“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.
I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Every year at this time people talk about wanting peace on earth. It’s common in Christmas carols and Christmas cards. It’s often a wish for the New Year. And after a very contentious election this year many Americans are asking “why can’t we all just get along?” But is peace on earth a realistic or even achievable goal?
Peace can be defined as the absence of conflict. However, we live in a world of conflict. Any cursory study of world history will show that at any point in time there is a conflict somewhere, a place where peace does not exist. In my lifetime I have not known a time when the world was at peace. In the 1950’s there was the Korean War. In the 1960’s there was the Vietnam War and the Cold War. In the 1970’s there was the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arab oil embargo, and the Iranian hostage crisis. In the 1980’s there was the IRA and the conflict in Northern Ireland. In the 1990’s there was the Gulf War and the beginnings of Al Qaeda. In the 2000’s there was 911 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And in this decade there is the civil war in Syria and ISIS. While not every conflict will touch our lives personally, there always appears to be conflict somewhere in the world at any given point in time.
Even at the time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago the world was in conflict. The Roman Empire had emerged and the Jews were now under Roman rule after returning from exile under the Babylonians to Jerusalem. Even the Jews were in conflict with one another, evidenced by the many factions that arose during this time, such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes. God chose this time of conflict to send His own Son into the world.
But did Jesus come to bring peace on earth? According to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:34 he said he did “not come to bring peace on earth but a sword!” Whoa, what’s Jesus saying here?
To understand what Jesus means, we need to go back to the beginning of creation and the Garden of Eden. The world began as a perfect place, without conflict (Genesis 1:31). But then Satan brought sin and evil into the world through Adam and Eve as a result of his conflict with God. So conflict between good and evil, holiness and sin, and God and Man entered our perfect world. Since then, a spiritual battle has ensued on the earth pitting man against God. And when we look at our world today, every conflict arises from man’s sinfulness and desire to have what he wants rather than what God wants. God gave man free will so that man can either choose the ways of God or the ways of the world (which has been corrupted by sin and Satan). That is the conflict that is at the center of all conflict. And peace cannot be achieved until we first end our conflict with God!
Jesus is telling us that He came to earth to offer people that same choice, but in a much clearer way. We can either choose Jesus, God’s Son sent to redeem ALL mankind and point the way to God, or we can reject Him and thus choose to continue to ignore God, choose man’s ways, and continue to live in conflict with God the Creator. The sword he talks about is the sword of Truth, God’s Truth, which continues to divide people, families, and nations to this day.
Jesus’ disciples knew about this conflict all too well. They saw how the Pharisees and Jewish leaders were reacting to Jesus and how they wanted to kill him. They were afraid and fearful. But Jesus comforted them by telling them in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Jesus is declaring that the only way to find true peace is in Him. Though the world may rage in conflict all around us, we can end our conflict with God and have peace in our hearts if we put our faith in Jesus! In other words, peace is not an external experience but an internal attitude of a heart that believes and trusts in Jesus. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:15 to “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.” He further tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3:16 “now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.”
Jesus came not to bring “peace on earth”, but to bring peace “to the earth.” We can have that peace “that transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) only by giving Him our hearts and placing our faith and trust in Him and God our Father. Jesus pointed to that difference when he said in John 6:33, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”
So if people really desire to have peace on earth, it begins when we turn our hearts to Jesus and receive the peace that only He can give us. Is peace on earth an achievable goal? Peace on earth will only come when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!” (Philippians 2:10-11) Until that day, there will continue to be conflict in our world.
Lord, let Your peace reside in us, and help us lead others to your peace through Your son Jesus, so that one day there may be peace on earth! Amen.