“Peace, Not as the World Gives”
August 30, 2020
Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service
We have been in the Gospel of John for some time now. We have taken breaks for major holidays of the church year, and for last Advent.
Being fifty-eight sermons into the Gospel after today, and with still about a third of the book to go, it seems to me that September and maybe a bit of October may be a good time for another break. I am hoping to begin a series on the Book of Ruth starting next Lord’s Day. After that we’ll plan to return to John.
For now, Jesus’s comment on leaving the upper room at the end of chapter fourteen provides a bit of a division in Jesus’s farewell discourse for our breaking point. [Carson, 477-479]
With that said, we turn to John 14:25-31.
Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning.
Jesus said to them:
14:25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]
Let’s pray …
Lord, as the psalmist does,
we ask you to work now through this, your word to your servants –
the very word in which you have helped us to place our hope.
For our comfort in the afflictions we face in this world
is that your promises in your word give us life.
Though the world may deride us,
we do not turn from this your revelation to us.
Teach us from it now, we ask, in Jesus’s name. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:49-51]
At the center of our text this morning is peace. Jesus says in verse twenty-seven: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”
It’s fairly straightforward to say that everyone wants peace – not necessarily peace for others, but at least peace for themselves, and maybe also for those they love.
The question, and the difficulty, comes when we ask how we should pursue that peace. Where should we look? How can we obtain it? How does it become ours?
Jesus provides answers to those questions in our text this morning, and that is what we will consider. And to do that we will ask three questions:
- First, how can we know the way that leads to true peace?
- Second, how is true peace obtained? And,
- Third, how do we receive true peace?
So: How can we know the way to peace, how is true peace obtained, and how do we receive true peace?
HOW CAN WE KNOW THE WAY THAT LEADS TO TRUE PEACE?
To begin: How can we know the way that leads to true peace?
We might call this the epistemological problem of peace: To whom do we look, in whose word do we trust to tell us where to find peace, or what will give us peace?
And there are two common answers to this question in the world around us.
The first, is that we or someone else can simply assert a way to peace. We adopt a stance of simple or blind faith in some authority in our life to tell us where the path to peace is.
And this can take a number of forms.
Sometimes it’s done by appealing to a worldly authority. It might be a thinker whom we admire. It might be someone who has done great things in the world whom we look up to. It might be a moral or spiritual leader, whose life we look at and want to emulate. But it is someone we put our faith in, who tells us: this is how you get peace – this is the path of peace.
Are there people in your life or in the world that you look to like this, to direct you as to where to find peace?
Other times we may not appeal to a particular person in our search for peace, but we might instead look to what seems self-evident to us and the people around us. It might be a subculture we are a part of (a local or online community) or it might be a larger cultural group, or it might even be the dominant culture that we see around us. But either way, some group appeals to what, in their eyes, is self-evident as the obvious way to reach true peace. And it might seem just as obvious and self-evident to us. We don’t really feel that we need an argument or proofs as to the validity of the claims to where to find peace, because upon reflection it just seems self-evident that this group provides the right path to find peace in the midst of the turmoil of this life.
Still others appeal not to an expert or to self-evident thinking or reasoning, but to a simple heart-level faith and conviction.
We may feel in our hearts that one path or another will give us peace. We believe it with conviction. Maybe we come to the conclusion on our own, or maybe another shares the path with us, and it resonates with our hearts at a deep level. We may doubt it sometimes, we may question it. But we come back to a heart-level faith in that this path or that way is the way to find peace.
In each case the thing we appeal to can offer either temporal or eternal peace. And so a worldly authority, or our own reasoning, or our own internal conviction may tell us that whatever turmoil we see around us, whatever problems are in our lives or in the lives of others, because of this or that truth, we can have peace that things are going to work out. The problems will be solved. The strife will cease. Peace is coming. Maybe it’s almost here. We just need to hold on for it.
Other times, what’s promised at the end of the path is not temporal peace, but eternal peace. We are told not to worry about the troubles of this life because the next life will be better. We are told not to worry about our failures because all will be well, and whatever higher power there is, he or she or they are not the type to hold us responsible for our failures, they’ll see the good in us and ignore the bad, and all will be well. Whatever we do or have done, there will be peace.
This is where many in our culture find a path they believe will lead to peace: in the testimony of their own hearts, their own minds, or the hearts or minds of others they look up to.
Which of those appeals tends to resonate most with you? Which specific answers do you often find yourself gravitating towards? Where do you tend to look for a path to peace, either now, or in eternity?
Everyone has some place they are pulled to – some voice or authority in this life who tells them where to find peace and who may often sound convincing.
The problem is that neither our own hearts, our own minds, nor the hearts and minds of others like us provide a solid enough foundation on which to base our hope for peace. And so such quests for peace ultimately prove to be false, and empty.
