Victor Hugo was one of the great writers of the past. You may have never read any of his poems, plays, or novels, but I bet that many of you have seen the movie, Les Miserables, based on the book written by Victor Hugo in 1862. Mr. Hugo’s interests were much broader than writing. He was involved in politics, he was concerned about the inequalities he saw in society, and he used his writing abilities to try and influence his culture.
Victor was born in Besancon, France in 1802. The son of a general in Napoleon’s army, Victor was trained as a lawyer, but he was not really interested. He had begun writing while he was a teenager. When his mother found out about her son’s writing she encouraged it all the more. Victor’s mom died when he was just 19 and within two years he published his first novel.
From the time he was in his 20s, Victor had strong political opinions and he believed that literature should deal with the conflicts of society. Mr. Hugo got involved in the International Peace Congress which was first held in London in 1843. He presided over the gathering when they met in Paris in 1849. When he stood up to address the 2,000 participants he spoke these words:
A day will come when the only fields of battle will be markets opening up to trade and minds opening up to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and the bombs will be replaced by votes, by the universal suffrage of the peoples, by the venerable arbitration of a great sovereign senate which will be to Europe what this parliament is to England, what this diet is to Germany, what this legislative assembly is to France. A day will come when we will display cannon in museums just as we display instruments of torture today, and are amazed that such things could ever have been possible… It is after all a prodigious and admirable epoch, and the nineteenth century will be – let us say it openly – the greatest page in history. As I reminded you just now, all our advances are revealing and manifesting themselves together, in rapid succession: the decline in international animosity, the disappearance of frontiers from maps and of prejudices from hearts, a movement towards unity, a softening of manners, an increase in the level of education and a drop in the level of penalties, the dominance of the most literary, that is to say the most humane, languages; everything is moving at once, political economy, science, industry, philosophy, legislation, and is converging upon the same end, the creation of well-being and benevolence, and that for me is the end to which I shall always strive, the extinction of misery inside and of war outside. (Hugo, Victor, International Peace Congress. August 21, 1849)
Within two years Victor Hugo would flee Paris because of his political views and live in exile for almost 20 years. The utopian society he dreamed of had taken a hard left turn. Victor Hugo’s vision of what humanity could accomplish had taken a beating. On a more personal level, Hugo’s heart had taken a beating as well. In 1843, his 19 year old daughter, Leopoldine, drowned with her husband in a tragic accident. In 1868, his wife, Adele, died. In 1871, one of his sons died and then, just two years later, another son passed away.
Some of you are thinking, “I thought it was Christmas? It’s a time of happy thoughts, the Babe in the manger, Good ‘Ol Saint Nick, Christmas trees, lights, and carolers. What does the tragic disappointment of Victor Hugo have to do with Christmas?” I’m so glad you’ve asked. I believe with all of my heart that the longing of Victor Hugo for a world at peace, for community shared among the nations rather than combat between them, for cooperation rather than conflict, for prosperity rather than poverty is the longing of humanity throughout the ages. In 1990, Pastor Ray Stedman, on Earth Day, spoke these words about Victor Hugo’s glorious vision of what humanity could achieve.
Today is Earth Day. We are almost at the end of the twentieth century. Meeting in the midst of our drugged and polluted planet, we have to say: “How mistaken Hugo was!” Or was he? Those words reflect the hope that has been burning in men’s hearts for centuries — the dream that there would come some day, somehow, a golden age upon the earth, a time when peace would spread throughout the whole world, a utopia, where men would live in unbroken peace and abounding prosperity. This has been the promise of every politician since governments began, but they have never been able to bring it to pass. (Stedman, Ray. One Thousand Years of Peace.)
People from all walks of life, throughout history, have spoken of peace, made war for the purpose of peace, organized peace marches and peace conferences, and developed peace plans, but all of these years later we are still waiting for the peace we long for in life. Like Victor Hugo, our glorious vision and hope for peace on the planet has taken a beating and our personal peace continues to evade us.
As we turn to our Scripture for this morning we need to recognize that though there was peace in the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus’ birth, that peace would crumble. On a more personal level, while Mary’s baby was crying, the wailing of mothers and fathers could be heard all across Bethlehem when Herod had every little boy under the age of two killed to try and eliminate the newborn King. Let’s read Luke 2:13-15 together this morning.
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:13-15 NIV)
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” This was the angel’s announcement when Jesus was born. “Glory to God in the highest heaven…” “Glory to God for the birth of Jesus. Glory to God for the coming of the long awaited Messiah! Glory to God!” “…and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” The first part of Luke 2:14 is easy for us to understand. The angels announced that glory is due to God. This verse agrees with all of God’s Word—all glory is due to our glorious God.
