John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
As you know I’ve always had an interest in the stories behind the great hymns of the church…stories that tell how these beloved songs came to be written. One of my favorite hymn background stories concerns they lyrics of a popular Christmas carol—written by this man: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Now…Longfellow was really not a hymn writer per se, but one of his poems was set to music and has been sung in churches at Christmas ever since. I’m referring to, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
Historians tell us that inspired by the joy of the Christmas season, Longfellow decided to write his poem on Christmas day in 1863. Can you sing the first verse with me?
I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.
But, as Longfellow continued to write, his mind was filled with thoughts of all that was going on in his country at that particular time. The Civil War was in full swing. The Battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg were not more than six months past. Tens of thousands had died in those battles. Even more were wounded or missing. His own son, Charley was recovering from serious wound that he sustained in the battle of New Hope Church. In short, it was not a peaceful time in his country or his personal life, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can the last phrase of my poem be true?” So he continued to write and his next verse went like this:
And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’
Now…unfortunately, you and I can identify with Longfellow’s feeling of despair because even today, 147 years later, this lyric inspired by the angels that first Christmas night—even today it seems like an idle dream. We cry with the prophet Jeremiah, “Peace, peace!…when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)
And I say this because first of all…there is still NO PEACE among the nations of the world.
Right now, our young men and women are fighting against terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq…while here at home security at airports has gotten tighter and tighter in an attempt to prevent another 9-11. Israel is not completely at peace and it looks like it never will be. I mean, every president takes a crack at bringing an end to the fighting in that region of the world but to no avail. And this lack of peace among nations is nothing new. Just as Jesus foretold…there are now and have ALWAYS been, “wars and rumors of wars.” This week I read a shocking statistic. Did you know that over the past 5500 years there have been over 15,000 wars? During that same basic period of time eight thousand peace treaties were broken. Each of these treaties was supposed to last forever but on the average they only held together less than two years. This prevalence of war caused one observer to comment, “Washington has a large assortment of peace monuments. We build one after every war.” Charles Swindoll expresses the feelings of many of us when he writes, “It seems to us that world peace is a distant, unattainable dream…a political football to be kicked back and forth by eloquent ambassadors….a philosophical fantasy…It seems that world peace is nothing more than that glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading for the next war.” Rick Warren observes, “A hundred years ago, popular sentiment believed that if we could just get the world educated, all the wars would vanish. But after two world wars occurred among the most educated nations on the planet, that optimism has long since vanished.”
And…not only is there no lasting peace among NATIONS…it is hard to find it among PEOPLE as well. Every day local newspapers and nightly TV newscasts are filled with stories of robberies, assaults, and shootings…like the crazy man who turned a gun on the members of the board of education down in Panama City this past week. Stores like that are commonplace. I mean, we human beings don’t seem to be very good at living in peace with one another. We’re much better at disagreeing, fighting, and feuding. The following very depressing statistics indicate that domestic violence is an ever increasing problem…showing that more and more HOMES experience a tragic lack of peace. Here goes:
- 2 million individuals have used a lethal weapon on their spouses in their life times.
- 3-4 million women are beaten by their husbands every year.
- 2.7 million children are battered, maimed, murdered, or seriously neglected every year in this country.
All this makes it seem to me that it is really unfair to have a LAW against disturbing the peace…since there is no peace to disturb! This reminds me of the story of a woman who said she moved to New York City—with its nonstop sirens—for her own personal health reasons. She said, “I am extremely paranoid and New York is the only place where my fears are justified.”
And…not only is peace a pipe dream between nations and individuals. More and more of us rarely experience peace within our own hearts.
It seems as if we are constantly fighting our own INNER battles to free ourselves from anxiety. I mean, we constantly worry…about our jobs…about our health…about money…about our children.
For these reasons there has never been a more stress-ridden society than ours. Did you know that panic anxiety is the number one mental-health problem for women in the United States and in men it is second only to substance abuse? I wish I could say I’m surprised but I can’t because stress has become a way of life. It is the rule rather than the exception for most Americans…especially those who live here in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Well, all this depressing information shows that PEACE is something that we all desperately need and want…which is why untold millions of dollars are spent annually in SEARCH of peace. I mean…every year thousands of people seeking PERSONAL OR FAMILY PEACE flock to professional counselors. Diplomats fly around the world pursuing PEACE BETWEEN NATIONS. Our court systems are jammed with cases arising from a breakdown of PEACE BETWEEN INDIVIDUALS OR CORPORATIONS. But spending all this money on these various peace pursuits has not worked…because the truth is—peace is not something that you PURCHASE. It is something that you RECEIVE. Peace—the kind of peace we all need and yearn for—is a gift…a gift that God lovingly gave us when He sent His Son—THE PRINCE OF PEACE—into our world, two thousand years ago.
