The shalom (peace) of Jesus.
In 1981, the FIFA World Youth Soccer Championships were hosted in Australia.
Along with a couple of my good mates and their mates (one of whom went on to become a Socceroo) I watched a match between England v. Argentina in Sydney.
It is worth putting this game in context because it was held a year before the Falkland’s War, a war between the UK and Argentina.
This soccer game turned out to be one of the scariest moments in my life.
Why? Read on!
Serious fighting involving large numbers of fans broke out at the conclusion of the game; so badly that we were unable to get out of Sydney Sports Ground.
Two long parallel lines of angry supporters stood staring (and swearing) at each other with random fans from both sides running at each other; belting someone and/or getting belted themselves. Some were injured quite badly.
What made matters worse for me personally was the fact that one of the guys I was with was wearing a T-shirt with a large Union Jack on the front of it!
I want you to know that on that day, I was not experiencing peace. Many English supporters along with many Argentinian supporters were not experiencing peace either.
However, when we finally got out of the stadium I saw something I’ll never forget and it was an Argentinian mother desperately trying to get her small children away from the violence they had just witnessed.
Peace had deserted a mother’s heart that day.
In 1982, there was no peace either between these two countries as they went to war against each other.
In this article, I want to briefly consider the concept of ‘peace’ in the Bible.
For example, in Galatians 5:22-23 we read: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."
In the Bible, the word ‘peace’ has varied meanings depending on the actual Hebrew or Greek word(s), as well as the context. But the meaning of ‘peace’ in Galatians is a peace that God places in the hearts of all His people.
It should be thought of as a ‘blessed’ peace of mind, a tranquillity of mind which is based on the reality of our relationship with God. It is an inner peace that only God can give; we cannot manufacture it – it is a fruit not from ourselves but from the Spirit of God Himself.
Can this ‘peace’ be totally understood?
No, it can’t!
The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:7: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Firstly, you will see, that he says that this peace we have is ‘of God’.
Secondly, he says that it ‘surpasses all understanding’ – it is that profound. We can think about what this peace means but let’s not ever pretend that we’ll completely understand ‘the peace of God’ – we won’t!
And thirdly, he says that this peace ‘will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus’.
What does he mean by that that this peace ‘will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus’?
Let me relate to you a true story.
Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf has been called the rich young ruler who said 'YES'. Born into one of Europe’s leading families, he became a follower of Jesus, established a Christian community on his estate and oversaw the sending of the first ever Protestant missionaries in history.
Later in life he married his beloved Anna.
Three years later, however, his strength began to wane. He also noticed that Anna, too, was growing weaker. On May 4, 1760, they both attended church together but with some difficulty. Anna returned to her bed very weak; he visited her but soon found himself very sick too and rested in his own bed.
Speech soon became very difficult and it became apparent that he and Anna were both dying in rooms right next to each other.
About midnight on May 8, Zinzendorf was seized by a coughing spasm and about 9 o’clock the next morning, he said, “I am about to go to the Saviour. I am ready. I am resigned to do his will … I am ready to go to Him. Nothing more stands in my way.”
His eyes lingered another hour, then they closed.
A friend by his bed began praying, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace. The Lord bless you and keep you … the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
At the word, “peace” Zinzendorf stopped breathing.
When his beloved Anna was told this, she said,” I have the happiest prospect of you all. I will soon be going to him.” She watched his burial from her window; then 13 days later she joined him.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.
This illustration from the 18th century is just so very fitting for this verse but let me highlight it even more by placing this verse in better context.
Consider the two verses BEFORE verse 7:
5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 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.
Note well, the close relationship that exists between prayer and inner peace.
At the school where I work, I teach a unit of work called Religion and Peace which is part of the HSC Studies of Religion course.
During a 3 week period we look at the concept of peace within Judaism and Christianity.
We have to study how peace is reflected in the sacred scriptures of these 2 world religions as well as in their major teachings.
Finally, we look at how both religions perceive of inner peace as well as their contributions to world peace.
I ask my students to learn and memorise certain sacred scriptures for the Tenakh (OT) the Talmud (rabbinical writings) as well as key NT verses.
For example, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about peace and He says to them:
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. (John 14:27)
Superficially it’s a warm, fuzzy passage until closer inspection.
Jesus is saying that the peace He leaves with the disciples is ‘His peace’. It’s not the world’s concept of peace.
The world’s concept of peace is the removal of tension and conflict. The peace that Jesus leaves with His people is a peace that exists even with tension and conflict.
Therefore, there is no reason for us, as Christians, to fear isolation, or destruction, or permanent loss; because even in moments of trouble and storm – Jesus gives His peace; His ‘shalom’.
After all, He is the Prince of Peace, is He not?
We, who are Christians, would say AMEN!
Then why do we read these words from the lips of Jesus:
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Matthew 10:34-35)
Doesn’t sound real peaceful does it!?
Why these words from Jesus – the ‘Prince of peace’? He comes not to bring peace but a sword!!??
Doesn’t this statement conflict with the statement above about Jesus being the bearer of peace?
No, it doesn’t because the concept of peace is used very differently in the Bible according to the context. One shoe does not fit all!
These 2 statements do NOT cancel each other out because in the statement about a sword, Jesus is referring to the concept of peace as it was commonly understood by a distinctive people in a distinctive religious/cultural context at a distinctive time.
