The Path to Peace
May 26, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
John 14:23-29 Acts 16:9-15 Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5
Let’s begin with an easy question that turns out to be more difficult than we expected.
What is peace?
While at first a part of us wants to think that defining peace ought to be easy, the more we think about it, the harder it gets.
When most of us begin thinking about peace, we probably thing about the violence between nations. In that case, peace is simply the absence of war and violence. That’s probably the kind of peace that we’re thinking of when we talk about “world peace” or when hippies say things like “peace, man” or “peace out.” But then there’s the kind of peace that Mom is looking for when she says that she just wants “a little peace and quiet.” Of course, that means the end of sibling violence, but in this case, she also means a lack of worry and the ability to find a moment of rest. If we extend those few moments of quiet rest, maybe that’s what we mean when we say that we are “at peace” or when we are searching for “inner peace,” or maybe that’s what the Eagles mean when they sing about that “peaceful, easy feeling.” And, of course, there is the religious wish that is common to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, when we express our wishes for Salaam, Shalom, or “peace be unto you.”
But as much and as hard as we might search for, seek out, strive toward, or wish for peace, it may well be that our human efforts will always fall short if we do not include God as a part of, and as a participant in, our search for peace. In John 14:23-29, Jesus tells the disciples that peace is a gift that he is giving to them, and to us, if only we will truly love him.
23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 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.
28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.
Jesus says that if we will only obey his teaching, God will love us, and both he and Jesus will make their home with us, and a part of what comes with that, is Jesus’ gift of peace. Moreover, Jesus helps us to define what he means by peace, in this case, by saying that we should not let our hearts be troubled nor should be we afraid. But peace can be hard. We are often plagued by doubts about the future, and questions about where we ought to go and what we ought to be doing. We ask ourselves, “Should I study this or that,” take this job offer or that one, is God in this, or not, is this better or worse than that, or more generally, “Just what does God want from me?” And in asking those questions, we struggle, and we sometimes lose our sense of peace. But as we read the stories about how God has called others to do his work, we can learn something about how God might call us. In Acts 16:9-15 we remember the way that God called Paul to ministry in Philippi.
6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia [central Turkey], having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia [western Turkey], they tried to enter Bithynia [northern Turkey], but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas [northeast coast of Turkey]. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia [across the Aegean Sea and north of Greece] standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace [Aegean island], and the next day we went on to Neapolis [eastern Greece]. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony [and a bit inland] and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira [a Greek city in eastern modern Turkey, near Mysia, where Paul had just been] named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
Now, if all of that wasn’t confusing enough, if you were trying to follow along this journey on ancient maps, one of the things that you’d probably notice is that the woman that Paul meets, and in whose house they end up staying, Lydia, comes from the city of Thyatira, which is in the nation of… Lydia. Anyway, after all of that, what I wanted to point out was that Paul was struggling to find peace with what he was doing, where he was going, and what God wanted him to do. He kept trying to do different things, and go different directions, and things were not going his way. He wanted to do ministry in Asia, or as we understand it, in eastern Turkey, but felt that the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to do so. We don’t know if that was an unsettled feeling, or an inability to sleep, or just physical or political barriers, but clearly something kept Paul and his team from going where they wanted to go. But one night, Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia, a nation to the north of Greece, begging them to come there and preach. And so, that’s where they go, and once there, they meet a wealthy businesswoman, who specializes in the manufacture and distribution of rare purple cloth, she comes to faith in Jesus Christ, is baptized, and all of them are persuaded to stay with her in her estate.
All of that may sound like a rabbit trail, but I include it here to make a point. Even though Paul’s journeys were long and difficult, even though his direction was not always certain, even though his travels often seemed to include arrest and torture, Paul had the peace of knowing that he was where God wanted him to be and he was doing what God had called him to do. Certainly, while being arrested and beaten does not sound peaceful, Paul had inner peace, the peace of knowing that he was where he was supposed to be. But Paul also knew that the peace that we so desperately seem to pursue cannot often be found in this life. Paul knew that a greater peace awaited him as a reward for his faithfulness. John writes about that in Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 where we hear these words:
9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Believe it or not, as odd as some of this language sounds, many of its visual images are all about safety and peace. Because darkness in the ancient world, and to a lesser extent today, was associated with danger, John notes that in the new Jerusalem, it never gets dark. The light of God and the protection of God, shines on everyone constantly. Both nations and their kings come to live under the light and under the protection and justice of God and that, finally, after thousands of years of history, sounds like a government that we can trust. And then John says that the gates of the city are never shut. For those of us who live in the twenty-first century, far removed from a time when it was necessary, or even possible, to live inside of walled cities, it might be easy to miss the importance of what John is saying. But, at a time when walls meant safety, remember that the gates were closed at night to keep out robbers, spies, and enemies. If an enemy army approached, the gates would be shut. If danger was suspected, the gates were there as a last measure of protection. But John says that here, the gates are never closed because there is never any danger. There are no thieves, bandits, spies, there is are no armies, and there is no danger. There is no impurity, there is no hunger or thirst, and leaves of the trees, as common as they are, provide for the healing of any wounds that we carry in with us. The curses that God laid upon humanity after the failure and fall of Adam and Eve are all removed. We will serve God only, and we will see him face to face.
In every way, by every definition, there will be peace.
Let’s put that all together.
Jesus said that his gift to us was a gift of peace. Some of that we can have now, and the rest is promised to us after the judgement at the end of time. But, if we follow Jesus, if we listen for his voice, and are obedient to him, then we can find peace in knowing that we are where we need to be and doing what God has called us to do. And even when our call brings difficulty into our lives, or when the chaos of our world erupts around us, we can trust that when we reach our eternal destination, we will finally, and forever, by every possible definition, be at peace.
There is a roadmap and a path that will lead us to peace.
The great question of humanity is not “How do I achieve peace?”
The question is, “Am I willing to trust the one who has shown me the path?”
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