Are you a Christian? Likely most of you would say, “Of course” – I would not be reading the Minister’s Forum if I wasn’t a Christian.
So, assuming you are a Christian, perhaps the better question to ask is, “What makes you a Christian?"
I have been preaching on the Epistle readings this past Advent season, which have focused on what the Christian life should look like.
I have stressed the need to be in God’s house, hearing the word and receiving the sacraments, because “faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10; 17)
I spoke of the 17 “imperatives” that Paul gives us in 1st Thessalonians, Chapter 5 – “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, (etc).”
We heard the question the Apostle asked in 2nd Peter 3 – “What sort of people ought we to be, in lives of holiness and godliness,” which he asked in light of the coming day of judgment.
All of these are good things for Christians to meditate on and to do in grateful response to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, but none of these good things will save us. In other words, being a Christian is not about being a good person or doing good things, because we can never be good enough to earn favor with God.
Even as Christians, we also have a sinful tendency to compare ourselves favorably with others. We often condemn others for doing the very same things that we do, questioning their salvation, but never our own.
We blast our neighbor for not forgiving us, all the while we are clinging tightly to our own lack of forgiveness. Yet, even though we apply a lower set of standards to ourselves, we still cannot live up to them.
All of this illustrates our desperate need all for a savior to come to this earth. We did not need someone to come down from heaven and give us a spiritual pep talk. We did not need someone to tell us to try harder and to pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps.
Instead, we needed someone – God in human flesh – to come down from heaven to live the perfect life that we never could and to die in our place. That is exactly what Jesus (whose birth we recently celebrated) came to do.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1st Timothy 1:15) and we all qualify. This is the magnificent way in which God shows His love for us, “that He sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1st John 4:10b).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing – it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) This was the good news the angels announced at Jesus’ birth – “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill to men.” (Luke 2:13-14)
The prophet Isaiah called the promised Messiah “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:7), but the peace on earth that Jesus came to bring is not the absence of war. His coming has not ended human conflict.
The nations still rage against God and one another. Christians are persecuted in many parts of the world. There are still wars and terrorism and racial strife and a multitude of other human conflicts great and small.
Even in our own families, we often cannot maintain the peace, so how can we say that Jesus has brought peace on earth?
Yet, we do believe that Jesus came to bring peace on earth, just as the angels announced. The peace Jesus came to bring was true peace with God, and He accomplished this peace for us with His very unpeaceful death on the cross. “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” (Romans 5:10)
He has “made peace by the blood of His cross.” (Colossians 1:20). Our sins have been forgiven and we have been reconciled to God.
This is the “good news of peace through Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:36) that the church continues to proclaim. This is the “good news of great joy that shall be for all people.” (Luke 2:10)
“Now may the Lord of peace … give you peace at all times in every way.” (2nd Thessalonians 3:16)