Monday, June 01, 2015

Peace in a Troubled World (John 16:33)

Some of you are probably avid followers of the news – you read the paper, watch the news on television and maybe follow it online. Probably an equal number of you are not avid followers of the news. You get wind of the major events from time to time, but you don’t stay on top of the breaking stories throughout the day. Yet, even the casual observer of world affairs has to notice that we live in the midst of difficult days. There are things happening today around the world, and particularly here in America, that many of us would have considered unthinkable just a decade or so ago. The world is changing before our eyes at a breakneck pace, and I dare say that the changes are by and large for the worse. The ramifications are far reaching, and have at least some impact on every single one of us. These are troubling times, and the idea of finding any peace in this world seems like something from a fairy tale. And yet, peace in the midst of a troubled world is precisely what Jesus Christ promised to His followers.

We’ve come at last today to the final verse of what is known as Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” Beginning in Chapter 14, this entire teaching takes place in the moments and hours following the Last Supper while Jesus was alone with His disciples. He has been giving them final instructions before the critical hour comes in which He will be arrested, sentenced, and crucified. With the verse we have read today, Jesus draws the discourse to a close, having said all that He needed to say to them. In the next chapter, He will lift His voice to His Father and pray for Himself, for His followers, and for the world. Then the betrayer will come to hand Him over to arrest. Jesus knew that all of this would come to pass. He had announced it in advance. If ever anyone had reason to be troubled, Jesus did in these moments. And yet, even in these troubling moments, He can speak of peace – the peace He Himself has, and that He offers to all who follow Him by faith.

When the New Testament speaks of peace, it means more than we often think it does. Typically, we assume that the word “peace” means the absence of warfare or strife, or perhaps a state of tranquility. The biblical concept of peace, however, goes much deeper than this. The biblical idea of peace has been well defined as “the sense of complete well-being that characterizes the life lived in accordance with the design of God.”[1]
So, as we look at this single verse, let’s examine three aspects of this peace.

I. The Christian’s peace is found in Christ alone.

Many years ago, I paid a visit to a man named Dino. He welcomed my friend and I into his home, and before long, our pleasant conversation turned to spiritual matters. Dino was a frequent church attender, and he had a large Bible prominently displayed on his coffee table, and a cross hanging on his wall. But as he shared about his personal struggles, it became evident to us that Dino was deeply troubled about many things. My friend and I began to share the Gospel with Dino, and he was holding on to every word. Finally, we asked if he had ever placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and he confessed that he had not. That evening, we had the privilege to lead Dino to Jesus and he was gloriously born again there in his living room. After he had prayed to surrender his life to Jesus, Dino reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out a small bag and threw it on the coffee table. He said, “I don’t think I need these anymore.” I asked him what it was, and he said, “Magic rocks. I have been carrying them around for years to give me good luck.” I said, “Dino, not only do you no longer need those, you never did. You carried them around for a long time, but as you shared your story with us tonight, it was clear that those rocks never brought you any real help.” He’d been to church, he had a Bible (a great big one at that), and a cross on his wall, but he did not have peace. He was surrounded by signposts, as it were, pointing him to the true source of peace, but he had sought peace in a bag of magic rocks. That night, Dino discovered that the peace that had eluded him could be found in Jesus Christ, and in Him alone.

Peace is found in the Person of Christ. Jesus said peace is found “in Me.” For all that has been written about what it means to be “in Christ,” I suggest it will take eternity to mine the depths of it. It speaks of our position and union with Him. We are “in Him” as a result of placing saving faith in Him as Lord and Savior. In that instant, we become inseparably united to Him. He becomes, as it were, the sphere of our existence. We have something of a dual citizenship. We are “in the world,” and we are “in Christ.” Our identity should be rooted in the latter of these citizenships rather than the former, because though we are in the world, because we are in Christ, we are not “of the world.” We belong to another realm, and peace is granted to us on the basis of our union with Him.