The second part of the verse has been misunderstood as people have taken the phrase to mean there will be peace on earth when there is goodwill between people. This understanding is dramatically different than what the Scripture teaches because it shifts the emphasis from God to humanity. The Scripture teaches the delight and pleasure of God to bestow peace upon His people. It doesn’t teach that the peace we long for is dependent on our goodwill towards one another. That’s not what the phrase says at all. If you will look at it once again you will see what I’m talking about. “…and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” or as the KJV translates the text, “and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The Greek word which is translated by the phrase, “good will,” is “???????” (eudokia), and it means, “will, choice, good will, kindly intent, delight, pleasure.” Remember, any time we want to really understand what the Bible teaches about a subject, we need to seek answers in the Bible. Let’s take a look at some other places where this word appears. First, turn with me to Ephesians 1:4-6 where we read,
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6 NIV)
God “chose us,” He “predestined us,” and He has “given us.” We have been chosen to be holy and blameless, He determined that He would adopt us as His sons and daughters, and why has He done this? Well, if you stick to the Scripture you will discover that God has done all of this because it is perfectly in “accordance with His pleasure and will…” God delighted to do all of this on our behalf.
There is another Scripture that includes the word we are looking at that will help us understand the meaning. Stay in Ephesians 1 with me, but let’s look at verses 7-10 where Paul writes,
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment–to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:7-10 NIV)
Look what God has done! In Jesus “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sin…” and God has “made known to us the mystery of His will.” Now, let me ask you a question. Why has He done this? Did He owe us a favor? Was God trying to earn “brownie” points with us? Was He in the holiday spirit? That’s not what I see in this verse. What I see is that God did all of this because it was “according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ.”
It was God’s pleasure to give His Son in order that He could give us His peace. The problem that we so often run into is the problem that people throughout the ages have run into. We discount or dismiss God’s action on our behalf, we dismiss God’s good gift, and try to figure out a way that we can achieve peace as people, and as a planet, on our own. Peace, our personal peace and peace among people doesn’t originate with us, but it originates with God. It is solely because of what God has done in Jesus that peace is now possible for you and me, but there is an order to experiencing this peace. Let’s talk about that for a minute.
Peace With God
Before we can ever experience peace of any kind we must first experience peace with God. The Bible teaches us that we are sinners, estranged from God because of our sin. There is no possibility of our experiencing peace within or with others until we first come to peace with God. This is not a popular teaching, but it is what God’s Word teaches. Our sins have separated us from God. That’s not my opinion, that’s what God’s Word teaches. Turn to Isaiah 59 with me and let’s begin reading in verse 1.
1 Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. 2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. 3 For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things. 4 No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. (Isaiah 59:1-4 NIV)
Our sin has separated us from God. If repairing this broken relationship was up to us, then reconciliation would never in a million years be possible. Pretty hopeless right? Yet, God in His good pleasure came to us in Jesus, the One who was born to die for you and me, so that we might be reconciled to God. Paul wrote these words to the brothers and sisters in Rome.
25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 4:25-5:2 NIV)
“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” God has made a way for you and me to be reconciled, for our relationship with God to be restored, but it is only through the cross of Jesus Christ. Peter wrote,
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18 NIV)
The suffering Jesus endured was not for His own sin because He was sinless. He suffered, paying the price of redemption, for your sins and my sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, and He did this to bring you and me to God. God has opened the door, but the question is, “Will we walk through that door and into His arms of grace and mercy? Will we move from the place of alienation into the embrace of the Father?” John wrote,
12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13 NIV)
This is the foundation, the bedrock, of peace. No other peace can be known until there is peace with God. It is peace with God that is the catalyst of the peace that you and I yearn for in life.
I get to talk with lots of people. Many of the conversations that I have with people center around their lack of peace. The things that seek to rob us of peace are legion. Somebody lost their job and their electricity has been cut off. A husband and wife are teetering on the verge of divorce. Someone’s loved one has died and the pain is unbearable. A son is in jail. A daughter is strung out and in an abusive relationship. A child is being picked on at school. Parents are worried sick. A man just found out his wife’s diagnosis is terminal. A woman’s mind is taking her to dark places. A man’s mind is telling him that it’s over. A child’s mind is telling her that nobody loves her. The list of the robbers of our peace is long and it goes on and on and on. To all of these, God’s Word says,
3 You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal. (Isaiah 26:3-4 NIV)
The KJV says that God will keep in perfect peace those “whose minds are stayed on Thee.” That’s pretty clear isn’t it? If we want to experience the peace that only God can provide then we must keep our thoughts, our minds, focused on Him.
