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Peace

A sermon by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.

Luke 2:25-35

December 8, 2013

This Sunday’s is the second Sunday of Advent – peace.  The opposite of peace, of course, is war.  We are at war with ourselves, at war with God, at war with others – man against man and country against country. 

War is fought over many things.  It could be about honor and glory, a piece of land, mineral rights.  But some wars, at least on the surface, are completely incomprehensible.

In 1864, the president of Paraguay, Francisco Solano Lopez, was a avid admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte.  He also fancied himself as a skilled tactician and excellent commander – but lacked one thing: a war.  So to solve his problem, in 1864 he declared war on Paraguay’s three surrounding neighbors, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.  The outcome of the war?  Paraguay was nearly annihilated, losing 90 percent of its male population during the war as a result of battle, disease, and starvation.  Some have said it was one of the most wacky wars in history since Lopez had little reason, other than his own ego, for declaring war on his obviously more powerful neighbors. A war of six years, from 1864-1870.

Or, there is the shortest war on record, which occurred October 27, 1896.  Known historically as the Anglo-Zanzibar War, it was fought between the Sultan of Zanzibar and the powerful United Kingdom.  The war is said to have lasted 38 minutes, start time – 9:02 a.m., ending at 9:40 a.m.  But even in this 38 minutes there was a brutally devastating loss of life and property.

Or then there is a British-American War that occurred in 1859.  It lasted four months.  The “Pig War” it is called.  An American shot a pig that was wandering on American soil.  The British threatened to arrest the pig killer.  The local American militia responded by gathering at the border and waiting for the British to make a move.  Cooler heads prevailed and I am happy to say that the pig, in this particular war, was the only casualty.

Sometimes we’re at war with so many people over so many varied things that we actually forget with whom we’re fighting.  There was a war between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly.  The war started in 1651, but like many wars of that era, it was not taken very seriously and it was soon forgotten.  Three centuries passed before the two countries finally agreed to a peace treaty in 1986, making their war the longest in human history.  1651-1986 – 335 years.  Casualties?  Not even a pig, none. (www.wardheernews.com; listverse.com)

Humanity has been at war for so long, with so many enemies, that we must ask ourselves – particularly in our modern culture – “What on earth do we know about peace?”

Isaiah had longed for the day when the peace of God would be on earth as it is in heaven.  Interestingly, in Isaiah 11:1, we read that “a shoot shall spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him.”  When the Davidic king comes, there will be peace.

Well, He comes at Christmas, does He not – this shoot of Jesse, this Davidic king, the Messiah in the form of man? 

Even before the birth of Jesus, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, looked to the coming of the Christ and said, “When we receive the forgiveness of sins…, our feet will be guided in the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

Had not the angels declared in Luke 2, concerning the birth of the Bethlehlem Baby, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace  among men” (Luke 2:14).

In the Old Testament, Shalom, or peace, is one of the most significant theological words.  It means wholeness, harmony, security, tranquility, well-being, success, prosperity, agreement.  It’s the opposite of war. 

A key passage of the Old Testament is the Aaronic Benediction:  “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:26).  Shalom is used to describe the relationship between God and His creatures (Isaiah 27:5), and among the creatures themselves (1 Samuel 16:4, Job 5:23; Zechariah 6:13).  The Old Testament longs for the day of peace, the day of the Messiah.  And Zacharias and the angels declare with the coming of the Christ child, “peace has arrived.”

What do we know about peace?  We live in a culture where a man will walk into an elementary school and start gunning down the innocent children.

What do we know about peace?  We live in a culture where we buy our children video games challenging them to sink down the ships, to slash the throats of thieves, and bludgeon the bloody enemy.

And our own minds are filled with a jumble of unforgiven memories, unresolved relationships, and frustrating disappointments? 

Are you at peace right now from smoldering anger?  Nagging fears?  Frustration?  Envy?  Do you let others rob you of inner peace?  Do your circumstances disrupt your ability to be at peace?  Do you remain calm and collected in the face of trouble?  Is your body at peace?  How many times and how many people go to the doctor – and it all started with stress?  Agitated.  Nervous.  Churning stomach.  Tight muscles.  High blood pressure?  Are we really at peace?  (Questions adapted from Lloyd John Olgivie)

Today we look at Shalom, we look at peace.

I want us to look at four pieces of the puzzle – the puzzle of shalom, or as the New Testament would say, eirene.  

I.  First and foremost, do we have peace with God?

I am reminded of the man who was close to death in the hospital.  His pastor came by to see him and asked, “Have you made your peace with God?”  The man replied, “I didn’t know we had ever quarreled.”

The reality is that we are born enemies of God.  We’re born as sinners with our backs turned toward God. 

