Since 1956 newspapers have carried the advice column Dear Abby, and for the past 56 years thousands of letters have come pouring in from people requesting advice on various topics. The publishers say that the most common questions they receive deal with people who seem to be afraid or worried about something. They’re afraid of losing their health, their job, or with concerns about their family. People are frustrated with their neighbors or annoyed with their friends. A great deal of the letters describe relational ruptures and family friction. In short, the reason that this column and Ann Landers were and remain to be so popular is because everyone seems to be looking for peace but they just can’t seem to find it.
We claim that peace is one of the supreme virtues and yet it is so often absent from lives today. From Road Rage to Black Friday Brawls, our culture does not seem to have the virtue of peace. We long for it, we wish we had it, but we seldom find it. Even in the church we don’t always see it.
Over the past few weeks we have looked at different Christmas songs and today we’ll finish this series by looking at a hymn you probably learned right after Jingle Bells, and that is the hymn Silent Night. In the first verse we sang that beautiful thought of heavenly peace. But I wonder if we know what that is, and would we know it if we ever had the chance to experience it.
In the Old Testament, the idea of peace was found in the word shalom. Shalom is a state of wholeness and harmony that resonates in all relationships. When used as a greeting, shalom was a wish for outward freedom from disturbance as well as an inward sense of well-being. To a people constantly harassed by enemies, peace was the premiere blessing. In Numbers 6:24-26, God gave Moses these words to use when blessing His people: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”
When we carry the idea of peace or Shalom into the New Testament we see that it is an all encompassing all consuming action. It is not enough for us to wish that someone has peace, but we are called to move in someone’s lives to help them achieve peace. When God sent Jesus to become our sacrifice, God’s desire for us to have peace caused Him to move in our lives so that peace could be a reality. And because God moved we can have peace in three areas of our lives.
First, God moved so that we could have Peace With Him
I have shared with you before the beautiful words from the prophet Zephaniah who wrote in chapter 3:17: He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. I have always been drawn to the fact that when the Creator and Savior of this world considers me, His love causes Him to rejoice over me with singing.
But the idea of His justice also reminds me that, because of to the devastating effects of my sin I am at war with God. Paul writes in Romans 5:10 that we are enemies of God. This is hard for me to get my mind wrapped around because I don’t feel like I’ve been at war with God. And while we might not think we’re fighting Him, the Bible clearly teaches that He is at war with those who do not know His Son. God is the enemy of sin and Satan. Before you accepted His gift of grace you were locked in conflict with the Almighty. The Psalmist writes in 7:11: God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses His wrath every day.
That’s why I believe before we can really understand the peace we are offered with God we must first come to grips with what our relationship with God looks like apart from Christ. While God loves us and cherishes us, He is also repulsed and filled with anger because of our sinfulness. Paul writes in Romans 1:18: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
That’s the bad news, but Paul also shares some good news in Romans 5:1 where he writes: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of what Jesus Christ did on the Cross, you and I can now be at peace with God. The Father poured out all of His wrath and fury on that baby born in the manger, who grew up, and became a sacrifice for my and our sin.
I need you to understand that we don’t deserve this peace. In fact, what we deserve is death and eternal punishment. But, because of God’s great love, He provided a way for us to be at peace with Him. God’s mercy and His justice converge on the cross of Calvary. When we put our faith in Christ, we are declared righteous and at peace with God. We are at peace with God not because of anything you have done, but because of what was done by our Savior.
Next, we know that God Moved So we Could Have Peace Within.
In Luke’s account of that silent night we read that on the night Jesus was born the great company of the heavenly host appeared, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests. God offers peace to those on whom His favor rests; but on who does God’s favor rest?
Shortly before Jesus died, He said in John 14:27: 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. When God moved into action and brought us a Savior, we not only were offered peace with Him, but we were offered peace within.
In my reading I have been comforted by the fact that every one of Paul’s letters talks about or includes a greeting of peace. And not only does Paul wish for peace, he tells us how to move, what actions to take, to find peace. In Philippians 4:6-7 Paul instructs us: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The events of the past few weeks have only served to remind me that many of us are just walking civil wars. We have so much inner turmoil in our lives that are causing us to be filled with worry and concern. Paul’s a realist and he knows that we can’t just decided to not be anxious and suddenly we’re flooded with peace. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t will yourself to tranquility. The path to inner peace means that we are moved into the action of prayer.
The word petition carries with it the idea of being specific about what our wants, needs, and problems are. We’re to do this with thanksgiving, being careful to have an attitude of gratitude for what God has already done for us. It paints a picture of us coming to the throne of grace with our arms filled with cares and concerns and then we hand them to God.
Once we present our requests to God, His peace will come flooding into our lives. I want you to notice that it’s God’s peace and only He can give it to us. We cannot manufacture this peace with pills, or possessions, and we cannot pretend to have peace when we really don’t.
This peace passes all understanding, which means that it goes way beyond all that we can even ask or imagine. Our minds cannot even fathom the peace that God has to offer. When God’s peace floods our lives, it will protect our hearts and minds against enemy attacks. But in order to have this type of inner peace we must be moved to action. Paul says Don’t be anxious about anything… But if you are, then present your requests to God… When you do, His supernatural and profound peace will come and protect you… So that you won’t be filled with worry and anxiety.
