Over the past while our church has been going through a study of the Heidelberg Catechism, a 400-year-old summary of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. When we paused for Christmas a couple weeks ago we were only on Day 8, but we’ve already covered a LOT of material. We covered the bad news like sin, Law, guilt, and wrath – and also the good news about who Jesus is and why He is the only One who can bring salvation to the world. We spent a lot of time really digging deep into what it means to be a sinner saved by the grace of God.
Then, after learning how we can get back into a relationship with God we transitioned into getting to know God better by learning more about who He presents Himself to be. Along the way we’ve covered some pretty deep and intense topics, using a lot of important, theological language and doctrinal concepts. We’ve done introductions to why theology matters and where creeds come from. We’ve spoken of God as triune, omnipotent, omniscient, holy and righteous. We’ve spoken of Jesus as saviour, sacrifice, mediator, and advocate.
Studying these subjects and using theological language sometimes gets mixed reviews and actually be a bit of a danger. While my hope is always that these sermons help us grown in our knowledge and love for God, these types of studies can sometimes bring the temptation to detach our hearts from our minds, our relationship with God from our understanding of Him; to cerebralize our faith instead of letting the concepts inform our worship and relationship with Him. There is a danger that instead of expanding our love for God, the study of theology can cause us to sterilize our love for Him. He becomes a subject to study rather than a person to know.
This kind of thing happens to us all the time. Let me give you a couple examples. Humans have this capacity to get used to things pretty quickly. If we are surrounded by a certain smell – whether it’s good or bad – it’s not too long until we experience something called olfactory fatigue where we no longer even smell it anymore. We can be baking cookies and pies or trying to choose a new perfume or lotion, or up to our eyeballs in sewage, and at some point, our nose just gives up and we don’t even notice the scent anymore. It’s not until we leave the environment for a while and then return that we even realize how strong it was.
Bank tellers can handle thousands and thousands of dollars per day, and where at one time holding a huge pile of cash in their hand was something amazing to them, it’s not long until it becomes so commonplace that they don’t even think about it as money anymore – just something to be counted and stuffed in a drawer. Or consider museums. People fly around the world at great expense to visit the world’s greatest museums, to stand before great art for just a short period of time, sometimes even moved to tears by its beauty and the intensity of being near it, but the security guards and cleaning staff are so used to seeing it that they don’t even care anymore. It’s just part of the background of their job. The first time you watch a movie it changes your life, you tell all your friends, you want to experience it again – you even buy it to bring home and watch again – but then, after 3 or 4 more viewings, the surprises wear off, the experience dulls, and now the DVD just sits on your shelf among the others. This happens to everyone. Surgeons get used to seeing blood and holding people’s guts in their hands, factory workers get used to the huge or complex and dangerous machines they see and use every day.
There’s an old phrase that says “familiarity breeds contempt” and while it’s not always true – like in marriages or friendships or study – there is a nugget of truth in there. The more we get to know something the more in danger we are of taking it for granted. The teenager with the new driver’s licence merges onto the highway for the first time and as they get up to speed they feel like they’re about to break the sound barrier and fly off the road – so they grip the steering wheel tightly, open their eyes wide, and stare intensely at the road. But it’s not long until that same teen is in the fast lane and passing vehicles while holding food in one hand, changing the music on their iPod with the other, and driving with their knees.
That’s the danger of familiarity, and it can happen to us when we study theology too. It can be tempting to take the things we know about God for granted, try to put Him in a box, or get so used to using words like “awesome”, “almighty”, “saviour”, “glory” and “grace” that they lose their intensity. And when that happens, blasphemy and pride aren’t too far behind.
The season of Christmas and Advent offer a cure to that though. Even with all the complexity of the season, the packed schedule, the family issues, the emotional intensity, the commercialism and stress, there is a haven found in Sunday morning worship. Over the past month, many churches around the world have chosen to pause their services and light an advent candle. We do that here too. There is a short reading, some scripture, a moment of pause as the candle is lit, and a moment to reflect. It is a simple and beautiful way to cause us to stop for a moment and elevate our thoughts to the real meaning of what we’re doing here and why this season is so special. Each week a different candle is lit, a different special scripture is read, and a different aspect of the life and promises of Jesus Christ come into view. Each week we remember one more gift that Jesus gave us He came at Christmas. And it’s done in simple ways, with simple language, and with materials that have been in use for thousands of years.
