A familiar Christmas refrain is taken from the King James Version of Luke 2:14: "On earth peace, good will toward men." And that must be the correct version, because that's the one Linus recites every year on the Charlie Brown Christmas special. And those are the words in the carol "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" -- "Peace on the earth, good will to men."
But is that what the angels really said that night outside Bethlehem? If it was -- if the angels were making some sort of prediction in connection with the birth of Jesus -- obviously it has not come to pass. The earth is not at peace. This year the fighting is in Bosnia and Rwanda, next year it will be somewhere else, but it will be somewhere. They say that in the last three thousand years only three hundred have been without war, and over eight thousand treaties have been broken. A line out of one of our Christmas carols reads, "Beneath the angel strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong."
Jesus Himself said, "You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place" (Matthew 24:6
). So if we have been thinking that there was to be no more conflict or combat after the birth of Jesus, we have been hearing the angels wrong.
There is an interesting reason why the translation of Luke 2:14
in the King James Version seems to carry this erroneous message. The King James Version was translated into English from a Greek text known as the Textus Receptus, or the "Received Text." The Textus Receptus was based on the first printed Greek New Testament issued by Erasmus in 1516. Erasmus, however, referred to only seven Greek manuscripts, and they were late texts. More recent English translations are from a Greek text that is based on hundreds of manuscripts that are earlier than the ones Erasmus used. In the vast majority of cases the variations in these manuscripts are minor and make little difference. In the case of Luke 2:14
the variation is only one letter (en anthropois eudokia of the Textus Receptus compared to en anthropois eudokias in the best manuscripts). In the Textus Receptus "good will" may be taken as a parallel to peace -- "peace, good will to men." But in the better manuscripts "good will" is an adjective that qualifies "men," or "people" -- "peace among men of good will," or "peace to men on whom his favor rests" (NIV), or "peace among men with whom He is pleased" (NASB).
What then, is this Christmas peace -- the peace of which the angels spoke? It is the peace that may be experienced by the people of God's good will. And that is the peace that I want to talk about this morning. This kind of peace begins with peace with God, which is evident from the words of the angels -- they announced "peace among men with whom He is pleased." A man in the hospital was close to death. A minister came to see him and asked, "Have you made your peace with God?" His answer was, "I didn't know we had ever quarreled."