But God is the God of peace.  Have you ever thought about how many times God is called the God of peace in scripture?

Paul says in Romans 15:33, “Now may the God of peace be with you all.” 

Or in Romans 16:20, the very last chapter, he says, “And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

Paul closes Philippians with the words in 4:9, “And the God of peace shall be with you.”

Or 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Or, the author of Hebrews says in chapter 13, “And now the God of peace, who brought you up from the dead, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do his will.”

We need to be at peace with the God of peace.

In Romans 5:1, Paul says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Now look at Romans 5:10, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

Do you have peace with God?  The reality is, we were once enemies with God.  The Psalmist declared, “Lord, if you should mark iniquities, who should stand?”  Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we’ve all turned, every one, to his own way.”  John agrees in the New Testament when he says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar.”

The prophets have declared, the psalmist has said, and the apostle has penned: we have all sinned.  We’re all guilty.  We’re all at war with God.

But God took the initiative to make peace with us.  He gave His only Son on that Friday afternoon.  He made Him who knew no sin to bear sin for us.  The war with God is over if we’ve accepted His Son as our Savior. Peace and salvation are twins of God’s grace

We come into the world fighting against God, wanting to call our own shots.  We are all part of the rebellion that began with Adam and Eve.  But when we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we cease being enemies with God. 

Jesus Christ wrote the treaty with the blood of His cross.  In Ephesians 6:15, Paul called the good news of salvation “the preparation of the gospel of peace.”  In Colossians 1:20-22, Paul writes “Christ made peace through the blood of His cross…. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.”

With God on one side and with us on the other side, Christ filled the gap, taking the hand of God and the hand of humanity and placing them together in the grip of the cross.  We are brought together, the truce is complete, in the cross of the Christ.

II.  Secondly, do you have peace with yourself?

You can’t have peace with yourself without first having peace with God.

God’s people are to have an inner peace.  Our peace is not like the world’s peace.  The world has peace when everything is swell and all is smooth.  God’s people, however, have peace because of who God is and because their eternity is secure with Him.

You remember what Jesus said in John 14, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world gives do I give unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”  Our peace is not peace for only happy days or easy times. 

In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

The people of the kingdom of God are to have an inner peace.  Paul says here it’s a peace of heart and a peace of mind.

In Galatians 5:22, Romans 8:6, or 15:13, peace is part of the fruit of the Spirit, part of those qualities that exudes from those who walk a life controlled by the Spirit of God.

But Jesus and Paul are reflecting what the prophet Isaiah had already said in Isaiah 26:3, “The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in Thee.”

In other words, if we keep our minds on God, we will have peace in our hearts.

The biblical concept of peace does not focus on the absence of trouble.  Biblical peace is unrelated to circumstances.  It is a goodness of life that is untouched by what happens on the outside. 

We need a peace that deals with our past, that causes our sins to be forgiven in the Christ.  We need a peace that deals with the present, so there is no unsatisfied desire that gnaws at our heart.  We need a peace that holds the promise of the future, where no dark tomorrow threatens. 

That’s exactly what we get in the Christ – peace.  Peace with our yesterday.  Peace with our today.  And peace with our tomorrow.

Do you remember Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick?  Melville portrays all the characters of a whaling vessel busy at work, as they seek out the great whale that has become the obsession of Captain Ahab.  Everybody on board is furiously at work except one, the harpooner.  The harpooner is sitting still and undisturbed.  The harpooner is not caught up in the frenzy that involves a ship sailing through a storm to catch up to and then kill a giant whale.  Instead, says Melville, “the harpooner sits in tranquility and rises with a sense of calm to do his work.”  The storm and the fury are going on all around him, but the harpooner is able to maintain a sense of tranquility and calm that allows him to go forward with his job.

Godless individuals can never know true peace.  They might know a momentary tranquility, a shallow feeling, perhaps stimulated by positive circumstances mixed with a lot of ignorance.  But the reality is that if unsaved people knew what destiny awaited them without God, their illusion of peace, born out of ignorance, would evaporate instantly.  Most of humanity pursues peace only in an attempt to get away from problems.  That’s why people seek peace through alcohol and drugs and every form of escapism known to humanity.  All that is mock peace – it is not real peace.  The reality is that in our life we are going to see worry stacked upon worry.  One man said, “I’ve got so many troubles that if anything else happens to me it will be two weeks before I can even worry about it.”

Not only do you have peace with God and peace with yourself, but

III.  Do you have peace with others?

If Christmas brings peace, there has never been a more ironic story.  Tsar Nicholas of Russia was looking for an excuse to attack Turkey, and in the summer of 1853 he found that excuse at Bethlehem.  The Church of the Nativity, traditionally built over the stable where Christ was thought to have been born, was the scene of violent clashes between monks of the Orthodox Church supported by Russia, and the monks of the Roman Catholic Church supported by France. The Orthodox Church was bickering with the Roman Catholic Church over who would place a star over the manger. 

