“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14 KJV).
“’Peace, peace’ they say, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 8:11 NIV).
Some 20 centuries ago the angel announced to the shepherds the birth of the Christ child in the city of Bethlehem and the inauguration of peace on earth. Yet, 2,000 Christmases later there is no peace on earth. Sure, there are periods of cease-fire, but no real peace.
Whatever happened to this promise of peace on earth?
Frenchman, Gustave Valbert, in his day reported that “From the year 1496 BC to AD 1861 in 3,358 years there were 227 years of peace and 3,130 years of war, or 13 years of war to every year of peace. There were 286 wars in Europe from 1550 to 1850. From 1500 BC to 1860 AD more than 8000 treaties of peace, meant to remain in force forever, were concluded. They averaged remaining in force two years.”
Valbert’s averages would only be multiplied by the last 150 years of failed peace. There has been an increase of wars, including many that have touched the entire planet. Wars to “end all wars” have been fought, only to be followed by wars even more bloody and costly.
The last part of the 20th century was marked by the Cold War between the USA and the USSR. And while I suppose a cold war is preferable to a warm one, it still kept much of the world in fear of nuclear holocaust. The thawing of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 gave only a brief reprieve of fear and was replaced by, in some ways, an even more chilling anxiety: terrorism.
Since a car bomb exploded in the basement garage of the World Trade Center in 1993, American’s brief respite from Cold War fears have been transferred from a Russian face to the face of the militant Islamist. The last 20 years have been marked by this war of terror.
Why haven’t we experienced the promise of peace on earth? Instead of peace, we have been living in an ever-increasing state of war.
I think it’s because we’ve misunderstood the meaning of peace. Peace is more than the cessation of hostilities. It is what the Hebrews of the Old Testament called shalom. This shalom is an expression of health and well-being, safety, good relations between peoples and nations, quiet tranquility and contentment, friendship, wholeness, soundness, and completeness. Shalom is a state of the human heart that has been touched by God. The only true source of shalom is God’s Son, the Prince of Peace Himself, Jesus Christ (Isaiah 9:6).
There will be no peace on earth until human hearts are changed. Wars on earth begin as wars within us.
“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them” (James 4:1-2 NLT).
The only way we will see peace on earth is by facing this problem of the human heart. In the meantime, Jesus warned us that before peace would come, there would be an increase of war. When His disciples asked Him about this, He replied,
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:4-8 ESV).
It’s as if the earth itself is having birth pains, laboring to give birth to peace, it experiences an ever-increasing amount of warfare.
How should we respond? Jesus says, “See that you are not alarmed.” Don’t be afraid or surprised. Instead, discover true peace, true shalom for your hearts by coming to Christ. Then, spend the rest of your life on planet earth being peacemakers and peace ambassodors, sharing the peace of Christ one heart at a time.