Paul points this out often in his letters, but my favorite place is in 1 Corinthians 1:2. There he identifies this particular local church as being “at Corinth,” but also as being sanctified (or set apart) “in Christ Jesus.” They might be at Corinth, but it is more important that they recognize that they are in Christ. That is significant! Corinth epitomized all that we can imagine about a godless culture, and then some. That’s where these Christians lived. But they were positioned in Christ. And the thrust of Paul’s letter to them is an exhortation for them to define themselves by their position in Christ rather than their location in Corinth. You might live in this world, in this nation with all of its societal ills, but you are in Christ if you have been born again, and your identity in Him has to be what defines your life. Because you are in Him, you have a certain birthright and certain privileges of citizenship, and one of those is that you can know peace – real and lasting peace. He has it in Himself, and is able to extend it to all who trust in Him. It is found only in His Person.

Then notice that this peace is based on Christ’s promises. He says here, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.” Now, when He says, “These things,” He is referring to everything that He has said to the disciples during this farewell discourse. Now, just to remind you, over the course of this extended discourse, Jesus has spoken of:
·         The promise of eternal life (Jn 14:1-6)
·         His oneness with the Father (14:7-11)
·         The future ministry that the disciples will have (14:12; 15:1-8; 15:27)
·         Prayer (14:13-14; 16:23-28)
·         The coming of the Holy Spirit (14:16-21; 15:26; 16:5-15)
·         The inspiration of the Word of God (14:25-26)
·         The assurance of His love (15:10; 12-17)
·         The promise of joy (15:11; 16:22)
·         Future sufferings for the sake of Christ (15:18ff; 16:1-4)
·         His resurrection and second coming (16:16-22)

Jesus says that all of these things were spoken in order that the disciples may have peace in Him. They will only experience that peace as they remember and reflect on the truths He has shared with them. And the same is true for us. We will only comprehend and experience His peace as His word abides in us. So if we would have peace, we must make a regular discipline of reading, studying, and meditating on His Word. Everything in this world is at war with our peace, so we must constantly be reminded afresh of the promises Jesus has spoken to us.

So, how are we to have peace in this troubled world? The answer is that we can only have peace in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. By faith in Him, we are united to Him in a covenant relationship that can never be dissolved. We are inseparably “in Christ,” and have access to His peace which He freely bestows to all who call upon His name in saving faith. And this peace is realized in our lives as we meditate continually upon the precious promises of His Word. Now, the second aspect of our peace flows from this reality. Because the Christian’s peace is anchored in the person and promises of Christ …

II. The Christian’s peace transcends the troubles of this world.

Jesus said that all of His promises serve to produce peace in His followers. But, there are some promises that seem a little “less peaceful” than others at first glance. One of them occurs right here in verse 33. He says, and it is a promise, “In the world you have tribulation.” Wait, what? How is that supposed to help me have peace? How can Jesus say, on the one hand that we can have peace, and then almost without taking a breath, that we will have trouble? It is because our peace is not dependent on our circumstances in this world. It transcends these troubles.

We have to understand that this world is broken because it has been corrupted by human sinfulness. That sinfulness has infected the world with all manner of suffering and no one is immune to it. But for the Christian, there is a measure of suffering above and beyond what is common to others. Because of sin and its consequences, we are subject to the evils and sufferings of this fallen world. Moral evil and suffering is obviously when we are the victims of the wrongdoings of others. But there is also physical suffering, by which we deal almost incessantly with the illnesses and maladies to which we are prone because our bodies are decaying from birth. Sin has corrupted our bodies and so they are always breaking down. And of course there is natural suffering – the kind of thing we see taking place where floods and hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, and things like this have occurred. These things are an outworking of the curse of sin in the world. Sin has produced atmospheric and geological upheaval in the world, as evidenced for example, in the flood of Noah. Now, it is not that, when these tragedies occur, they are an express judgment of God upon the people affected by them but the world is susceptible to these tragedies because of how the curse in the fall of humanity into sin has affected the world. And as Christians, we are all subject to these kinds of sufferings, just as everyone else in the world is.

