Jesus Speaks of Peace: John 14:27
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Written by: Matthew Barker
This time each year, people send Christmas cards with “Peace” embossed on the front; carolers sing “peace on earth and good will toward men”; and mothers and fathers pray for peace and quiet by the time Christmas day comes and the newly bought toys are sounding for joy.
The Christmas season is perhaps the best time to reflect on what Christ meant when he said that he left his peace with his church. With all this well wishing and singing and praying, it surprises me that the idea of peace itself is little reflected upon. Surely it’s worthy of reflection, particularly because what the Lord Jesus means by peace is perhaps not exactly what we mean by it, when we mean it at all.
“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.” — John 14:27
What we mean by peace, I think is usually one of three things. The first is to mean either total silence (obvious enough), or pleasant sounds. So we hear people speak of the peaceful forest or lake, with the quiet and happy sounds of birds and bugs, of the slight breeze and lapping water. This is surely a fine meaning for peace, though certainly not what we mean when we send someone a “Peace” Christmas card.
The second way we mean it, and perhaps a more common usage, is for inner calm and repose. The idea would be either of a Buddhist monk unaffected by the world, or of a world in which nothing creates sorrow or anger. While the first picture of the unaffected monk is certainly not biblical—loving your neighbor requires you to be affected by the world—the second one is nearer the Christian hope. Christ and his Bible declare that there is certainly a day coming when tears and sorrows will cease for there will not be anything to draw tears or cause anxiety. That however is a peace that lies in the future, in the new heavens and earth, and is not quite yet here.
The third way, and this probably the most normal, is the idea of a ceasefire. It’s a famous story that during World War I, on Christmas, there was a ceasefire between the Germans and the British, during which some even exchanged gifts. This is perhaps the closest to Christ’s meaning, in that Christ certainly came to make enemies exchange gifts. Yet, even this does not go far enough. The nature of a ceasefire is that it doesn’t last. And even if it should last a long time, the animosity and hatred and external pressures for war remain so that new battles could break out. (Family Christmas parties exemplify this on a smaller and less violent scale in many homes each year.)
But when Christ used peace he used it in the sense of relational love. You’ll notice that he says that it’s “my peace” he leaves. This peace, then, is not something outside of him to which he must travel, like a forest or a lake. Nor is this a peace that awaits fulfillment: He already has it. And it is certainly not just a ceasing of hostilities between him and others. No. This is Christ’s peace, which means that it is the peace that exists between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
After all, Jesus says that he and the Father are one (John 10:31), so it must follow that what belongs to Jesus belongs to the Father and the Spirit and vice versa. The intra-Trinitarian peace of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a peace of eternal bliss and happiness with each other.
It’s a peace has always been and will always be, and that will perpetually be expressed through love and service and joy.
It’s a peace that has very much to do with the world around it because it embraces those who are in relationship with it in perpetual welcome. That is the peace of which Jesus speaks, the joy and happiness and love of unbroken and unbreakable fellowship. That is the peace Jesus leaves with his people. All who trust in Christ by faith for salvation are given that same peace. The peace that comes from restored and reconciled relationships, both with God and in the church—the peace that will outlast this world and endure into the next—is what Jesus gives to his people now.
So as you sing about God sending peace to earth and sending “Peace” Christmas cards, sing and send with that meaning. And with this prayer: May my God pour his peace into my loved ones' hearts through the reconciling work of Christ embraced by faith, so that they might have the same unbreakable relational peace, I have.
And in that might, I pray that you have a truly merry and peaceful Christmas.
Matt Barker is an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and pastor of Grace Reformed in Walkerton, Indiana. He married up to a wonderful wife who gives happiness and wisdom, and has a wonderful daughter who encourages fun and vigilante prayer.