There is much turmoil in the world and believers are certainly not immune to the trials and temptations that come. Yet, many have testified to a remarkable calm and peace in their hearts in the midst of the most horrific trials. We experience a lack of inner peace when we are afraid, anxious, angry, covetous, etc. The gospel brings peace when we might feel any of those because it points us to the promises of God that overcome these sins.
The inner peace of the gospel comes from the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gives to all who are in him. In John 14:27 Jesus said, “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.” The peace that Jesus gives overcomes trouble and fear. Jesus knew that he would shortly be leaving the world and this could cause his disciples to be afraid. So he promised them peace. And in this context the peace he gives is explicitly connected to the Holy Spirit. In the immediately preceding verse Jesus said, “But the Helper, 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” (John 14:26).
Jesus knew his disciples would be scattered. He told them as much before it happened. “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me” (John 16:32). He knew that they would abandon him because of fear. Rather than reproving them for their upcoming abandonment, he sought to encourage them. He said, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). After they had scattered they would be able to recall that Jesus knew this would happen and he had not rejected them. What would at first appear as defeat they would eventually see as Christ’s triumph. He has overcome the world through his death and resurrection and that is reason to take heart. His overcoming brings peace.
It happened just as Jesus had said. After Jesus was arrested and killed the disciples were so afraid that they locked themselves into a room. It was in this locked room that Jesus found them. His first words to his frightened disciples were, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). He was reminding them that in him they would have peace.
The peace Jesus wants to give his disciples is the kind of peace that frees us from fear and worry. It is a peace that comes through the Holy Spirit, for Paul tells us in Galatians that peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). It is a peace that surpasses understanding, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).
This peace of God that Christ gives is exemplified in the death of Stephen (see Acts 7). When he was questioned before the high priest and the Jewish council he was given the words to say just as Jesus had promised (Luke 12:11-12). After he preached to them they were enraged. Stephen had lots of reason to be frightened, but instead he was calm. He was at peace because he was “full of the Holy Spirit” and “saw the glory of God” (Acts 7:55). They stoned him, but even the pain of being bludgeoned could not steal his peace. “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59-60).
The question, then, is how does Jesus give us peace that dispels fear and anxiety even in the midst of death? The most fundamental answer is that because of Christ we have peace with God and if we understand what it means to be at peace with the Judge of the universe we can have peace in any circumstance.
We get anxious about all kinds of things in our lives. We can be anxious about our jobs, paying the bills, our family, how others think of us, etc. Peter wrote that we are to cast our anxieties upon the Lord because he cares for us (1 Pet 5:7). How is that we know his care for us? We know that he cares for us because Jesus Christ died. In Christ’s death, God provided for our greatest need: salvation from sin and freedom from the wrath of God. Our greatest need was to be reconciled to God. This God has done in Christ and if he has already provided for our greatest need he will surely provide for any lesser need. This is the message of Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” When Jesus told his disciple not to be anxious for their lives, he grounded it in God’s pleasure to provide for his people (Luke 12:22-34). We are his people because of Christ’s work on the cross.
What about fear? God repeatedly grounds his command to not fear with his promise to be with us (i.e. Isa 41:10). Stephen knew that the ones throwing stones were not the ones to fear, for all they could do was kill him. They could not, however, separate him from God or create enmity in God towards him. He knew that while death is still an enemy, it is an enemy that unwittingly takes us to the presence of God. It is also an enemy that was overcome by Christ’s resurrection and will be ultimately defeated at our own resurrections. Stephen was not afraid because he saw his Lord and knew that his Lord was pleased with him.
Posts in this Series:
Peace (shalom) in the Old Testament
Created in Peace and the Consequence of Sin
The Gospel of Peace and the Death of Jesus Christ
Peace with God
Peace with Others
Peace in Creation and the Cosmos
Excursus – Is Peace an Attribute of God?
Called to Be Peacemakers
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