And to know all we really need to know about Christmas we have to seek to understand this fact because the peace that Jesus gives is truly a wonderful caliber of peace.
It is not the every day kind of peace you find in our world—no it is a miraculous peace…a peace that passes human understanding. Let me take few lines here to attempt to describe the kind of PEACE that Jesus gives. First, it is a kind of peace that enables us to experience an inner calm in spite of all the circumstances that would normally cause us stress. It’s like the calm like the eye of a hurricane…perfect stillness and peace while storms rage all around. I think another good picture of the peace that Jesus gives is illustrated in a famous photo that sells in art stores all over. You’ve probably seen it yourself. It’s this photograph of a light house off the coast of England. As you can see, the picture shows a huge wave breaking across the light house and it looks as if it is about to engulf the structure…because it’s nearly as high as the light house itself.
At the base of the tower you can see the light house keeper. He is right outside the door with his back to his light house and the wave and he stands there with his hands in his pockets, perfectly calm, as if he has no fear whatsoever. That’s what the peace that Jesus gives us is like! It is a peace that exists even as the storms and waves of life break against us.
But of course the best “picture” of the gift of peace that Jesus brings us is seen in Jesus Himself. I say this because the way He lived His life showed that when it comes to peace our Lord knew what He was talking about…and that He deserves the title: Prince of Peace. For example, the very storm that made His disciples panic, made Him drowsy. Remember? They feared that their boat would be their tomb but to Jesus it was a cradle. Another time, when Jesus was teaching a crowd of 5,000 men—not counting women and children—the disciples panicked because it was supper time and they were worried about how they would feed this crowd. When they informed Jesus He didn’t stress out. He faced that situation with truly “unworldly calm.” I mean ladies, how do you feel when your husband brings home just one guest for dinner without letting you know before hand? Wouldn’t you get a little upset if he brought home 15,000 people? Not Jesus…it didn’t even cause Him to break a sweat. He just relied on God’s power and fed all those people!
When He began His earthly ministry and told people in the synagogue that He was the Messiah, they tried to throw Him off a cliff….but Jesus calmly walked through their midst. The professional mourners at the home of Jairus laughed in His face when He told them the little girl was only asleep. Then Jesus calmly entered her room and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.
Even the raging demoniac in the grave yard at Gadara did not unsettle Him. And then…when the temple police came to arrest Jesus, He didn’t panic. He even took the time to calmly heal a man whose ear had been lopped off by Peter. Jesus’ entire trial was a travesty of justice. Yet He calmly moved from judge to judge fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy which read “As a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7) Later while the other prisoners CURSED their executioners, Jesus PRAYED for them, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Now…wouldn’t you like to have that kind of peace? Wouldn’t you like to be able to face the trials of life like Jesus did? Doesn’t this peace Christmas seem appealing to you?
Well if it does…then listen, because this morning I want to tell you all you need to know about this aspect of Christmas. First of all, for an individual to experience this gift of peace, he or she…
(1) …must become a CHRISTIAN.
You see, the root cause of our lack of inner peace is the fact that we are sinners…at odds with our Holy God. And so to experience this gift of Christmas we must make our peace with God. We must resolve our part of the conflict between God and man that began when sin entered the world. In his classic book Peace With God, Billy Graham puts it this way. He writes: “The greatest warfare going on in the world today is between mankind and God. People may not realize that they are at war with God, but if they don’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior…God considers them to be at war with Him.” And of course Dr. Graham is right. You see, when Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God’s laws, they damaged their relationship with our loving Creator. And every human being since has done the same thing. Like those first foolish humans, instead of living our lives according to the will of our Creator, each of us foolishly—willfully—chooses to live according to our own selfish will. Isaiah 53:6 describes this selfish rebellion when it says, “We all…like sheep…have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way.” Well, when this sin of disobedience entered the world, peace left it because since then all of us go our own way instead of God’s. We disobey His laws in thought, word, and deed.
