(I used this prayer by Pastor Scotty Smith this week.)
I don’t know where you are at today, and I don’t pretend to know what is going on in your heart – only God knows that. I can say with absolute certainty that there is something you desire very much, that you have worked for, that you have tasted, and that you want more of – I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that every one of us in the room today wants peace. As I’ve meditated on this idea, I wonder if the pursuit of peace might be the one, biggest thing in our life– possibly above all others – for much what we do as human beings.
Yes, we all want to be loved. We all want to have joy. We all want to know freedom. We all want physical, emotional and spiritual healing – but are those not all ways to find peace? Peace of mind. Peace of spirit. Peace in our jobs. Peace in our hearts. Peace in our families and relationships. If there is one thing that we all want, it is peace.
Our Powerful Desire for Peace
Many people who get addicted to something say they started because their lives were a mess and they needed an escape – it made them feel better, or because they were just trying to fit in (translate that – be at peace with their friends).
One might think that this wouldn’t apply to adrenaline junkies. People who love fast cars, roller coasters or jumping out of planes or off of cliffs for fun. But when you listen to them being interviewed, or talk to them after, they say things like, “I don’t know what it is, but when I’m up there… going fast… pushing the limits… it just feels right.” Some will just flat out say that that’s where they are most “at peace.”
When someone dies after suffering with a painful disease we comfort each other by saying they are “resting in peace.” Parents of young children are just looking for a little “peace and quiet”. Conflict counsellors are always talking about ways people can “make peace.” People spend hours and hours in front of tv and movie screens and on the internet because they are avoiding real life and escaping into a place where they can have a time of peace. At Christmas time we read the words “peace on earth and good will towards men” on all sorts of decorations and cards. Many people will decorate their houses with the word “peace” in blinking lights this year.
Our Pursuit of Peace
The pursuit of peace is a powerful desire in the human heart. And we’ll go to many extremes to find it. Many suicide notes simply say that ending their life was the only way they could find peace. Murder, in a sense, is a violent way of making peace. Eliminate the other person, and there will be a moment’s peace.
We have multi million dollar industries dedicated to bringing us a moment’s peace. We have spa’s and massage places. We get CD’s that have ocean sounds, and noise blocking headphones. Many people are addicted to online video games because their virtual reality helps them escape real-reality. Some people live online because it is the only place they can feel in control and at peace… the real-world is simply too messy.
We come from many different places, with many different issues, problems, hopes and anticipations… we all have a similar desire: Peace. We may not all define it the same say, or find it the same way. In fact, your version and definition of where you are most at peace may be a place that causes me anxiety. But it is the same thirst.
Peace is not found in a place. Some seek to find peace in nature, or among people at a party, or in a dark room. We have all come here… to this place called a “sanctuary”… this place of refuge… so that we can have at least an hour or so where we need not worry, fight, buy, sell, hunger, thirst, clench our teeth, or be concerned, bothered or anxious… but simply come to be in the presence of God and His people, to sing new and familiar songs to Him, and to hopefully hear some kind of message from His Word that we can take home and apply so that we can have a little more peace than when we came in. And while our location might assist us, it cannot bring us true and lasting peace.
Peace is not found in a substance. Unfortunately, there nothing I can say, do or give you that will give you peace. There is no way the singers, or song writers, or musicians can do that. No smell, food, chemical or physical sensation will give you true and lasting peace. Temporary maybe, but not true and lasting peace. The people around you cannot bring you peace, because peace is a condition that is found on the inside, and doesn’t come from the outside. No human can give you peace because peace isn’t something people can exchange with one another. Peace is not a pill or an exercise or a habit, or something that you can buy and import into your body because peace is not found in a substance.
Peace is not found in knowledge. You might think, “maybe when I have it all figured out, gain enough knowledge, ask enough questions, and understand how the universe works, then I will be able to have peace. Once I can figure out the reason why all these things happen, then I will have peace.” But the pursuit of knowledge alone, doesn’t satisfy. It took me a long while, but eventually I figured this out. Warren, in the little book we’re looking at says it this way:
“An educated mind does not automatically produce a peaceful heart.” (Pg 88).
Peace is not found in circumstance. You could be sitting in the most beautiful, peaceful spot in the world, and still be weighed down by the cares and worries of your life, the battles waged in your heart, and the confusion of your mind. And yet, in the same way, you could be in the most uncomfortable, war-torn, sad place in the world, surrounded by destruction and pain… and feel a “peace that passes understanding”.
We talked about this a couple weeks ago. We think that if we could just change our circumstance – more money (or less money), a sunnier vacation spot, a different house, a better job, a different family, a better marriage – if that person would still be alive, or that person would leave me alone – or whatever circumstance needs to change so that we can finally have peace.
But it doesn’t work, does it? If we’re honest, we know that when we finally get what we want externally, it doesn’t change our problems internally. We get it, but we don’t feel any more at peace! Why? Because peace doesn’t come from outside of you… it comes from within.
