PEACE TOWARD MEN OF GOOD WILL (1)
I-Bing Cheng, M.D., M.A.
The coming of the Messiah is a major theme
of the OT. It is constantly repeated throughout the pages of the OT. In the
NT, we are told that it is the angels who have the privilege to announce the
imminent coming of Christ. We read in the gospel of Luke, in the nativity
account, the incident in which an angel makes this surprising revelation: …I
bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for
today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is
Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10-11).
revelation from heaven
This good news is for all
mankind. And it is followed by another good news, that there is peace
on earth. Today, by the Lord’s grace, I would like to talk to you about
peace. I would like to expound to you the message of peace of the angels as
it is expressed in Luke 2:14. It is written there that a multitude of
heavenly host praised God by saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on
earth peace among men with whom He is
pleased. Peace toward men with whom God is pleased.
The background of this passage
is familiar to all of you, I am sure. It is the passage about the shepherds
who are in the field and they are watching over their flock by night. And
suddenly, angels appeared to them because they have a message of great
importance to say. Angels often appear on earth when there is an important
message to announce on behalf of God. In fact, the very word ‘angel’ in Greek
also means ‘messenger’. And here, these messengers announce this important
message. Luke 2:10-14.
Luke 2:10. And the angel said to them,
"Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which
will come to all the people;
11 for to you is born this day in the city
of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.
12 And this will be a sign for you: you
will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a
multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest, and
on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!"
I will base my message on this
last verse, v. 14. On earth peace among men with whom He is pleased. We
are very familiar with these words. We hear them every year during the
Christmas period. It is not a verse that is necessarily easy to expound
because of the problem that I would like to point out to you.
If you have a Bible that
provides comments on the translation, you will read on your margin that v. 14
can also be translated by the sentence, On earth peace, good will among
men. That means to say that there are two ways of reading this text. And
if there are two ways of reading this text, you can suspect that there is a
problem of translation.
The reason why we have two
possible translations is because there is a difference of one letter in the
sentence, the letter ‘s’, or sigma if you want to use the Greek
alphabet. And this is what creates the entire difference. Whether you decide
for the presence or the absence of this letter ‘s’ depends on which Greek
manuscript you use to translate this verse. In some manuscripts of the Greek
NT, the letter ‘s’ is present. In other manuscripts, it is not there.
Remember that the Bible was
originally transmitted down through the generations by hand until printing
was invented in the 15th century. That means that for nearly 3000
years, one person or a group of people would copy the original text of the
Bible. And then, it would be passed on to the next generation who would then
copy the text again by hand. You can well imagine all the work that is
involved to copy the whole Bible by hand. And you can also see what problems
are involved. Humanly speaking, it is virtually impossible for anyone to copy
by hand a book as long as the Bible without making some mistakes. That’s why
sometimes, we find some differences between the various manuscripts of the
Bible that we have.
Coming back to our verse in
Luke 2:14, we have then a difference of one letter in the Greek, the letter
‘s’. And this affects the word that is translated in English by the word
‘pleasure’. The difference that it makes, is that by adding on the letter ‘s’,
you change a nominative into a genitive. And here I have to be somewhat
technical because I want you to understand exactly what is happening here
when we try to translate Luke 2:14.
If it is a nominative, then
you would have the reading, ‘Good will among men’, or ‘men of good will’.
That is to say, the word explains the men. These men are people of good will.
That’s the translation that you will find if you have the NKJV. But if we
have a genitive, we are saying, ‘men of God’s good pleasure’. And we would read,
‘men with whom God is pleased’. That is what we find in the NASV for example.
I have to say that this last reading is the preferred one for most scholars
of our time.
Now, which one is right? Why
would you decide for one or the other? The answer, in my opinion, is fairly
simple. It doesn’t really matter. Whether you decide for one translation or
the other, it comes to exactly the same thing if you understand the
principles of peace that I want to explain to you. You know, it is remarkable
that in spite of these slight variations in the Greek manuscripts, these
differences do not have the slightest effect upon theology. No doctrine of
the Word of God is affected by these variations in copying.
principle of peace
So what are these principles
of peace that I just mentioned? There are three principles of peace that you
must know as a Christian. For the remaining time of this lesson, I will show
you the first principle. Then in our next lesson, we will deal with the two
other principles of peace.
