THE PEACE THAT SURPASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING
Dear Christian friends,
When I worked out in the Rockies many years ago, sunsets were particularly inspiring. At sunset, there was a sequence of colors seen on snow-covered peaks. It was called alpine glow. A true alpine glow begins when the sun is still above the horizon. The sun illuminates mountain tops but the valleys begin to be shaded in the shadow of the mountains. You begin to see on the mountain peaks a series of colors. They begin with a yellow-orange then a kind of pink and then a rosy color and finally purple before the shadow of the mountain shuts off the sun completely. When the Sun is at just under the horizon, the mountain sometimes has a purple glow. That’s called the afterglow. In the morning the whole series works in reverse order. I think it has to do with the atmosphere bending of the light. I can’t explain it. I just know it happens. I have seen it.
Last Sunday was really something, wasn’t it? Great music! Near record attendance if not record attendance! Ask any pastor if he prefers preaching to a full church; I think you know the answer to that question. I thought a lot about last Sunday this week. There is a spiritual afterglow. I pray that continues. I pray that all of us know the peace we enjoy from the resurrection. As Paul says, It is “A Peace that Surpasses All Understanding 1) Made certain by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead; 2) That is ours by faith; 3)That comes only through Jesus.
Imagine what it must have been like to be one of the apostles on that first Easter. They awaken, perhaps shaken awake by an earthquake. Perhaps they weren’t able to rest very well since their beloved Jesus had been crucified. He had been unjustly judged to be a rebel. Now all followers were considered dangerous. So unjust! All his followers had invested a lot of time…three years in Jesus. They saw him do some awesome things; they heard him teach some awesome things. All they know is that Jesus is gone. Where do you go from here?
Then the stories began filtering in. Not small stuff. Big stuff. The women started it. Breathlessly they came running. They were hard to understand because they were almost hysterical. Jesus isn’t there. He’s gone. They saw angels. The angels spoke. “He is not here; he is risen.” They even said they met him and touched him. Then there was Mary Magdalene. She had her own story. Maybe they all just needed some rest.
Too many people saying the same thing, so others went to the grave. There WERE angels. The grave clothes were there, but Jesus wasn’t. So they decided to huddle up and think this over and lock the door. Someone was going to blame them for stealing the body of Jesus.
The day goes on. Late in the day two disciples add to the confusion. They said they spent a couple of hours with Jesus returning home to Emmaus. What in the world? Facts are: the grave is empty. There are a number of creditable witnesses.
And then “when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” The sight of Jesus certainly took away the fear. What the women and the two disciples said was true. They weren’t hysterical after all. The two disciples weren’t delusional after all.
What a relief to hear, “Peace be with you!” Some say that this was a greeting like “Hi y’all!” Kind of routine. Coming from Jesus, the risen Jesus, means so much more. With Jesus there is peace. He is called the Prince of peace. He once said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” He also said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He brings peace and promises peace.
But that is ironic! When he said those things about peace, by the end of the night he was arrested and tried and brutally bludgeoned and crucified. Peace? A contradiction between a promise and reality!
But Jesus’ peace surpasses all understanding. It is not a futile peace that the world keeps chasing. Look what the world chases. Those of us who lived during the Cold War of the 60’s and 70’s are experiencing déjà vu. I read an article from a renowned historian about current events. “Russia and U.S. are like it was back in the 60’s and 70’s again.” He went on to say it was also a reminder of World War I, “A century later, our focus is again on Eastern Europe, the site of a regional conflict that threatens to entangle the world's leading powers. The situation in Ukraine is a perilous one, much more so than our current debate acknowledges.” The point is that Jesus came to give a peace that doesn’t depend on harmony between countries or tranquility between family members. It is not fragile when the next temper flare-up ruins it. What seemed to be such a contradiction - Jesus’ arrest, trial, torture and crucifixion didn’t cancel it, but established it. He endured the wrath of God’s just anger over the sin of all to give all peace with the one who is over us all. Let me repeat that. He endured the wrath of God’s just anger over the sin of all to give peace with the one who rules over all. Jesus reconciled the world to God and God to the world. Our sins are not held over our heads; they were nailed to the cross. Wow we are at peace with our creator! Why us? Why me? Why? It is a peace that surpasses all understanding
So many things cause us to fear, but Jesus assures us that all will be okay. He is not some dead prophet but is alive and forgives us and promises, I am with you forever. His resurrection gives us peace.
