Now All Is Well

Now All is Well

Every year as I enter the Christmas season, I find myself mindlessly singing or humming the familiar carols without paying attention to the words of the song.  I suspect that I am not alone. One such carol is “The First Noel,” a song that simply re-tells the Christmas story. But what does the term “Noel” mean?

I used to think that it was of French origin, but older hymnals and books of carols say that it is English instead. In fact, those same older hymnals spell it differently – “Nowell.” Here is my understanding of how we came to have this carol in the present form.

The English people are notorious for abbreviating words and phrases. When a friend would depart from them, it was customary to extend a blessing of “God be with you,” but as time went on that phrase was abbreviated into our present, “goodbye.” Another example is the word “bedlam” which is an abbreviation of the term “Bethlehem.” In England many years ago there was an insane asylum that was notorious for its noise and riotous nature, named St. Mary’s of Bethlehem. Associating any riotous events with the reputation of this asylum led to coining a new word, “bedlam” meaning “riotous.”

A similar abbreviation probably occurred leading to “noel.” This spelling would be a shortened form of “nowell” which itself probably is an abbreviated form of “now…well” or “now it is well” or possibly, “now all is well.” And this phrase is a fitting response to each part of the Christmas story that is related in the song.

“The first now-all-is-well, the angel did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay…” One can only imagine their sense of despair. They were Jews who knew that God had promised them His presence and provision, but rather than seeing the fruit of that promise they were under the rule of the cruel Roman Empire. As lowly shepherds, without any influence and without any legitimate opportunity to change their station in life even for the generations to come, they would likely be characterized by a deep sense of helplessness. The knowledge that there were factions within the Jewish community that couldn’t agree about how to shake off the Roman oppression only increased their despair.

It was to these oppressed and depressed people that the news first came that “Now-all-is-well” – the promised Messiah is born. Certainly we could not expect them to anticipate the future ministry of this Baby, but hope doesn’t always have to understand. It was enough that an angel with a mighty host of heaven visited them that wonderful night with the news that Messiah had come. Now all is well.

The song goes on to suggest that the wise men were looking for a king when they followed the star to Bethlehem. History has understood these mysterious men to be Eastern astrologers who discovered in the stars that the Jewish Messiah was born. They came from an area that had been the home for many Jews who had been carried into captivity only 500 years earlier and it would not be unlikely that some Jewish people remained, or that their influence remained. These men would not be concerned about the ethnic differences because the Jewish people anticipated that Messiah would be the King over all. 

If they were frustrated over the political decline of the Persian Empire to Greece and later to Rome, it would be natural for them to look for a king to arise that would right all wrongs and establish justice again in the world. This news that the promised Jewish Messiah was come would indeed be a welcome encouragement. Now all is well.

Oppressed and depressed people today can also find hope in the Promised Messiah, just as they did in ancient times. The simple truth that God has heard us and has entered again into human experience should be enough to elicit a “Now all is well!” from us, but there’s more. As the carol goes on to explain, the redemptive work of the Messiah has been completed and peace is now possible between us and the Living God. That’s the best “Now all is well” of all!

Those of us who have bowed in obedience to Jesus Christ recognize that the world in which we live desperately needs a “Now all is well!” The world is on the brink of war, fears of terrorism are all around us while rampant drug and alcohol abuse impact most families in one way or another. It is a humanly hopeless setting with no solution unless God steps in. Gloriously, He has. We invite you to meet Him this season so that you can also say, “Now all is well!”

The Unseen World

In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house (Mark 3:27).

Though most of us don’t understand much of it, the Bible makes it clear that there is an unseen world around us that somehow influences this world. This is Jesus’ subject in this passage of Scripture in Mark 3.

The New Testament suggests a cosmology of angelic beings that exercise their power over various entities within our world. There seems to be a distinction in Paul’s mind between the various angelic beings that he describes in Colossians 1:16, “thrones or powers or rulers or authorities.” What exactly the various beings influence is unclear, but there is ample evidence to suggest that some of these beings influence individuals (for good or for bad) and some influence nations or perhaps, ethnic groups. In a vision the prophet Daniel describes one of these angelic beings as “the prince of Persia” (10:13), suggesting that his influence was over that whole nation or people.

When Jesus was speaking in Mark 3, it appears that He was referring to this unseen cosmology because it was in the context of a discussion about Satan’s influence in this world. Satan is described as “the god of this world” in 2 Cor. 4:4, and the metaphor is changed to a house in Mark 3. But in both pictures Satan and his angelic majesties are in view and the reference to “the strong man” that must be bound is a reference to Satan or one of his demons. Jesus (and His body, the Church) are seeking to “carry off his possessions,” the people that are still under his dominion.

The exact meaning of this statement, then, hinges on what it means to “bind the strong man.” Not only, it would appear, does the unseen world have influence over ours, but we in this world can exert some influence over that world as well, probably through prayer, fasting and other spiritual disciplines. In my opinion these disciplines are the means by which we become partners with Him in the work of the kingdom.

I suggest that one of the ways we are to “bind the strong man” is by prayer for the people groups that are still unreached in our world. Satan is the one who has “blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (see again 2 Cor. 4:4). By “binding” him, then, we would release these people from the blindness so that they can see Christ and turn to Him.

The Bible is clear in Matthew 24:14 that Jesus will return when the last person is reached with the Gospel. By binding Satan through prayer, we are partnering with Him in the great cause of world evangelization, and hastening His return.

Their Hearts Burned

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

On the evening of the Resurrection of Jesus, as the word was beginning to circulate that something had happened to the body of Jesus, two men were walking along a road toward the town of Emmaus when they were joined by a stranger. It was Jesus, but they couldn’t recognize Him.

They were amazed that this Man seemed to not know the news that Jesus had been crucified, much less that He was reported to have been seen alive again. So Jesus explained to the men all that the Scriptures had to say about Himself “beginning with Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 24:27). Later, after He became known to them, they realized how His discourse had affected them.

The hearts of these men “burned” within them because they were searching for the Truth, and the Truth was being revealed to them. They didn’t have a flippant, fatalistic attitude that found expression in a phrase like “Oh well, it must not have been God’s will!” They were earnestly trying to make sense of the things that had happened and to see these events within the grander scheme of God’s redemptive plan. They were looking to know Truth. They would find it within the revelation of Scripture, explained by the One who embodied the Truth. What a privilege was theirs that makes many of us envious!

Having known Christ in this culture for the past 35 years, I confess that I am cynical about how many people today are really searching for Truth. Many SAY they are, but the cares and comforts of this life are usually more important. It is unusual – but supremely joyful – these days to find a brother or sister whose greatest concern is simply to know Jesus and His Truth.

But though I tend to be cynical today, I am confident that this tribe will increase in the next few years (if Jesus tarries). As the prosperity of our Western culture wanes, as people become disillusioned with the emptiness of materialism, there will be a hunger for the Word again in the hearts of men, because, as Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” Solomon’s statement in Ecclesiastes that God has placed “eternity in our hearts” implies that the things of this world will never truly satisfy. It may take some time for us to try “everything,” but once we do, the hunger in us for eternal Truth will burn. The junk food spiritual diet many today live on just won’t satisfy.