By Paul Koch –
It may sound a bit sappy or over simplistic, but most people still have great hope for peace in their lives. World peace would be preferred, of course, but most people will simply settle for peace in their own lives, in their immediate surroundings. Peace in their family, peace at work, or peace when they’re stuck in traffic on the freeway. Peace seems to be that elusive thing that no one can really get a handle on, or if they do obtain some peace, it is only for a fleeting moment and then it is gone again. In fact, there probably isn’t even a good consensus on just what peace means. Peace for me perhaps looks very different than peace for you. Is peace simply the absence of something, the absence of violence or struggle or sorrow? Or is peace an active thing, an act of kindness, a friendly embrace, a word of forgiveness?
When our Lord walked the earth, it seemed as if there was some hope for peace on earth. That’s what the angel declared to the shepherds anyway. And yet, we tend to forget that even then it wasn’t total peace, universal peace. The heavenly host that appeared in the night sky declared, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” But close proximity to Jesus was certainly the best possible option for peace. Those who traveled with him watched as the unclean was made clean, the diseased were healed, the blind regained their sight, and even the dead walked the earth again. With Christ in your corner, you had a shot at real peace. With a word he could calm the wind and the waves; he could produce miraculous catches of fish and teach the wisdom of God. But it didn’t last. The one who came reconciling the world to God by his suffering, death, and resurrection then returned to the Father.
And as he left so also, it seems, did our chance at peace. However, Jesus didn’t just cut off his followers. He didn’t just move on without leaving you something to give you hope and confidence. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23). He says that you can ask your Father in heaven in his name and he will answer you. So, your longing for peace, even if it is just a moment of peace where you don’t feel so rushed, so anxious, so frustrated in your life, is not out of reach. You are eagerly invited to make your request know to your Father. This is a Father who loves you, who sent his Son to save you. He has gone to great lengths to turn you toward him, to hear your voice, to listen to your prayers. And so, ask in the name of Jesus and your Father in heaven will answer you.
But still that peace seems elusive, doesn’t it? I mean, we are invited to ask, and we do, at least we do sometimes. But if that peace doesn’t come to us quickly, if it doesn’t show up how and when we need it, then we abandon such attempts. More often than not, we try to find that peace by our old ways, perhaps by changing behavior or bettering ourselves in some way or another. Maybe we will engage in new practices that promote peace in our lives—meditation, yoga, or just getting to the gym. And yet still we don’t seem to conjure it up. This Monday is Memorial Day, a day where we remember all those who have given their lives in service to this country. A day where we are vividly reminded that while lasting peace remains the goal it has yet to be achieved. While we give thank for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our temporal freedoms, we mourn that there remains no peace on earth.
Christians have had several responses to this difficult pursuit of peace. The worst perhaps is to just give up. To be so overcome with despair that you throw in the towel. After all, what is the use of your faith, what is the point of going to church and participating in the fellowship of God’s children if there is no peace as a reward? Shouldn’t the church be the great bastion of peace, the place that ought to assure everyone that if they give their hearts to Jesus then everything will be alright, that they will have peace? And so, when it doesn’t work, when peace escapes you, what do you do? Many simply leave. Perhaps they don’t do it right away, but slowly over time they show up less and less. They stop participating. They find other things to occupy their time, so they give up on peace altogether.
Another way that it is handled, which isn’t much better, is when a church as a whole just fakes it. They pretend they have this peace that the world longs for, even if they don’t. Church then becomes a place of only smiles, joyful songs, and shouts of thanksgiving. There is no room for sorrow, no room for laments, no place for crying out against our God and against your struggles. It is where you go expecting to put on a happy face, and all those around you wear similar masks. Years ago, I met a young mother who came to our congregation looking for something very specific. She was looking for a church that would, as she put it, “quit playing games.” When we talked about it, she said that she simply wanted a place that could be honest with her. She wanted a place that wouldn’t lie to her and tell her that God wouldn’t give her more than she could handle or that there was a silver lining to every storm cloud or that if she struggled and suffered it was some defect in her faith that she needed to change in order to get right with God and so open again the fountain of his blessings.
What she wanted to hear, what we all need to hear, is what Jesus tells his disciples in our text today. He doesn’t lie to them. He doesn’t tell them to fake it, and he certainly doesn’t tell them to just throw in the towel. No, he says to you, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33). He says to them, “Look, in me you will have peace, but in the world you will have tribulation.” And you as the children of God exist in both of these things. You have the presence of Christ into which you were baptized, and you have all the blessings that he has earned by his suffering and death. He has clothed you in righteousness and reconciled you with the Father. In him your salvation is secure, and so you find peace each and every day. Yet you live in this world as well. You live in a place that is marked with tribulation. They will consistently tear and rip at your peace. They will disrupt your lives with temptations and diversions and anxiety and fear, all aimed at robbing you of your peace.
Jesus here gives us an important distinction between his Word and the world. A Word of promise and hope, a Word that proclaims to you this very day that you are forgiven of all your sins in Christ alone. Such a Word makes a habit of giving you peace, real peace. But that peace is attacked almost instantly by the dying age in which we live. It is an attack that you feel in your bones. It causes doubts, worry, and fear.
But the story isn’t finished. For not only does your Lord declare that there is a distinction between his Word and the world; he declares that he has overcome the world, that his Word is the victory and his mission will not be in vain. You live in the promises of victory—a victory not of your doing, not of your living or your faithfulness, but a victory rooted in Christ alone. A victory won by his blood, a victory that promises you real, lasting, eternal peace.
This promise of peace, this victory in Christ then gives you the freedom to live, to really live your life as a child of God. You don’t have to fake it. You don’t need to fit the mold or throw in the towel when it goes awry. You press on in a world of tribulation with the peace of Christ ringing in your ears. For this is not the end. Victory is coming.