One Christmas week a few years ago I was shopping at Village Pointe, and I needed to go into Scheels to purchase a gift and the place was packed – hardly any parking places anywhere. So I was resigned to parking a mile away from the place and no big deal, right?
So I’m coming up to the front of Scheels and low and behold, the very first parking spot right in the front of Scheels – there is a pickup truck and he is backing up. There is a God, and he loves me very much. I must have done something to deserve this…
Now there is no one else around me so I put my blinker on and wait. Well, wouldn’t you know, a car comes up from the other direction and I know what’s going to happen. Even though I’m obviously there waiting, the pick up truck backs up and turns my direction and when he does the other jeep, driven by a young man and his giggling girlfriend, steel my parking spot. They thought it would be hilarious, and I could see the guy shrug like, that’s the way I play, and the girl was laughing like, You are so bold I can’t believe it.
So, what am I going to do right? I mean, what can I do about it, honestly it wasn’t that big a deal, I’m not going to blow a gasket over a parking spot. But just about then – Miracle of Miracles! The car in the spot next to the jeep puts it’s reverse lights on and backs out. Right next to the guy who just stole the spot.
So as quickly as possible I whip into the spot and throw it into park and I jump out of my car as fast as I could. And the guy and his girlfriend they hadn’t even gotten out of their car yet. And I wasn’t mad, I was actually trying to get to the front door before them, so I could win.
But I think I spooked them by getting out of the car so quickly and loudly, because neither of them got out of their car. They stayed in there until I was in the store.
Which was too bad, because I was loitering around the front door because I was planning to hold the door open for them. That was my plan. My plan was to hold the door open for them and just before they walk in I’ll slam the door shut right in their face. Merry Christmas Skippy! Peace on Earth, jerkface!
Peace on Earth!
Now I know it’s a full week after Christmas, but I didn’t quite feel that we wrung all we could out of the Christmas passage. Two weeks ago we talked about Joy. Specifically the joy of God and how He desires we be people who experience joy. Last week Marty Barnhart talked about Hope. And I thought it was fitting today to bridge saying good bye to the Christmas season and Hello to the New Year by talking about the Peace of God.
And we will start the same place we’ve been – Luke 2. Which says..
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
The birth of Jesus announces the possibility of true peace – the peace of God – available to all wish to have it. All.
Now, the skeptical person in the room might say, understandably, that if Jesus came to bring peace, he failed miserably. Right? I mean, how much peace has there been since Jesus came? Not much. I read something this week that said in the past three thousand years there have been only 300 years without wars – and honestly I was surprised that there were that many years without wars.
Did you know that one major European war (crimean war)was fought in 1850’s between France and England and Russia and it was provoked at least in part by a fight over who controlled the keys to the church of the nativity in Bethlehem? That’s right. They built a church in Bethlehem around the reported site of Jesus birth. And in 1851 a dispute arose between the French backed Catholic Church and the Russian backed Orthodox church that ignited tensions and resulted in a war that killed more than 250,000 people.
Merry Christmas – peace on earth.
Well, the fact is that peace on earth will someday come. Not right now. And although the Messiah was to be called the prince of Peace, the peace is not peace between countries. Someday – but not yet.
Jesus knew this when he said in Luke 12:51, “Do that you think I have come to bring peace on earth? Not peace, but division – as the gospel will cause splits in homes. And some of you might have faced that division in your home. You have made a decision to follow Jesus. Your family doesn’t understand – they might be coming from a different faith background and feel betrayed by your decision.
A few years ago I had a friend speak who grew up in Egypt – the son of an Muslim religious leader- who was a doctor in Egypt – came to the states for further medical training. He came to faith in Jesus and was informed that if he were to ever return to Egypt he would be killed by his own family.
So the truth is that Jesus is the Prince of peace, and he always delivers on his promise to bring peace, but the peace might not look like a simple lack of hostility between two people. And in fact, faith in Jesus might result in more hostility between people.
And maybe that sounds to my skeptical friends like a cop-out. “It sounds like you are spiritualizing peace in order to make an excuse here for the lack of peace on earth.”
If that’s how you are feeling then let me add one more thought. Pick your conflict. Pick your crisis. Wall Street ripping people off? Systemic poverty and injustice? Marital conflicts? Drug addictions? Actual wars, like Syria? Terrorism? Let me ask – where do these things come from? What is the cause of this kind of unrest in humanity? What drives such destructive behavior in mankind? Do they not come from hearts that lack the kind of internal peace that we are going to talk about now? Do not such destructive behaviors come from hearts that lack peace?
So it’s one thing to say that if there was a God then he would put an end to war. And someday he will. But today he is working on a heart that can be filled with peace to the point where – not only is there a lack of war, but the heart is so filled with God’s peace that it can even offer love and kindness towards enemies – towards people who would rather show hostility to you.
So you have this weird irony in this peace from God. On one hand faith in Jesus might bring hostility from your family. All of a sudden people are against you. And at the same time faith in Jesus begins a transformation in your heart that fills it with peace that passes understanding – and love powerful enough to respond to hostility with love and kindness, instead of anger and resentment.
