I grew up in an era where it was not uncommon for someone to hold up two fingers and say, “Peace.”
Likewise, the “peace” symbol was common on clothing and jewelry. It’s still used in “retro” fashion.
Back then, “peace” was a one-word protest against the Vietnam war.
While I have no intention of dredging up all that nastiness once again, the point is that our concept of “peace” is much different than how the word is often used in the Bible.
We think of “peace” quite simply as the absence of war. But two thousand years ago, an angel of the LORD suddenly appeared to a group of shepherds near Bethlehem and the night sky burst open with brilliant light. The shepherds were terrified, but the angel (as they almost always do when they appear to a human) told them not to be afraid.
The angel went on to say that he brought them good news of great joy for all people because the long-awaited Savior (the Messiah!) had been born. The angel told the shepherds that the baby would be found wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
And then, in one of the scenes of the Bible which I so wish I could have seen, the night sky is suddenly FILLED with angels and they are singing:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14 KJV)
Now, history records that at that time, the Roman empire was not engaged in war of any kind. To our way of thinking, the world was truly at peace.
But that’s not what the angels meant.
The Greek word used in the Bible is “eirene” (pronounced “i-ray’-nay”) and it means “to join or tie together into a whole.”
The angels meant that the news they bore would make us whole, to be at peace, not with our fellow men—but with God.
It means they were announcing that the Messiah was now here and all the peoples of the earth could now be at peace and whole with God, not through anything we had done, but because of God’s own good will for us! God had taken the first step--the only step—that could restore our relationship with Him!
As Jesus conducted His ministry, he used that same word many times. Often, he tells someone he has healed or whose sins He has forgiven to “Go in peace.”
Go and be whole. Be at peace with God.
As I was reading various verses where Jesus used that word, I came across the scene right after He had washed the feet of His disciples. He had explained that He must go away, but they would not be left as orphans. And the words He used to tell them the Holy Spirit was coming echoed back to that night when the sky was filled with angels:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27 ESV)
Despite protests and gestures and symbols, many wars have been fought since then. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in 1867:
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.
Even Jesus said wars and rumors of wars would continue up to the very end. But despite having seen the horrors of the Civil War, Longfellow concludes that same poem (which would later become a Christmas song) with an acknowledgement that the LORD God is victorious in the spiritual war:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the Right prevail.
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phillipians4:7 ESV)