David Jeremiah - God Will Give You Peace
Donna and I were staying in the hotel in New York City in front of which a man drove his car up over the curb and ran down over 20 people. One 18-year-old girl was killed as she was walking along with her sister, and many were sent to the hospital in serious condition. I was in New York to speak to a group of 1000 pastors. We were staying in this hotel in downtown Manhattan but the pastors event was in Brooklyn, more than an hour's drive in traffic from our hotel. Since I was gonna be involved all morning, I encouraged Donna to stay at the hotel, get up a little bit later, and enjoy a relaxing morning.
As our event in Brooklyn was finishing up, someone told me that there had been an incident in Manhattan which, at that time, many were saying was an act of terrorism. I felt my heart speed up and I tried to call Donna right away. We did not connect at first, but within a few moments I heard her voice and she told me that she was all right, but that the hotel was locked down. If you saw the television report, you were probably shocked, as I was, to see Times Square completely empty. Now my problem was trying to figure out how to get back to the hotel so that I could pick up Donna and we could come home. All the streets leading to Times Square were cordoned off and there was no access to the hotel.
As I was pondering what we were going to do, I received a call from my friend who is the guest manager of the hotel where we were staying. He told me not to worry, he was gonna call the chief of police and he would handle things. Within a few moments, he was directing our driver to an intersection about two blocks from the hotel. He told us that he had talked to the New York City chief of police and that when we got to this intersection we were to ask for a lieutenant and he gave us his name, and that that officer would let us through the barricades to our hotel. Sure enough, when we arrived at the appointed intersection, we met the lieutenant and two of his officers. The chief of police had wired them a picture of me that I think came off of Wikipedia. And I saw them looking at the picture and then looking at me and then I think they decided we were one and the same.
To my total surprise, all three of them came over to the car with their print-outs from the Internet. They told me how much they loved our television program and thanked us for caring for New York City, asked me to autograph the pictures, and then removed the barricades, let our car through. My God is an awesome God and he sure is full of surprises. I tell you that story because, for a few moments on that Friday morning, I felt the fear fingers begin to clutch at my heart. What if Donna had decided to take a walk in front of the hotel that morning? Actually, she told me later she considered doing that. I realized as we were inching through the traffic on our way back to the hotel, many people in our world live under this kind of threat every single day of their lives, especially our friends in Israel.
In an article she wrote for "Christianity Today," Sarah Hall tells this story about her struggle with peace. She said:
I was in Atlanta for a conference and, while there, I heard news of a possible ISIS threat against the city. The FBI, I was told, was taking the threat seriously and we were to remain alert. While the credibility of the threat was unclear, I have to admit, I felt anxious as I went to bed that night. I was far from my family, my young children were counting down the days 'til they would see me again. Warding off fear, I turned to read Isaiah 9:6. I was comforted by this reminder that God's Son is the prince of peace, that he hates terror more than we do. He's not satisfied with people living in the constant shadow of death and he has a plan for permanently eradicating the things that terrify us: the sound of stamping boots, scary news reports, red alert levels at the airport, horrifying Internet videos, brutal regimes, will make their plans but God can out-strategize them all. His plan for his children is over-the-top joy, no more oppression, no more spilled blood, and while we have seen this plan put into action in the giving of Jesus, it is not yet complete, it is still expanding, and it has a long way to go. But we know this: God is passionately committed to rescuing us from the specter of death and that is a good thing because, as we look out at our world today, what we see is anything but peace.
The world is becoming a more dangerous place even as I speak. The worsening conflict in the Middle East, the lack of a solution to the refugee crisis, an increase in deaths from major terrorists' activity, all contribute to the world being less peaceful than it used to be. I remember these words from a song that we often sing at Christmas, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and they lament our unsuccessful search for peace. He wrote: "And in despair I bowed my head. 'There is no peace on earth,' I said, 'for hate is strong and mocks the song of "peace on earth, goodwill toward men".'"
God's ultimate goal for humanity, for you and for me, is for peace to blanket the earth. His Son, Jesus Christ, was even referred to as the Prince of peace by Isaiah the prophet. That's because Isaiah saw also what he wrote about in the 2nd chapter of his writings. He said there will come a time when "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore". So universal is our longing for peace that Isaiah 2:4 is engraved on the Isaiah Wall in a park across the street from the United Nations headquarters building in New York City. That is the reason Jesus came. He came as the Prince of peace. He is, in truth, the Prince of peace. He came to bring peace to us.
And Paul describes the peace that Jesus brings as "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding". It probably means that the peace which God gives excels and surpasses all of our own intellectual calculations and considerations, all of our contemplations and premeditated ideas of how to get rid of our cares. What God gives us surpasses anything we could ever ask or think. The Prince of peace is just one of 250 names given to the Lord Jesus in the New Testament. When he appeared for the first time on this earth in a manger in Bethlehem, the angels announced his arrival, as you remember, with these words, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men". The world into which Jesus was born had a very different idea of peace.
Our English word "peace" originates from an old French word which means to be reconciled, or to have an agreement with, or to have the absence of hostility. But the Hebrew word "shalom" has a much richer meaning. That's the only Hebrew word I probably know to say out loud. Would you like to have the privilege of speaking Hebrew this morning? Let's say the word "shalom" out loud together, shalom. This word is found 355 times in the Old Testament, and its basic meaning is to be whole, or safe, or sound. Shalom designates a condition in which life can best be lived. A review of shalom in the Old Testament reveals that it never refers to inner psychological or emotional peace. Shalom is the condition of everything being set right. It's about the total wellbeing of the person and the community. It's one of the deepest longings of the human heart.
