In this week’s gospel reading, from John, chapter 14, Jesus offered a farewell discourse to His disciples during the Last Supper. He said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
That’s quite a curious statement to make mere hours before being betrayed by Judas, arrested and tortured by the Romans, and finally hung on a cross to die. Peace? Don’t let your hearts be troubled? Don’t be afraid? Very odd things to say when all hell is about to break loose.
The timing kind of reminds me of that famous newsreel image of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain grinning like a fool and waving a piece of paper signed by “Herr Hitler,” which supposedly guaranteed there would be no war in Europe. Shortly thereafter the Continent, and then the rest of the globe, exploded into the most destructive conflagration known to mankind, World War II.
Unlike Chamberlain, who displayed no prophetic skills nor any understanding of the dark side of human nature, Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. He knew wicked men were about to kill Him. He knew His flock would be scattered. He knew Peter would deny Him. He knew in less than 24 hours the whole city of Jerusalem would consider His ministry an abject failure.
Jesus knew all this bad stuff was about to happen and yet He said, “My peace I give you….Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
The explanation is found in Jesus’ middle sentence: “Not as the world gives do I give [peace] to you.” According to “the world”—which means our natural, human view of things—peace is the absence of war. We say it is peaceful when there is no conflict, no overt hostilities.
In the Middle East, for example, we say there is peace when the Israelis and Palestinians are not currently killing each other, despite the seething hatred which still exists. (And the way things are going over there in recent years, the “world’s” type of peace would be a welcomed relief.)
A more subtle example is the situation in many households. Things may appear peaceful—there is no angry screaming or physical abuse—but there is also no love or respect. The family members have learned to co-exist in silence with one another despite a constant undercurrent of selfishness, resentment, and mistrust. To the world, this is peace. To Jesus, this is a tragedy.
The peace that Jesus offers to us is peace of the soul. It is the peace that comes from knowing our sins are completely forgiven; the peace that comes by having our hearts filled with the love of God; the peace that comes when we are certain the trials and tribulations of life are nothing compared to eternal life in Heaven.
The peace of Jesus allows a person to be serene and joyful, even in the midst of war, because he knows that death is not the end of the story. (Please read Corrie Ten Boom’s classic book, “The Hiding Place,” and pay close attention to her sister Betsy’s Christ-centered peace and joy as she was being worked to death in a Nazi concentration camp.) The peace of Jesus comes from an eternal perspective of life.
With the peace of Jesus in our souls, we can be joyful and happy regardless of how much conflict swirls around us. On the other hand, without the peace of Jesus, it is easy to be filled with anxiety, fear, and unhappiness regardless of how much prosperity, pleasure, and prestige we enjoy. (Hmm, I think I just described modern America, where the suicide rate is much higher among the wealthy than the poor.)
Like most aspects of Christianity, the peace Jesus gives to us is at the same time impossible and very easy. It is impossible because we cannot do it on our own—it requires the supernatural power of God. It is easy, though, since God’s supernatural power is stronger than any other force in the universe. The key is to surrender our stubborn will and personal plans, and submit to the will and plan of God. Again, at times this is very easy, and at other times it is practically impossible.
I once heard a preacher say we should live our lives 50-percent natural and 50-percent spiritual. Before I put my faith in Jesus in 1984, I was 100-percent natural and zero-percent spiritual. Now, after more than three decades of prayer, Bible study, and Christian fellowship, I’ve progressed to the point where I’m about 96-percent natural and 4-percent spiritual. At this rate I’ll be in good shape when I turn 750 years old.
My guess is that God wants us to be 100-percent spiritual and the natural stuff will take care of itself. (As Jesus said at the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these [physical necessities] will be added unto you.”)
If you don’t want your heart to be troubled or afraid, try the peace that Jesus offers. You won’t be disappointed.