And…Jesus came to make peace between God and man a possibility again. In coming and dying for our sins He bore the iniquity of the human race on His own body. He took our punishment upon Himself. Think of it this way: In essence Jesus became our peace offering. Now…a peace offering is “a gift or service for the purpose of procuring peace or reconciliation.” In the Old Testament there are dozens of references to the Hebrew people recognizing this enmity between themselves and God by bringing peace offerings…sacrifices to God in His temple. But Jesus came to be the peace offering to God for all mankind. The prophet Isaiah said it would happen this way. In Isaiah 53:5 he said, “The punishment that brought us PEACE was on Him.” God inspired Isaiah so he was able to see that it would take the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, to make peace possible between sinners and God. Colossians 1:20-21 sums this all up by saying, “For through Him—Jesus—God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things…by making peace through His blood shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”
So…Jesus’ death on the cross is the SOURCE of this caliber of peace we all long for. This is what Ephesians 2:14 means when it says, “For He Himself is our peace, Who has destroyed the barrier…the dividing wall of hostility…for through HIM we have access to the Father.” You know—in a very real sense the first Christmas “tree” was the one Jesus hung on—because the Christ of Christmas was born to pay for our sin…born to hang on that cross…and in so doing make it possible for us to be cleansed and pure in God’s holy eyes. As I said last week, faith in Jesus is the ONLY way for this inner cleansing to happen.
Max Lucado shares a story of how he foolishly unplugged his freezer just before leaving for a week long trip. He and his family returned to their home a week later. When the freezer was opened for the first time it was unbelievably rancid and they were faced with how they were going to clean the interior. Lucado suggested several ways. First, he got a rag and some soapy water and began to clean the outside of the appliance. He was sure that the odor would disappear if he gave it a good shine, so he polished and buffed and wiped. But upon opening the freezer door the smell was still revolting. In light of that failure, Lucado tried throwing a “freezer party” and he invited other appliances from the neighborhood kitchens. But improving the social life of the freezer didn’t help. The stench was still oppressive. His next plan was to give the freezer some class, and he put a Mercedes sticker on the outside and a cell phone on the side. But it still had that putrid interior when the door was opened. He could think of only one other option. His freezer needed some high voltage pleasure and so he bought it some copies of “Playfridge” magazine, the publication that displays freezers with their doors wide open. He even rented some films about foxy appliances, and after two days of super-charged, after-hours entertainment he opened the door…and nearly got sick. The point of his sarcasm is obvious. Dealing with exterior doesn’t help when the rotting food is on the inside. Similarly to have peace…we need an inner cleaning…and that kind of cleaning can only happen when we claim the cleansing power of the blood Jesus shed on the cross. There’s no other way.
So, to have inner peace, we must personally, individually accept Jesus as our Savior. We must claim Him as our peace offering. Each of us must make peace with God before we can be at peace no matter what life brings. We have to resolve our own inner-sin problem before we can experience the inner-peace Jesus gives…because you can’t have the peace without the Prince.
One of my favorite “biblical epic” movies is The Robe which stars Richard Burton as the Centurion assigned to supervise the crucifixion of Jesus. By the way, it was the first movie filmed in “cinema scope” … designed to compete with a new form of entertainment that was becoming popular at the time … known as television. Now, this has nothing to do with the sermon. I just couldn’t resist the temptation to share a little movie trivia with you. Well, in the film Burton’s character joins with his troops at the foot of the cross in gambling for Jesus’ robe and wins…but he discovers that touching the robe causes him both physical and mental pain. He develops a fear of the robe which drives him mad. He has no peace. He can’t eat or sleep. Repeatedly he slips into a trance-like state in which he yells out, “Were you there? Did you see Him? Did you hear Him? Were you there?” His servant, played by Victor Mature, becomes a Christian and leads Burton’s character to realize that his madness…his lack of peace…is due to his need to have his sins forgiven. He helps him to see that his inner madness had nothing to do with the robe. No…it was a result of two conflicting realizations: the stark reality of his own sinful life and his awareness of Jesus’ sinlessness—our Lord’s cruel death on a cross that He did not deserve. He finds no peace until He claims Jesus as His Savior and Lord … professing his faith that Jesus died in His place. When he makes this commitment he is at peace … even though his embracing of the Christian faith led to his own execution by the Emperor Caligula.
This film illustrates the truth that all of us live lives of unrest like this…lives of quiet madness, until we too make our peace with God by asking for His forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It is this decision that gives us inner calm….no matter how stormy life is on the outside. Why? Because in becoming a Christian the Prince of Peace comes to live inside our hearts…and when He does we are given the promise of eternal life…and when we understand this we can have peace in all aspects of this life. Nothing can disturb this peace…not illness…not financial troubles…not even death. Through Jesus we can indeed have the “peace of God that passes all understanding.”
Now…you may be thinking, “Mark, I’m a Christian—and I’m not at peace right now. What’s up?” Well, that’s because in order to continue to experience this gift of peace…we must do certain things…to maintain it…and keep it strong.
