Luke 2: Peace on Earth

  • Read Luke 1-2 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (December 27) you can listen to it here.

Sermon audio refers to this picture.

I must confess that I found this week’s sermon preparation academically exciting.  I only hope the church members also experienced some spiritual excitement from the message.

I was fascinated by the similarities in the praise of Zechariah (Lk 1:67-79) and the angels (2:10-14) which I’ll lay out below.

Zechariah: [God] has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David… to rescue us from the hand of our enemies… (1:69, 74b)

Angel: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you. (2:11)

While Zechariah clearly anticipates an earthly Davidic king and rescue from the oppression of the Romans, the angel doesn’t shy away from that expectation.  In fact, the angel emphasises Jesus’ Davidic heritage by referring to the “town of David”, rather than to Bethlehem.

However, we sell Zechariah short if we think his understanding of God’s salvation was limited to political deliverance.  Zechariah understood the connection between political peace for God’s people and their holiness.  He knew from studying the prophets that Israel had lost its freedom because of their sinful neglect of their covenant with God.  That’s why in v77 he summarises John’s mission as being to give his people the knowledge of salvation throug the forgiveness of theirs sins. Which is certainly consistent with the Christian understanding of Jesus as Saviour.

Zechariah: the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death. (1:78b-79b)

Angel: Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. (2:10)

Zechariah and the angel both see God working through Jesus to replace fear and darkness with joy and peace.  While the reference to Jesus as “the rising sun” is unusual, the imagery of Jesus bringing light to a dark world is frequently used in the NT.  Eg. John 1:4-5

Paul uses similar language in an interesting way in Ephesians 5:8b-10 where he calls upon Christians to “Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”  Not only is Jesus the “rising sun”, but Christians are “children of light”.  And while Jesus bring joy and peace, Christians are to reflect our Saviour by first “finding out what pleases the Lord” and then living it.

Zechariah: to guide our feet into the path of peace. (1:79c)

Angels: …on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. (2:14b)

Both Zechariah and the angels expected the Messiah to bring peace, but the both regard the peace as conditional.  Zechariah has already connected it with the forgiveness of sins, and here implies that while Jesus guides our feet, we still have to walk down the path.  Jesus isn’t dragging anyone down the path of peace.

Likewise, while the angels declared “joy to the world”, the peace is limited to those “on whom his favor rests”.  Without going into a lengthy explanation, I understand that phrase to reference those who accept Jesus as Saviour, Messiah, and Lord.  They are the ones who receive God’s favour.  Jesus comes for all, but not everyone benefits from his coming!

So maybe you’re not jumping out of your skin with excitement right now, but I find the comparison fascinating.  We find Luke repeating the same message, but quoting different people saying the same thing in different ways.

FINALLY:  An interesting point about 2:11 is that this is the only place in Scripture that all three of these titles for Jesus are used together:  Saviour, Messiah (Christ), and Lord.  Also, if you’re looking for some indication in look about the deity of Christ… there’s that whole Son of God thing in 1:35 & 3:37, but additionally, in 1:46-47 Mary refers to God as her Lord and Saviour, titles that the angels also bestow upon Jesus in 2:11!

I know I didn’t really discuss the nature of the promised peace, so maybe you can help me out?

  • Do you think the angels are only speaking of spiritual peace / forgiveness of sins?  or are they speaking more broadly than that?
  • How have you experienced God’s peace in your life?
  • Should Christians expect peaceful families, or peaceful societies?
  • Surely churches should at least be peaceful places?  If so, then doesn’t that mean Christians carry a peace that goes beyond spiritual reconciliation?
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