Finally we see that God moved so we could have Peace Among Men
Peace with Him enables us to have peace within, so we can have peace among men.
In the greatest sermon ever preached Jesus says in Matthew 5:9: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. For the longest time I thought Jesus was telling us to be peacekeepers, but that’s not what He says. There are times when we must disturb the content, in order to get them to reconsider their relationship with God. What Christ is calling us to do in this text is to be workers of peace, and to help bring conflict to an end. We’re called to make peace when we’re involved in conflict with someone or when we see others involved in skirmishes.
Going back to Paul’s letter to the Romans, we read in 14:19 our responsibility: Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Now I believe that there are some very practical ways that we can live at peace with others. There are things we can do when our relationships are out of sync, there are some actions we need to take whether we are the offender, the offended, or the innocent bystander.
In the book of Philemon, we have a biblical model of three people who work to bring about peace. We have the offended, the offender, and the one who is working to bring peace. They each have their part if they are going to find peace.
Paul is the Reconciler. Paul went out of his way to reconcile Philemon and Onesimus. He could have just stayed out of it, but he chose to be a peacemaker. Philemon 13 mentions that Onesimus was assisting Paul in ministry but Paul wanted him to go back and make things right with Philemon.
If you know of people who aren’t talking to each other, or if you know about relationships that have broken down, I believe that God is calling you to do a little holy meddling. We must be willing to be deeply involved in the lives of others and take action when we see people at odds with each other.
Onesimus is the Repenter. Peacemaking in the body requires not only one person who is willing to take the initiative, but also people who are willing to be reconciled. When Onesimus escaped from Philemon’s household he evidently stole something. Now, after being converted, he wanted to make things right so he was making the 1,000 mile journey back to his master. Paul was sending this letter with him to encourage Philemon to forgive Onesimus.
When you wrong someone you must be willing to take the necessary steps, no matter how long the journey, to be reconciled. As repenters, we must be willing to acknowledge our sins and go to those whom we’ve offended.
And we see that Philemon was the Receiver. In a culture without slavery it’s hard for us to realize the magnitude of Paul’s request. Philemon was asked to receive his runaway, thieving slave, not as a piece of property but as verse 16 says, as a dear brother in the Lord.
We must be willing to offer forgiveness and restoration if we have any hope of receiving forgiveness and restoration from God. The need for receivers is importiant in the body of Christ. As receivers we offer the forgiveness and mercy that people need so that we can live in peace with each other once again.
There’s more conflict between brothers and sisters in Christ than we care to admit. If we want to experience the peace of God we must be vigilant about keeping our relationships with each other healthy. Satan loves to divide and create conflict. Jim Cymbala, writes the “Holy Spirit is a dove that soars away when there is division.” Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29, Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Peace is a beautiful promise from God that we need to see in our lives. Since this is the last thing sermon you will hear from me before the new year I want to encourage you to allow peace to move you in to action by following some basic steps.
First this morning make peace with God. If you have never made peace with God, this is your first step. I’m not talking about a truce. A truce is saying, God you stay on your side of the line and I’ll stay on my side. You handle all the big problems of the world and I’ll handle my life. That’s not peace. Peace is what will take place when you acknowledge your sins, believe that Jesus died in your place on the cross, and receive Him into your life by faith.
One day a young man went to one of his Elders in great distress because of all the anxiety and friction he had in his life. He asked, Can you tell me what I must do to find peace? The wise Shepherd replied, Young man, you are too late. The man was devastated. You mean it’s too late for me to be saved? The shepherd and said, Oh, no. But you are too late to do anything. Jesus did everything that needed to be done twenty centuries ago! This morning He has done the work in your life as well.
Secondly I want you to identify one thing that you are worried about right now. Give it to God in prayer. Don’t hold on to it. Present it to God and you’ll experience a peace that is beyond anything that you can manufacture on your own. Inner peace comes as we practice the power of prayer.
Finally I want you to say something good when someone says something bad. When you hear gossip, give the gift of grace by immediately speaking a kind word about the person being talked about. This is how we will help one another know that we’re slipping into unwholesome talk. If you’re talking about someone and someone else starts building that person up, you’ll know that you’ve slipped into slander.
This morning we are living in a community with tension on the rise as hearts have been ripped open and relationships are in shreds. God is sounding His siren this morning, He has offered us heavenly peace, peace that surpasses all of our understanding. This morning the Gospel is calling you into action, so that there can be peace with Him, peace within, and peace among men.
Questions For You To Consider
What are some areas that we struggle to have peace? (jobs, family, with the neighbors, …)
Why do you think that people are having such a hard time finding peace?
Read Colossians 3:15 and John 16:33
Why can we have peace in Christ?
How can we allow the peace of Christ to control our thinking?
What are some things that sabotage our peace?
What is the connection between peace and trust?
How does peace with God bring about inner peace?
What effect will someone at peace have on those around them?
What effect will someone who is not at peace have on those around them?
Jeremy said this morning that the New Testament idea of Shalom (peace) carries the idea that it is not enough for us to wish that someone has peace, but we are called to move in someone’s lives to help them achieve peace. What are some practical ways that we can do that?
Today Jeremy outlined three action steps: Make peace with God, Give God the things that you are worried about, and pledge to give the gift of grace by speaking a kind word about the person being talked about. Are you up to the challenge? And how are you going make these action steps reality?