But there is a unique category of suffering for a Christian that the rest of the world does not have to endure. In addition to these categories of suffering that everyone is subject to, the Christian is also susceptible to suffering for the sake of righteousness, that is, for the sake of Christ. Jesus has spoken much about this throughout the discourse. Paul said that all those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). That is as much a promise as the one Jesus gives here: “In the world you have tribulation.” And the reason we endure such suffering in the world is because the world is at enmity with God, and therefore at enmity with Christ and with all who represent Him in the world.

The word “world” occurs 78 times in John’s Gospel, 20 in the farewell discourse alone. In all but two of those 20 instances, it refers to the hostile forces of lost humanity who are at war with Christ. The world is said to:
  • Be unable to receive the Spirit of truth (14:17)
  • Be blind to the revelation of Jesus Christ (14:22)
  • Not experience the peace of Jesus Christ (14:27)
  • Be under the rule of Satan (14:30)
  • Hate and persecute Christians (15:18) because Christians are not of the world (15:19)
  • Be under the conviction of the Holy Spirit (16:8)
  • Rejoice over the death of Jesus (16:20)[2]

It is hard to see how this could lead to anything but trouble for disciples of Jesus Christ. The world, and all of the corrupted forces at work in it, have arrayed themselves for battle against God-in-Christ, and all who follow in His steps by faith. So Jesus promises us that trouble awaits us in the world. But, the question is, “How does this promise lead us to peace?” I have three answers to that question.

First, this promise leads us to peace because it prepares us for the hardships we must endure. Jesus has taught us to expect it. When we endure hardships and sufferings, even those that occur for the sake of Christ and His righteousness, this promise teaches us that we are not encountering anything unusual or out of the ordinary. Sometimes, when things are not going well for us, we may be tempted to believe that we have fallen out of God’s favor, or that He has removed His hand of blessing from our lives. It is comforting for us to know that our suffering in the world may actually prove the opposite – we are enduring it precisely because we belong to Him. It would be very disconcerting if Jesus had promised us a primrose path, and then we become pricked by the thorns. But Jesus promised us a hard road in this world, and we must expect nothing less. Peter wrote to suffering Christians in 1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” Expect it.

Second, this promise leads us to peace because it reminds us how radically Jesus has transformed us. Of all people, Christians should have a special understanding of the world’s war against God, because we have been delivered from the thick of the battle. We too were once at enmity with God until we were rescued by His saving kindness. In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus of what their lives used to be like, and how God had radically transformed them by His grace in Christ Jesus:

[Y]ou were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ( by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:1-7).

Prior to knowing Christ, we ourselves were bound in sin, enslaved to Satan and to the carnal desires of our flesh and the patterns of this world’s thinking, provoking the wrath of God upon ourselves in our rebellion to Him. In Titus, Paul says it this way: 

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:3-7).

So the promise of trouble in the world reminds us that, once, we were walking with the world in its disobedience and rebellion. Our lives were characterized by the same strife and calamity that we see on display in our society. But God, in His kindness, has rescued us from that way of living – not on the basis of anything we have done, but solely by His sovereign grace and mercy – and He has reconciled us to Himself. That means, friends, that though we will endure much suffering in this fallen world, there is a deadline to it. The closest that we will ever come to hell is life in this world, and when it is over, the trouble ends with it. We will enter into the sin-free and suffering-free environment of heaven for eternity. Knowing that these light and momentary afflictions are producing for us a weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:17) enables to endure these sufferings with a peace that passes all understanding.

Third, this promise leads us to peace because it assures us that our peace transcends the troubles of this world. Jesus’ promise of peace is made to those who are yet in this trouble-filled world. He did not say, “Once you leave this trouble-filled world, you will have peace.” He said, “In the world, you have tribulation,” but “in Me, you have peace.” And the peace we have in Him transcends all of the trouble of this world and can be experienced even in the midst of all this world’s troubles. To understand why that is so, we have to move to the third and final aspect of our peace here in this verse.