Jim Collins gives a picture of this in an interview he had with Admiral Jim Stockdale. Stockdale “was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War.” He was “tortured over twenty times during his eight year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973” and he “lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, [with] no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive and see his family again.”
When Jim Collins met with Admiral Stockdale, Stockdale told of how he and others survived in the camp. One of the questions Collins asked was: “Who didn’t make it out?” “‘Oh, that’s easy,’ [Stockdale] said. ‘The optimists.’” Collins was confused. “The optimists?” he asked. “I don’t understand.” “The optimists.” Stockdale confirmed. “They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.” [Collins, 83-85]
Now … Stockdale draws some conclusions from this, and Collins does as well. But I don’t want to focus on the conclusions they draw so much as the error in knowledge – the epistemological error – that the optimists Stockdale described made. They asserted something, and put their faith in something, that they said would give them peace. But they did it without any solid reason to trust that it was true. And then, when it failed them, their hearts failed as well.
This is a picture of the only kind of peace the world can offer … because simple appeals to trust in the peace we will receive – whether temporal or eternal – which are not based on a sure foundation of knowledge, amount to little more than wishful thinking.
We may appeal to a great human teacher – someone who is an authority because of their minds, or their hearts, or their spirituality. But if we look over human history – or even just at current events – we know just how faulty the best-looking human beings often are.
History is strewn with thinkers who seemed like geniuses in their day, and who believed and taught things that now seem absurd to just about everyone. And history and modern times are filled with accounts of people who seemed so virtuous or spiritual in so many ways … but whom we later learned were not what they appeared to be.
Groups don’t really fare much better. History and the world right now are filled with communities – groups, societies, nations – who are dedicated to a path of life that they believe will lead to peace – it seems self-evident to them. But their stories rarely end in peace, and as self-evident as the path may seem to them, it is never quite so self-evident to others.
And finally, our own individual hearts and minds are no better. We can each think of things over the years of our lives that we were convinced were true, based on our own reasoning, or based on the convictions of our hearts, but which we have since doubted and then dismissed. And in addition to that, we all know people who are supremely confident in their own hearts or minds, whom we can see have little grounds for such confidence, though they are blind to their own deficiencies. What grounds do we have for thinking we are not the same?
As different as they may look, every claim to the path of peace that is made by us or by the world around us, amounts to little more than the proclamations made by the optimists imprisoned with Admiral Stockdale: wishful thinking rather than real knowledge.
With these problems in mind, many around us then run in the opposite direction: they conclude that there is no epistemological basis for peace. We cannot know the world, or the spiritual realm, or eternity well enough with our limited minds and our limited perspectives, and so they conclude that there can be no real peace. We just have to deal with it.
Now, on one level, we should appreciate that this is in some ways one step closer to the truth than the false views of peace. And it is an objection and a concern that the Scriptures themselves take seriously. We see that right here in our text.
We see it in verses twenty-five and twenty-six. Jesus says to the apostles: “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Now, it’s true that the Holy Spirit instructs all believers, and helps us understand and remember what we have read in the Scriptures. But that’s not really what Jesus is talking about here. He’s addressing an objection that people today still raise when Christians claim that the Bible provides the way to eternal peace.
Many will hear that claim and say something along the lines of: “Well, how on earth can you claim that a bunch of men from thousands of years ago know better than anyone else about who God is? Even if they saw some amazing things, the way they recorded it is according to their own very limited, obviously biased, understanding of things. We can’t really rely on it. And even if God did want to use human beings to transmit the truth about who he was, why on earth would he choose a bunch of relatively uneducated men in the ancient world to do that?”
In other words, many take the same argument I’ve put forward and they apply it to those who wrote the Christian Scriptures.
And Jesus’s words here are about why the Christian Scriptures are different. Because, he says, they are not written by mere human understanding or recollection.
One commentator puts it like this – he writes: “In John’s Gospel the disciples are shown to fail, throughout Jesus’ ministry, in their understanding of Jesus. One of the [Holy] Spirit’s principal tasks, after Jesus is glorified, is to remind the disciples of Jesus’ teaching and thus, in the new situation after the resurrection, to help them grasp its significance and thus to teach them what it meant. Indeed, [John] himself draws attention to some things that were remembered and understood only after the resurrection […]. The promise of v. 26 has in view the Spirit’s role […] not to explain how readers […] may be taught by the Spirit, but to explain to readers […] how the first witnesses, the first disciples, came to an accurate and full understanding of the truth of Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s ministry in this respect was not to bring qualitatively new revelation, but to complete, to fill out, the revelation brought by Jesus himself.” [Carson, 505]
We have said that the quest for peace has an epistemological problem: How do we know where to look for peace? The level of understanding of eternal realities that is needed to be able to answer that question with confidence is beyond the individual human heart or mind – it is beyond the grasp of societal groupthink – it is beyond the minds of even the best and brightest of human beings.
