The day before Jesus is crucified, he assures his disciples that though he is soon going away (within the next 24 hours), he’ll leave them peace.
Specifically, he says:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 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 14:26-27)
So, Jesus dies, rises, ascends into heaven and sends his Spirit.
Shortly thereafter, a deacon named Stephen calls the Jewish leaders to repentance over what they did to Jesus. For his troubles, for his truth, they stone him to death. At the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, a Czech priest by the name of John Huss, was burned at the stake for confronting the Roman Church at the time for corrupting the Bible’s teaching about sin, grace, Church, and Holy Communion. About 500 years after that a German pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged two weeks before the US liberated the concentration camp in which he was being held. He knew this was coming, but he couldn’t for a single day sit by idly and watch Hitler’s regime murder innocent Jewish men and women without opening his mouth.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (vs. 27) Really?!?!
And while nothing to this degree has quite caught us yet, let’s be honest. When the family member goes into the hospital again or you get that unfortunate diagnosis; when this month is yet again one of those “okay, I guess I’ll try to pay of this debt with that credit card now” months; when you realize your significant other has said or done the unthinkable…
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (vs. 27) Really?
There’s only two possibilities. Either Jesus is lying here…which doesn’t mesh with the countless other reasons we have for trusting his credibility in the Gospels OR Jesus is offering us something here that is much bigger, much more profound than what we initially might think he’s saying.
So, let me share with you three insights into what Jesus is actually telling us about genuine peace.
I. Fear Kills Peace
“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (vs. 27)
You might assume that PEACE is the opposite of many seemingly negative emotions – sadness, anger, fear, etc. Not really. There are many occasions where the Bible tells us to rejoice (e.g. Rom. 12:12; James 1:2; Phil 4:4), but it never says that being sad is wrong. In fact, in a sinful world, there are many things we should be appropriately sad about. And the Bible actually talks about the reality/necessity of righteous anger (e.g. Eph. 4:26; James 1:19), but encourages us to be angry at the right things and to process our anger in healthy, productive ways. Point being, peace can’t be the opposite of sadness or anger. The ultimate proof of this is Jesus himself, who became sad and angry throughout the Gospels.
But you know what Jesus never got? Afraid.
Arguably the most spiritually negative emotion that you and I face, the one that I think all the other spiritually problematic emotions flow from, is fear. The Apostle Paul tells the young pastor that he mentors, Timothy, that the Spirit of God “does not give timidity (i.e. fear), but power.” (2 Tim. 1:7)
So, I’ve had a lot of people come to me before whom I’ve counseled and I’ll ask what they think God wants for their life. Many have said, “I think God wants me to be happy.” And it’s true that God seeks our ultimate happiness – a lasting joy in heaven – but in this lifetime, in a sinful world, it’s impossible (and arguably unloving) to make us feel happy all the time. If you’re happy when you’re loved one dies, or your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you, or you lose your job, or you see injustice in the world, if you’re happy at that point…that doesn’t make you strong, it makes you a sociopath, totally out of touch with reality. God does not guarantee or even encourage happiness at those times, but he does say you logically have no reason to be…afraid. Why?
Fear comes whenever we venture into self-sufficiency. So, for example, Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, perfect paradise. They were naked and felt no shame. They disobeyed God when they ate from the tree he told them not to eat from – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And what was their reaction? They immediately ran, hid, and tried to cover themselves up, because they felt vulnerable, exposed, and afraid. Satan’s lie was to convince Adam and Eve was that they were worthless slaves of a demanding God. He made them afraid of something that wasn’t real. So they moved away from God’s Word and God’s will, they disobeyed God…and that’s when they found out what fear really was. They attempted self-sufficiency. And they broke the planet. And then they were afraid.
So, it works like this. If you believe you are small in a big universe that you have to control, you will understandably be overwhelmed and afraid. If you believe you are big in a big universe that you have to control, you’re delusional and will be humbled. But if you believe you are small in a big universe that God controls for your good, you will not only not be afraid, but you will feel valuable and loved.
II. Phony Peace is Tempting
The second point is an encouragement not to fall for cheap substitutions. Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” (vs. 27)
1) Mental Avoidance
St. Augustine opened up his Confessions with a prayer that says, “My heart will not rest till it rests in you, O LORD.” In other words, every human being on this planet is naturally restless. And every one of us is uncomfortable as a result of that. So, what do we do? Our first instinct is to self-medicate the discomfort. We look for peace by any means necessary.
One of the things that’s always been fascinating to me is there are many different preferred methods to this self-medicating. So, we all know that obviously when someone turns to hard recreational drug use or crazy excessive alcohol consumption, they’re probably trying to quiet the demons. But there are many more socially acceptable ways to self-medicate. Shopping a little too much. Eating a little too much. Becoming all-consumed with sports or Facebooking or Pintresting, or TV/movies, gardening, music, hobbies, or even more noble-sounding causes. Doesn’t matter. Why do we do those things excessively? Yes, they’re pleasurable, but if crazy science fiction movies are so inherently good/pleasurable, then why doesn’t everybody gravitate towards them all the time? Why isn’t everyone flooding online message boards at 3:00am talking about the release date of the 7th Avengers movie? It’s because that might be my preferred method of escapism/self-medicating. It’s disproportionately pleasurable because it’s my drug of choice. Since we’re unique individuals, we look for a personalized self-medicating cocktail to sip in order to find peace. Recreation is one thing, recreation for escapism is another.