Different traditions have different shapes, different readings, even different amounts of candles, but each one is full of symbolism. In ours, we have five different candles – three purple, one pink, one white. Purple is the historic liturgical colour for the four Sundays of Advent. Pink (or technically “rose) is the colour of the third Sunday. The purple traditionally represents these weeks as concentrated times of prayer, repentance, and reflection in preparation for the big celebration of Christmas, but the third, pink candle interrupts that intensity with a week of rejoicing and celebration. Traditionally even the priests wore pink vestments on that week to set it apart. (Unfortunately, our church doesn’t have such a tradition because I think they’re pretty and now I want one!)
As I said, each of the candles has a different theme, but these themes aren’t communicated with big words, deep doctrinal study, or intense theological exposition. Instead, the words are very simple, and the concepts very meaningful – even intimate. The candles represent Hope, Love, Joy and Peace, and they surround the middle candle which we will light on Christmas Eve, the Christ candle. It reminds all believers everywhere that of our deepest longings – our desire for a hope that does not disappoint us, love that keeps us forever, joy in the midst of suffering, and a peace that passes understanding – are found only when we have Jesus at the centre of our lives. That’s what I want to talk about this morning.
In Jesus There is Hope
The first candle represented Hope. Hope, one could say, is the thing that keeps most of us alive. We can live for a long time in many difficult circumstances, but if we lose hope, it is then that we are in true danger. Hope is something we cannot live without but is tough to come by these days. There’s so much bad news and uncertainty, so many doom and gloom voices out there that sometimes it’s hard to find any hope. Most people are taught, from the moment they enter school, that they are evolved from scum, there is no such thing as eternity, nothing they do ultimately matters, any emotion they feel, even for their parents or loved ones, is just learned behaviour and biochemical trickery. As they move through life the best they are given is to be told to try to squeeze as many years of pleasure and distraction as they can out of this messed up world before death comes and they slip into oblivion.
There is no hope in that, is there? That’s a dim view of life, and we can see it in the rise of depression, addiction, abortion and suicide. The world doesn’t promise much. We put our hope in politicians or scientists or friends, but things never really change much and these supposed saviours fail us over and over. So the best we can come up with is to distract ourselves from thinking about the future, use chemicals to stop the scary thoughts in our head, and keep ourselves trapped in the immediacy of entertainment, because when we stop for a moment all we see when we look forward is a black hole that is getting blacker.
But then comes the first week of Advent that says, “When Jesus came, He brought with Him a great hope.” The scripture we read on that day was from Isaiah 9:2 and it describes the coming of Jesus this way: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” The coming of Jesus at Christmas was the coming of a beam of light into a dark place. Suddenly, because of Him, because of His, His words, His message, His life, and His work on the cross we are no longer faced with meaninglessness and oblivion, but salvation from sin, resurrection from the dead, restoration of our lost souls, a mission in this life, and then eternity with God! 1 Peter 1:3-4 says it this way:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…”
Is that not what all humanity longs for? Isn’t that why you are here today? Because you’ve looked at the things of this world and realized that the hope it offers perishes, spoils and fades, but that in Jesus Christ hope never can. That’s a hope we can build our lives on. That’s the hope that Jesus brought at Christmastime to offer to all people.
In Jesus There is Love
What is this love rooted in? What foundation does it have? It is established in love. But not a worldly kind of love. Our hope doesn’t come from one who only loves those who love Him back. It’s not the kind of love that happens as an exchange of goods, or because someone did something for Him. He doesn’t just love people who achieve some kind of level of loveableness. We’ve all experienced that kind of worldly love. And it’s the kind that we worry about, the kind that fades, the kind that we feel like we can mess up and lose. But God’s love isn’t like that. God offers a better kind of love – a deeper love.
