Peace and Rest

Read John 14:27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Not long ago I read an article about the end of the conflict in Columbia. Specifically, the article described it as the last armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere, and a peace deal brokered in 2016 was supposed to have brought an end to an internal war that had simmered since 1948.

The thought that once that peace deal was in place there would be no ongoing war in the Americas or the Caribbean was hailed by this article as a great accomplishment, something that we should be happy about, something that we should take as a sign of increasing peace throughout the world.

Certainly, the end to a war, any war, whether it be large or small, is good news. This is of course the sort of thing that is easy to look at as a positive development, the sort of thing the media can look at as a sign of progress, an indicator that things are getting better. We see so much bad news, it doesn’t take very long listening to the radio or watching the TV or looking at the headlines on your phone to find terrible tidings of suffering and strife. The media loves bad news, and pays far too much attention to it, in my opinion. If it bleeds, it leads, that’s a slogan you may have heard said in the context of what gets to be the lead story on the newscast. With that in mind, shouldn’t we celebrate the end of armed conflict in the western hemisphere?

The world wants peace. That much is not in dispute. It’s something that is always the safe answer, peace in general, and world peace in particular, whether the question is what do you wish for when you see a shooting star or blow out your birthday candles, or what do you hope to achieve as Miss America? The world has long sought for peace, whether on a global scale, a regional level, or a local one. How many politicians, how many American presidents in particular, have attempted to make it their legacy to achieve a peace deal in the Middle East?

Peace is illusive, though. The fact that no one seems to have managed that Middle East peace deal, or at least not one that lasts any length of time, that is telling. That peace deal in Columbia, well, one rebel group may have laid down their arms, but it’s not like the fighting has stopped entirely, at last count 380 people have died in that conflict so far this year, and it’s only April. Even the idea of no war in the Western Hemisphere is deeply flawed when one considers how many people are dying in the drug war in Mexico. And of course there is a whole other hemisphere. We haven’t mentioned Syria, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Myanmar, or Yemen, or the ten different conflicts going on in Africa right now. I’m not kidding on that number, that’s how many insurgencies or wars or other conflicts are going on in Africa, or at least ones that have seen 1,000 fatalities in the last year.

Now it is true that in our own land we enjoy a generally war-free existence. We should be thankful for that. Our neighbour to the south, though, not sure how much peace the USA is enjoying at the moment, between protests and mass shootings. Oh, and don’t forget school shootings. Do you know how many of those have taken place in the US this year? There have been a dozen, and that’s only counting incidents where at least one person was injured or killed intentionally. There were other times when no one got hurt, or someone discharged a firearm by accident, because bringing guns to school is a great way to keep kids safe. The fact that school children as young as kindergarten age have to go through lockdown drills at school seems a long way from a peaceful existence if you ask me.

Setting aside wars, insurgencies, school shootings, and all the well-publicized violence that we see around us, how much more violence is there that we don’t see, don’t hear about? We’ve talked about conflict on national, regional, and local levels, what about on a personal level? How many people were beaten up last week because a bully though they might make a good target? How many women were hit by a husband or boyfriend because he had a bad day, or had too much to drink? How many people were robbed or assaulted because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time? And how many people have died just this weekend because someone had too much to drink and then got behind the wheel of a car, or because they took too big a hit of whatever drug they could get their hands on, or maybe there was fentanyl or worse mixed in?

Are you troubled by this yet? I know that the more research I did as I prepared my sermon, the more vexed I became. We live in a world that cries out for peace, but yet is filled to the brim with violence, suffering, and strife. And if the violence isn’t close enough for you, well, you can always go home and watch more of it on TV.

We all want peace, but we don’t see it around us. Not in any lasting measure. When we go looking for peace, we are not likely to find it in this world. We might find moments of peace, places of temporary respite from the turmoil around us, but that is fleeting at best. Even if we can avoid wars and direct violence against us, how much conflict do we face with the people around us? How much do we battle within our own selves? There will be no peace in this world while there is no peace in our hearts.

