Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Would you agree that “peace,” as we use the word, can be defined as “the general absence of trouble”?
I think that’s a fair place to start—but is that how Jesus uses the word peace?
Jesus says, “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 14:27).
But what kind of peace did Jesus have?
Or what about this: When Jesus speaks of peace, the peace that He possesses and gives to us, what’s going on around Him?
In Matthew’s account of the Gospel, the word “peace” is used in three places.
First, in the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). But we should remember that Jesus concludes the Beatitudes with: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).
Next, in chapter ten, Jesus sends out the twelve, saying: “As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Mt. 10:12-15).
And in Matthew’s gospel, finally, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt. 10:34).
This is not how we use the word peace.
When we speak of peace, we think of quietness and rest.
But, more often than not, when Jesus uses the word “peace,” the context isn’t what we generally think of.
In John’s account of the Gospel, the word “peace” is used in three places, but there’s a big difference amongst them.
Hear the context of the first two:
Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). That’s today’s Gospel lesson.
But what kind of peace is that?
Jesus says these words after the Supper, shortly before His Passion, and what’s going on?
He’s about to be betrayed by one of His closest friends.
He’s about to be tried in a kangaroo court where the witnesses’ stories don’t corroborate, and the man with the God-given authority to let Him go says, “I find no guilt in Him,” before sentencing Him to death.
He’s about to be forsaken by His Father.
He’s about to be mocked by those who hated Him, on the ground and at His side.
He’s about to die.
Jesus knows all this, and—presumably with a straight face—says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
We’ve lost the ability to hear this for the first time.
A man on death row, hours before his death, has no peace—no peace to give—except that he’ll soon be out of debt.
What kind of peace is that?
He’s about to suffer all, even death upon a cross, and yet—apparently—Jesus is at peace.
Consider the peacefulness of our lives on a given day.
What kind of peace do you have when you’re expecting a package from UPS or FedEx?
What kind of peace do you have when you’re expecting the doctor to call?
What kind of peace do you have when you’re betrayed or slandered?
What kind of peace do you have when you’re forced to face the fact that all men must die?
Using our definition of peace, we’re rarely peaceful.
So let’s use Jesus’ definition.
Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you?”
What does He mean?
The second time in John’s account of the Gospel that the word “peace” is used is two chapters after today’s Gospel reading.
And this is where it all starts to make sense.
Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
What does Jesus teach us to expect from the world and from experience? From our day-to-day?
From His example, we expect betrayal, slander, false accusations, abandonment from even our family members, and shameful mocking—all because we are faithful to Christ—all because a servant is not greater than his Master. If the world treated Him that way, they’ll treat you that way.
And Jesus sums this up in just a few words: “In the world you will have tribulation.”
So we see, Jesus’ definition of “peace” is different.
The way we use the word, peace is the absence of trouble, that thing which is furthest from tribulation.
But Jesus, by His life, and in His Word to us, Jesus shows us that in the midst of the tribulation of the world, even there, we have peace.
In the midst of Jesus waiting for Judas to betray, He had peace, because He obeyed His Father: “Thy will be done.”
In that kangaroo court, with liars testifying against Him, Jesus had peace. Maybe some of these men were the men of Jerusalem, cut to the heart, when confronted with Peter’s Pentecost sermon: “God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
“Those who received [that] word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
Knowing that He would be abandoned by His Father, even then, Jesus had peace.
His Father desired to save the world. Jesus would die. His Father would abandon Him to a death on a cross.
But all of that is done—Jesus says the words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”—so that you would never have to say them.
Nothing is able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus your Lord (cf. Rom. 8:38-39). Who laid down His life for His friends and loved them to the end.
By His example, and by His Word, we know that there is peace even in the midst of the world’s tribulation.
The other place in John’s account of the Gospel where the word “peace” is used is chapter twenty, after the resurrection.
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19).
There was no lack of tribulation for the disciples that evening. They thought their Lord dead, buried, and gone, never to return. They thought themselves outlaws, soon to be discovered, soon to be killed.
And into their hopeless world Jesus brings peace that surpasses all understanding: Peace be with you!
The peace that Jesus gives is life to the dead, health to the sick, and joy to the miserable.
A few verses later, Jesus says it again, “Peace be with you.” He sends the apostles to forgive the sins of those who repent.
Jesus gives them peace so they can give you peace.
And again, a few verses later, Thomas being with them now, the doors being locked, Jesus stands among them and says, “Peace be with you” (cf. John 20:26).
Into Thomas’ world of doubt, Jesus speaks peace.
My friends, there’s no shortage of tribulation in any of our lives.
There’s no shortage of pain or sickness or worry.
Into our hopeless world, into our doubting and hurting lives, Jesus says: “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.”
We might hear those words and think God doesn’t know our pain, our tribulation.
He most certainly does.
From His experience, we know that Jesus suffered greatly. Stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted, He bore in His flesh the burden of our sin.
And in His last words on Holy Thursday, Jesus says, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe” (John 14:28-29).
Whatever your anxiety. Whatever your worries.
Whatever sins burden your conscience.
Jesus means what He says, and He says it 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.”
In the world, you do have tribulation.
But take heart.
On the cross, in your place, for you and all the world, God in the flesh, God With Us, died—to forgive the world.
Peace with God once more is made!
The Lord has had mercy!
You, even now, have peace that surpasses the world’s understanding.
But not the Christian’s understanding.
If you understand that your sins are forgiven—and they are.
If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ—and you do.
Then the peace that Jesus gives doesn’t surpass your understanding.
You know peace, because you know Jesus.
Peace—not absent of trouble—but present, even and especially, in spite of trouble.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!