Hearts at War: The Miracle of Peace
By Nora Conner
John 14:23-27 (NIV)
23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s, a time when “peace” was a controversial word. Our country was at war, and the war didn’t just involve our military fighting overseas. There was a “war” in our culture as well. The Civil Rights Movement went from realization to long overdue implementation, the Equal Rights Movement opened our shocked eyes to the idea that women are capable. And in the disillusionment and distrust of authority that came with the dishonesty of some politicians, there was another movement, one which sought to bring balance and honesty and mutual respect to our culture and our world. It was called the Peace Movement. And while its original intentions were good, it didn’t take long for the movement to veer off course.
And so, during that time, “peace” was a word that was on the forefront of many conversations. Its intent depended on the context, though, as it was loaded with undertones and double meaning. One might say, “Peace,” and they might show the peace sign when they said it, or one might hope for peace with the end of the war, or one might be reacting to either one. To some, saying “peace” was a way of identifying with the counter culture, and to others, “peace” meant the person had no respect for authority or cultural norms. Regardless, it was seldom heard as a simple greeting or expression of hope. And either way, “peace” identified which side you were on, and there was seldom “peace” in any of those conversations.
It was a very divided time in our county. We were not at peace abroad, and we were not at peace at home. Our nation was at war, our people were at war, and our hearts were at war.
And that was my first exposure to the concept of peace. I can remember asking my mother why peace was bad. I’m not sure what I had heard that caused me to pick up on that, but I sure was confused about it. Peace was supposed to be good, wasn’t it? It was clear, though, that there was a lot more going on. And so I asked her, and there was never a question I asked my mother that she didn’t answer. She tackled that one with the honesty and openness, and thoroughness, that characterized all her lessons to me. I absorbed her words as she explained the complicated issues going on, and I continued to ponder it, and to observe.
Not long after that, I heard the song, Let There Be Peace on Earth, for the first time. It’s in our hymnal, by the way! I was still in the midst of this wrestling to understand, to reconcile the contradictions in the different meanings of peace. And I remember the deep emotion I experienced the first time I heard the song. It was simple and beautiful, it was compelling, and it was as haunting as it was hopeful. And in the midst of that era of contradiction and division, it offered a picture of what could be. No more war. No more war in our world, no more war in our hearts. Was it even possible?
In our passage today, Jesus is beginning to prepare his disciples for the time, soon to come, when he will no longer be with them. And all his words for his disciples throughout these and the surrounding verses are shared with this in mind. Although they cannot yet even imagine it, the disciples are about to lose the person who has become Light and Life to them. Jesus knows that his death could undo them, that it could make them doubt everything they have seen and learned and experienced during their time with him, and so he leaves them the gift of his peace, and he tells them to not be worried or afraid.
But before we explore the passage further, let’s look at what the Bible overall has to say about peace. And it actually says quite a lot. Would you believe that the word “peace” is used over 250 times in 50 of the 66 books in the Bible? Of course, its meaning varies. Sometimes it’s a greeting, sometimes it is a wish for good health or physical safety or the absence of war. And while the word’s meaning broadens and deepens throughout scripture, it generally has the connotation of the Hebrew word for peace, shalom. Shalom describes good relations between people and nations, it describes tranquility and contentment, and it describes a good friendship. Its deepest implication is well-being, wholeness, completeness.
And shalom has more than just personal dimensions, too. Certainly in the New Testament, but even in the Old Testament, we begin to relate peace to God. God is described as peace and as its creator and source. And in the Old Testament book by the prophet Isaiah, we hear the wonderful prophecy of the coming of Jesus: A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
And with the birth of Jesus, of course, the New Testament develops this understanding even further. “Peace” still has cultural meanings, as it does today, but the distinctive idea about peace in the New Testament is its mediation to us through Jesus Christ. He is described as the peace which ultimately unifies humanity, as the one who brings peace by reconciling humanity with God through his death, and he makes his peace accessible to us all.
In fact, there is a progression throughout scripture, with its culmination in an understanding that peace in its fullest sense cannot be had apart from God. Christ’s peace is not just the absence of conflict. True peace means trust in God in the things that ultimately matter. God’s peace, the all-inclusive gift of God. “Peace be with you” was still a commonplace greeting, but Christ filled it with a new and more profound meaning.
And in our passage today, John wants to convey some important things. He wants to ensure that we understand who Jesus is. He wants us to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and he wants us to hear Jesus’ words. Jesus is peace, and so he is able to give us his peace, and he does. Here is my peace; don’t be afraid. Don’t be troubled; you have my peace.
And earlier in our passage, we hear, “Whoever loves me keeps my word…if someone doesn’t keep my words, that means they don’t love me.” Notice how the doing and believing are intertwined? If you believe, you do what I command. And when you do what I command, you will believe. Jesus hasn’t just given his peace; he has made a gift of his peace, but it is by trusting Jesus and his gift of peace that we are able to experience it, and it is by experiencing it that we trust it. If you love me, Jesus said, you will do this.
Here, in this passage, John shows us the nature of Jesus in relation to God and humanity. John bears testimony not only to Jesus, but also to the possibility of life through Jesus. Hope and peace through Christ and in how we live and function in all our encounters; it’s not just doctrine. It’s not just what we believe. It’s what we do with what we believe.
And the peace that Christ gives is available to us now. If we will receive it.