Peace comes only through faith in Jesus. Peace does not come natural to us. Sin gets in the way. If you were in the Upper Room and had been with Jesus all the time like the apostles were, how do you think you would be feeling? Let me suggest that you would be kicking yourself because you ran away from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and left him there alone. You spent three years with him. You learned so much and saw so many good things. And you fled. Disgusting!
It was kind of like Martin Luther who wanted Jesus’ love, but thought Jesus love was conditional on Luther’s love for Jesus. He sought peace by trying to earn it. He punished himself to make himself worthy of Jesus’ love. He even was told to go to Rome and experience the holy city and all its relics and rituals so he would feel better about his relationship with God. Make sense? No? Well, it didn’t work.
A few years ago our evangelism committee was having a meeting after church. We were the only ones in the building. A man and his wife came in and wanted us to promote their yoga exercises. Through them we were going to experience God. I got to tell them about Jesus but they insisted that we sit in my office and go through an exercise. “Close your eyes, relax, take deep breaths. Do you feel God presence?” the man said. Our committee members cheated. We kept opening our eyes and looking at one another. How are we going to get out of this?
There is only one way to “experience” God. It is not through deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. It is not through emotional upheavals or goose bumps. It is through faith in Jesus Christ. That needed faith is given through the Holy Spirit. That’s why Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Peace comes when the Holy Spirit connects us with Jesus educates us and strengthens our faith in the one who gives us peace.
The apostle Paul wrote “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
That preaching of forgiveness must be the heart and core of the people of God. Jesus says, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
What Jesus is saying here is that Jesus forgave the sins of all by his death and resurrection. Yet there is a truth. Some repent and acknowledge their personal sin and unworthiness; others don’t care. To those who repent God commands us to forgive in Jesus’ name and place. Those who don’t repent and shun Jesus, withhold forgiveness from them. Jesus once used the expression “Don’t cast pearls before swine.” We call this the ministry of the keys. We open heaven to those who confess and we tell them that forgiveness is theirs. We close heaven to those who don’t care about Jesus.
The case of Thomas is a practical application. He was the only apostle who wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples on that Easter evening. By not being present didn’t keep him from receiving the benefits of what Jesus did, his stubborn unbelief in the resurrection did. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
He sure was arrogant, don’t you think? Apparently that night when Thomas, he thought that the disciples were playing a practical joke on him. “We have seen the Lord. We put our fingers into his wound.” I don’t get the idea that the disciples were a bunch of practical jokesters. Peter talked a lot and recently learned what foot into mouth disease was. Matthew was a tax collector. Tax men are funny? Simon was a political zealot committed to a cause. Nathaniel was a cynic. All had been guilty of deserting Jesus. But Thomas thought it was all a joke and deprived himself of all that peace because he didn’t believe.
But Jesus straightened all this out a week later when there was a sequel with one critical difference. Thomas was present. Humble pie!
I like that bumper sticker that says “Know Jesus, know peace; No Jesus, no peace.” At first Thomas didn’t have peace because his human reason got in the way and pushed faith aside. He didn’t believe the eyewitnesses until he became an eyewitness.
I guarantee that we all have been little Thomases. Haven’t you thought just one miracle, Jesus, and all will be cleared up. Actually the miracle we really need has occurred. It called the resurrection. Listen to the eyewitnesses and believe the eyewitnesses. That’s how peace becomes yours. As Jesus says, “Stop doubting and believe.”
One more point. I feel part of my responsibility to this flock is to be aware of opinions expressed that attack Christianity. They make my blood boil. I know my own pride is hurt when someone belittles Christianity because they are calling me ignorant. But you know who critics are really belittling? Jesus! Who is Larry Zahn in comparison?
Yet Jesus gives all the evidence anyone needs to not only to know he was and is real.
There was a German scholar by the name of Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette. They call him a theologian. Yet he is described as a radical among radicals, an enemy of the divine inspiration of Scripture. Yet on his deathbed he said the resurrection of Jesus can be doubted as little as the assassination of Julius Caesar. He said that the question to be asked is, “Do we have any eyewitnesses of the Caesar’s assassination? Do we have the writings of anyone who attended his funeral? No!” But we do have the eyewitness testimony of Matthew, John, Peter and Paul who saw Jesus and spoke to Jesus. In fact we have more than that. We have patriarchs who foreknew him, prophets who prophesied him, psalmists who foretold him, evangelists who talked to witnesses and apostles who reaffirmed him. There was only one who was like him. John says “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Peace comes only by faith alone in Jesus the Risen Savior.