Of all the Christ-like qualities, the one that seems to make a deeper impression on the world than any other is peace.
It is the one quality you can’t fake – its absence is obvious. You can:
· Act loving – seethe with hatred within.
· Put on a smile, act happy – crying out for help inside.
· Act kind, appear gentle in public – be ugly and brutal to your family.
· Put on exterior of rigid self-discipline – be in chaos in personal life.
· But when crisis comes, you are either at peace within or not.
Peace is the quality the world hungers for because it is so lacking in it. It is lacking:
· Between nations – Is there anywhere in the world that war is not being engaged with full blown hostilities, or threatening on the horizon. There are places on this planet where there hasn’t been peace, literally for thousands of years.
· In our society – polarization, hatred, distrust – racial, social, political, ethnic, economic. We are a society in which unrest seems to simmer just underneath the surface.
· In our neighborhoods – We’re not just afraid of criminals - who knows that my neighbor won’t go crazy and start shooting. Violence has permeated our schools, our workplaces, our churches, our military bases.
· In our families – so many families live in fear of violence and abuse and so many kids live under the fear their parents will divorce and their home will be shattered and what then?
· But the world lacks a more fundamental peace that begins within – there is a pandemic of mental health problems and depression and suicide, the likes of which have never been seen. And there’s not one of us who hasn’t felt the uneasiness that has come with the aftershocks of the economic recession as we’ve watched jobs disappear and retirement accounts nosedive and business come to a standstill.
And how you respond in the midst of crisis makes an incredible impact on the people around you. The world stands amazed at true peace because it has no response to crisis but panic, no response to uncertainty but anxiety. The worldly person stands amazed because he cannot imagine trusting anything or anyone beyond himself. It is a tragic self-reliance that robs him of the one thing he needs most – peace.
Jesus offers a peace that comes, not because we are in control and capable of handling all of our problems, but precisely because we are not in control and not capable and so we have anchored our lives in someone who can never be shaken.
I’m not talking about a detached resignation, where we throw up our hands and passively assume there’s nothing we can do to change things and we give in to despair – but a peace that comes with the surest kind of certainty.
This isn’t a magical, solve-all-our-problems kind of peace. No victory day celebrations and parades, but a peace that calmly pervades our soul – in the presence of problems, in the midst of crisis – a peace that allows you to function with confidence – not because you know it’s going to work out all right (it may not) – but because you know who is in control – and God is fully capable of using everything for good. When you fully trust God, that’s peace.
In 14th through the 16th chapters of John, we find Jesus in the middle of intense antagonism – the countdown to the cross has begun. Jesus has promised his disciples – as the world has hated him it will hate them. He will be taken from them, they will grieve at their loss. But he tells them he goes for a purpose – to prepare a place for them – he will not leave them alone – he will send a Counselor, the Holy Spirit. And then he concludes ch 16 – “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.”
Jesus offers his peace – surrounded by the hatred of enemies, the expectation of rejection and betrayal, the weight of the cross that is only days away – yet he offers his peace!! Can you believe it? I hope so – it is the only peace that will last.
He was not trying to fool them by promising freedom from trouble – just the opposite. Earlier, he had told them – “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…”(Mt 10:34) – It is a different kind of peace he promises – John 14:27 – “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.”
This peace is not based on external calm, freedom from opposition, or defeating your enemies. As with joy – it is not based on external circumstances, but on a right relationship with God.
You cannot have the peace of God until you are at peace with God. I want us to notice three passages of scripture in which peace is described as an outgrowth of our relationship with God:
Rom 5:1-2, 9-10 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God…. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
Col 1:19-23 “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”
Eph 2:12-18 “…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
I want you to hear common themes repeated over and over in these passages:
· We were separated and alienated from God – and from each other. “we were God’s enemies,” “you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior,” “you were separate from Christ… without hope and without God in the world.”
· We were reconciled and reunited with God – and with each other – by Christ’s death upon the cross. “we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son,” “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation,” “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
· We have peace with God and with each other through Jesus Christ. “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand,” “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross,” “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”
· This peace is really founded upon and contingent upon an ongoing lifestyle of faith. “since we have been justified through faith,” “if you continue in your faith,” “it is by grace you have been saved through faith.”
The peace that we experience through Jesus begins with a healing of the relationship with God that was damaged by our sin. That separation and alienation has been replaced by nearness and intimacy. And what that looks like in our life is trust. If you don’t have the peace that you want in your relationship with God, it’s probably because you haven’t decided to trust him. You’re still holding him at arm’s length, still uncertain whether you can really let go and know that he will do what he says. And so, you still feel that uneasiness with God like you would with a stranger you’ve just met. Peace comes when we trust God enough to just let go and relax in his presence and let him be in control.
But the amazing thing is that when we finally learn to trust God and begin to experience peace in our relationship with him, we also begin to experience a peace with our self. The turmoil and the fear and the anxiety that once camped on our doorstep are gone. When Jesus truly becomes our Savior, it’s not just from eternal damnation, it’s not just for someday in heaven. It’s here and now. He saves us from the things that once controlled our lives and destroy our peace.
I want you to listen again to Paul’s words in Eph. 2 - “…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace…”
Twelve verses earlier he wrote this: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
You lived in death, you were by nature objects of wrath – you were under Satan’s control. But in his mercy and grace, he saved us and made us alive in Christ Jesus. And in Christ, we finally experience peace – with God and with our self.
Having found peace with God, having received peace within, then and only then is it possible to experience real peace with others around us.
Not the uneasy tension the world calls peace – guns ready, whether nuclear warheads or verbal machine guns – not the kind of peace forged out around negotiation tables with treaty papers and uneasy ceasefires, ready to unravel at the first transgression.
And it is not the kind of silent detent we substitute for peace in our families. The peace that Jesus offers is not just the absence of conflict, but the positive, affirming infusion of love within relationships.
It is the kind of peace God allows us to experience when we replace our old ways of distrust, and cutting, biting malice with new ways of love, concern and compassion. Imagine the kind of peace possible in the body of Christ if we had a peace that allowed us to totally trust and depend on each other – with our very lives.
But that kind of peace will never happen as long as brother and sister hold on to rebellious pride that exalts self and denies God’s rule. Peace with others is destroyed when that peace with God and that peace with self breaks down. We go back to erecting walls and defending positions and assuming the worst in others. We go back to living in fear and mistrust.
In Mark 5, Jesus and his disciples are out on a boat on lake Galilee. Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat when a storm suddenly arises and it strikes with such strength that even these seasoned, hardened fishermen are afraid for their lives. And they wake Jesus, and ask him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” And Mark writes, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
I’m not sure Jesus’ words were directed just at the wind and the waves. It was those twelve men who needed to hear Jesus say, “Peace be still.”
Peace comes when we let go of the reins, quit trying to control our lives and trust God. Peace comes when I let God steer the ship – he is so much more capable of avoiding the reefs and navigating through the storms of my life. He has been there before. He is the one who says to you and to me, “Peace be still.”