I said this before, too. The problem isn’t physical or emotional – the desire for peace is deeply spiritual – deeply internal. We are broken and at war deep inside ourselves. And so, when we try to fix the problem externally, it doesn’t work! The problem is spiritual, so we need to have it fixed spiritually.
Peace comes from the one who is called the Prince of Peace. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the story of peace. Peace comes when you allowing the message of the Gospel and the person of Jesus Christ to take hold of your heart, have access to your soul, and then let Him release you from the burdens of your soul. It’s not something you can do yourself. True and lasting peace is not a human thing – it’s a God thing. And it will only come when you stop trying to make it happen through external means, and get into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Peace to Men on Earth”
Let’s turn, once again, to the passage from Luke 2:8-14.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”
The shepherds who heard these words for the first time were looking for peace too. Personal peace. Relational peace. Political peace. Being a Jewish person under the Roman occupation and King Herod was bad – but shepherds had it worse because they were outcasts even in their own society. We romanticize them because David was a shepherd and we all love Psalm 23, but shepherds then were rejected outsiders. Their work made them ceremonially unclean, so they couldn’t be around religious people, and because their work was so constant, they couldn’t get to the temple very often to make the sacrifices to be made clean. They were considered to be untrustworthy and unlikeable. To be a shepherd was to be someone who was never at peace with people or God.
There was one word they were waiting to hear so that they could finally know true peace was at hand… the word Messiah, (or Christ). There would be no peace until the Messiah came. Those words were tied together: “Christ” and “Peace”. The expectation was, and is for many Jewish people today, that the Messiah would come and bring destruction to their worldly enemies and bring political and economic peace. Restore Israel to its former glory. No more war, no more starving, no more shame.
“The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’…The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.”
How’s that for a song about Jesus? Wrath, judgement, corpses… Not exactly “Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie, right?” But that’s the Christ the nation of Israel was expecting!
When these humble shepherds heard this heavenly announcement, their minds must have gone back to the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7,
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
They read that very differently than the passive reading we give it today, which is what compelled these shepherds to leave their sheep and go see this child for themselves! Our warrior Christ! Peace by the might of our King! At Last!
Imagine the conversation as they were coming back to the field after seeing baby Jesus. “I can’t wait for this kid to grow up. I wonder if I’ll be able to join his army.” A little more spring in their step and their chests sticking out a little farther. The next time they walked by a Roman Guard there was a little less fear. Now they walked as men who knew that their enemy’s days were numbered.
God’s Plan for Peace
But it didn’t happen the way they thought it would. And in fact, when the peace of God through Jesus Christ was made available to them, most people rejected it. They didn’t want peace in the way Jesus was bringing it. They loved singing Psalm 110, and loved listening to Isaiah 9, but they chose to forget that God would bring peace His way, not theirs, and didn’t realize how this peace would be won. Their thoughts were fixed on a military conqueror, but God didn’t send one.
Why? Because their problem was spiritual. They wanted the Messiah to change their circumstances, to change where they lived and how they lived, they wanted more food, more money, more land, less war, less troubles, to be on top of the world. But Jesus didn’t come to offer them the world!
God’s plan was so much bigger. It was not only a plan to free them from the oppression of Rome, but the oppression of Death itself. Not only to save them from their earthly enemies, but from their much more powerful and potent demonic enemies. Not only to cleanse their city of people who they didn’t want there… but to cleanse their very lives from sin and evil… and to make possible a righteousness in their hearts that hadn’t been available to humanity seen since the Garden of Eden. He didn’t offer the world – He offered something so much better.
God’s true plan was revealed by prophesied by Isaiah, but most people didn’t want to hear it. Let’s read together God’s revealed plan for bringing peace through Jesus Christ as told by Isaiah 53.
“Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Pause there. That’s saying, “Who would believe the way God would work? Who would believe the prophecy that said God would send a suffering messiah who would be rejected by those he came to save? Who would believe how God’s power… His “arm”… would be revealed by coming Himself to Die for the sins of the world? Not many would believe this prophecy.
Problem 1: He Doesn’t Look Right
“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
This is the first problem many people had and have with Jesus. He not impressive enough for them. He’s ordinary looking, born to ordinary parents, had an ordinary job, and traveled with ordinary people. It was who Jesus was on the inside (not the outside) that made Him so remarkably different! But many people want their saviour to be someone who not only does the right stuff… but also looks good doing it. Someone who looks like they are super-religious and knows something about God that we don’t. Someone flashy, and strong. Someone super handsome that people are drawn to immediately. Someone powerfu who fits with their mental description of why they want their peacemaker to look like.
Jesus doesn’t play that game. He didn’t come with His full glory, but instead came humbly. A question to consider here: When Jesus offers you peace, do you reject it because it’s not coming in the way you want it, in the shape you want it, by the person you want it from? Do you reject the gift of peace through the Lord Jesus Christ because the wrapping paper is too plain for you?