In the summer of 1853, a serious riot took place, and the Roman Catholics succeeded, after a prolonged struggle, in placing their star over the manger.  But not before several Orthodox monks had been killed in the scuffle.  As a result, Russia declared war on Turkey for allowing the Roman Catholic Church star.  Great Britain, France, and Italy rallied to the side of Turkey, and for three years, 1853-1856, the Crimean War raged.  The irony of it all, of course, is the immediate cause of the war – or at least the flashpoint – was determining which star would hang over the place where it was once declared there would be peace on earth.

The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 34:14, “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”

In Matthew 5:29, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

And in Ephesians 2:14, we read, “For He himself [meaning Jesus] is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.”  And he says in verse 17, “And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near.”

Christ died for the very reason to bring all peoples together under God, both Jew and Gentile.  He said we can all be God’s family because of the death of Christ on the cross.  He calls it “God’s household” in Ephesians 2:19.

Perhaps the passage that teaches it most of all is in Romans 12:18.  “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.  ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Those are powerful words.  We are not to pay back, get back, or talk back.  Because we have peace with God and the spirit of peace within ourselves, we are to be at peace with others.  You can’t make someone reconcile with you; you can’t make someone like you.  I gave up trying to make people like me a long time ago.  But as much as it depends on you, he is saying, live at peace with all men.

The story is told of Newman Hall, who was a minister in Great Britain in the last century and a friend of the great pulpiteer Charles Spurgeon.  Hall wrote a book entitled Come to Jesus.  The book was reviewed by a writer for the London paper, and the review was vicious.  The reviewer was unjustly critical of the book and ruthless in his criticism of the author.  Newman Hall wrote a personal response to the review, and in his response he stridently condemned the reviewer.  The ink of his pen was just as venomous as had been the reviewer’s; he spared no invective or insult.  But before he mailed the letter, he decided to show it to Charles Spurgeon.

Spurgeon read it and agreed with its contents.  “You’re absolutely right,” he said.  “This man deserves every disparaging remark you have written to him and about him.”  When Hall asked him if he would add anything, Spurgeon said, “Yes, you have not signed it yet.  Why don’t you add your signature and under your name write, ‘Author of Come to Jesus?’”  Both men were silent for a moment, and it dawned on Hall that the words “Come to Jesus” just wouldn’t fit his letter, so he tore it up and threw it away.

Sometimes what you mistake as courageous and candid words can be hurtful and unnecessary words.  Sometimes when you’re offended it takes the biggest person and the greatest courage to say nothing and to let it go.  Someone has hurt you – even someone who should have known better – let it go.  Peace between you and the other person, and peace within yourself, is more valuable than the pound of flesh you want to extract.

Take care of your enemies not with  a vicious tongue, but with good.

IV.  Are you at peace with death?

Have you ever asked someone how they were doing when there had been a death in their family?  “You know, he’s at peace now,” or “She’s at peace.”  In fact, the image of dying in peace, meaning one has had a complete or satisfying life, is found throughout scripture.

In Genesis 15:15, God says to Abraham, “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace.  And you shall be buried at a good old age.”

In 2 Kings 22:20, it says, “You shall be gathered to your grave in peace.”

Jeremiah tells the king of Judah, Zedekiah, in Jeremiah 34:5, “You will die in peace.  You will not die by the sword, but you will die in peace.”

Knowing how many times the Old Testament refers to the people of God dying in peace, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that peace is the equivalent of salvation in the Old Testament.  The two concepts are used interchangeably, almost.  You know what was written on Jewish gravestones of antiquity?  The word “shalom” – peace on the gravestone.

And you know what early Christians wrote on their gravestones, having borrowed from their Jewish brethren?  EIRENE – peace.  The earliest Christian cemetery inscriptions are the word eirene [I -ray-nay] – peace.

Let’s go back to Christmas.

In Luke 2:29, we have the song of Simeon, the old man who had been promised by God that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s anointed.  Mary and Joseph and the baby show up at the temple.  Simeon takes Jesus into his arms, and realizes he has seen the Christ. “‘Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bondservant depart in peace according to Thy word, for my eyes have seen Thy salvation.”  – see how they go together:  dying in peace and salvation – “which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.’ And His father and mother were amazed at the things that were being said about Him.”

God, I can die in peace.  Salvation is here.  I’ve seen the Christ.

Christmas brings us peace:

Peace with God.

Peace within ourselves.

And, as hard as it is, peace with others.

And, ultimately, peace in our death.  Salvation because of the Christ.

Shalom.