None of that makes problems go away. It merely distracts us. If you have crazy high unpaid bills, and you get overwhelmed and sit down and play 8 hours of video games, you’ve maybe calmed down your body chemistry, but you haven’t objectively helped your situation. In fact, now you’re just 8 hours closer to bad credit and bill collectors. True peace is NOT dismissive mental avoidance.
2) Changed Circumstances
I’ve shared with many of you how earlier on in life I struggled a great deal with anxiety and depression. So, I bought this at-home wellness program called “Attacking Anxiety and Depression” and there were some things I took away from it. One of the most important things, and something that I’ve read a variation on countless times since in other mental health literature, is that when confronted with a stress-inducing situation, there are really 3 things you can do (from a secular standpoint). You can 1) Flee the situation; 2) Change the environment/situation; or 3) Change the way you feel about the situation.
Most people recognize that fleeing the situation is generally not a great option. There are some cases that might obviously call for it – e.g. an abusive relationship. But it’s probably not healthy long-term to constantly bounce from job to job every time you don’t like something. Furthermore, some situations simply can’t be fled – health problems obviously can’t be fled. So most recognize fleeing an unwanted situation as an non-ideal option. The first instinct for most of us, rather, is to try to control an environment – to change all the circumstances. The biggest problem with this option is that a high percentage of our stress in life comes from interacting with other human beings, individuals with their own wants and wills. In that case, the more you attempt to control them, the more it typically aggravates the situation. Furthermore, circumstantial peace is always going to be…circumstantial. Intermittent. Erratic. True peace is NOT a mere change of circumstances. Wouldn’t you rather have a peace that was constant and relentless?
So what secular scholars largely agree on is that when it comes to a situation that is robbing you of your peace, fleeing is generally not a productive option, and changing an environment permanently is generally an impossible option. So 90% + of the time, the best option is to change the way you feel about a situation.
So your family member passes away, and someone says, “Just don’t let it bother you. It’s time to move on.” You get diagnosed with cancer. “I’m sure it’ll all work out!” People actually give pat answers like this all the time. And I know they’re trying to be friendly and helpful and much of the time they’re simply trying to diffuse the social awkwardness of the situation, but honestly, how do you know it’s all gonna work out?! On the basis of what can you proclaim that my unemployment, my loneliness, my health crisis is all gonna work out?! You can’t.
So, changing the way you feel about negative life situations may be the best option, but you still need a basis for why you’re going to change the way you think and feel.
So there’s mindless peace and baseless peace, but neither of those has any real value.
III. The Only Peace is Christ
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (vs. 26)
Jesus says here, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” (vs. 27) We saw what kills peace. And we saw what the world might call peace that’s really not peace. How does a Christian find true peace?
When you look at the context of this section, which we read earlier, you notice that Jesus is talking to his disciples about his imminent death. He’s leaving them…like the next day. He’s going to die tomorrow. And he says, “I’m leaving you…peace.” The Bible commentators will tell you, this is Jesus’ will.
Before someone passes, they leave a last will and testament. And those who are beneficiaries of a will do not receive their inheritance until…the testator dies. In other words, what we’re learning here is you’re never going to find lasting subjective peace (i.e. you’ll never feel true peace) in this life until you recognize you have objective peace in the next one, based on the death of Jesus. You will fear death unless you realize you have a better life coming to you. You will fear loneliness unless you realize he will never leave you. You will fear occasions that threaten your family unless you recognize that he’s promised all your needs will be met when you seek him first. You will be haunted by your past mistakes unless you realize that Jesus has paid the debt we owe to our Father for our sins. You will be tormented by regret unless you believe God works all things out for your good – by grace he turns the knots you and I make into beautiful bows. How can we be sure?
On the cross, what Jesus did is he endured the fear of a child detached from his parent. One of the scariest experiences of life is when you’re a little kid in a grocery store or shopping mall and mom or dad tells you to stay close, but you think you know better, and then you wander off. At that moment you realize that trying to do life your own way actually brings terror, not liberation. What Jesus got on the cross was cosmic lostness, the fear of a child alone in the universe, but he did it so that you and I could have peace. In fact, when Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” (Matt. 27:46), it’s hard to understand because we don’t use words like forsaken much today. The eloi eloi lama sabbachthani here literally means, “You’ve abandoned me. You’ve left me behind.” See what he’s doing? He’s switching places with us. On the cross Jesus voluntarily faced the fear, abandonment, rejection that we deserved, and in exchange we received the warmth and acceptance and love from the Father that he earned.
And the more times you realize that nothing, even literally murdering him, will cause Jesus, your Lord and Savior, to abandon you – the more you will have peace. You do this day over day, and it’s not instantaneous, but I guarantee a year from now you will be a more peaceful, less anxious, fearful person.
If you would like more gospel resources for attacking issues of sadness, fear, anxiety, & depression, I’m currently teaching a sermon series R-E-L-A-X: Gospel Keys for Overcoming Anxiety & Depression, available here.