Imagine getting an amazing present… a 10 karat diamond ring, or a state of the art computer, or priceless sculpture… and rejecting it because it was wrapped in newspaper. Many people do that with the peace that comes through Jesus Christ. He doesn’t match their mental picture, so they dismiss Him and reject the peace that comes through a relationship with Him.
Problem 2: Peace ≠ Comfort
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
This is yet another problem for many people who desire peace, but don’t accept it the way Jesus offers. For them, peace equals comfort and convenience. Let me try to use an illustration to explain what I mean.
Imagine someone offering to build you a beautiful home. You can design every part of it, and price is no object. You spend months planning out the perfect house, getting the swatches for the carpet, choosing the marble for the counters, setting out the perfect bathroom fixtures… and finally you’re ready to build. The benefactor says, “Ok, I’ll start building, but I need to know where you want the house put.
I’ve got two places in California picked out. The good news is that one place is on the side of a mountain, facing the ocean where you can see the sunrise every day… and the other place is in the suburbs. The bad news is that both places are next to a fault line and experience earthquakes from time to time. So where do you want your house?”
If your definition of peace is where everything in life… all of your circumstances, everywhere you go, and everyone around you is always nice and nothing bad ever happens… then that’s like choosing to build on the side of the cliff. For you, peace is all about the view. A beautiful home, a beautiful life, must look beautiful.
It’s always a surprise when bad things happen to you because you don’t deserve it. You did everything you could to be at peace. You make your life picture perfect on the outside. No one knows what is happening inside your house, but on the outside it’s beautiful.
But the earthquake inevitably comes – and in this life it always will – there will always be something coming to shake your life – instead of having the strength and foundation to ride it out, the security that you are well established, the knowledge that peace is not about your circumstance – you blame everyone else when things go wrong, especially God. When parts of your house fall off it can’t be because of you – you made everything look perfect.
And so you spend weeks completely stirred, shaken, lost, afraid, confused, until you can clean up everything on the outside, until the wound is no longer fresh, pushing the doubt and fear deeper inside – and you clean up the externals. You dress up, look nice, tell everyone you’re ok, put on airs, pretend that you are at peace because you desperately need to feel it. You push away everyone that reminds you of anything negative, you end relationships that hurt, you only seek people that make you feel good – and drop them when they no longer do. And you think that maybe this time, if you make everyone believe that everything is just right — it will be.
But there goes another rumble, and another part of your life falls off the cliff. And you never feel at peace because you’ve got the wrong definition of peace.
Peace In the Midst
Jesus teaches that peace is not about what’s going on around you. He teaches that peace is something that occurs despite what you’re going through. He says that you can access peace in the midst of suffering. That’s why peace isn’t something that can you can achieve all by yourself… your foundation cannot be of your own making. Peace is a gift from God that is only found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Chief Cornerstone and the Prince of Peace.
Read verse 5 again,
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
You see, were it not for Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, we would still be under the judgment of our “transgressions”, which means “rebellion, defection, sins” and could never be at peace with God. We would still be His enemy.
Were it not for Jesus, we would still be under the weight of our “iniquities”, which means “guilt, perversion, depravity” and no one who lives with guilt, is bent towards perversion, and lives a depraved life can ever be at peace with others. If it were not for the brutal punishment Jesus took for our sakes, we would always have fear of God’s judgment looming over us and we would never be able to have emotional peace or any kind of peace of mind — our guilt and shame would eat away at us for our whole life. And were it not for the punishment He took for us, we would be plagued by the evil around us, always looking to mete out revenge, trapped in a cycle of hate, always wanting to make sure that those who wronged us paid for it. But our faith in Christ lets us know that God is perfect judge who won’t let anyone get away with their sins – and anyone who has faith in Jesus has had their punishment give to Jesus and in no way would we ever want to add to that punishment.
If it wasn’t for Jesus being wounded for us, we could never be healed. His wounds allow us to be forgiven, to heal from the pain of our own sin and the sins that others have committed against us, and gives us the freedom and strength to forgive others.
Find Peace with God through Jesus Christ
How do we access this kind of peace? Through Faith.
Romans 4:24-5:11 explains how and why we can have peace:
“It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
I hope you see this because it is very important. Our faith in the risen Jesus Christ, who died for our sin, gives us access to peace with God. Through Jesus, and only through Jesus, we have grace and hope. That hope brings us through any sufferings and gives us a firm foundation and a new perspective on things that try to shake our peace. But since our peace is not built on circumstance, but on faith in the love of God proved in Jesus Christ, even suffering leads to more hope and more peace. Our weakness – our lack of faith and lack of peace – didn’t keep God away, but instead He came to die for us. No matter what we have done, no matter how not at peace with God we are, Christ died for us. We need not fear wrath, because Jesus took it. And now we are reconciled, made right with God, given life when we had death. This reconciliation leads to rejoicing and worship!
I hope you see that faith in Jesus leads to rejoicing and worship – peace in the midst.