So this is the kind of peace that Jesus came to deliver all who are willing to receive it.
To start with, it’s important to realize that this peace of God comes to us really in two forms. There is an objective peace and a subjective peace. Meaning there is an objective peace – a firm reality – regardless of how we feel. And there is a subjective kind of peace – a peace we feel in our hearts.
But before we talk about feeling peaceful, we need to start with the objective reality of peace. Meaning the peace we have with God through faith in Jesus. This objective peace is a literal cease fire between us and God. It is the ending of hostilities between us and God.
Jesus came to earth to make it possible for you and God to stop fighting. And maybe you are thinking, I didn’t know I was fighting with God. I never had an issue with the old codger up there. Why does he have a beef with me?
Well, this is the place to start then. What is the issue between you and God? Well, before Jesus, the issue was your sin. Your rebellion against God and His governance of your life.
See the Bible describes you situation like this. It describes two kingdoms. A Kingdom of Heaven – the place where God governs our life with kindness and goodness. A place where He says, I’ll take care of your life. Give me the keys to your life and just trust that wherever I lead you I am with you. I am the provider – and so within this kingdom we are deprived of nothing. And we dread nothing. Because God himself is our shepherd we have no need to fend for ourselves.
This is a far cry from the other option – the Kingdom that we were born into – the kingdom that Jesus describes as the Kingdom of darkness. And which is in reality a fiefdom of millions of tiny little kingdoms of self. And if you haven’t made that intentional decision to enter into the Kingdom of heaven – you are living here. In your own tiny kingdom of self – where you are in essence your own God.
And I’ve known many people who have created a God according to what they think is a good God for their little kingdom – a God who will basically leave them alone and let them do what they want and in the end will reward them with heaven of some kind or another. Which is part of the reason why these kingdoms are at odds.
Our rebellion against God, our sin, leaves us in this kingdom and this kingdom is at war against this one. And here’s why. A kingdom has a king. The king of the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus. And a kingdom has it’s subjects. And we who choose to follow Jesus become subject to the king. And this is exactly what is keeping some of you from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. You are a rugged individualist and you don’t want to follow anyone. You want to be the leader (aka god) of your own life.
Well here’s the deal. The kingdom of heaven could squash you like a bug. But the reality is that God treats you with too much dignity and respect to squash your kingdom. And so he will wait patiently for you to come to terms with the inadequacy of your kingdom.
In the meantime Jesus has come to make entry into the Kingdom of Heaven wildly available.
At Journey we call it crossing the line of faith. It’s that moment when you decide to surrender your kingdom and enter His. You lay down your life and say, Yes Jesus, I believe you are going to lead my life and govern me with love and kindness, even when my life is difficult.
There are plenty of terms that people use to describe this decision. Sometimes people will use terms like, “I gave my heart to Jesus.” Or “I prayed the sinner’s prayer.” Or “I accepted Jesus into my heart.” or “I was born again” all of these terms describe the same thing – the decision to cross the line of faith and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now here’s the deal. We can’t enter any way other then through faith in Jesus. He is the gate. And the reason for this is that we couldn’t enter the kingdom until our sins were taken care of. The penalty of our sins were paid for through Jesus – because the penalty of sin was death. Jesus died and paid our penalty. And our sins, that stood between us and God, were removed.
Romans 5 describes it this way. 5 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
Now, which kingdom are you in today? As we start 2016, do you know to which Kingdom you belong? Today can be the day you enter into a new kingdom.
Now objectively – we have peace with God because of what Jesus has done for us. This is a reality. Right now all of us who have crossed the line of faith are living in a new kingdom. A new reality. It is an objective fact.
Now sometimes when people cross this line of faith they feel – subjectively – they feel different. They feel the freedom that comes from faith. Sometimes people talk to me and they say I feel so different, like the weight of the world has come off my shoulders. That’s great. But the truth is that the change in status is an objective reality in heaven and it happens whether we feel it or not.
That said, I think it is very important for us to have a good vision of what it means that we are living in this alternative kingdom. It is important for us to understand the reality of the change in us that occurs. We really are fundamentally changed.
This is why I often encourage people to memorize and pray Psalm 23. Because to me it is a wonderful description of the objective reality of what it means to live in this kingdom. And the overwhelming feeling of Psalm 23 is a feeling of comfort – that God is with me and for me.
And this is peace. This is the objective reality of peace with God. God is not against you. He is for you. Will you steep your heart in that fact this morning? Soak that in? Because religion has so ruined us, we tend to think of God as still being against us. We look at ourselves as an uninvited guest at God’s new year’s party. And we are trying to not get kicked out. Because we can’t help but think that God doesn’t really want me around. And we tend to feel that God is just looking for a reason to kick us out.
The objective reality of faith in Jesus is peace with God. And it’s important we get that – I’ll be honest. It’s hard to ever get to the subjective part of peace with God if we don’t believe the objective part of it. It’s hard to feel peaceful, if we don’t really believe that we have been made right in God’s sight because of what Jesus has done for us.
