Have you ever wondered about the message of the angelic host in Bethlehem, “glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men” (Luke 2:14). What does “peace and goodwill” really mean? This may be one of the Bible’s most misunderstood verses.
Did the angels suggest that from the moment of Jesus’ coming people would live in peace? If so, Jesus’ coming was certainly a failure, as we have known untold numbers of wars for the past 2000 years.
Did the angels claim that God would give peace only to people of goodwill? That would mean our gospel is a message of human works and self-effort; no grace at all. Would anyone qualify? Who has really shown enough goodwill to deserve God’s peace? Is there any among us without sin? Has not every mouth been stopped? Has not every person been shown to be contaminated by sin? (Romans 3:19).
In a seeming contradiction, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). On the surface there appears to be a conflict. Which one is it? Did Jesus come to bring peace? Or sword? By rightly dividing the word of truth, we can easily find the answer to this question.
Of course, God desires peace among people, but this was not the primary message of the angelic host. The phrase, “peace and goodwill” expresses God’s heart and intent towards people. God had been at war with man’s sin since the Garden of Eden. Now that war is over! The very source of the conflict between man and God (sin) has been removed by a savior.
God did not hide from Adam - Adam hid himself from God.
God has always loved people, as shown when Adam first sinned. God did not hide from Adam - Adam hid himself from God. God is forever the Great Shepherd looking for the lost sheep. A few pages further into the book of Genesis, we encounter Cain, the first murderer. Certainly God would turn His back on a murderer. On the contrary, God reached out to Cain even when he lied about his brother’s death. Wouldn’t God turn His back on a murderer and a liar? No, God loves sinners; He always has. When Cain realized he was caught he asked God to protect him. Would God protect a murderer? Amazingly the answer is “yes.” Later we read, “So Cain left the presence of God” (Genesis 4:16). You cannot leave what you do not have. God did not leave Cain - Cain left God. Again we see God’s love for a sinful world from the very beginning.
These and other accounts show us that God “winked” at sin (Acts 17:18), knowing that sin would have its final punishment in the body of Jesus. Yet, there was a sense of uncertainty. During the time period between Adam
to Moses, God punished sins when the entire civilization was in danger, as was the case in the time of Noah. Yet, even at the worst of times, God continually provided opportunities for sacrifices and offerings to atone for sin.
During the time period between Moses and Jesus, the Law was in effect for the people of Israel. It was not given to make anyone holy, or to be a human standard of living. Rather, the purpose of the Law was to show God’s holiness and our utter inability to achieve God’s standard. The Law was to prepare us for grace. During that 1,400 year period called the Old Covenant, there was a sense of anger and wrath. Frequently, sins were punished as the people of Israel transgressed God’s commandments.
This is all a backdrop to the angels’ message, “peace, goodwill toward men.” Once we understand the Law of Moses with all its impossible requirements, we also understand the New Covenant of peace.
The war was over. Peace had come. Jesus would now accurately portray God as a father of hugs and kisses.
What was the foundation for this peace? That Jesus Christ would “once for all” deal with the sin problem. God would do to sin what sin deserved and what God always wanted to do to it - punish it. God’s just anger over human sin fell on Jesus. The war was over. Peace had come. Jesus would now accurately portray God as a father of hugs and kisses.
Why? Does God change from the Old Testament to the New?
Not at all! God had always been holy, just, pure, and ready to punish sin. The only difference is that now the punishment has already been enacted on Jesus, resulting in a message of peace and goodwill from God. In short, your sins have been paid. Don’t ever reduce God to a vindictive, vengeful God who cannot fellowship with sinners. Some have portrayed God as the proverbial Mafioso to whom you pay hush money. We “pay off” God in prayers, giving, church attendance and good works to keep Him happy. “Peace and goodwill” means that God does not need to be satisfied; He is satisfied by the sacrifice Jesus has provided. This in no way makes light of sin. John writes, “everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). When you really believe in the hope of the Gospel, that Christ has “once for all” paid for your sin, it motivates you to be pure. God didn’t ignore sin. He paid for it and put it out of the way.
If anything, Jesus’ death on the cross is an overpayment for human sins.
John the Baptist echoed the message of the angels. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:2). Any sense of war between God and man is over due to the fact that sins have been doubly paid. This in an interesting expression that indicates that no one ought to think that their sins were not fully paid for. If anything, Jesus’ death on the cross is an overpayment for human sins.
Isaiah prophesied the same message: “For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you” (Isaiah 54:10). God’s promise of “peace and goodwill” is irrevocable. Isaiah’s message is synchronized with that of John the Baptist and the angels. Jesus’ coming launches a covenant of peace that is everlasting.
Isaiah chapter 53 describes in graphic detail the price paid for this covenant of peace. Jesus’ body was so affected that “His appearance was marred more than any other man’s” (Isaiah 52:14). He did not merely take the principle of sin upon Himself, but the totality of human iniquity. “The judgment for our peace was on Him … and the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” God imputed human sin unto Jesus’ flesh so that He would be able to impute Jesus’ righteousness into everyone who believes.
Jesus suffered every injustice, humiliation and unfair treatment imaginable to man. Every level of His being was affected - physically, mentally and emotionally. Jesus’ birth signalled peace and goodwill; the 1,400 year era of the Law of Moses for Israel was over. From now on God’s goodness would bring people to repentance (Romans 2:4). Our task is to share the message of peace from God. As this Gospel of peace transforms millions of lives we will find peace between people.