When we lit the Love candle we read John 3:16-17 which talks about the depth of God’s love for us. It says,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Romans 5:6-8 describes the love we find in Jesus this way:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That’s remarkable. Jesus didn’t come for those who had earned the right to be saved or were special enough to be saved. It says that Jesus came “when we were still powerless” – other scriptures say that we weren’t just powerless but were “dead in our… sins” (Eph 2:1). It says that Jesus came when we were “ungodly” – when we had no dignity or worthiness or goodness. He doesn’t just love those who are “good people” but for those who were “ungodly”. He came to a people who are His opposite. And then He “died for the ungodly”.
It says that God showed us the kind of love that we have all been so desperate to experience. It says “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When Jesus came at Christmastime He wasn’t coming to help His friends.
A couple of verses later, in Romans 5:10 it says that Jesus died while “we were God’s enemies”. That’s the story of the deep love at Christmas. Jesus came to the unlovely, the unlovable, His enemies and His opposites, to live among us and save us the trouble we brought on ourselves. He went through Hell so we wouldn’t have to, gained nothing so we could gain everything.
In Jesus there is Peace
Which is why, if there is no Jesus, there is no peace. Many of you know this feeling. Without Jesus, we are still enemies of God and our spirits can never be at peace. We always feel like God is against us, like we are alone in an out of control world. Without the guidance of Jesus, the good shepherd, we never know what it means for God to give us such a love for our enemies that we are able to pity them, feel bad for them, even find peace while sitting at a table with them. It is only knowing that Jesus is in control that we are able to be at peace in a world filled with strife and turmoil. Without Jesus, we are always trying to fill our lives with something that will quell our fears, give us security, and help us understand the world so we can control it better – but they all fail us because it’s impossible to find true peace anywhere else but in the presence of Jesus Christ.
On the Sunday we lit the peace candle we read the prophecy about Jesus that came 600 years before He was born in Isaiah 9:6-7 which said that when Jesus came His people would say,
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”
In Romans 5:1-2 we read it about our peace with God this way:
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand”
When we put our trust in Jesus, He grants us is peace. Peace in our hearts that we know our eternity is secure because we don’t have to earn heaven. Peace with others because we understand forgiveness (knowing we have been forgiven so much). Peace in the knowledge we cannot lose our salvation and that we can trust God because He has everything under control. Peace knowing that we are loved so very much by a God who traded His Son for us.
In Jesus there is Joy
And, therefore, knowing all of this – when we are secure in the hope Jesus offers, understanding the love Jesus has for us and knowing we are at peace with God and others and within ourselves because of what Jesus has done for us – we have joy.
Without Jesus, a person can’t have true joy. Certainly, in God’s common grace, even the most godless pagan can experience happiness. We can be entertained and distracted for a time, even smile and laugh for a moment. We can surround ourselves with lots of good things like family, friends, finances, food, and fun – but all of those things only bring temporary moments of happiness. Our family lets us down or passes away, our children grow up and leave, we fall out of friendships, the food runs out or makes us fat or sick, the money doesn’t keep its promises, and the fun only lasts so long. It’s not too long before we realize that the things we thought were supposed to bring us everlasting joy don’t last.
That’s why Jesus doesn’t promise us happiness but instead promises us more. He offers us Joy, and it is perhaps the greatest gift God gives to His followers. It is more complex than an emotion, but comes from a connection to something that transcends this world, transcends our emotions, is bigger than what this world can offer – transcendent joy comes from our transcendent God. We already read a joy scripture today when we lit the candle, but I want to read another from when Jesus speaks about the mixing of Love and Joy in John 15:8–13,
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’”
What brings a person joy? What makes a person full of joy even when their circumstances aren’t very happy? Jesus tells us here. We have joy when we know that we have a life that leads to more life. When we know we are in right standing with God. When we are mindful of God’s presence and the good things He provides every day. When we know we are bearing fruit in our lives because God is working through us. When we live a disciplined life, free from folly and stupid decisions because God’s Spirit is helping us moment by moment. When we feel the ever-abiding love of God, knowing the Creator is on our side and works all things for our good and His glory. When He brings us to a family of believers who surround us with His love, accept us for who we are, and care for us no matter what because they know Jesus too. What brings us joy us knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to lay down His life for us, call us His friends, advocates for us, and will be with us every step of every day for the rest of eternity. That kind of joy is the exclusive province of the Christian who believes in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord.