III. The Christian’s peace is secured by Jesus’ victory.

When I was a kid, you could find me just about any night of the week at the old Winston-Salem Coliseum watching the Carolina Thunderbirds hockey games. I distinctly remember, one night, it was announced late in the game that our star goalie was being removed from the game and being replaced by a sportswriter for the Winston-Salem Journal. What was he doing on the ice? We discovered later that he had always dreamed of playing in a professional hockey game. With six minutes to go in the game, his dream came true. And he wasn’t half-bad. He didn’t let in a single goal. But, the only reason he got to live out his dream was that the Thunderbirds were winning by so large a margin, that even if he had let several goals in, it would not have changed the outcome of the game. He got to enjoy his six-minutes on the ice because the victory was already in-hand.

Friends, in an infinitely more significant way, we can have peace in a trouble-filled world because Jesus has already secured victory over the world. The battle may still be raging, but the war is over, and Christ has conquered. He says, “I have overcome the world.” The original wording here is a military term that is used to describe triumph over one’s enemies. Jesus won this victory in His death and resurrection. By His death, He defeated sin and death and rendered the prince of this world powerless. The world did all it could to Him – opposing Him, betraying Him, apprehending Him, torturing Him, and ultimately murdering Him. But He conquered all that the world threw at Him by overcoming death with His indestructible life. Satan, and all those who follow Him, together with the condemnation of sin and the threat of death, were decisively defeated through His cross and empty tomb.

Yet, Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and Satan was not merely a personal one. It is a victory that He shares with those who are “in Him.” We have His peace in the midst of this troubled world because we share in His victory. And because we do, we do not have to be intimidated by the troubles and threats of this world. Jesus said we can “take courage.” It might be better translated with a more forcible command: “Be courageous!” What can this world do to us? The world, along with its ruler the devil, is a defeated foe! It is not that we have overcome it, but Christ has overcome it on our behalf and extends His victory to us. Would the world hate us or seek to oppress us? Would it seek to persecute us or even kill us? Jesus said that, because of the peace we have through His victory, we can be courageous even in the face of such threats.

The men who were with Jesus when He spoke these words had the opportunity to see this promise come to pass within their own lifetimes. Soon after Jesus had ascended into heaven, and they had been filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to experience the world’s animosity. When the authorities commanded them to no longer speak in the name of Jesus, they responded from this posture of courageous victory. They said to the rulers of their day, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Ac 4:19-20). And then they went to the Lord in prayer and said, “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence” (4:29).

Friends, this is especially instructive for us today. The disciples responded to the troubles of a hostile word with a bold confidence that was rooted in the peace and victory that they had in Jesus Christ. Like them, we too hear from seemingly all sides that we must either compromise our convictions or else be silent about them. We are compelled, directly and indirectly, overtly and subtly, that we must surrender ground to the winds of this world’s opinions that are contrary to the Word of God. But, because we have peace in Christ and stand in His victory, like those early disciples, we can heed Jesus’ admonition and take courage in the face of these threats. We stand in the victory of Christ, who has overcome the world, so we must not fear what this defeated foe can do to us. We can be confident and courageous, and stand in His peace and His victory!

In the words of John Calvin, “Although we ourselves are almost overwhelmed, if we look at that magnificent glory to which [Christ] has been exalted, we may boldly despise all the evils which hang over us. If we want to be Christians, we must not seek to be free from the cross, but must be content with the fact that while we fight under Christ’s banner we are out of danger even in the midst of the battle.” [3]

Charles Simeon, the great English pastor of the 18th Century, was a man who endured much suffering in his service to King Jesus. When asked by a friend how he had managed to endure it all, he said, “My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head [Jesus Christ] has surmounted all His sufferings and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory.”[4]

We have peace in Christ, and in Him alone. He has secured it in His triumph over the world, and His promises anchor that peace in our soul. Our peace is not contingent upon the troubles we must endure in this world. It transcends them, because our peace and our victory are in Jesus. We can have peace in this troubled world, and we can be courageous so long as we do not mind a little suffering.

[1] Robert Mounce,  “John” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (rev. ed.; Vol. 10;Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 596.
[2] L. Scott Kellum, Preaching the Farewell Discourse (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2014), 193.
[3] John Calvin, John (Crossway Classic Commentaries; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1991), 388.
[4] H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon: Pastor of a Generation (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 1997), 167.

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