Of course, there is a source of peace available. Let me read again the verse we looked at to start, from John chapter 14. 27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

This is Christ speaking to His disciples at the Last Supper. Their hearts were troubled. I’m not going to go into great detail on why, but they likely knew that the Pharisees and the chief priests were out to get rid of their master, who had just informed them that He was going to be leaving them. They did not know that in only a few hours that Christ would be arrested, they would be scattered, and that Peter would attempt to murder someone but only manage to lop off an ear, then deny the Lord three times before morning. By the next evening their master would already be dead and in the tomb. They had plenty of cause for their hearts to be troubled. But Christ, instead of telling them to be worried, said that He was leaving them with peace.

My peace I give unto you. The peace of Christ, that is something worthwhile. And it is something different, very different from the promise of false peace that we see around us. Look at the very next phrase, not as the world giveth.

What is the peace that the world offers? Let’s examine that. Turn to the book of Jeremiah, chapter 6, to see what the world offers for peace. Reading from verse 13 For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. 14 They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.

We’ll pause there for now, but keep your Bible open to this passage, I’ll read a little more in a few minutes. Let’s look at this so-called peace that the world has to offer. This passage is speaking of the Israelites, and God is criticizing them for their terrible behaviour and their deceitful ways. The harshest words are for those who are supposed to be helping and leading the people, in particular the prophets and the priests. Those who should be best equipped to turn people to God, to direct them wisely in their ways, are not doing that. Instead, it says they are dealing falsely, and the people are given to covetousness. Not just a few are covetous, but all of them, great and small.

I’ve spoken recently on covetousness, and how pervasive and how damaging and debilitating and enslaving it is. Here it rears its ugly head once more, because the Israelites were covetous, the leaders and the population at large.

Covetousness, of course, is not compatible with peacefulness. When you covet, you desire what you do not have, but rather you seek what someone else has. That feeling of wanting what belongs to another, of wanting more and more, leaves you restless and troubled, because covetousness does not bring any sort of peace, rather, the more you get the more you want. It leads to envy, it leads to anger, it leads to greed, and it leads to discontentment.

When everyone around you is given to covetousness, when the entire nation is, how much peace can you really expect? If everyone wants more, can there ever been enough to go around? Of course there will not, because selfishness wants more than a fair share, and greed pushes out peace, leaving no room for the rest that God offers.

The religious leaders, it was their job to point people to God, and to encourage them away from selfishness and covetousness. But what did they do instead? The people in leadership dealt falsely. They, no doubt every bit as covetous as everyone else, did not steer the people to God. Instead, they offered false hope. They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, the verse says. They applied band-aids to bullet holes. Peace, peace, they said, when there was no peace at all.

Does this sound familiar? Do we see something similar today? We see those in the church who are just as interested in filling their own pockets as they are in actually helping anyone. In fact, they are probably a lot more interested in their bottom line than in the spiritual wellbeing of anyone. It’s not that I particularly want to pick on people like Joel Osteen, and that’s a convenient name to say, but there are many, many others, but if you reach the level of having a net worth in the tens of millions of dollars and in your preaching and your books you avoid talking about sin and hell, then maybe you’re not doing God’s work quite as well as you ought to be. Maybe you’re not actually doing God’s work at all. At the very least, if you are getting wealthy through Christian ministry then something is not right. And wealthy or not, if you are telling people that they are basically okay, but they need to work on their self image and just learn to forgive people, well, that falls far short of what the gospel actually says.

As much as we see this in the church, we see it all the more in the world. When you discard even the veneer of faith, then anything goes. And so we see motivational speakers and self-help gurus who instruct people to be better and to do better, telling them that they are okay, that everything is going to be fine. Just work a little smarter, or maybe a little harder, or change up your diet, or energize your workout, or ask for the sale, or de-clutter your life, or visualize your success, or reject the dominant paradigm, or any one of a thousand different little mantras and buzzwords that we hear spewed out that offer the promise of peace and fulfillment.

Whether in the world or in the church, we see many today who claim they want to help people, but are quite content to help themselves in the process. Maybe they do want to help people, maybe they sincerely do, but so little true help comes from these sources that it’s not even funny. It’s sad, and it’s downright tragic. When we are lead to believe that we have a solution to our problems, when we have been healed slightly, when we feel better about things, that’s when we can so easily slip further and further away from God, and because we’ve supposedly dealt with our issues, we don’t even realize that something is wrong.

