“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 troubles and do not be afraid.” — John 14:27 (NIV)
“Give peace a chance,” says one bumper sticker. “War is not the answer,” says another. The U.S. government operates a long-running Middle East peace process. We all want peace, but there doesn’t seem to be much of it.
I remember well what too many Vietnam-era peace rallies were like; in the name of peace, people shouted angry slogans, got into fierce arguments, sometimes even threw bricks through windows or set buildings on fire.
We can avoid arguments, of course. How many relationships suffer under the strain of issues neither party dares to talk about as they seethe privately? What looks like peace is too often an illusion. That’s how the world gives peace.
If Jesus does not give peace as the world does, then doesn’t it follow that it might not look at all like peace? Doesn’t it follow that Jesus does not mean papering over differences for an uneasy truce or an absence of conflict?
The peace Jesus offers is first peace with God. Jesus took care of sin on the cross. Without the cross, everyone from the most callous mass murderer to the most generous and tenderhearted person on earth deserves hell for sin; in Adam all die. By grace, Jesus took our just punishment, and gave in its place the right to be adopted as beloved children of God.
Second, the peace of Jesus is peace within. Being troubled or not is a choice. Being afraid or not is a choice. In principle, we can all choose not to be troubled or afraid, but left to ourselves, everyone lacks the strength to stick with that choice. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to strengthen, guide, and shield our hearts and give us the strength not to be troubled or afraid.
Third, the peace of Jesus does not promise an avoidance of outward conflict, only the ability to remain at peace within in the midst of it. Mere hours after he spoke our verse, a band of armed men arrested him. He suffered beating, illegal judicial proceedings, the anger of his adversaries, the mocking of the crowd, and finally the agony of execution by torture. He never lost his peace. His disciples panicked and fled, but later they, too, learned the secret of peace within.
Someone who knows the peace of Jesus has the ability to experience times of trouble without becoming emotionally overcome by it, to withstand abuse from others without retaliating, to respond to a crisis with prayer and calm assurance of deliverance rather than panicking and looking for shortcuts.
Who can understand the peace Jesus offers? Probably no one. He doesn’t ask us to understand it, only to receive it from him.