The world describes peace as being free from conflict and heartache, but let’s be honest, that’s just simply impossible. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…” If you’ve lived many years then you know that no truer statement has ever been made. Yet, that’s not the complete truth because that statement is set in the midst of an even greater truth. Turn to John 16:33 with me and let’s read together.
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
Jesus said that our peace of mind, in the troubles of this life, are found in Him. You can’t escape the troubles of this life, but you can experience the peace and tranquility that God desires for you and me by staying focused on the One who knows our troubles and has promised to never abandon us.
I mentioned to you that the world is looking for a life that is free from conflict, tension, and heartache. That day will come when Christ returns, but until that day we are promised that trouble and heartache will be woven into the fabric of our experience. Jesus told His disciples,
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. (John 14:27 NIV)
It is His presence which is our peace. People can have all this life offers and still not be at peace. There are others whose lives are filled with trouble and yet the presence of Jesus provides them with a peace that transcends the troubles of this life.
In just a couple of weeks a much anticipated movie will be released at theaters all over the nation. “Unbroken” is the true story of Louie Zamperini. I would encourage everyone to go see the movie even though you aren’t going to get the whole story, you just can’t do that in a two hour movie.
Louie was raised in California, was a world class runner who at age 19 was the youngest American qualifier ever for the Olympics in the 5,000 meters. Louie competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he got 8th place. Louie was disappointed, he knew he could do better, so he set his sights on the 1940 Tokyo Olympics. The games never happened. World War II broke out, the Olympics were cancelled, and Louie enlisted in the Air Force in 1941.
In 1943, his B-24 plane crashed in the Pacific and he and two other airmen survived for 47 days and drifted 2,000 miles. During the 47 days in a life raft Louie prayed, even though he wasn’t a Christian, and promised God that if He would rescue him he would serve Him for the rest of his life. Eventually, the life raft washed up on shore, on a Japanese island. For the next two years Louie was brutally beaten and starved in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. There was one prison guard, who was called, “The Bird,” by Louie and the other POW’s, who beat Louie unmercifully.
In 1945 the war ended and all of the POW’s were released to go home. Louie was given a hero’s welcome. The following year he married Cynthia Applewhite and it appeared that Louie’s life had made a dramatic turn for the better. Things are not always as they appear and that was certainly true for Louie. He was drinking heavily, was suffering from torturous nightmares, and every one of his nightmares included the Bird. Louie said,
In my dreams, I’m retaliating. I’m strangling him. I want to get my hands on him and do him in. One night I woke up in a cold sweat, and I had my hands around my wife’s throat. That scared me. Shortly after that, she decided on divorce. I was out drunk every night, trying to get rid of these nightmares. I loved my wife, and the divorce thing really shook me up.
Louie’s life was falling apart. His wife had accepted Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade and had decided that she wouldn’t divorce Louie. She invited him to go and hear Billy Graham. Louie was resistant at first, but eventually decided to go. While he was at the Crusade, he started to get up and leave. Louie said,
I started to get up to leave, and he said, ‘When people come to the end of their rope and there’s nowhere to turn, they turn to God—no matter who they are.’ I thought, Yeah, I made thousands of promises on the raft and in prison camp. He kept His promises, but I didn’t keep mine. So I went back to the prayer room and made a confession of faith in Christ. While I was still on my knees, I knew my whole life had changed. I knew that I was through getting drunk—that I’d forgiven all my guards, including the Bird. I just couldn’t believe it was happening.
Louie ended up, four years later, going back to Japan. His first visit was to the Sugamo Prison, where his guards were now imprisoned. Louie said, “The most important thing in my Christian life was to know that I forgave them—not only verbally, but to see them face to face. That’s part of conversion.” Louie knew the men, he had vivid memories of how they had tortured him, but without even thinking about it, he ran to the men and threw his arms around them. All but one of the men made decisions that day to accept Jesus as their Savior.
Louie Zamperini found peace, but it wasn’t in his great athletic achievements or surviving a POW camp, his peace came when he surrendered his life to Jesus and began to follow Him. God has opened the door, He has provided everything we need to experience the peace that we long for in life, but if we look in any direction other than up, we will never find it. The peace we need for the predicaments of life flows from a living relationship with the Father through His Son and our Savior, Jesus.
Let me ask you before we leave here this morning. What it is that is jeopardizing your peace this Christmas? Is it a relationship that is broken, a pile of bills that preoccupies your mind, or hopelessness at every turn? I want to invite you to do something illogical. Stop for just a minute. Take your mind off of whatever it is that is plaguing you and lift up your eyes and your heart to the One who finds pleasure and delight in providing exactly what you need most this Christmas: reconciliation. He wants to restore you to Himself more than anything in life. Won’t you invite Him in and then watch Him work to give you His peace?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 14, 2014