In our quest for true peace, it is easy to be deceived by those who have the form of godliness, but deny the power thereof, as it says in 2 Timothy chapter 3. The power of God brings change, real change. When you are on the road to perdition, it takes a serious change of direction to avoid that fate. What type of change are we talking about? Well, Christ said except ye repent, ye will all likewise perish. To repent means to think again, to examine the choices you have made and to come to a new conclusion. When the path you have travelled brings misery and strife, it would be foolish and futile to find peace at the end of that road.

Christ offers change. Christ offers healing. Christ offers peace. Christ does not wallpaper over the deep problems in our lives. Sometimes we would sooner do that, we would push our problems down and move on, hoping they will go away, but they won’t, and so we are left in turmoil, wondering where our peace has gone.

I mentioned about wallpapering over problems, let me tell you a story about that. In my house, there was much wallpaper. At least there was when we bought it, there’s less now, we’ve removed much of it. In every room where we took down wallpaper we found a few surprises. The bathroom was by far the worst. There were sections in our bathroom wall where for some reason a previous occupant had cut holes and had covered those over with chunks of drywall, or in some cases, plywood. A six inch block here, a four inch piece there, all cut nicely to fit into the holes in the wall, and held in place with clear packing tape to cover up the gaps. You know, the two inch wide tape you use to seal up cardboard boxes. That’s what they used to patch the holes in my bathroom wall. Then they covered it over with wallpaper, layer after layer of wallpaper, and moved on.

If you are wondering, yes, I did actually use joint compound and drywall tape and filled in the gaps before we painted over it. The wall looks much better now, and there are no longer so many areas that move when you touch them. Covering over a problem, saying “This is fine, we can live with this,” but not actually taking care of the underlying issues, that only makes things worse in the long run. That is healing the hurt slightly. That is saying peace, peace, when there is no peace at all.

You know what else makes things worse? Knowing that there is a problem, having that revealed to you, and then doing nothing about it. Look back at Jeremiah chapter 6, we’ll continue reading at verse 15 Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the LORD. 16 Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. 17 Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.

How is that for a condemnation? Having your faults made plain, and we are not just talking a minor error, the verse says they had committed abomination. That is something deeply offensive to God, but they were not ashamed, not at all. Their sin did not bother them. Even though they had mislead people, even though they had dealt falsely and said that everything was going to be okay, when it wasn’t, even though they had said “peace, peace” when there was turmoil and strife, they did not feel they had done anything wrong.

When God said “This is the way to go, this is the good path, this is where you will find rest for your souls, this is where you will find peace,” their response was a hard pass. And when watchmen were set, when God sent prophets, true prophets who actually preached the truth and told the people of the consequences of their sin, they were not in the mood to listen. They were never in the mood to listen.

How tragic, and how foolish, to have an answer and to reject it out of hand? To have a legitimate offer of peace, the opportunity of rest for the soul, and to refuse it? When peace is something you want, something you need, and it is presented to you but you turn it down, well, what can you say about that? No wonder God says that they will be cast down. If you refuse help, then you are destined for trouble.

Do we see something similar in the world today? Do we see something exactly the same? A thousand voices are saying “There’s nothing to be worried about,” when there are billions of people in pain, some of them physically suffering, some of them in mental turmoil, but all of them spiritually shipwrecked and lost? That sounds entirely too much like our current situation. Countless millions looking for peace, unable to find it, and a world that says “But peace is right around the corner, just keep looking for it.”

Everyone is looking for peace, and it seems that few manage to find it. Is the problem that people don’t know where to look because the cacophony of voices offering false hope drowns out the truth? Perhaps. Certainly that can be a distraction and an obstacle, the noise of the world may drown out the still, small voice that God at times does use. It’s not easy to find peace in all the chaos around us. All that disorder should encourage us, and drive us all the more to search out some rest, but it can be overwhelming and difficult.

