Peace Be With You (April 8, 2018)
Peace Be With You
What kinds of things have you unsettled these days? It’s unsettling to know that every morning on the news, there is going to be some negative political rant, some kind of murder, and some kind of other disaster. It’s unsettling to hop on social media or hop in a car and see humanity really reveal itself when there is some level of anonymity involved. It is unsettling to see the attacks made on Christians for their faith. It is unsettling to know that I am included in those numbers. In what kind of ways have I lashed out while driving, or when I could leave an anonymous comment? In what ways have I elevated myself as a better Christian that others, or taken the opposite route and shrunk back from Christianity to try to blend in?
There is so much wrong in our world today, so much that has been ruined by the actions of that first sinner, Adam. Now we have been numbered along with the sinners and have to deal with the tragic effects of sin. It’s all rather unsettling. It’s all rather disturbing. That is, until it all changed when Jesus spoke 4 simple words, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). This peace is peace that he has wrought. It’s peace for when you doubt. And you have peace to go out into the world.
Needless to say, the disciples have had a few extremely unsettling days. Jesus warned them that one among them would betray him. Then, when they were in a nearby garden praying, Jesus was seized and taken captive by Judas. Their leader and teacher – their rabbi – was then put on trial by an angry mob that refused to be reasonable. During these tumultuous events, the bold spokesman of the disciples actually denied even knowing Jesus! Then Jesus was taken to be crucified, and he died that very day. I think sometimes we forget that all of this happened in less than 24 hours between Thursday night and Friday evening.
And although we maybe don’t think of it in this way, now that we have the full story, but even the events on Easter Sunday morning were very unsettling. Mary Magdalene burst through the door of where the disciples were staying to report that Jesus’ body was missing! Peter and John went to investigate. Shortly after, the other women, who lingered at the tomb a little longer burst through the doors and told the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead! Later that day, two of the disciples who were on their way to Emmaus were discussing everything that happened that morning. Then Jesus appeared to these two, alive, and they ran back to tell the others. You could almost hear the clamor of these disciples and other believers who gathered together behind locked doors that night. “What happened to Jesus?” “I saw him alive!” “How could that be?” “Was it an angel, or really Jesus?” They discussed this behind locked doors because if the Jews found out they were talking about Jesus alive… well, you know what they did to Jesus himself. Needless to say, it was all very unsettling and confusing.
Then, to get them all on the same page, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19). Calm your troubled hearts. Ease your baffled minds. Peace be with you as you see that it is I, Jesus, and that I truly am alive! But that wasn’t even the greatest news Jesus had to share with them that day. The Good News isn’t simply that he is alive. The Good News is that he is alive after he truly died. “[Jesus] showed them his hands and side” (Jn 20:20). Look, I bear the marks of death. It wasn’t just a trick or a deception, I truly did die. I truly died to pay the punishment for all of your sins. Do you know what that means?! It means you are no longer numbered with sinners. You are no longer stained with sin! It means you have peace with God, and so I’ll say it again – and Jesus really did say it twice that night – “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:21). What those words must have meant to terrified disciples who were grieved for having abandoned Jesus in the garden – in his time of need. What those words much have meant to Peter, who wept bitterly after having denied even knowing Jesus!
What do those words mean to you? Thankfully your sins aren’t recorded in a book that has been read by millions for hundreds of years – but I know they linger with you. I know they cause you grief and pain from time to time. I know it’s unsettling to think of all the reasons you have given God not to love you, and yet, he says to you also, “Peace be with you!” You have peace with God because of what Jesus has wrought. He showed his hands and side – marks which prove your redemption price has been paid. Marks which testify that you have peace through what Jesus did for you! That’s why we declare those same words just before we take the Lord’s supper, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Not because we have earned it, but because Jesus earned it for you and freely gives it.
Unfortunately, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples that night when Jesus appeared to them. “So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’” (Jn 20:25), but he did not believe them. We aren’t told what he was doing; why he wasn’t with the other disciples. But the fact that the Lord waited a full week to dispel his doubts can possibly be seen as a rebuke for not gathering with the other disciples. A small reminder for us as well to not give up meeting together. It’s unfortunate that Thomas didn’t believe the others. In fact, he’s even gained a nickname from this event: “Doubting Thomas.” How could he insist that his own two eyes were more reliable than their twenty?