And God knows that. Jesus Christ knows that. If you have read the Gospels, then you should know that Jesus saw human shortcomings far more clearly than even we do. Jesus knew that it was beyond human abilities to discover the path to true peace. And so he revealed it. And he not only revealed it, but he sent the Holy Spirit to help those he called on to better understand it, and explain it, and set it down accurately in the Scriptures.
From the call of Moses who composed the first five books of the Bible, to the day that the Apostle John finished the last book, God was at work through the Holy Spirit enabling those he called to rightly remember, understand, and explain the eternal truths we need in order to find peace.
And we have that now in the Christian Scriptures.
If you are not a Christian, you need to consider that. Where are you looking to tell you how to find peace in life? Are you looking to someone you admire? Are you following your own heart or your own mind? Are you just going with the flow of what the dominant voices in our culture or in your life tell you? And are any of those voices weighty and reliable enough to pin your hopes for temporal or eternal peace?
They are not. They cannot bear the weight.
And God knows that. But he has not left you to yourself – he has not left humanity to itself. He has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, to reveal himself. But he did not stop there. He also sent his Holy Spirit to help those who would write down what Jesus said and did, and what it meant – he sent his Spirit to them to help them get it right in a way that no human being by themselves ever could. And then he had those words set down in the Scriptures. And he preserved them. And we have them today. Those words – the word of God given through his Holy Spirit must be where you begin your search for true peace.
If you are a Christian, you need to ask yourself: Do you treat the Bible like it is what it is? Do you attend to it the way someone should attend to something they believe is the word of the eternal Creator of the cosmos? Do you seek to know and understand it like someone should seek to know and understand something that holds the key to eternal peace? Do you hold its opinion so far above your own opinions, that if it tells you something – whether a claim about what is true, or a claim about how you should live – and you don’t like it or understand it, then the fact that it is what the Bible says will determine what you do and what you believe? Do you truly hold it above your own reasoning and your own desires, as the Word of God, to submit everything to it? Or do you only take it seriously when it says what you want it to say?
The first thing our text tells us is how we can know the way of peace. It is laid out by God: remembered, understood, and written down by the work of the Holy Spirit of God, through the Apostles and others whom he called. And that is the only place we can have confidence in finding the way to peace.
That’s the first thing our text shows us: How can we know the way that leads to true peace? By looking to the revelation God himself has given in Christ, recalled, understood, recorded, and explained in the Christian Scriptures, by the work of the Holy Spirit.
HOW IS TRUE PEACE OBTAINED?
The second question is: How is true peace obtained?
And as with our first question, we again have a split between how the world answers this question and how Jesus answers it here.
The word “Peace” was used in a number of ways in Jesus’s day, and so it carried a lot of baggage. And when it came to the peace that the world could give, one of the first things that would have come to mind for a Jew in the first century was the Pax Romana – the “Peace of Rome”. [Carson, 506] That connection might have been evoked even further by Jesus’s reference in verse thirty to the “ruler of this world” who, while ultimately, in a spiritual sense, is Satan, in another sense was Caesar – the emperor of Rome. [Wright, 67]
The Pax Romana – the Peace of Rome – was a peace that Rome gave to the world that was imposed and kept in place by devastating force and harsh brutality. That was the peace that the pagan world offered.
Of course, many in the Jewish world resisted that, and saw the peace offered by Rome as no peace at all. They, the Zealots, had their own vision for peace … and they believed that the best way to establish and maintain that peace was to bring to bear even more devastating force and brutality than Rome had brought, and thus drive Rome out. [Carson, 506]
The Peace of Rome and the Peace of the Zealots presented themselves as polar opposites. And yet, in many ways they were just two different flavors of the peace that the world gives.
And not much has changed in two thousand years. While there are voices for moderation and cooperation out there in the world, we also still have those advocating that the best way to establish peace in the world is to seize the world’s levers of power and come down with harsh force on those who stand in opposition. And often many of those opponents themselves are advocating for the very same thing in the other direction.
As with the Romans and the Zealots in the first century: they have the same answer for how peace is obtained: by gaining power and crushing one’s enemies.
Such is the peace that the world gives.
But that, of course, is not the only kind of peace the world offers. It offers peace not only through power, but through money, or through success, or through the approval of others, or through something else.
And though the picture of peace may be different in each of those instances, the path to obtaining it is quite similar: We need to grasp at it. We need to struggle against others to lay hold of it. We need to conquer, and push others aside, and wrap our fingers around it through our own efforts and grasping.
The world tells us that we obtain peace by grasping at the power, the goods, or the success that will give us peace.