The first principle of peace
is this. Peace can never be separated from righteousness or holiness. If
there is one thing that you should remember from this lesson today, it is the
principle that peace can never be separated from righteousness. These two things,
peace and righteousness, always go together. In other words, it means that
where there is no righteousness, there will be no peace. Only where there is
righteousness or holiness will there be peace. This is a spiritual and
eternal principle of peace that is found throughout the whole Bible.
When you understand this
spiritual law, you will agree that understanding Luke 2:14 whether with a ‘s’
or no ‘s’, whether it is a genitive or a nominative, it makes no difference
at all. The meaning is exactly the same.
You see, the only kind of
persons in whom God takes pleasure are righteous people. So whether you say,
‘Men of good will’, or ‘Men in whom God takes pleasure’, it makes no
difference at all. Because if they are men of good will, then they are men of
righteousness. And if they are men in whom God takes pleasure, then they are
also men of righteousness. Either way, the meaning is exactly the same
because God has pleasure only in people who are righteous.
This means that God does not
have pleasure in sin and in those who enjoy sinning. God does not have
pleasure in those who are wicked. The important word to notice is pleasure.
We are not talking about love. The word here is pleasure. God may love a
sinner, but He certainly does not have pleasure in his being a sinner.
This word ‘pleasure’ in the
Bible is generally reserved for the Lord Jesus to say that God is pleased
with Jesus. It is used for example at the Lord’s baptism in Matthew 3:17 when
God said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. It
is used again at the Lord’s transfiguration in Matthew 17:5 where God said
exactly the same thing, This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.
God is pleased with Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is the Righteous One. In fact,
it becomes a title of the Lord Jesus in 1John 2:1 where He is called Jesus
Christ the Righteous. Jesus lived spotless in this world as far as sin is
concerned. He is the Holy One of God. The Lord Jesus said, I always do
those things that please My Father (John 8:29). His whole life was
lived in such a way as to please the Father and the Father was well pleased.
To live a life of holiness
means to live a life that is pleasing to God, a life lived in obedience to
Him and in accordance with His will. When you live a life like this, you
become pleasing to God, a man of God’s good pleasure. That’s the meaning of
these words in Luke 2:14, Peace on earth to those in whom God is pleased.
Men (and women) of God’s good pleasure.
You will be able to enjoy
peace in its richness when you live a life that is pleasing to God, living in
His way and walking in His path. Peace is not something unconditional that
you automatically get once you are baptized. Baptism is like walking in
through the kingdom of God. You don’t just stand inside the door. You have to
move. You have to live, by God’s power, the life of a subject of the kingdom
of God. And then, peace will come. Make it your aim in life to say, like
Jesus, ‘I will live a life that is always pleasing to Him.’ I have come to
do your will, O God (Hebrews 10:9). Such a person is filled with deep
spiritual peace because where there is holiness, there is peace.
between peace and holiness
In the Bible, whether it is in
the NT or in the OT, you will find peace and holiness always joined together.
You cannot pull them apart. If you want peace, you have to have holiness. If
you have holiness, you will have peace.
Let’s look at some references.
Take for example Hebrews 12:14. Pursue peace with all men, and holiness,
without which no one will see the Lord. Without holiness, you shall not
see God. And without peace, you shall not see God either. Peace and holiness
are locked together.
Or consider 2Timothy 2:22.
This verse is especially addressed to young people who because of certain
natural inclinations may be careless and result in losing their peace. So in
this verse, Paul says to Timothy, Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue
righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a
pure heart. Notice again the joining of righteousness at the beginning of
this list and peace at the end of this list of four virtues. Righteousness
and peace always come together. And in between, we have faith and love.
So pursue these four virtues, with
those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. If we didn’t
understand what righteousness is, Paul makes it very plain to us. It is a
pure heart. This righteousness that Paul is talking about is the
righteousness of a pure heart. Blessed are the pure in heart for they
shall see God (Matthew 5:8). But without holiness, without this
purity of the heart, no man shall see God (Hebrews 12:14). It is the
pure in heart, the righteous, who shall see God.
But how do we get this
holiness, this righteousness? Let’s look at 1Thessalonians 5:23 and notice
again this amazing conjunction of peace and righteousness. This is what we
read. May the God of peace (God is the God of peace because He is the
God of holiness). May the God of peace sanctify you completely. To
sanctify means to make holy. It is God who makes us holy. And may your
whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of
our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Blameless’ is just another term of Paul for
‘righteous’. Pure in heart, without blemish, spotless, blameless, these are
just different expressions for righteousness and holiness. So Paul is saying
that it is the God of peace who provides the power to make us holy so that we
will be found blameless, righteous, at the second coming of Christ.
