Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Peace of Christ (John 14:27-31)

Peace. It is a word that is often used and seldom understood. Even more rarely is it experienced. Usually when we hear this word in our culture, it is in the context of something that is absent. In some cultures it is used as a way of saying “hello,” and “goodbye,” as if to wish one another peace as we come and go. That was the way it was used in ancient Hebrew. The Hebrew word “Shalom” had connotations that extend far beyond merely “the absence of conflict,” though it includes that. It means a state of completeness or satisfaction that is found when all is well. It speaks of one’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. It speaks of being in right relationship with God, for only in that blessed state can it truly be said that all is well. Therefore, true peace comes only from God. The ancient Hebrews spoke the word as a prayer for one another that all things might be well under God for the other person. Early Christians adopted this word as a greeting and spoke of it, not as the wish for something as yet unattained, but as a reminder that this peace was available and had been secured for us in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. That is why, on the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus could say to His followers, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.”

Only Jesus could speak of “His peace” in the midst of circumstances like He was in at the time. One of His companions had already gone out to betray Him, and He knew that He was moments away from being arrested, tortured, and killed. But He could speak of His peace in the midst of such a raging storm. And He could speak of giving this peace to His followers, who were undergoing a raging storm of their own. Their Teacher, Master, Lord, and Friend was about to be taken away from them, and their own safety and security was in peril. Emotionally anguished, mentally tormented, with no sense of certainty about their physical well-being, Jesus says that He will give them His peace so that they may have it, even as He does. And He offers His peace to all of us who follow Him by faith. He does not guarantee us that we will escape all turmoil and tribulation, but He promises us that, come what may, we can live safeguarded by His peace. In the words that Jesus speaks to His disciples here in our text today, He describes this peace and how it effects us. So, let us look at these “principles of His peace” and ask the Lord to deepen our understanding and experience of the peace of Christ in our lives.

I. Jesus does not give His peace as the world gives (v27a)

There’s a lot that goes into the giving of a gift. There’s the gift itself, and then the giver of the gift, the motivation behind the gift, the occasion of the gift, and the manner in which it is given. We think that receiving a gift is always a good thing, but if we stop and think about it, sometimes it is not. Sometimes the gift or the occasion it is given makes us uncomfortable or embarrassed. Think of the time you received underwear for Christmas. Sometimes gifts are given with strings attached. Once someone offered me a “gift” of a very costly item that required an annual fee to be paid for it to be used. The annual fee was going to be my responsibility, and frankly it was more than I could afford. Awkwardly, I had to decline the gift. But the best gifts are those which are what we need or want, given out of the purest motives on the best of occasions, in the context of a genuine love relationship with the giver. All of the best and most perfect gifts ultimately come from God Himself, and are given this way. James says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jas 1:17). This is how Jesus has given us the gift of His peace.

He says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” The world gives gifts a far different way than God gives them. Sometimes the world gives gifts insincerely, scantily, under compulsion, with selfish motives, with strings attached. Moreover, often the world gives a gift only to take it away again. And sometimes when the world offers a gift, it offers far more than it can deliver. So it is when the world offers us peace. When two parties sit down to negotiate peace on the world’s terms, often one or more parties is not genuinely interested in real and lasting peace. Often one or the other party is only interested in doing what is minimally required to attain peace, and at as little expense as possible. Typically, this kind of negotiation is never entered into willingly, but because some other entity is requiring or compelling it. Seldom is it a win-win arrangement, and more often it is lose-lose. And the kind of peace that the world affords is never permanent.

During the reign of Augustus Caesar most of the known world was experiencing a time that Augustus had inaugurated and named the Pax Romana (the Peace of Rome). During this time, vast regions of the world were allegiant to the Roman Empire and there was no conflict to speak of in any of these lands. It was perhaps the longest and most thoroughgoing time of peace in the history of the world. However, it must be remembered that this peace was effected by the militant conquest of these lands and the swift action of Rome to quell all uprisings with severe force. One conquered ruler remarked that in view of the plunder, butchery, and robbery that the Romans performed in his land, “they make a wasteland and call it peace.”[1] This is how the world gives peace … with a sword to the neck. Jesus said that He was not giving peace like this. Though many expected the Messiah to come wielding the sword, Jesus came to effect peace by receiving the blows of violence, not striking them. On the eve of His crucifixion, He can say that He gives His followers His peace, because this peace was secured for us in His death and resurrection. He does not compel us by force to enter into His peace, with strings and conditions attached. He does not offer us His peace with self-centered motives, or with escape clauses that may entail Him revoking this peace from us in the future. He gives us His peace by His grace and for His glory, in an act of unconditional, eternal, covenant love. We do not deserve it, we cannot earn it, and because of our sins, we should not have it. But Jesus has accomplished this peace for us in His suffering and death for our sins as our substitute under the wrath of God. He took the judgment we deserve, so we could have the peace that is rightly His in eternal fellowship with God the Father.

