“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you, I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27
I genuinely wish that it was not true. But it is. As we walk along the Path, we will encounter danger.
As we’ve identified in worship these last weeks, the Bible is littered with stories about how the faithful encountered trouble along the way. Peter was thrown in prison, where he awaited his impending execution. Paul’s journey to Rome made little progress and nearly took his life. Nehemiah was trying to rally the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem’s city walls when they encountered sabotage. Jesus tells the story of an individual who was attacked while traveling on the path and was left for dead by robbers.
We take consolation in the fact that God redeems these challenging moments and even uses them for good. Peter was rescued by an angel. People’s lives were saved because Paul’s boat kept getting blown off course. Nehemiah experienced the power and strength of community. And that poor soul who was beat up was tended to by a good-hearted neighbor.
To sum up a month’s worth of study, we’d quote Paul’s motivational speech from the deck of the ship that was being battered by the waves: “Take heart, friends!”
Be courageous. Have no fear. Do not lose heart.
Not all of our stories have happy endings, though, do they? I am troubled by this, too, brothers and sisters. To suggest otherwise would be flat out dishonest.
To live means to lose. The author of Ecclesiastes makes this point well-enough, but we really don’t need to turn to the Old Testament to learn this lesson. We know this to be true because the ways of our world are relentless and hard. It doesn’t always turn out the way we wish. Our prayers are not always answered. Bad things happen to us along the way.
Where then is our hope?
Our hope lies in a God who will not allow sorrow and pain to win. First the hard news: sometimes the sorrow and the pain that we experience in life does in fact win the day. Now the good news: the darkness that we experience will not win the war. Because of God’s love for us, and because of the power of the resurrection, we can forever claim God’s victory over eternal sorrow and eternal pain. This reality—this kingdom reality—is what keeps us going when we live a story that does not have a happy ending.
People of faith seem to understand that there may be (typically is) a sizeable gap between our hard stories and a happy ending. In fact, that happy ending may be delayed until the Great Day of the Lord. We have ultimate hope, yes. It’s the in-between time that weighs us down.
Jesus seemed to anticipate this reality when he was concluding his earthly ministry with his disciples. He grasped that his disciples would have to live in the in-between. He knew that there would be times when his followers would not feel the ultimate resolution and redemption of their circumstances. He knew that his followers would be disheartened, downcast and frightened.
So, he sought to reassure them.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you, I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Jesus promises us peace for the in-between times. When we are experiencing hardship and challenge and have not yet experienced the hope of divine resolution, Jesus gives us peace.
I think it’s important to note that he does not promise to make it all better. Our well-intended parents used to lie to us when we were children, didn’t they? We would experience a boo boo, or a let-down, or a loss, and they would seek to comfort us with kisses, hugs, milkshakes, maybe even cash. And they would ask us, “Now, isn’t that better?”
Yes, we would nod. And we would lie, too.
It didn’t make it better. But our parents’ presence made a difference, didn’t it?
Jesus gives us peace—not as the world gives—but as only God can give. “Be of good courage,” He tells us. “Shrug off the troubles that weigh you down.”
Christ’s peace is decidedly hard to define. Perhaps it is the gift of non-anxiousness in the midst of stress and worry. Maybe it’s the sense of sanctuary that we experience when our world goes to hell. Maybe it’s the sensation of being held and of being swaddled in assurance and encouragement.
Whatever Christ’s peace is, it is enough. The Bible tells us so.
I like how Christian author, Frederick Buchner says it: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
But fear is so easy. How do we resist its inky darkness?
By choosing Christ. That’s how. For He stands with us in the in-between.