God is not pleased
Now it is possible for us to
hinder this process of sanctification because any work of God in us requires
our collaboration. The major hindrance to our sanctification is the presence
of sin in our lives. If there is sin in our lives, God will not be pleased
with us. He will not be pleased with us if we desire evil, if we love sin.
This is the warning that we
find in 1Corinthians 10:5. Let me read that verse to you. 1Corinthians 10:5.
It says in that verse that with most of them, i.e. the Jews who were saved
out of Egypt and who passed through the Red Sea. With most of them God was
not well pleased. This word ‘pleased’ is exactly the same word
that we have in Luke 2:14, peace to men in whom God is pleased.
Why was God not pleased with
them, the chosen people of God? Because they desired evil. That’s what the
following verse tells us. Verse 6: These things became our examples, to
the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
They lusted after evil things, they desired evil. And therefore, God was not
pleased with them.
You see, evil and peace cannot
go together. Sin and peace just can’t go together. That is a fundamental
spiritual law that I want you to understand and remember. Only so will you
understand the message of the angels in Luke 2:14. The angels didn’t just say
(as we usually read on Christmas cards), ‘Peace on earth’, but peace on
earth to men of good will. Or to men in whom God is well pleased. Or to
men in whom God takes pleasure. Why? Because these men love righteousness.
Do you know what happened to
those Israelites in the wilderness with whom God was not pleased? Just read
on 1Corinthians 10 and you will see the tragedy that happened. They all
perished in the wilderness. Some were destroyed by the serpents. Others were
destroyed by the destroyer. Destruction came upon them. And don’t say to
yourself that this is OT stuff that doesn’t apply to us. Paul says in that
same passage, these things became our examples, to the intent that we
should not lust after evil things. In other words, these things were
written for our warning so that we do not desire evil things as they
did. Paul was talking to the Corinthian Christians. And he is talking to us
Understand this clearly. Even
if you are righteous now, but if out of your own choice you draw back from
your righteousness in Christ, if you decide to draw back from purity of
heart, God will not be pleased with you. And I cannot guarantee that He will
not do the same as He did with the Israelites in the wilderness.
In Hebrews 10:38-39, we have
these words about God not being pleased with those who walk away from
righteousness. It says, But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if
he shrinks back (i.e. if he draws back from righteousness), My soul
has no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not of those who shrink back
to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of
the soul. Here the writer to the Hebrews speaks of two kinds of believers
with regard to faithfulness, two kinds of righteous ones. The Christian whose
faith remains committed to God until the end will have his soul preserved.
But the Christian whose faith shrinks back, draws back from righteousness and
turns away from God will displease God. And the end for such a person, if
there is no change, is destruction. These people are those who draw back
to perdition, to destruction, just as the Israelites were destroyed in
and righteousness in the Old Testament
So this is the clear teaching
of the Scriptures. Evil and peace cannot go together. That is why in Isaiah
57:21, God says that there is no peace for the wicked. The wicked
cannot find peace anywhere in heaven or on earth, or under the earth. To
those who do not love righteousness, there is no peace.
You see that this same
principle is already there when you go back to the OT. Read for example
Isaiah 32:17. The work of righteousness will be peace, and
the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever. Peace and
righteousness are constantly linked together.
Or listen to these beautiful
words in Psalm 85:10. Righteousness and peace have
kissed together. In the Scriptures, righteousness and peace are so
closely united that they are said here to have kissed together. You just
can’t take them apart.
Finally, let me read to you
Isaiah 59:8. The way of peace they have not known. Why? Because there
is no justice in their ways. If the world wants to find peace, there is
no other way than to walk on the path of justice, of righteousness. And this
righteousness is found only in Christ, who is our righteousness.
So understand deeply this
fundamental principle, that in the spiritual world, peace and righteousness
cannot be separated. Where there is holiness, there is peace. Where there is
sin, there is turmoil and restlessness. This coming Christmas, don’t just
pray ‘Peace on earth’, but Peace on earth to those in whom God is pleased.
And God is pleased only with people who are righteous. These are the people
who will have peace. This is the message of the angels.