Jesus alone can offer us real and lasting peace. It is His peace. He has it, He can give it. It is peace with God, and it is the peace of God. In Romans 5, Paul says, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justification by faith speaks of that act of God by which He removes our sin and imputes to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Prior to coming to Christ by faith, we were enemies at war with God in our sins. We could not make peace with God on our own terms. But through Jesus Christ, we have peace with God. The war is over, and we have been rescued, redeemed, and reconciled to Him in peace.

Since we have peace with God, we can also experience the peace of God. In Philippians 4:6-7, we are told to not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to let our requests be made known to God, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God comes from knowing that He is sovereign and in control over all of our circumstances, and that ultimately our future is secure in His hands. But, this kind of peace cannot be manufactured by our self-effort. It is an element of the “fruit of the Spirit” that Paul describes in Galatians 5. The Holy Spirit’s presence and power is manifested in our lives by these attributes, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This peace of God that Jesus has made available to us comes only as we yield ourselves to the Spirit’s control in our lives. The Holy Spirit has come to us because of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, and in Him, we can have this peace guarding our hearts and minds, even when the circumstances of our lives are far from peaceful.

This brings us to the second principle of Christ’s peace here in our text.

II. The peace of Christ replaces fear and trouble with love and joy (vv27b-28)

You will recall, perhaps, that the first words Jesus spoke in this extended discourse in the Upper Room were “Do not let your heart be troubled.” Here He says it again: “Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.” Let’s face it: there was plenty for them to be troubled and afraid about. Jesus has told them what is coming, from the betrayal, to the arrest, to the falling away of the disciples themselves, to the horrors of the Cross and His impending death. They were troubled and afraid! If they weren’t, something would be wrong with them! And if they weren’t, Jesus wouldn’t have to tell them to not let their hearts be in that state. Like them, we often have plenty of reasons to be troubled and afraid. Over the next several chapters, Jesus will promise His followers that they will be hated by the world (15:18), that they will have tribulation in the world (16:33), and He prays that the Father would not take them out of this world (17:15). This world is not a safe place to live, and yet it is where we have to live! Senseless acts of violence, tragic accidents, and sudden crises erupt all around us every day, not to mention the fact that we live in bodies that are constantly falling apart. I recall hearing John Piper talking about a day several years ago in which he distinctly remembered someone asking him, “How are you doing?”, and he said, “I’m fine.” Then he went to the doctor that afternoon and found out he had cancer. He said he learned a valuable lesson that day. “Now, when people ask me, ‘How’s your health?’ I say, ‘I feel fine. And the doctors are pleased.’ Which, being translated, means: ‘I don’t know how I am; only God knows.’”[2] If we ponder long on any of these circumstances that could arise with no forewarning, we are greatly troubled and afraid! But Jesus says that His peace can drive that fear and trouble out and replace it with something greater.

What had the disciples troubled was the announcement that Jesus was going away. Clearly they understood that He was speaking of His death. So troubled and fearful were they, that they seem to have missed, or at least greatly misunderstood that He had also said that He would come to them again. But here Jesus is trying to redirect their hearts from fear and trouble to love and joy. He says, “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced.” Did they love Jesus? Surely in some sense they did, but Jesus seems to suggest here that in some other sense, their love for Him was lacking. “If you loved Me,” seems to imply that they don’t love Him, at least not in the sense that He is speaking of love. If they understood the peace that He was making possible for them through His impending suffering and death, then their love for Him would grow exponentially and qualitatively. But as it is, all they can think of is themselves and what they are losing – not of Christ, what He is gaining, and what He is accomplishing for them. If they could think of those things instead of themselves, in love for Christ, there would be joy in their hearts instead of fear and trouble.  

