A company of angels appeared to the shepherds and they praised God saying: “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace and goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14). I am not certain how many translators make the angels’ testimony more exclusive—for example: “peace among men with whom He is well pleased,” or “peace on earth among men who are pleasing to God,” or “peace to men of good will,” but the many translations I have (60 to 70) are about evenly divided. About 50% offer a blessing upon all men and about 50% make it more exclusive, implying that God couldn’t offer peace and good will to evil men. What’s the real story and can we know?
Earlier in Luke’s infancy narrative he quoted Zechariah who implied the Messiah was coming to bring peace to mankind:
To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:79 KJV)
It seems that Jesus came to bring light to those who sat in darkness, meaning those who existed in the shadow of death. No one, apart from God, knows the way of peace. The way of peace must be taught to all. Jesus’ coming, therefore, was for all mankind, not just the Jews. How that played out is what Luke’s narrative is all about. That peace is truly offered to all men, rather than merely certain men, can be seen in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians where Paul makes the claim saying God has reconciled the world unto himself (2Corinthians 5:15-21). That is, he made peace with those who are presently in rebellion against him, giving them a grace period (good will) to return to his authority through Jesus, his Messiah and Son.
How can we be certain that God has made peace with us, and has given us his good will or grace period to return to him? Each angelic visit in the infancy narratives offer us a clue what we should do. Zechariah was given a sign that the Messiah was coming, and that sign was the birth of John, but Zechariah asked for a sign for the sign he was given (Luke 1:18). He acted in unbelief. On the other hand Mary was given a sign in that Elizabeth was pregnant, so Mary acted to verify the angel’s word by visiting Elizabeth (Luke 1:39). In other words, she at least gave the angel’s word credence enough to see for herself and, in doing so, believed the angel concerning the Messiah coming into the world miraculously through her.
Finally, the shepherds were given a sign (Luke 2:12), but they weren’t given any specific directions to the babe, just as Mary wasn’t given directions to Elizabeth’s home. It was expected she would know where her relative lived, and it seems that the shepherds were expected to know which stable in Bethlehem would be the one to look for the babe, Jesus—the Messiah. This seems to verify that the ruler of the synagogue, which was used for an inn, told Joseph and Mary they could find rest and protection for Jesus’ birth at the Migdal Eder. The ruler of the synagogue or inn was probably someone of influence at the Temple, and the sheep the shepherds had been watching were his and would be corralled in the winter months at the Migdal Eder. In other words, the sheep the shepherds watched were the sheep of the Temple, which were kept for sacrificing. A priest probably owned both the sheep and the synagogue or inn where there was no room for Jesus. The shepherds didn’t have to search and make things fit. They simply went to their own stable at the Migdal Eder to verify the angelic proclamation (Luke 2:16).
Similarly, we have a message that claims to be from heaven, and it is found in the Bible—especially the New Testament. How can we know it is true? Jesus tells us we can verify what is told us, that it is true by doing the will of God (John 7:15-18), which is to believe on Jesus, his Son (cf. John 6:29). It is God’s will that every man who believes Jesus be given eternal life (John 6:40), and eternal life comes by living (believing) on Jesus (John 6:48, 50-51). If a man lives on Jesus (receives him into his heart (cf. Luke 2:19), he will be able to verify what he is told, as to whether or not it comes from God (1John 4:1; John 7:15-18). In other words, if we simply give the message credence enough to do as Jesus says or live as he says to live (even for a little while), we shall know if his claims are true or not. We shall have first hand proof that he is truly the Guide to the way of peace for all men, and if he is, we have reason to rejoice (Luke 2:18-20).