Let me explain.
Two thousand years ago the Jewish people believed that when the Messiah would appear, He would usher in a world wide reign of peace.
Our Jewish friends, even today, call it “The Prophetic Vision of Peace on Earth’ and it has very strong support from the Tenakh (OT) – especially from Isaiah:
Messiah would finally appear and in Isaiah 2:4 we read:
He [i.e. Messiah] shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
Or, how about this description of the Messiah from Isaiah 9:
For to us [i.e. the Jewish nation] a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9.6-7)
This is the concept of the Messiah in the minds of Jesus’ hearers, so He says to them: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Matthew 10:34-35)
Jesus will have to go to a Roman cross and die for these prophetic words of Isaiah’s peace to become reality.
Firstly, sin has to be dealt with and there is only one way to deal with it: the Prince of Peace must die; Messiah must die (Isaiah 52.13- 53.12).
And He will be raised from the dead; He will gather a people unto Himself who believe but not all will embrace the gospel.
In fact, some will oppose it so strongly that even in families, where the closest of relationships exist, there will be strong divisions and a total lack of peace.
I remember speaking to a former Muslim who became a Christian missionary in a Muslim country. She had led a girl to the Lord but the girl’s joy was not the family’s joy. It was a family divided. Her brothers decided to uphold the family honour and they killed their sister. They threw her out of a building – to her death.
The world sees peace so differently from the Christian.
The world thinks that if it removes tension and conflict and war there will be peace.
For example, if the Jewish State and the Palestinians finally arrive at a binding agreement of peace, the world will rejoice. Peace they say has finally come to the Middle East!
Has it? Has it really?
If this happened, I for one would in no way minimise it. I’ve been in Israel and have personally been told by Israelis themselves, with great passion, of their desperation for peace. They crave peace!
But what about peace between Palestinian and Palestinian? Will there be peace among the Jewish people? Will there be peace within the communities and families of these Middle Eastern families?
Or will there still be conflict resulting in divorces, murders, assaults, mental health issues, depression, gambling and porn addictions that destroy the peace of those who inhabit the streets of Jerusalem and the streets of Gaza?
The bombs may stop but there will always be a war that continues in the hearts of lost sinners, regardless of their ethnicity.
Jesus does not give peace like the world gives peace … He gives us His peace; His ‘shalom’ in the midst of the lightning and the thunder (as well as when we are most content).
And this brings me to my last passage I would like to look at. But first ...
We who are Christians are no better than anyone else.
The Bible is not at all flattering when it comes to describing us before we became Christians.
For example, we are described as ‘we who were far off’; ‘children of wrath’; ‘wicked’, ‘unrighteous’, ‘lost’ and spiritually ‘dead’ just to name a few.
However, it is this following description that is troubling, but true:
We were, at one time, ‘enemies of God’ (Romans 5.10).
Have you ever regarded yourself at one stage in your life as being an enemy of God?
Well, you were.
Enemies are at war with each other in some sense – they are not friends, there is hostility and there is a huge distance between them.
In our case the gap was between that which is stained and lost, with that which is Holy and Pure.
We are helpless and weak; He is all powerful and strong.
Not only that but there was, at the time of Jesus, an extremely strong enmity (hostility) that existed between 2 people groups: the Jewish people (who had God’s Law - the Torah) and non-Jewish people called 'Gentiles' (who didn’t have God’s written Law).
That gap between these 2 peoples was absolutely massive and humanly speaking, impossible to bridge.
But the impossible became an actual reality; we read about it in Ephesians 2:13-17:
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off [Gentiles] have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14-15 For He himself is our peace, [not a religion; not a PEACE movement but a Person] who has made us [Jewish believers and Gentile believers] both one [NOT 2!!] and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, [the Law of Moses] that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,
16 and [this is critical] might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. [note the strong language here]
17And he [Jesus] came and preached peace to you [the Gospel] who were far off [Gentiles] and peace to those who were near [Jews].
The preaching of the Gospel is the preaching of peace:
- peace with God
- peace with each other
- peace that includes an inner peace that surpasses full comprehension
- and it’s a peace that God the Holy Spirit brings into the hearts of all His people described so beautifully as fruit.
And because it is 'fruit' it has great practical implications. For example. we are told in Romans 12:18: If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
We can do that because we belong to the prince of Peace.
The famous Puritan Thomas Watson once said:
“God the Son is called the Prince of Peace. He came into the world with a song of peace: “On earth peace among those with whom he is pleased …”
He went out of the world with a legacy of peace, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you.”
Christ’s earnest prayer was for peace: He prayed that His people may be one.
Christ not only prayed for peace, but He bled for peace: “Having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
He died not only to make peace between God and man, but between man and man.
Christ suffered on the cross, that He might cement Christians together with His blood; as He prayed for peace, He paid for peace.” (Emphasis mine).
Thankyou for reading this far!
May I leave you with a benediction:
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:16)
You are welcome to comment on this article via CONTACT US. Selected comments will be published below.
This article is based on my sermon on 'PEACE'. It can be downloaded just below.
All Bible references are from the English Standard Version (ESV) (Crossway).
The illustration re: Zinzendorf was sourced via 'Preacher's Sourcebook' (Robert J. Morgan). It has been ammended for this article.