So, there is this subtle rebuke here. “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father.” Unless Jesus goes to the Father, His disciples (including us today) cannot have the peace that He promises. We cannot have peace with God or the peace of God that His indwelling Spirit produces unless He goes to the Father by way of His death and resurrection. Jesus is returning to His Father, and to the glory that He had with the Father before the world began, and before He came to dwell among us in the veiled glory of His flesh. This is a cause for rejoicing if we love Him. But not only do we rejoice for Him, we also rejoice for us. Because He is overcoming sin and death on our behalf, we know that we too have the promise of death not being the end. If we love the Lord Jesus and trust Him as our Lord and Savior, death is not a descent into the abyss of the unknown, a ceasing of existence, or a hopeless eternity apart from Him. We too have the promise that we will go to the Father. So, we do not have to fear or be troubled by the hardships and sufferings we face in this world. We can have joy in spite of our circumstances, through the love of Jesus Christ and the peace that He has given us. When we have His peace safeguarding our hearts and minds, every discomfort and disaster that we encounter in the world only causes our love for Him to deepen and our joy in Him to increase, because we know that He has overcome this world, and we share in His victory. Trouble and fear are replaced by love and joy as we rest in the peace of Christ.

Before we move on to the final principle of peace here in the text, we need to just give some explanation to the rather awkward phrase that Jesus says here: “For the Father is greater than I.” This verse has for centuries been latched onto by those who seek to teach that Jesus is somehow less than fully God. But, in many other passages, Jesus has unequivocally taught that He is one with the Father and of the same divine essence as the Father. One of the foundational rules of good biblical interpretation is that we use the clear passages to explain the difficult ones. If we do that here, we conclude that Jesus cannot mean that He is of an inferior nature to God the Father. So, what does it mean? There are at least two certain truths that relate to this statement. First has to do with the eternal role of Jesus as the Son of God, or God the Son. The mystery of the Trinity is complex, and we will never completely fathom all that it entails with our finite minds. What we know is that there is one God, who exists eternally in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And within the perfect unity of the Triune Godhead, there is an ordering of function, not nature. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all coeternal and coequal in glory and deity, but each has a unique functional role. The Father is ever and always the One who commands and sends. The Son is ever the One who is sent and who obeys the Father. And the Spirit is the One who is sent by both the Father and the Spirit, and who functions in obedience to the will of the Father and the Son. Ontologically, that is, in the nature of their being, One is not greater or more important than the other. But functionally, their roles differ. As the One who is sent, and the One who obeys, Jesus can say that the Father is greater in function than He is.

There is another reason Jesus can say that the Father is greater. The disciples have enjoyed the indescribable blessing of knowing Jesus in His flesh. But, the point was never for them to just have an earthly relationship with an earth-bound Jesus. Jesus is making it possible, by His return to the Father, for His followers to truly know God in all of His splendor and glory. It is greater for them that they have an eternal relationship with God through Him than for their experience to be limited to a temporal relationship with Jesus in His flesh on the earth. All that Jesus had done to this point, and all that He would do, had the aim and purpose of bringing them into a relationship with the Father. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” We may be tempted to think that it would have been better to live in the first century, and have the opportunity to meet Jesus as He walked and talked on the earth. But because of what Jesus has done in His life, death, and resurrection, we have something even better. We have a relationship with God through Him.

As we move back onto our primary theme of having Christ’s peace, we have seen that He alone can give us this peace – peace with God and the peace of God. It has not been given to us as the world gives. It has been secured for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins, and imparted to us by the Holy Spirit whom Christ has sent to indwell those who receive Him by faith as Lord and Savior. And this peace is able to replace the fear and troubles of our hearts in this fallen world with increased and greater love for Christ and joy in Him. But there is a final principle of His peace that we need to see here in the text.

III. The peace of Christ produces confidence in His word (vv29-31)

One of the ways Jesus continually produces peace in the hearts of His followers is through the promises of His word. And it works like a cycle. His promises produce peace, and His peace increases our confidence in His word. When we find ourselves in anxiety rather than resting in His peace, chances are we have forgotten or begun to doubt His promises. So the peace produces this confidence and this confidence reinforces the peace. It is kind of a chicken and egg kind of relationship – which comes first? Well, the two are so closely related that it is impossible to separate them. But as Jesus promises His peace to His disciples, He does so in the context of bolstering their confidence in His Word.

Thus far, Jesus has told them about the things which are going to transpire in both the immediate and distant future. He has told them what would happen over the next several days – He would die and rise again. He has told them what would happen over the next several weeks – the Holy Spirit would come to dwell within them. And He says here, “I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.” Of course, these men already believed, but Jesus is calling them to a deeper confidence in His word: a confidence that is produced by His peace. When these events begin to happen – His arrest, His trial, His torture, and His death, they can rest in the peace that He promised them, and grow in their confidence that His every word is truth.

