The Peace That Jesus Gives
Over the last year, prompted by my own health issues, I have done a lot of reading on the effects of stress on our bodies. Dr. Robert Anderson, who has researched the subject of stress extensively, says that he used to think that 35 to 40 percent of the problems he saw in his office were stress induced. Now he thinks it could be as high as 90 percent. These problems include ulcers, stomach disorders, headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, back pain, muscle aches as well as a host of psychiatric disorders.
Dr. John Schindler wrote sometime back that of 500 people admitted to a clinic, 77 percent were suffering emotionally from what he called the C.D.T.s, by which he meant the Cares, Difficulties and Troubles of Life.
There is a case study of an elderly patient by the name of Jake. He was a farmer who was a very driven man. He came to his doctor complaining of stomach cramps, and then back pains. But medical tests failed to find anything physically wrong with Jake.
It turned out that Jake was a prisoner to his anxiety. He had grown up during the Great Depression, and had been haunted all his life by a fear of poverty. Finally, when the stress became too much for him, Jake committed suicide.
Ironically, Jake was very successful financially. He wasn’t in danger of going hungry. But, as one of Jake’s sons commented sadly, “I think what Dad really needed was the assurance from someone that things were going to be okay. I think if he had that… he’d still be with us today.” (1)
What Jake needed was “the assurance from someone that things were going to be okay.” Don’t we all?
On the night before he died, Jesus was with his disciples behind closed doors for fear of their lives. There was high anxiety among those present in that room, because everyone knew they were in immanent danger of being arrested and even put to death. To calm their fears, Jesus said to them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Notice that Jesus did not promise his disciples a life free from problems. Problems are part of life. Roofs leak, cars don’t start, people get angry, feelings get hurt, we get rejected, overlooked, unappreciated. We become sick, feel tired and sometimes get victimized. All this goes with being human. As someone wisely said, “Sometimes we get the gold mine – sometimes the shaft.” Some of the problems we face are just a painful nuisance, but others can be life threatening.
Take the disciples, for example. None of them died of old age. Tradition has it that Simon Peter was crucified upside down. James, the son of Zebedee was beheaded by Herod Agrippa. John, the brother of James, perished by being boiled in oil. Andrew was first stoned and then crucified for good measure. Bartholomew was tied up in a sack and thrown into the sea. Matthew was burned at the stake in Rome. Thomas was run through with a spear. Philip suffered crucifixion under the reign of Emperor Domitian. James, the son of Alphaeus, was stoned after being pushed from a high wall. Jude Thaddeus met a gruesome death; his head was split open with an ax. Simon, the Zealot, was clubbed to death. Judas the traitor hanged himself. Paul was beheaded in Rome. (2)
And, of course, Jesus himself was put to death on a cross. It is a sobering reminder of the kind of hostile reception that the secular world has waiting for a committed Christian. The world is not waiting to offer us peace, as the martyrs in the Middle East now remind us. Even today, in North America, peace means different things to different people – and sometimes what is peace to one person is an act of treason to another.
When The Reverend Charles Joy, minister of the First Parish Church in Portland, Maine, declared in a sermon preached just as the United States entered World War I, in April 1917, “If I remain your minister, prayers shall ascend for Germany and America alike,” on the very next day he was burned in effigy on the iron railings in front of his church. (3)
When the Episcopal Rector of Bruton Parish in Williamsburg, Virginia dared to call for peace in Vietnam in a sermon preached before President Lyndon Johnson, he was summarily fired by the Vestry.
Why should the word “peace” raise such a red flag before people? Think about it. Peace is one of those ambiguous English words. It has many meanings. For some, peace means the cessation of hostilities. For others it means not a worry in the world. It’s an important word and it needs defining in the biblical sense.
So what can we say about this peace?
Peace, in the biblical sense, is God’s peace. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, gives us the message that our family is the whole world. In Matthew’s Gospel, we read how Jesus said that he did not come to bring peace but a sword, not peace but division (Mt. 10:34). Individual members of each family will be at odds with each other over their commitment to Jesus. The Prince of Peace redefines family by saying all humankind is family: the refugees, the hostages, the hospitalized, the lonely, the poor, the mentally ill, and people of all races and nationalities.
Most of us are born with a passionate commitment to our blood families. Jesus is pointing out that when you are born again as a Christian you are expected to have a passionate allegiance to the family of humankind, which is the family of God.