I know that church and Christmas and theology and doctrine can get complicated. I know that when you look inside there are a lot of things you don’t even understand about yourself, let alone the world around you. But I know this for certain: that everyone here wants these four things: Hope, Love, Peace and Joy. And I know this: The message of Christmas, the message of the church, the message of the Bible is that they are found ultimately, fully, perfectly and only, in Jesus.
So take time to consider that this week. To meditate upon Hope. To remember it and pray and journal about Love. To sing about Peace and share that Joy with others. All centred around the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Over the past month many churches around the world have celebrated Advent using a special wreath of candles. It is a simple and beautiful way to remind us that the meaning of Christmas. Each week we light a different candle, read a special scripture, and are reminded of another meaning of what Jesus Christ brought with Him when He came at Christmas.
Different traditions have different shapes, different readings, even different amounts of candles, but each one is full of symbolism. In ours we see five different candles – three purple, one pink, one white. Purple is the historic liturgical colour for the four Sundays of advent. Pink (or technically “rose) is the color of the third Sunday. The purple traditionally represented a time of prayer, penitence and repenting from sin as we prepare ourselves for Christmas, but the third candle interrupted that time with a time of rejoicing and celebration that Jesus has come and will come again. Even the priests wore pink vestments. (Unfortunately, our church doesn’t have such a tradition because I think they’re pretty!)
Each of the candles has a different them representing Hope, Love, Joy and Peace, and they surround the middle candle which we are lighting today, the Christ candle. It reminds all believers that all of our deepest longings –all that the other candles represent – are found only when we have Jesus at the centre of our lives. That’s what I want to talk about tonight.
In Jesus There is Hope
Hope is something we cannot live without, but is tough to come by these days. There’s so much bad news that it’s hard to find any hope. Most people are taught, from the moment they enter school, that they are evolved scum, there is no such thing as eternity, that their choices don’t ultimately matter, and that any emotion they feel is merely biochemical trickery. They are told to squeeze as much pleasure out of this world as they can before they slip into oblivion.
There is no hope in that. And as we look at the world, it doesn’t promise much. No hope for the future as the world gets more violent and all of our worldly saviours fail us over and over. No hope for anything of real consequence, no hope of true love – and so we distract ourselves from thinking about the future, staying trapped in the immediacy of entertainment, because all we see when we look forward is a black hole that is getting blacker – no hope.
But the whole Christmas story is about hope! Jesus came into that black hole to shine His light. In Jesus there is salvation from sin, resurrection from the dead, restoration of our lost souls, and eternity with God! 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…”
That’s what we are all longing for! There is no hope in this world, but there is hope in Jesus Christ! A hope “that can never perish, spoil or fade!” That’s a hope we can build our lives on. That’s the hope that Jesus brought at Christmastime to offer to all people.
In Jesus There is Love
Why? Because He loves us. Not a worldly kind of love. Not one only for people that love Him back. Not only caring for those who do something for Him. He doesn’t just come for those He deems worthy. We’ve all experienced that kind of worldly love. No, that’s not the kind of love we’re looking for, is it? We want a better kind of love – a deeper love.
Romans 5:6-8 talks about that kind of love, which is only found in Jesus Christ. It says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That’s remarkable. It says that Jesus came “when we were still powerless”. It says that Jesus came when we were “ungodly” – when we had no dignity or worthiness. He came to a people who are His opposite. And then He “died for the ungodly”.
It says that God showed us the deep kind of love that we have all been so desperate to experience. It says “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When Jesus came at Christmastime He wasn’t coming to help His friends. A couple verses later, in Romans 5:10 it says that “we were God’s enemies”. That’s the story of the deep love at Christmas. Jesus came to the unlovely, the unlovable, His enemies and his opposites, to live among us, and save us the trouble we brought on ourselves. He gained nothing, we gained everything.
When we sing Silent Night in a moment, we will sing the words “Silent night, Holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light.” The love of Jesus was pure – not clouded by selfishness, or ulterior motives. He came to pour out His love on a undeserving world.
