If Jesus Is the Prince of Peace, Where’s the Peace?
For all its manifold charms—Vince Guaraldi’s evergreen jazz score first among them—the highlight of the Charlie Brown Christmas special is the moment when Linus recites the story of the angels announcing Jesus’ birth.
Few people of a certain age can read Luke’s account of those bewildered shepherds without also hearing the voice of Linus explaining to Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas. His monologue ends with the celestial host’s final, memorable words, spoken in Linus’s rhythmic, soprano lisp: “. . . and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”
To understate things, the past month or so in our country has not been peaceful.
The un-peaceful tragedies in Ferguson and New York City exposed the un-peaceful realities of minority life and race relations in our country. Following those were the marches, the protests, the demonstrations. TV news media, print media, social media all dialed up the volume to a roar. Statements were made. Ideas were argued. People everywhere said right things and wrong things, smart things and foolish things, things they wish they hadn’t and things they should wish they hadn’t.
These past few weeks have been ones of clamor. Tumult. Tension. There has not been a lot of peace.
That un-peace is only a sliver of the un-peace that exists in our kaleidoscopically broken world. Just a slice of the injustice that exists on every continent and every street corner, in every courtroom and every living room.
Inspirational story, Linus. Thanks for reading. Dig the blanket. But there is not a lot of peace.
As Christians, one of our standard—and correct—responses to this reality is to pray. We pray for peace. But what does that mean?
We pray for peace despite the fact that, contrary to secular wisdom, peace is not anyone’s default setting.
The Bible tells us that all people who do not know Jesus in a saving way are hostile to God and his ways (Romans 8:7). The human heart “is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Even the Christian life is marked by internal struggles against sin (Romans 7:22-23) and external conflicts with other people, including fellow Christians (see all of 1 Corinthians), that sabotage our best peace-making efforts.
There’s not a lot of peace in the world, and for a simple, unflattering reason: we’re the ones living in it.
Peace is not anyone’s default setting. Don’t believe it. If there were a program for peace, we would have found it by now. If we knew what we were doing, we’d be doing it already.
Yet we’re also told in Scripture to live in peace. Paul wrote, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people” (Romans 12:18). The author of Hebrews instructed us, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
This, then, is why we pray. We get with God to ask him to do the thing that we, very obviously, are mostly terrible at doing ourselves. That’s what is meant by praying for peace.
But this thing we pray for, peace—what is it? What is meant by God’s peace?
If you’ll have it—and it does, admittedly, sound like a cop-out answer worthy only of a several-hundred-word blog post that you should rightly be upset about coming this far to read—I submit this:
God’s peace, at its bottom, is no less than everything Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.
If, as the Bible says, we are at war with God, utterly and completely dead in our sins (Romans 3:9-10, 18; Ephesians 2:1; 4:18), then it would make sense that the first and most necessary peace is the one that Jesus’ death on the cross brings, the one Paul speaks of in the first verse of Romans 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”
This peace, this good news of forgiveness secured by the violent death of the Prince of Peace, is the peace that makes any and all other peace possible. It is the skeleton key that unlocks every door marked “the kingdom of God.” All the ones inside you marked “worship,” “forgiveness,” “generosity,” “obedience,” “love.” All the ones outside you marked “community,” “reconciliation,” “healing,” “change,” “justice.” And the last one, neither inside nor outside you but in Christ himself: the door marked “eternal life.”
This is what we pray for when we pray for peace. We pray that all the doors of the kingdom will be flung open wide by this one key: hearing and believing in the name of Jesus for salvation.
This is how we live when we pray for peace—joyfully training our eyes to see the doors of the kingdom, gladly searching high and low to find as many as we can, testing each knob with the knowledge that, no matter how rusty the hinges or broken the frame, the bolt has been slid open. Our Lord awaits us behind each and every one.
It is a peace so good that millions of angels appeared in the night sky over Bethlehem to announce its arrival, rattling the very walls of the cosmos—and, along with it, some poor shepherds—with their joy.
It is a peace so necessary that absolutely nothing of lasting good is possible without its proclamation.
Now. May the peace of the Lord be always with you. And also with you.