That is what the world promises. But it is not what the world delivers. Despite all the promises, the world around us, and history behind us, are strewn with the failure of all such attempts. As one commentator puts it: “The world is [in the end] powerless to give peace. There is sufficient hatred, malice, anxiety and fear that every attempt at peace is rapidly swamped.” [Carson, 506] To argue otherwise, another points out, in light of “all the horrors of both ancient and modern times, would be madness.” [Wright, 67]
Such grasping does not bring peace.
But, Jesus, we are told in verse twenty-seven, does not give peace as the world gives it.
And right there in verse twenty-seven he alludes to how he gives it – to how true peace is obtained. It’s subtle. But it’s there in the text.
In verse twenty-seven Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” The sentence strikes us at first as an obvious discussion of spiritual or psychological peace, but readers in the first century would have heard it differently, because “Peace” was both a greeting and a farewell for them. And so, when Jesus, right after talking about how he will leave them, says “Peace I leave with you” it sounds like he is saying farewell. He brings his departure from them, through his death on the cross, to mind. [Carson, 505]
What is more striking to realize though, is that a few chapters later we will hear Jesus say “Peace” again – three more times. But in each of those cases, in chapter twenty, it will be as a greeting, after his resurrection. (John 20:19,21,26) [Carson, 505]
As one commentator points out, John, having arranged the references to “peace” this way is setting up the departure of Jesus through death and his return through the resurrection as the bookends – the context in which he gives true peace to his people. [Carson, 505-506]
And as soon as we see what John is doing here with those words, we remember how that lines up with everything else that the Bible tells us about how true peace is obtained.
True peace comes not from our grasping – we do not fight our way up to lay hold of it – but true peace is obtained by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as he died for our sins, and was raised for our justification, so that we might have new life and a new relationship with God now, and so that we might enter into his presence in joy and love for all of eternity. That is true peace. And it has been obtained by Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.
That is the answer to our second question.
HOW IS TRUE PEACE RECEIVED?
Which brings us to our third question: How is true peace received?
We’ve said that it is known through the Scriptures, it is obtained by the death and resurrection of Jesus, but how is it received – how do we ourselves receive it?
And the answer is through our relationship with Christ, who now reigns in heaven.
Jesus says in verse twenty-eight: “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”
That last line has puzzled some, where Jesus says that the Father is greater – but it doesn’t contradict the full deity of Christ in any way. Some have supposed that Jesus is there referring to his human nature as opposed to the Father’s divine nature. [Augustine, Tractate LXXVIII.3] Others argue that it is about the location of the Son as opposed to the location of the Father: The Son humbled on earth with the Father in greater glory in heaven. [Carson, 508] And still others have thought Jesus is speaking of the economic Trinity, not the ontological Trinity. [Carson, 507]
That is all interesting – but none of it is really the point. The point is that after his death and resurrection Jesus will go to the Father, and if we love him, Jesus says that we should be glad.
Why should we be glad?
Well, we should be glad for Jesus’s sake because this will be a place of greater glory for him. [Carson, 508]
But that is not all. We should also be glad because of what it means for us. Jesus goes to the Father, and from there he ministers to his people. That is what he has been saying throughout this chapter. Jesus will go and he will send his people the Holy Spirit. Jesus will go and he will bring our human nature into the heavenly court. Jesus will go, and as John says in his first epistle, he will be our advocate before the Father. [1 John 2:1]
We should be glad because Jesus reigns in heaven, and from there he promises to give his peace to all who place their faith in him – all who trust in him and submit to him as their Lord and King.
And the peace he offers them is not just temporal – but it is eternal. [Augustine, Tractate LXXVII.3-4]
First, it is peace now. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we do not grieve when there is reason for grief, or we do not suffer when there is reason for suffering. We do grieve and we do suffer – but not as the world grieves or suffers. Even in the pains and afflictions of this life, which are real, we are anchored in the peace of Christ – a peace that comes not from our circumstances, not from the resources we have or don’t have in the world around us, but a peace that is rooted in our relationship with Jesus Christ. A peace that is not as the world gives.
But most importantly, it is not just a peace in our current circumstances, but a peace for the life to come – a peace for eternity. It is the eternal peace of dwelling before the face of God for all eternity, of experiencing the fullness of his love and the fullness of his grace, not because we earned it, not because we clawed our way to the top, but by sheer grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is peace that no other person, no other worldview, no other philosophy can provide.
It is the peace of Christ, offered to us now and for eternity. It is the promise of the gospel.
And so, brothers and sisters, let us listen to and believe in the Scriptures, let us place our hope in the death and resurrection of Christ, and let us look to Jesus in faith, so that we too may receive peace that the world cannot give – both in this life, and in the life that is to come.
This sermon draws on material from:
Augustine. Homilies on the Gospel of John. Tractates LXXVII, LXXVIII, LXXIX. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. First Series, Volume 7.
Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.
Collins, Jim. Good to Great. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001
Wright, N. T. John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004.
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