In Jesus There is Peace
Which is why, if there is no Jesus, there is no peace. Many of you know this feeling. Without Jesus, we are still enemies of God and our spirits can never be at peace. Without the guidance of Jesus, we will never know what it means to love our enemies and be at peace in a world full of strife and turmoil. Without being in relationship with Jesus, we will always be trying to fill our lives with something that will quell our fears, give us security, and help us understand the world – but they will all fail us because it’s impossible to find anywhere else but in Jesus Christ.
In Romans 5:1-2 we read, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”
When we put our trust in Jesus, He grants us is peace. Peace in our hearts that we know our eternity is secure because we don’t have to earn heaven. Peace with others because we understand forgiveness (because we have been forgiven so much). And the peace that comes with being loved so very much.
In Jesus There is Joy
And, of course, when we are secure in the hope we have in Jesus, understand the love of God found in Jesus, and are a peace with God and others because of what Jesus has done for us – then we have joy.
Without Jesus a person can’t have true joy. Certainly, in God’s common grace, even the most godless pagan can have momentary happiness. We can be entertained and distracted for a time. We can surround ourselves with many good things – family, friends,finaces, food, fun – but all of those things are fleeting. Our parents pass away, our children leave, we fight with our friends, the food makes us fat, the money doesn’t keep it’s promises, and the fun is temporary.
Joy is so much more than happiness, and is perhaps the greatest gift God gives to His followers. It is more complex than an emotion, but comes from a connection to something that transcends this world, transcends our emotions, is bigger than what this world can offer – joy comes from our transcendent God.
Jesus talks about Joy in John 15:8–13, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
What brings a person joy? Know that we are on the path that leads to more and more life, in right standing with God, thankful every day for the good things given to us by Him, bearing much fruit as we see His hands work through ours, living a disciplined life free from folly, abiding always in the love of God, knowing the Creator is on your side, being surrounded by a family of believers who love you, accept you and will care for you no matter what – and to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus loved you so much that He was willing to lay down his life for you and call you His friend. That’s the kind of joy that is the exclusive province of the Christian who believes in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord.
I know that everyone wants these things: Hope, Love, Peace and Joy. The Christmas message is that they are found ultimately, fully, perfectly and only, in Jesus.
(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.
I gave a little talk to some kids at AWANA last night and wanted to share it with you. It was intended to make the kids laugh and think. The older kids seemed to get it, but it might have went over the heads of the little ones. It’s adapted from a post I wrote a long time ago.
Here’s the audio if you want to listen to it.
I’m so ANGRY with my toothpaste! I’m so upset with my toothpaste that I wrote a note to it and I want to share it to you. Is that ok? Can I share the note I wrote to my toothpaste with you?
No, wait… you’re not “Dear”… I don’t like you. Let me start again:
Oh toothpaste, I don’t like you anymore! You’ve really let me down! You made some pretty big promises to me, and you’re not keeping them!
When I’m watching TV I see your commercials and you tell me that I need you so badly. You say that if I don’t buy you, and use you, and keep using you all the time… people won’t respect me, or love me or enjoy my company. You say that no one loves a person who doesn’t have super shiny, glowing, white teeth. Everyone in the commercial is so happy, so successful! Surrounded by minty, bubbly wonderfulness! They have great jobs, and nice cars, and beautiful people around them… and you say that it’s all because of you, toothpaste!
I look around myself and I don’t have that. I don’t feel beautiful all the time. I don’t feel successful all the time. And you told me that the reason for all my problems is because my choppers are too dull. You say that if my incisors, canines, bicuspids and molars were whiter, I’d smile more often, be more popular, have a more positive attitude, have more friends and a happier life.
And it’s not just the good stuff that have imprisoned me in your diabolical trap, there are also the fearsome negatives of not having perfectly white teeth… those scary promises that you and your cohorts with the drills and the sugar-free gum (the… d.d.d.dentists…) have pounded into my brain since the days of my youth.
“BEWARE! Your tooth-enamel will never, EVER grow back! If you drinking pop or coffee, you may as well be drinking battery acid! If you forget to brush before you go to sleep, right after you wake, after yoy eat, or snack, or chew a little too much… you will contract all sorts of terrible, horribly, scary maybe-even-fatal diseases like tartar buildup, gingivitis, periodontitis, halitosis, bleeding gums, heart disease, arthritis, or maybe even cancer!!!” (Scream!)
