READ : John 14:27
“These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
John 14:25-27 rsv
Peace. What a beautiful word! In the original languages of the Bible it has a lovely sound as well: In Greek, it’s eir?n? and in Hebrew, shalom. That’s what I want to talk about today. Listen to these words of Jesus Christ, John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
WHAT IT’S LIKE
In the Bible peace is an incredibly rich word, freighted with all kinds of positive meaning. It means the end of warfare, of course, the laying down of arms, but much more than that. It means calmness, freedom from carping cares, but still more. Peace represents the ideal state of life. It speaks of every imaginable good for human beings: bodily health, strength and security, a long life of happiness ending in a natural death, prosperity in abundance, success in enterprises, victory in war, harmonious community with other people. All of that is there and more in this great gift. When the Bible says peace, it means our highest, fullest happiness in a right relationship with God and with other people.
When Paul writes in his apostolic letters, “Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (e.g. 2 Cor. 1:2), he’s pointing first to God’s heart toward us – grace, unmerited favor, in action on our behalf. And when he speaks of peace, he has in mind every blessing we can experience from God’s hand. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if you and I could know this real, deep, lasting peace?
On the last night He spent with them, our Lord said that He was giving that shalom, that peace, to His followers. He called it, “my peace.” I’ve been musing lately about what that means. It’s the untroubled calm that was in the heart of Jesus, the unclouded communion He enjoyed with the Father, the blessedness of doing God’s will and savoring it, the fullness of life intended for God’s human creatures. All of that and more Jesus said He was giving them – His peace.
But how could that be? He had just been telling them that He would go away. At that, they were experiencing not peace, but sadness; not calm, but inner turmoil. They were feeling abandoned and hopeless. How could they have His peace when He would be no longer among them?
The answer lay in Jesus’ provision of the Holy Spirit. Listen to the words that come just before His promise of peace: “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Remember how Jesus called the Holy Spirit another Comforter, another Counselor? By that He didn’t mean a different one but a second one like the first. Jesus had been the Counselor, the Guide, the Encourager of His disciples. Now He was going away. But He, together with the Father, would send them another, the Holy Spirit. He, Jesus, had been with them in the days of His flesh. Soon the Holy Spirit would be living in them, carrying on the same ministry. That’s how they would have peace, the Lord’s peace. Jesus Himself would be living within them by the Holy Spirit, imparting to them His own life and peace.
The Holy Spirit, Jesus said, would teach them all things. Whatever the disciples needed to know as they went about their task of serving God and bearing witness to Jesus, the Holy Spirit would teach them. He would bring Jesus’ words to their remembrance. This is the great ministry of the Spirit: not to bring us a message different from that of Jesus, but to enable us to internalize the one Jesus has given. The words of the Lord are always normative, always with authority. The Holy Spirit doesn’t bring us some new, evolving Christianity. Jesus’ words remain foundational. They come from the Father. The Church has no license to modify them, but only to obey and proclaim them. The Lord’s peace comes through the light and strength which the Spirit provides. Peace comes through the Word, brought freshly to our minds and hearts, the Word of Jesus. The more we read the Scriptures, then, the more we meditate upon them, the more we hide them in our hearts, the more the Holy Spirit fills our lives with the Lord’s peace.
Now we understand how the peace of Jesus will be a kind of legacy for His followers. That’s the way He put it, right? “My peace I leave with you.” Jesus was speaking like a man about to die, telling his children what disposition would be made of his estate, going around the circle and saying, “to you I’m going to leave this and to you that.” But in this case, He said to all of them that the legacy He was bestowing upon them, His last will and testament for them, His bequest because He loved them, was His peace.
For Jesus Himself, what was ahead seemed anything but peaceful. In the Garden of Gethsemane, His soul was “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34). He was troubled and anguished. His health and strength were drained from Him in the flogging of the soldiers, the bearing of the heavy cross, the agony of crucifixion. His life and labors seemed to be crowned not with success and prosperity, but with defeat and shame. He came to the end of His life with nothing to call His own except the robe He wore. He was betrayed and forsaken by friends, mocked, scorned, murdered by enemies. And as He hung upon the cross, bearing the judgment we deserve, it seemed that even the Father’s face had been turned from Him as He cried in unutterable anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Yet in that storm of suffering and desolation, Jesus could finally cry out in triumph, “It is [accomplished]!” (John 19:30). And with His dying breath, He could say, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). When it seemed that He had lost everything and was of all men most miserable, Jesus died in perfect peace.