Let’s face it … from a mere earthly perspective, the events that will transpire over the coming day will appear to be utter chaos and mayhem. If any circumstances could ever be described as “hell on earth,” then the crucifixion of Jesus and the events surrounding it certainly meet that description. Jesus says, “I will not speak much more with you.” But there would be no need for Him to. As the great hymn says, “What more can He say than to you He has said?” They will not suffer for lack of information. Their challenge will be to remain steadfast in confidence of what He has already said.

The reason He will speak no more with them is that “the ruler of the world is coming.” Who is the ruler of the world? Isn’t God the ruler of the world? Well, in the ultimate sense, yes, He is. But remember that when God created human beings in His image, He gave to mankind dominion over the whole earth. Man was to be God’s regent, ruling the world in His stead and on His behalf. But Adam squandered this trust that God had given him when he yielded his allegiance to Satan in the garden. In Adam’s sin, the dominion of the world passed into the hands of the devil. He continues to operate under God’s ultimate authority, but the operations of the world are under Satan’s domain. And in the events leading up to and including the cross, Satan was trying to accomplish his ultimate will and desire – to murder God and be freed from His sovereignty. He had been trying to accomplish this since the beginning, but now he pulls out all the stops and goes full force into the fray. The ruler of the world is coming, Jesus said, and with unprecedented evil to murder the Messiah.

But, Jesus says, “He has nothing in Me.” In other words, “He has no hold (or claim) on me.” This phrase was used in Jewish legal contexts when someone had a rightful charge to bring against another in a court of law. But Jesus says here that Satan has no rightful charge over Him. Jesus had not sinned, and had lived in complete and perfect obedience to His Father’s will. So, though the enemy believed that he would be the victor in this battle, Jesus says, “So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” His death was not ultimately the result of a satanic plot; it was the result of a sovereign plan. The death of Jesus was the reason He came into the world in the first place. Satan believed his plan was advancing, but all that he was doing fell under the purpose and plan of God to reconcile the world to Himself through the suffering and death of this righteous substitute for sinners. What appeared to be a victory for Satan was ultimately his defeat, as Jesus, in love for His Father, obeyed His will all the way to the cross where sinners are saved from Satan’s dominion and power. Even in this, Jesus seeks that all the world would have increased confidence that His word is truth.

With the peace of Christ safeguarding their hearts, the disciples could rest in the confidence that Jesus was carrying out that which He had declared. He was saving the world in His death on the cross. But they could not ultimately rest in that peace until the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. But after that moment, as they reflected on what had transpired in the cross of Jesus Christ, His peace gave them the confidence that all that Jesus had said was true. In speaking of the cross at Pentecost, Peter said, “This Man (Jesus), delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Ac 2:23).  And notice how this affected the peace that they had and the increased confidence that they had in God’s Word as circumstances began to grow worse for themselves. In Acts 4, they prayed, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence” (Ac 4:27-29).

So, like them, we ourselves can rest in the peace that Christ has given to us, and in confidence in His word when our circumstances are threatening and unpleasant. Knowing that nothing ever happened to Jesus apart from the Father’s perfect purpose assures us that the same is true for us. His Spirit gives us peace in the midst of our trials and tribulations, and in His peace, we find confidence in the truth of His Word, which deepens the peace all the more.

Jesus has given you His peace. But you cannot experience the peace of God until you have peace with God. And Jesus offers you this also. Because He took your sins, your death, and your condemnation upon Himself in the cross, you can be reconciled to God and saved from the powers of sin and Satan. And having peace with God, you can enjoy the peace of God in Christ which is ours because of the Holy Spirit who indwells all who trust in Him. He has not given His peace to us as the world would give. He has given it unconditionally, graciously, and eternally. As you rest in His peace, the troubles and fears of your heart give way to renewed and increased love for Him and joy in the salvation that He has accomplished for you. And as you rest in this peace, your confidence in His word grows, further settling that peace in your heart that all is well, regardless of how things look or feel. If you are in Christ, there is peace – peace that passes all understanding; peace that only Christ can provide; peace that guards us from anxiety; and peace that rests in knowing that all is well. Isaiah the prophet said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isa 26:3, KJV).

[1] Calgacus of Caledonia, from Tacitus, Agricola, 30; Cited in Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament (4th ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 11.
[2] John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Cancer (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2011), 3. 

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