Sometimes the problem is that peace is sought in all the wrong places. You will never find peace in the bottom of a bottle, or in a syringe. You will never find peace in new possessions, in new property, or in the latest new gadgets. Those are more likely to lead to covetousness and want than they are to contentment and rest. You will never find peace in friends and relationships with people, not true, lasting peace. Sooner or later people will let you down, even the best-intentioned person is still flawed, still a sinner, and will not fulfill you, so much as you might want to think so. Trusting in someone else to bring peace to your soul is a recipe for disappointment.

Perhaps the problem is that we don’t even know what peace looks like. You’re no doubt familiar with the concept of looking for a needle in a haystack. Well, as hard as that might be, imagine trying to find a that needle when you’ve never seen a needle. If you don’t know what it looks like, how are you supposed to find it? How are you supposed to know when it’s actually in your grasp if you don’t recognize it?

In Romans chapter 3, the passage is no doubt familiar, we read at verse 10 As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. The passage goes on to describe the wickedness of man, mentioning mouths filled with cursing and bitterness, and feet that are quick to shed blood, but one little phrase caught my attention for my sermon this morning. It’s verse 17 And the way of peace have they not known:

That sounds like a pretty big problem to me. The world cannot find peace, because the world doesn’t even know what peace actually is. When you don’t know the way of peace, then you might as well be looking for a flying unicorn, you’ll have the same level of success. If you don’t know peace, don’t know what peace even looks like, then this is a quest that is doomed from the very start. If you don’t know the way of peace, then you aren’t going to get there.

This is not terribly encouraging, I know. But there is good news. Remember what we read before, from John chapter 14? 27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Christ came to earth with a specific purpose. He came to defeat Satan, and sin, and death. He came so that we, His creation, might have life, rather than eternal death. Peace is not the mission, peace is one of the end results. Peace is what we can experience when we trust in Him to save us, because there is no greater rest for your soul than to know that your sins are forgiven and that eternal life is your future.

We should all know that Christ brought peace, even if the world was not ready to receive it, or to receive Him, for that matter. Even on the night of His arrival in Bethlehem, the angels that appeared to the shepherds, what was it they said? Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. You can read it in Luke 2: 14. From the first moments He was on this planet, peace was promised, no longer as a future promise of things to come, now it was finally available.

Throughout His ministry on earth, from what we read in the gospels it seems that Christ spoke very little of peace. In fact, He said that He came not to bring peace, but division, because His message of repentance, of change, of turning from sin, would challenge and divide people. He did not promise peace to the world at large. But He did offer peace, and rest for the soul, to those who would follow Him.

After His resurrection, the first thing Christ said to His disciples when he appeared to them as a group, we can read it in John chapter 20, the first thing He said was “Peace be unto you.” He greeted them with words of peace. Was that because they were no doubt troubled by all that had happened, and here He was with them again in the midst? Or was it because peace, the true peace that comes with having your sins forgiven was now freely available for all, because the price had been paid, the wages of sin had been satisfied? Maybe both of those apply here, because the disciples did not need to worry about His sudden appearance, and they did not need to worry about eternal death. Peace in the now, and peace everlasting.

As we come to the end, I’d like to look at a few verses in Ephesians, chapter 2. Starting at verse 12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.

I preached a sermon on this passage for Christmas a year ago, looking at the idea of coming to Christ whether we are near or far to start. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how close we might be, or how distant, if we are separated from God, we will be without hope, without peace. But we don’t need to remain apart from God. Christ has torn down the divider, the middle wall of partition as the passage says, that kept us away. His blood has paid the price for our sin, so that we might have forgiveness, so that we might have freedom, and so that we might have peace. He is our peace.

There will be no peace in this world while there is no peace in our hearts. There will only be peace when we look to the cross, when we look to the Saviour, when we say that we are sinners and that we are unable to fix ourselves, let alone fix each other, but we need Him to save us. He will reconcile us with our maker, so instead of striving for the false peace this world offers, we might find rest in Him.

Let me read our opening verse once again, now in closing, from John 14: 27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

If you know Christ as your Lord and Saviour this morning, there is no cause for your heart to be troubled. There is no cause to be afraid. The world would have us in doubt and fear, looking for something that we will never achieve. Do not accept it, do not listen to it. It will only lead you astray. The world gives false hope, but Christ gives not as the world giveth. There is no better peace than the peace which Christ brings. There is no true peace apart from Him.