Printed on Christmas cards for generations, Luke 2:14 remains one of our favorite seasonal sound bites. We’re probably most familiar with the King James Version, starting in verse 13:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:13–14)
This is a great statement. The incarnation demonstrates God’s love for the world, His intention to bring peace.
But perhaps you’ve heard someone point out that “peace, good will toward men” does not come from the earliest/best manuscripts. Maybe you’ve noticed the difference yourself, especially if you’re reading the NAS or ESV.
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
This is quite a different statement. “Good will toward men” sounds indiscriminate. “Peace among men with whom he is pleased” sounds limiting, much more narrow. The NIV makes it sound even more specific: “Peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Manuscript issues aside, we know that peace between God and men comes because of Christ’s work on the cross. The incarnation was stage one of His earthly work, and His faultless life, sacrificial death, and resurrection were necessary in order to bring peace. According to Colossians 1:20, He “made peace through the blood of His cross.” We can only be reconciled to God by the death of His Son and now that we are reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:10).
God is only pleased with those for whom Christ died, those who are justified by faith (Romans 5:1). The incarnation was absolutely necessary part of the peace plan. We rejoice that God sent His Son to take our judgment. But we do not rest in Christmas card theology. We rejoice in the cross and the empty tomb. That is why Christmas and Easter go together. That is why we commune together around this table.