There are many things that can rob us of peace.
First, our peace can be shattered by circumstances around us that impact us. Maybe it’s relational instability or pain. Maybe it’s sickness and the death of a loved one, or bankruptcy, or politics, or being put in situations where taking a stand for our faith brings some sort of suffering. Maybe it’s some form of abuse from those around you, or an addiction. There are so many things that impact us, and it’s understandable that in the midst of these things we are inclined to lack of sense of peace.
Second, our internal peace can be hurt when our identity is based on a wrong idea of what gives us a sense of dignity, worth and significance.
• Health or Beauty – If I stay fit or look good, I will be happy.
• Productivity – If I can accomplish just a little more, I can relax.
• Organization – If I can manage things just right, life will be okay.
• Knowledge – If I read and study enough, I will understand life. It will all make sense.
• Money – If I didn’t have to worry about the next bill, I would be okay. OR If I could just vacation there or live there, I would be content.
• Relationships – If I just had friends or spouses who were this pretty with that personality, I would never be unhappy.
• Reputation – If other people to always view me well, then I’d be okay.
• “Neededness” – Maybe if I’m indispensible, I will feel that elusive sense of worth.
If we find our worth or goodness in this way, we will never be at peace. What is everyone thinking? What if I lose this? Who will I be if I don’t have this? Am I good enough? Will people leave me if I fail?
The Bible makes some bold claims about peace:
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
“”I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)
There is some sense in which we are free as Christians to experience peace. Yet that often seems to elude us. So let’s look more closely at God’s Word, starting with the birth of Jesus. When the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth, they proclaimed a message of peace:
“Glory to God in the Highest; and on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
Not peace to the whole world. As Jeremiah pointed out 650 years earlier, there are plenty of people who will cry “peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Ezekiel talked about the same thing (Ezekiel 13:10). Jesus mourned that Jerusalem longed for peace, but it was hidden from their eyes (Luke 19:42).
This is not a problem unique to the Jewish people in the biblical era.
• We think that if our nation were more peaceful, life would be better. This has some truth, but our nation could be one politically and economically and socially, and that would not guarantee our peace.
• We think that if everything around us was just like we wanted it to be, then we would have peace… and this has some truth, but that would not guarantee our peace.
• We think that if we could have the perfect job, and have no financial problems… and that would help, but that would not guarantee our peace.
• And we can point to friends or family, and say that if we just had ideal parents, or ideal spouses, or kids who make our lives easy in everything they did… and life might look like we want it to look, but that would not guarantee our peace.
None of these things are bad things, but every solution on those terms is mistaking temporary peace for real peace. It’s putting a bandaid on gushing wound and saying “Ta dah!” while knowing it didn’t resolve the issue, and knowing the bandaid is going to come off at any moment.
When the angels came and announced that peace had arrived on earth, it was not because Herod was dethroned, or the Jewish people agreed on who the King of the Jews really was, or because schools were exempt from tragedy, or because there would be no more hurricanes, or because cancer was gone or because we had solved health care and immigration concerns.
The angels announced a peace that could be found not around those who have God’s favor (though that happens too) but within those who have God’s favor; specifically, those who have experienced salvation.
“Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
What is peace? First and foremost, it is reconciliation with God through Christ.
Skip ahead about 70 years after the birth of Christ. Paul was writing letters to the start-up churches helping them to better understand the true message of the gospel. When he wrote to the church in Ephesus, he was writing to a largely Gentile (pagan) audience. They were having trouble forming a church community with the Jewish converts. Paul lets them know how God helps this problem, and here we begin to see an even clearer explanation of peace:
“Remember that at that time you (Gentiles) were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace….
His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.“ (Ephesians 2:12-17)
What is peace? First and foremost, it is reconciliation with God through Christ, empowered by His Spirit. We see it alluded to here again. But that peace will make more peace: In this case in Ephesus, Jesus can end hostility between the Jewish and Gentile converts. For today, think, ”Those who are near and far from Christ.” Or maybe, “Those who we think are amazing Christians and those we post memes about and protest and have given up on.” (Side note: If God has not given up on those far from him, why should we?)
So peace is reconciliation with God through Christ, empowered by His Spirit; peace creates ‘one new humanity’ in Christ. But there are also other places in Scripture note that peace with God should bring a “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7) in all situations (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
In other words, even in the worst circumstances in life, Jesus brings his presence and offers his peace. This is not the same as happiness or feeling carefree. I don’t think it means we don’t feel things deeply. Jesus himself clearly did (John 11:35). I think it means there is an awareness that Jesus is real, and present, and faithful, and that no matter what else happens, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).
• Health? “You look old/sick/frail!” My body grows older. I’m getting a new one some day.
• Life? “I’m sorry, but it’s time to call hospice.” To live is Christ; to die is gain.
• Beauty? “Where did you buy that!?” My fashion taste is lousy. Good thing I am clothed with righteousness.
• Productivity? “You have a dead-end job! Wow, you really wasted your Saturday!” My accomplishments are straw. It’s what I do for God that matters.
• Organization? “How could you have forgotten that thing? How could you overlook that person?” I am not perfect. My boast is in Christ.
• Knowledge? “I can’t believe you haven’t heard of this person or this organization or the latest international event!” I don’t know everything, but I do know Christ crucified.
• Money? I have the wealth of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience (Romans 2:4)
• Reputation? “People are gossiping about you.” Let them. It’s God’s opinion of me that counts.
But that’s the fruit of peace, not peace itself. If we focus on peace, I think we will miss it. We have to start by focusing on Jesus, and when we find Jesus, we get peace thrown in to the deal. Peace started at the cross in the person of Jesus, and then moved inside those on whom God’s favor rests: that is, those who have given their lives to following Jesus.
Only people reconciled with God through Christ and empowered by His Spirit can truly find peace with God, bring about a lasting peace with others, and experience a holy peace within.