But really, can we blame him? Or should I say, was he really any different from all the other disciples who doubted the reports that were coming in from the women and the Emmaus disciples? Did he act any differently that we have perhaps acted in the past? Or what about the times when we still are overcome by doubt? What about the times when we have doubted the words that Jesus spoke in this very account: “Peace be with you”? What about the needless grief and pain that we bear simply because we doubt those words of Jesus and allow the weight of our sins, past or present, hang around our necks like a millstone? Or what about the times when we doubt Jesus words that “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20), or his word that says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer 29:11). It’s easy to doubt those words when it seems that our lives are not prospering. It’s easy to doubt those words when we cry out, “Where was God when I needed him?”
But look at him in these words. Hear what he says to dispel Thomas’ doubts when he finally appears to him a week later. “Peace be with you!” – he says it a third time – “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (Jn 20:26-27). We might see these words as a stern rebuke for Thomas not to doubt anymore. But yet, we can also see what has been called a “condescending love.” Thomas boldly set up conditions that needed to be met before he would believe that Jesus was alive. He had no right to set such conditions. But yet, Jesus met them. He gave Thomas the exact proof he was looking for and tells him, “don’t be without faith. You have your proof, now believe!”
In our doubts, we often set up conditions as well; conditions which we have no right to set. Whether we realize it or not, when we ask, “Where was God when this happened?” or “Why would God allow this to happen?” we are setting up conditions that say, God must do it my way for me to believe and not doubt! But what is it really that Jesus promised? Did he promise that his plans for your life would always be easy? Did he promise that him being with you means that you will never get sick, injured, or threatened? Look at the marks Jesus himself bore! His hands and feet were nailed. His back was beaten. His side was pierced. The work that Jesus came to do, and the plans that Jesus has for you are not to prevent all earthly harm and danger, but rather to keep you free from the spiritual dangers that can really do you harm. And yes, sometimes he will use sickness to bring you back to him in prayer. Sometimes he will use the threats of others to get you back into his word, studying it to find your answers. Sometimes he will use tragedy to strip you down to your foundation, as he rebuilds you in his image. See that he bore all of the same pains, yet also realize that his deepest pain did not leave a mark. When he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46), he was enduring the hell that we deserve, unimaginable torment, so that you would never have to know that kind of pain.
So when things aren’t going your way, when life is unsettling and you have every reason to doubt that God is with you – humanly speaking – you can go back to these words, “Peace be with you.” In them, you have proof that he has dispelled all reasons for doubting that he is with you and is leading you to your eternal life. Sure, there were other things that Jesus did that we don’t have recorded, but these things were written so that you have all the proof you need. “These are written that you may believe the Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:31).
Finally, having every reason for doubt removed and firmly believing, Jesus also gives you peace to go out with this good news! “Peace be with you!” he says, “‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Jn 20:21-22). It’s that Holy Spirit that finally convinced the disciples that Jesus is indeed alive and that they do indeed have peace. It’s that Holy Spirit that gave the disciples peace to go out from that locked room and tell others about what they had seen. It’s that Holy Spirit that gave the disciples the boldness they needed to stand in front of crowds, rulers, and kings and boldly declare “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).
Something very important is going on in all of this. Jesus gave the disciples his Spirit – the Holy Spirit. He said to Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it” (Mt 16:18). It is God who supports and sustains you when you go out. It is God who gives you the words to say, and it is God who changes hearts and creates faith.
I think often, what we find unsettling about going out as Christians – standing up for our faith and sharing our faith – is that we get this notion that if we fail, then a little bit of God’s church will crumble. And that we have to convince people that Jesus is the Savior. But it is God who builds his church and he who defends it. Whether the church stands or falls does not depend on you, but on God – so don’t bear that weight on your shoulders. And it’s not your words, but these words that are written, that people may believe. You will never argue someone into heaven. You can, however, share God’s Word, however you know how, and let him change hearts.
So be at peace. “Peace be with you.” You have peace with God because Jesus has already accomplished your salvation. It is finished! You can have peace from your doubts when you remember why Jesus died. Not to better your life here on earth, but to give you a better life in heaven. And you can have peace when you go out knowing that God doesn’t depend upon you to defend the church, but he does give you the privilege of sharing the good news of peace!