Isn’t it striking that when He rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples on the first day of the week, Jesus’ first words to them were: “Peace be yours”? They too had been stripped of any sense of well being. They were broken in spirit, sad to see their master treated so, filled with shame that they had not more loyally stood by Him. Hopes dashed, hearts broken, they were men for whom the light had failed. The Lord’s earlier promise of peace must have seemed to them a distant, mocking memory.
But now He stood before them, showing them His hands and side, actually conferring on them the peace He had promised. And, in the same encounter, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
We learn something wonderful here about why this peace of Jesus was a legacy, why it was a last will and testament. He had to die in order for it to come to us. Only as He bore our sins and suffered judgment in our place could we have peace with God and be reconciled to Him. Only as He was forsaken in our place could we know what it is to have God’s presence and blessing with us every day.
If you’ve ever been remembered in a will, you know what a joyful experience that can be. Perhaps it’s a piece of property that was your bequest, a sum of money, or a treasured personal possession. What is left to you, its future value and usefulness, that’s certainly a part of the joy. But if the person who died is someone you really care about, the financial value of a bequest is not the chief part. What’s most valuable to you is the love behind the legacy. Someone significant thought of you, someone remembered you, someone’s dying wish was to bless and enrich your life.
That’s true especially of the Lord’s bequest to us. That we should know His peace in our lives is a marvelous blessing. But even more marvelous is the love behind it, that His peace should come to us as the fruit of His sufferings, that blessedness should be ours because He bore our curse, that we should taste life abundant through His death. That makes our gratitude boundless.
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend, For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
NOT AS THE WORLD GIVES
When we look at the experience of Jesus and His followers, we get a different perspective on what peace is, don’t we? Some of the things we think of as accompanying wholeness, fullness of life, complete happiness, apparently don’t have to be there. For instance, you don’t have to enjoy long life to have shalom. Jesus died at thirty-three, and many of His followers were martyred in their youth. For peace you don’t need wealth. Jesus had none. Paul spoke of himself and other apostles as “poor, yet making many rich” (2. Cor. 6:10). You don’t need the praise of the multitudes. Jesus and His followers had crowds screaming for their blood. They were maligned, slandered, jeered at. Apparently peace doesn’t always involve earthly success, either. To all outward appearances, at least, the mission of Jesus ended in total failure.
The peace won for us by Jesus in His death and resurrection, and the giving of the Spirit, is something unique. He put it just that way, “Not as the world gives do I give to you.” The world is always promising us happiness, isn’t it? If we buy this or own that or experience some new thrill, they tell us, we will live happily ever after. Waves of blessedness will sweep over us. But those would-be peace bringers don’t deliver, do they? The peace of the Lord is not the fleeting, unsatisfying sort the world offers. This is something that can keep our hearts from being troubled in the worst hours of our lives. This is a fellowship with God which no power in earth or hell can ever destroy. This is a heritage of blessedness that even terrible suffering can never rob from us.
But as it is the Lord’s peace, His legacy to us made real in our lives by His own Spirit, this peace is inseparable from His person. The only way to have this deep, permanent, lasting peace is to trust in Jesus Christ as your Redeemer, to yield yourself entirely to His service and welcome Him as Lord over all. His legacy is for the members of God’s family, all who are the sons and daughters of God through faith in Him.
I’d love to be able to pronounce that peace as yours, to say effectually, “Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” But I can’t make that yours by any power of mine. God’s grace is already directed toward you in Jesus Christ. His peace is now available to you in fullest measure. But no one, not even God, will force it upon you. You need to receive with a grateful heart Jesus Christ crucified and risen for you as your Savior. You need to welcome Him into your life in personal trust. Then He will say to you, as He did in the upper room, “Receive the Holy Spirit” and again “Peace be yours.”
That doesn’t mean, of course, that you will never be threatened with anxiety again. When Paul wrote to the Philippian believers, he gave them some practical steps toward living constantly in the Lord’s peace. Listen to what He said: “In nothing be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). That is, instead of worrying about something, go with it to God, spread it before Him in the name of Jesus. Pour out your heart to Him about it. And as you ask for His help and provision, thank Him in faith for what He is going to do. Do you know what will happen then? Listen to the apostle, speaking from personal experience: “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). His peace will be a power to keep you. That’s how people like you and me can enjoy, day-by-day, the Lord’s legacy of peace.