As we read in scripture, Jesus can see what his disciples cannot. He knows what is coming, and he knows his disciples will experience anxiety and fear, that their hearts will be deeply troubled. And the answer to their fear is given not as the world gives. It is not temporary or shallow or conditional. Jesus knows they will finally get it, that they will understand later, but he is preparing them now. Jesus tells his followers that he is about to leave, and he tells them that he is giving them a tremendous gift, the gift they will need in the coming days. In reassuring his disciples as he prepares them for his departure, Jesus guarantees them his peace, which is unlike anything this world has to offer. Peace. His peace. The Message version of the Bible puts it like this: Jesus says, “I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.”
Many people yearn for peace, but they look for it on the world’s terms. But the peace that Jesus promises is nothing less than the result of the presence of God. When Christ is present, peace is made manifest. It is clear, it is evident, it is obvious.
You know, reading these Gospel stories twenty centuries after the fact can dull us to their impact. The words, the gift, the teaching, they can seem obvious. But if that’s the case, we’re not really reading them, are we? To the apostles hearing these words originally, as well as to any who really read them, these words are confusing. They are shocking. But to those who wrestle with them, who ponder and pray and seek to understand them, these words are transformative.
Peace, real peace, is what all hearts seek. Christ’s miracle of peace is the peace we can have, and it is the peace we can offer. When it is evident in the way we live, we are showing the world that Christ is real. Real peace is intimately tied with how we live out our lives and faith. That’s the evidence of our faith. And so we can show the world that we know Jesus and that we love and believe him. And by doing so, we offer real peace to hearts at war, hearts that seek healing through the only thing they know, the promises the world dangles in front of them. But we can offer them the miracle of Jesus’ peace. Real peace. True peace. And by doing so, we show that we love him.
One thing I want to point out here is that Jesus’ offering of peace doesn’t mean that our lives will be trouble-free. What it does mean, however, is that whatever difficulties we go through in our lives, it doesn’t disprove God’s presence in us. No, it’s God’s presence in us that is the gift with us when we are in those very times, that demonstrates its reality. And it’s during tough times that not only should we lean on Christ’s peace, but it’s also in those times that the world sees the result of Jesus’ peace in our hearts. And they have the opportunity to see that it could be real for them as well. Jesus’ disciples didn’t escape difficulty. They experienced great trials after their time with Jesus on earth, and so will we. Tough times, valleys of shadow, they are a reality of life on this earth. But it is Jesus’ peace in us and with us that is the miracle, bringing peace to our hearts that would otherwise be filled with anxiety and dread.
As Fred Craddock, one of the best preachers and theological professors of the 20th century, has put it, “the peace of God is the confidence that God is God and neither our gains nor our losses are ultimate.” And so it is with Jesus’ coming and his going. John’s message is clear: The disciples’ loss of Jesus here on this earth is not final. In fact, this apparent loss leads to an even greater experience of God-with-us, an active and holy presence of God that is not bound by time and space, but is made evident in the lives of those who embody God’s love.
Have you ever experienced this kind of peace? Have you experienced the truth of this kind of peace? I have, and I assure you it is real. Many years ago, when I was just beginning to take my faith journey seriously, I had to deal with a circumstance over which I had very little control. It was difficult, and I was filled with dread. I was so anxious that I couldn’t eat, and I could hardly sleep. But somehow, during that time, I came across the scripture, Philippians 4:6-7, which says, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.”
And so I did. I got on my knees, and I said,” God, this situation is awful, and I can’t do anything about it. I’m worried, and I don’t know what to do. But I trust you. Please take care of things.” It was a simple prayer, and it hardly articulated all that was going on in my heart, but I didn’t know what else to say. I just knew that I needed to say it. I needed to tell God.
And I can still remember so clearly a sense of calm, of peace, just filling me up. I knew that God had heard me, and I knew that God was there with me. I had a deep assurance that no matter what, God had the situation in his hand, and that God was with me.
What about you. Have you ever experienced the peace of Jesus Christ? Have you ever been in a time of trial in your life and then reached out to Jesus? I don’t know why, but sometimes it takes difficulties for us to realize that we need Christ. But he is there, when we call out to him. And when we do, he remains with us, and he assures us that he is right there with us, filling us with his peace.
Have you, like me, experienced what the 14th century mystic and theologian Julian of Norwich called the assurance that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well?
That is something only Christ can give, and it is something the world can not take away.
So how is peace a miracle? How is it not! Scripture tells us that God’s kingdom is about righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus bought peace through the blood of his cross. It tells us that Christ is our peace, and that with his body, he broke down the barrier of hate that divided us. It tells us that Christ gives us a peace that the world can not take away. It tells us that true peace is not dependent on our circumstances.
Jesus’ peace is a gift and a reality for all who seek it, for all who will accept it. Jesus’ peace stills our warring hearts and brings healing to relationships, it brings wholeness to our lives, it brings hope to the world. How is that not a miracle!
We try hard to find real peace, but only Christ offers it.
Christ, who was at the beginning, was conceived and came to us as a baby because of our sin, he came into the darkness, for our world at war, for our hearts at war. And Christ is the miracle of Peace. The world no better understood peace then than it does now, but angels declared peace on earth at Christ’s birth, as they bent near the earth to herald the birth of the baby Jesus, proclaiming that the whole earth will know the miracle of Christ’s peace.