was poured out. The UBS Handbook of the New Testament notes:
“The reconciliation was effected by means of the peace which God brought about through his Son’s death on the cross.”
“The peace that God made is the restoration of that fellowship between God and mankind which is broken by sin.”
I want to make one final observation. All three of the synoptic gospel record a particular detail about the crucifixion. The meaning of which is made clear through this discussion. As Jesus hung on the cross we read that the veil in the temple was split. The gospel of Matthew makes it clear that it split from top to bottom. As the blood of Jesus was spilled for sin, the veil which separated the earthly throne room of God (the symbol of His heavenly throne) from human contact (outside of the consecrated high priest once a year) was torn asunder. Jesus had made peace in heaven and allowed access to all people’s to the holy and righteous God. Fellowship had been restored.
May your celebrations of Christmas remind you of the peace that Jesus has brought to the earth and may they point you to event where Jesus restored peace and fellowship with God. Merry Christmas from my family to yours.