“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”
(The angel in Luke 2:10)
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
(The angels in Luke 2:14)
The shepherds were frightened at the angel. We can imagine why. Shepherds were used to a pretty calm, uneventful lifestyle. Now they found themselves with this unexpected and intimidating, even frightful, being who was speaking to them. They were used to warding off predators, but this they had never encountered.
As created beings, we are naturally fearful. We can’t predict the future and don’t know what our lives hold, so we fear. We can’t control our circumstances, so we fear. We can’t see God’s plan working sometimes, so we fear. But as it was to the shepherds, God’s soothing instruction to us is this: “Do not fear.” Fear has reigned, but now peace has come, and God’s love toward us casts out all fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Peace replaces fear in us.
This peace they announced would also be between God and people. Because of sin, people are enemies of God. Romans 5:10 says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” We were enemies of God, unwilling and incapable of bringing reconciliation. We each had “turned to his own way” (Is. 53:6). As a result, we were in the crosshairs of His judgment. We were “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).
However, while having the right to condemn us, God didn’t. Instead, he took the initiative and extended Christ as a peace offering to justify us from our rebellion against Him. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). For those in Christ, we are no longer enemies of God; we are His allies. He’s accepted us and adopted us into his family. We have peace with him.
Because we have peace with God, we also have peace with our brothers and sisters who have peace with God. We are in the same family with the same Father. This means that anything that brings division or dissension within the body of his people is not from him. He extends the reach of his peace to include our relationship with others as well as with him, and this brings him glory.
We can understand why the angels were so excited and joyful as they sang that night—because the coming of Christ meant the coming of peace.
Bitten and Needy
In one of the more intriguing stories of the Old Testament, we hear of how God’s people rebelled and how he provided exactly what they needed, though not in the way they thought. The Israelites were letting their frustrations and general lack of faith be known by criticizing Moses when God sent snakes among them that begin to bite many of them. Many died. And many more got bitten.
In urgency the people went to Moses and confessed that they had sinned by speaking against him and the Lord. They urged him to intercede on their behalf to the Lord to take the snakes away. The interesting thing is that the Lord didn’t take them away. He didn’t answer Moses’ prayer in that way. That was what they wanted, but it wasn’t what the Lord wanted to do.
Look and Live
Instead, the Lord left the snakes among the people and His response was this: make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole, and whoever looks at it will live. Moses did this, and it worked. “It came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21:9)
This entire incident foreshadowed Christ as we know from Jesus’ own words in John 3. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)
Jesus would be lifted up as the serpent was, except Jesus would be on a cross, not a pole. Those who looked to Him, believed in Him, though bitten and infected by the deadly venom of sin would be spared and healed.
Look. And you’ll live.
Look to Christ and live. It’s too easy. Some were bitten that didn’t look to the uplifted serpent, and many are bitten that don’t look to Christ. They try and try to remedy themselves rather than letting go and trusting in the crazy notion of just looking. But Jesus said that looking leads to life. “Whoever believes will in Him have eternal life,” (John 3:15).
What’s the takeaway?
We are bitten, burdened, bruised, and broken people. And self-help books, medication, easy circumstances, and ear-tickling preachers are not what we need. We need Christ. God’s answer for us often is not to take away that which gives us grief but to provide an opportunity for us to trust Him in the midst of it. And He has promised us that when we look to Him, we will live.