Think of the refugees braving the high seas to flee from their homelands in Africa and the Middle East to come to Europe. Many survive the trip, but others do not. Remember the little boy whose body was washed ashore off the coast of Greece? There are hundreds, maybe thousands like him who never make it to safety. And yet, for the ones who do make it, there is a sense of exhilaration.
One refugee, who came to Canada, happened to be a Christian. He had been clinging to a capsized boat before being rescued. In recounting his story he said to the reporter who was interviewing him, “I feel so happy to be free.”
It’s amazing what people will endure to escape persecution and to experience what we take for granted! How was this man able to endure such an ordeal? He answered: “The water was cold, the waves were rough but I was never frightened because I had faith in God.”
Out in the middle of the ocean, tossed to-and-fro by monstrous waves, out of food, burned by the sun, clinging to a capsized boat, and literally paddling with his hands, he had Christ’s peace which “is not as the world gives.”
It is hard to understand, isn’t it? But we don’t have to understand it. All we have to do is believe it and that kind of peace is ours. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” says Jesus. Wouldn’t that be wonderful in this disturbing world? Wouldn’t that be pleasing to our roller coaster lives? God’s peace puts our hearts at rest. This is not a rest that is given in a hammock or at bedtime, but a rest that quiets our hearts in time of turmoil. It is a calmness of soul when all around us the world is in chaos. It is the result not of our understanding the situation, but of having the Holy Spirit in our lives. “Be still and know that I am God,” says the psalmist (46:10). It is a peace the apostles had as they died and a peace promised to us today.
You may know that peace, Christ’s peace, in your own life. You go through a rough time and for days you feel like you are in a dark, deserted valley. You don’t know which way to turn. In your pain, you cry out, “Where is God? Does God care about me?” Then, here in worship, through the music, or the scriptures read, or even the sermon, you say, “Yes, now I know. God loves me. God is not far from me. I can go on with my life.” And you can now truthfully say, “Now I remember! For a while, due to my troubles, I almost forgot. Now I remember: I am a child of God held by God in loving embrace.”
I knew a woman who went into the hospital for stomach surgery. The doctors opened her up, looked inside, and then closed her up again. When she awoke, the surgeon said to her, “I’m sorry, but the cancer has spread throughout your body. There is nothing we can do. Go home and get your affairs in order.”
Rather than become depressed, this woman was filled with peace now that she knew the end was near. When I saw her the next day, she said to me, “Gary, I slept so peacefully last night. It was like I was being embraced by God. I’m ready for whatever comes next.” That woman was my mother.
Whether you have Christ’s peace in your heart makes a world of difference in how you live and even in how you die. Life is never going to be easy for any of us. Problems and pains are simply part of life. The real issue is how we handle those problems and pains. Do we let them overcome us or do we overcome them through the peace of Christ?
Herbert Howells, the English choral composer, was living a placid but successful life as a teacher at the Royal College of Music in London and Music Director at St. Paul’s Girls’ School. In September 1935, his life was abruptly shattered when his nine-year-old son Michael contracted spinal meningitis during a family holiday, dying in London three days later. Howells was deeply affected by the tragedy and suffered depression. His faith, which was never strong, began to evaporate.
Just when he was at a breaking point, he received a request for a new hymn tune
in the morning’s post. The hymn text was written by the 17th century German poet Joachim Neander and recently translated by Robert Bridges. The words of the poem spoke to Howells and somehow lifted him out of his despair. He is said to have written the tune over breakfast, and he named it Michael, in memory of his son. You know the hymn, with the words modified in our Common Praise hymnal:
God, my hope on you is founded;
you my faith and trust renew:
through all change and chance you guide me,
only good and only true.
call my heart to be your own. (4)
Jesus never said that his disciples would not have problems. In fact, their problems would dwarf most of our problems. What he did promise them was peace of soul. They would live peaceful lives in a less than perfect world. And that is the same promise Jesus offers us today.
Perhaps you have come to worship today seeking “the assurance from someone that things are going to be okay.” Jesus gives you that assurance: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” He will give you the comfort and courage to face whatever life throws your way. In life and in death, with Jesus everything is going to be okay.
Dr. Gary Nicolosi
May 1, 2016
Text – John 14:23-29
Easter 6, C
1. David B. Wilhelm, RX for the Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997) 24-30.
2. Thomas Hilton, The Fruits of the Spirit (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 28.
3. Peter J. Gomes, The Good Life (Harper San Francisco, 2002) 29.
4. Common Praise (The Anglican Church of Canada, 1982) Hymn 529