“BUT NEVER FEAR!”, you say, “I, TOOTHPASTE, will make it all better! I will save you! I will take away all the bad things in your life and give you all the good things!”
And I try to follow your ways, I really do! I try to keep up with this maniacally strict regimen of brush-rinse-floss-rinse-pick-swirl-massage-rinse-repeat, but FORGIVE ME TOOTHPASTE for I have sinned — it has been 8 hours since my last brushing! Cleanse me of my filmy iniquity, wash me clean from the foul odor of last night’s garlic pizza.
In truth, when I think about it Toothpaste, the reason I need you is because I’m scared! I live in a world which is more concerned with how I look, how fresh my breath is, how clean my teeth are, what kind of things I have —- rather than who I am, what I love, or even my talents. People judge me by how I look on the outside far more than what is on my insides – so I’ve convinced myself that I need you. I need you, o Toothpaste, to make me right with the world. I need you, o Toothpaste, because without you no one will like me.
And then I turned on the TV, and I saw another commercial, and I realized, to my everlasting shame, that I had been using an old kind of toothpaste! The toothpaste I had been using has been surpassed and is not fit for today’s diabolical dental attacks. This must be where I went wrong. This must be why my life isn’t perfect. I though that for sure, this Toothpaste must be where I need to go to get peace, and love, and friendship, and hope, and happiness!
And so I gave my offering unto another, better, NEWER toothpaste! I don’t know what it means, but it’s iso-active. It’s got baking soda. It’s got peroxide. It’s got ultra-foaming-action. It whitens, brightens, lightens, heightens and frightens all the sugar-bugs and plaque buildup away.
And I brush. Two times a day I brush. Yea, verily, three times daily do I brush! Surely the wondrous technology captured within the chemicals of this intoxicatingly minty-mixture will overcome my shortfalls. Surely this seven dollar tube of menthol flavored miracle juice will make my life better. Surely the science behind this cool-blue gel full of elements, compounds and lofty promises will finally bring me everything I’ve ever wanted: success, fame, fortune, the adulation of an adoring public, respect, a secure home, a blissful, pain-free existence! Surely this is the missing link, the key to everything that I’ve ever hoped for!
But alas no. It has been two months now and I have no more friends, fortune, success or adulation than I did before. And so I am writing this note to you Toothpaste. I’m angry with you, Toothpaste. I am turning my wrath unto the giver of these great promises… you, O toothpaste. You have let me down. I don’t know what to do now. (SIGH)
So, Toothpaste, I’m going to go to AWANA tonight and I’m going to ask them for some help.
So what do you think, everyone. If toothpaste doesn’t work to make me feel safe, happy, joyful and loved… maybe I should try some new things to make me feel better.
I think I’m going to try video games first! They make me feel smart. They make me feel like a hero, like an explorer. I can spend hours on them and never have to talk to any real person who might say something bad to me. Hmm… I wonder if that will work? Do you think I’ll feel better for the rest of my life if I play more video games?
Hmm… maybe not…
Ok, what about shopping? If I change my clothes, buy fun things, use all my money to impress the people around me by buying things I don’t really need, do you think I’ll feel better?
No… Hmmm… this is tough…
Well, what about sports? What if I get really, really good at sports, and win all the games and get all the trophies, and get my face on a cereal box? Will that make me happy? Hmm… maybe for a while. But if I make my happiness comes by playing and winning at sports, then what happens if I lose some games, or get hurt, or get too old to play?
Yeah, that’s no good…
Wow, this is hard! Can you think of someone I can count on that will never let me down, that will show me how to know happiness and joy for the rest of my life, that will help me not be afraid, that loves me from the inside out, that tells me the truth all the time, that never needs anything from me except for me to love Him? Can you think of someone that loved me so much they were willing to give everything up for me, even their own life, and then showed how amazing they are by even conquering death so I would have nothing to fear?
Maybe I don’t need to worry about all that other stuff. Maybe all I need is Jesus.