Now if you are here and you are stuck here. Maybe I can throw a book out there you can read. I think one of the best books I’ve read about understanding how good to good news really is is a book by Brennan Manning called the ragamuffin Gospel.
Now let’s move on to the subjective part of the peace of God.
Romans 15:13 13 I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.
Here’s a verse that has all three of our Christmas words – Hope, Joy and Peace. And here we see Paul praying that his readers would be filled with peace.
This peace is a subjective, inner experience based on the reality of the work of Jesus. And the first thing I’d point out is that this peace is a Christian peace. Meaning that there is a kind of peace you can have that is independent of good circumstances.
See the only kind of peace the kingdom of darkness can offer is the peace of good circumstances. We see it in advertising – a promise of peace of mind knowing that you will be taken care of through their financial services. I found this article talking about the brilliance of an advertiser who told us all that ING is able to deliver peace of mind to us regarding our finances. They will take care of everything.
Peace, right? Of course this article was written about one year before the crash in 2008, and so all of a sudden, not a lot of peace.
Here’s two other examples:
In contrast, the peace of God is a peace that delivers when circumstances go south. Which is why this peace is described in Philippians 4:6,7 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The peace that Jesus brings is a good feeling in our heart, where our heart is not tormented by anxiety and fear.
Do you believe that you can have this kind of heart? A heart free from the torment of anxiety and fear? Not only can you have it, Jesus prayed you WOULD have this kind of heart.
This is very interesting to me. On the night before Jesus died on the cross – during his last supper with his disciples, do you know what he was thinking about?
See I think I would be filled with dread. I would be overcome with emotion. But Jesus instead was thinking about his disciples. His followers. And so he tells them this – consider how tender it was of Jesus, knowing what was about to happen, to give the disciples a gift, so to speak.
This is what Jesus tells them. 27 “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.
In the last hours of his life, Jesus was helping his friends become fearless and peaceful people.
(Pause here and let that Seep!)
You know, often when we talk about following Jesus we say that we become an apprentice of Jesus. And so you know why Jesus is praying that we might have his peace? Because we are his apprentices – he is the master. And he wants us to be the kind of people who have peace in the midst of storms. He wants us to be like him.
Jesus desired that his disciples be the kind of people who can live fearless and peaceful lives.
Now maybe you are reading these verses from Jesus – and you are thinking, well, where is THIS kind of peace? I have made a decision to become a follower of Jesus and yet I seem unable to be freed from the anxiety and fear of the uncertainty of life. Is there something wrong with me? Has my faith not taken?
Well let me encourage you with a couple of things. Let’s first remember that this peace of God is described as a fruit of the Spirit.
Galatians 5 says the fruit of the spirit is Love joy peace… the first three fruit are internal fruit. They grow in within us. And fruit grows slowly. It takes time and is a process for us to see God begin to grow within us peace. So be patient. You are a work in progress.
That said, I’d suggest a few things.
You might need to go backwards a step – before your experience the subjective experience of peace you might need to shore yourself up on the objective aspects of peace with God. Go back and spend time meditating on Psalm 23 to get your heart around what it looks like to have God with you. Read and re-read Ephesians 2 -to get your mind around exactly what Jesus has accomplished for you on the cross. Begin to mark up your bible and note things.
It’s actually important because there is something of a progression. From the objective fact of peace with God, grows the subjective feelings of peace that passing understanding. A heart that doesn’t turn to anxiety and fear for comfort, but goes back to the facts of life in a kingdom supervised by God.
So the subjective feelings of peace – of a heart not troubled – follows the objective reality of faith. And then do you know what grows out of a peaceful heart? Joy. Joy and peace are sisters. Peace settles a heart and keeps it from anxiety. And when the heart is settled then Joy begins to grow we can truly begin to enjoy our life. We enjoy our family. We find joy at work. Joy and peace go together – they show up together all over scripture.
So where do we go if today you are struggling to maintain a peaceful heart? Well let’s just start at the very beginning with God and begin to have a conversation with him. May I suggest a prayer that sounds something like this… Lord, I want to have your peace. Help make me a peaceful person Lord. Lord help me become the kind of person who doesn’t become worrisome or aggravated or unsettled easily. Help me be the kind of person who can trust you when things don’t go my way. Help me be the kind of person who doesn’t have to have everything go my way in order to have peace. Transform me and give me patience along the way.
And finally, can I throw one picture up here – a final image. When I googled an image for peace – or peaceful – you get all kinds of images of still meadows. And gentle lakes, and calm waters.
Here’s a different kind of picture of Peace. This is a picture of a church in Syria. Bombed out. Believers still meeting in it’s shell. Packing the place – singing hymns, reading scriptures.
Hope, joy and peace – though all around them bombs are falling, ISIS nearby – right? Hope, joy and peace. If our brothers and sisters can find it there, maybe there’s hope for us to find that kind of peace here as well.