(2) For example, we must be careful to THINK on the right things.
Paul talks about this peace principle in Philippians 4:8-9 when he says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things….and the PEACE OF GOD will be with you.” You see, when we focus our minds on things that are NOT true or noble or right or pure or lovely or admirable … then we can lose our peace. For example, a person who watches only daytime talk shows in the morning and soap operas in the afternoon and reads nothing but romance novels…that person is going to start to wonder about the peace of their relationship with their husband or wife.
An individual who spends all of his time reading the newspaper or watching the news is bound to lose their peace of mind when it comes to the state of the world. A person who looks at life through these sources tends to become cynical and joyless. Studies have shown that teens who only listen to music that promotes violence and sexual promiscuity….tend to become violent and sexually promiscuous themselves. I’m saying that God’s peace is something we can lose if we feed our minds on things that are not godly. So…we must discipline ourselves to look at life through the perspective that His truth provides.
Pastor David Moore tells the story of the time he and his wife gave their three-year-old son a doll named “Corky.” Corky was a lot of fun to play with. He had a built in tape player and when the tape played a song Corky would move his mouth and his eyes. And his son loved Corky and played with him contentedly for years…that is until he saw an advertisement on TV for a movie called CHUCKIE. You see, Chuckie was a little doll that looked just like Corkie but every night Chuckie would come to life and slice everyone to pieces. Moore says that from then on Corky was no longer welcome in his son’s room. They’d wake up in the morning and find Corky sitting out in the hallway…with his son’s door closed and locked. Moore says he tried to tell his son that CHUCKIE was only a movie but it had no effect. His little boy was still terrified of Corkie. Moore did confess, “Maybe I contributed to this a little bit because I’d get up at night and move Corky. And there was that night I put a butter knife in his hand.” The point was…his little boy lost his peace because he looked at his doll through the wrong perspective…the perspective of a horror movie. And we can learn from his experience. When we as Christians immerse our minds in all the negative of this world we lose our peace. We must keep our focus on God…and the things of God if we are to enjoy the peace of God. We need to learn to keep the SON in our eyes…we must THINK on the right things! In fact, the most important “right thing” for us to think on in this life is GOD Himself. We build our life on an understanding of how infinitely GREAT our Heavenly Father is. You see, the better we understand how loving and wise and powerful God is—well, then the smaller our worries seem to be. When we spend time with God in prayer and learn more about Him through studying His Word we come to see that He is far greater than anything that could steal our peace. We learn to rest in an awareness of His greatness and power. Then we can calmly say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life! Whom shall I dread?” (Psalm 27:1)
I remember seeing a movie years ago called My Bodyguard. It was the story of a teen who had no peace at school because of a gang of bullies who constantly threatened him. Then he heard of a boy in the school who everyone feared…even the bullies. He was huge and strong…but he never said anything. Nevertheless everyone trembled in his presence. Well, the teen boldly befriended this big guy. They became close friends…and he agreed to serve as his bodyguard. Here’s a picture of the two. From then on he never feared the gang of bullies again…He trusted in the power of His friend to protect and care for Him. Well, we have a “bodyguard” of sorts…in our Heavenly Father. He is more than able to handle anything that could happen to us. Before the trials of life get to us, they have to go through Him. When we realize this…we come to see that peace comes not from the absence of problems but from the presence of our all powerful, all loving Heavenly Father. We learn that as Psalm 34 says, “I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them. O taste and see that the Lord is good. How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.”
So we must THINK the right things…
(3) But to have this peace we must also DO the right things.
The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom” and it is loosely defined as the deliberate adjustment of one’s life to the will of God. In other words it is trust in action. This is what Isaiah is talking about when he says, “The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in Thee.” (Is. 26:3) Shalom comes to Christians who live their lives in ways that please God. Righteous living brings us peace. This is what Psalm 85:10 means when it says that, “…righteousness and peace kiss each other.”
Do you remember the first Apollo moon launch decades ago? If you weren’t around then—perhaps you read about it. Well, the Apollo astronauts were very closely monitored. And the amazing thing is that at the time of lift-off their pulse rate was the same as just before or just after. Can you imagine that? If it were me in one of those helmets, my heart rate would have soared! Not theirs…and that calmness was the result of training….in other words…doing the right things over and over again. This should remind us that one way to experience peace is by living as God wants us to live. As Psalm 119:165 says, “Great peace have they who love [God’s] law.” In Isaiah 48:17-18 God says, “I am the Lord your God, Who teaches you what is best for you, Who directs you in the way you should go. If only you paid attention to My commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.”
Let us pray.