Say it again, shalom. Jesus is the one who brings the deepest longings of our hearts for peace to satisfaction. But if we are honest, we can easily become discouraged when we see so little peace in our world and in our hearts. We long mostly for international peace, but Jesus, I believe, cares more about individual peace, internal peace. Yes, the world needs to come to peace, but how many of you know if peace comes to our hearts, pretty soon it comes to our culture? And so, you start where you need to start, and that is with the importance of individual peace. So, there are three major ways that we are affected by this peace which God brings. Let me explain them to you as we go along and we'll share them together. First of all, the Bible says that you and I can have peace with God.
Underline the word "with". Romans 5:1 says that: "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ". Peace in this passage means the end of hostility, not tranquility of mind. It's not that we have ceased to be hostile to God, but that God ceases to righteously be hostile toward us. Did you know that the Bible says that because of our sin, God has to be hostile to us? Isaiah 59:2 says: "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God". This peace that Jesus brings changes the image of God from a fisted hand with a gavel to an outstretched hand of a friend. God's anger at us because of our sin is put away. Our separation from him is overcome. God adopts us into his family and, from now on, all his dealings with us are for good. He will never be against us. He becomes our Father and our friend, and we don't need to be afraid anymore.
Commenting on this peace with God, Ray Stedman writes: "Our hearts are at peace. It is calmness, courage. To use a modern term, and I think the most accurate, because of God and his peace we now have good 'morale.' Our morale is high. We are ready for anything. No ground can be too rough for Christ, and we have Christ. Therefore we have good morale". As you look around today at one another and in our cultures, isn't that what it seems like is missing? We've lost our good morale. Our good morale has just kind of eked away, and we forget that that peace, that inner peace, that we seek is not found in our circumstances.
If all the wars we fight were won, and we stood at the top with our hands up high in victory, we would still not have peace in our hearts if we had not made peace with God. And peace with God was brought to us when Jesus Christ came down from heaven and went to the cross as the God-man and hung there between heaven and earth and paid the price for our sin, our sin which separated us from God. Jesus paid the price for all of it. He took it all away. And when we put our trust in him, we are forgiven and that sin is erased and then we can have a relationship with God. Then we can say, "Therefore, being justified by faith, I have peace with God". You have to start there before you can know the other kinds of peace that we're gonna talk about this morning.
So let me just stop for a moment and say if you've not made peace with God, it's not hard to do, but it means you have to make a decision. You have to decide to deal with your sin at the cross, give it all over to Jesus, and ask him to forgive you. And when you do that and invite him to come and live within your heart, a relationship with God the Father is established immediately, so that it is even possible, as the Lord God says, to "come boldly before the throne of grace, to receive help in the time of trouble," wow. Then of course, there's not only peace with God but there's peace from God. John 14:27 says Jesus is saying: "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid".
Jesus spoke these particular words on the verge of his violent execution. It was in the context of a stormy, difficult, unbelievable situation in his own life. Anyone can have peace when things are going well, when all is well at home, when physical health is at its zenith, when your financial problems are not too great, and when your children are halfway behaving. You can be at peace when everything's going well, and it is no credit to us when we have peace in those circumstances because the world has that kind of peace. But when we can have peace in the midst of difficult times, that is the testimony of the peace from God. And this peace is not just quiet tension.
Some people think quiet tension is peace. It is just compressed anxiety. Too often, we think that we are trusting when we're just controlling our panic. True peace is not only a calm exterior, true peace is a quiet heart. There was a wonderful moment that the Apostle John records in his Gospel. Jesus is in a room making his first post-resurrection appearance to his gathered disciples. "And then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for the fear of the Jews, Jesus stood in the midst, and said to them, 'Peace be with you.'"
It is what he did next that perfectly illustrates what we have been talking about in these last few verses, for the next verse in John chapter 20 says this, "And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side". He was showing them his hands and his side obviously for the purpose of identifying himself to them, but I believe he was also saying, "These wounds are why I can say to you, 'Peace be with you.'" His death on the cross made it possible for him to offer us the peace we so desperately crave. But here's the best news of all, there's not only peace with God and the peace from God, but there's the peace of God. It's the best of all.
We read about this in Philippians chapter 4. Here's what Paul wrote to the Philippian believers: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God," now watch this, "and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ". When the apostle wrote these words, he was a prisoner in Rome. In that cold and lightless dungeon, Paul relied on the peace of God to keep him going. He spoke of an inner calm, a serenity of soul, an inner peace born of faith and trust in God. And I ask myself, as I ask all of you today, do we enjoy that kind of peace? Are we able to have that inner calmness?
Do we have that quiet assurance that is... well, it's saying to us, "All is well," even though the outward circumstances may be dictating chaos? Here's a good test. Can you sleep at night? Psalm 4:8 says: "I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety". No matter what goes on during the day, no matter what problems are in your life, no matter what frustrations you're having at work, no matter what's happening in school or with the other members of your family, can you come at the end of the day and even during the middle of the day, know that while everything is going crazy out there, there's that quiet center in your life that keeps you going in the right direction? The peace of God acts, according to Paul, as a sentinel or a soldier who walks back and forth in the front of the door of your heart to provide security.
The picture here is that our hearts and our minds are always under assault. Guilt, worries, threats, confusions, uncertainties, they all threaten our peace, and Paul says that God wants to guard our hearts and minds and he guards our hearts with his peace when we commit ourselves to him. I like that picture of my heart and God's soldier walking back and forth in front of the door to keep all the junk out that would come in and destroy my peace. He guards our hearts in a way that goes beyond what human understanding can fathom. Philippians 4:9 tells us something even better: that while we have the peace of God guarding us from the outside, we actually have the God of peace protecting us from the inside. Verse 9 says: "And the God of peace will be with you".
If there's anything better than the peace of God, it has to be the God of peace. Give me a choice: Do you want the peace of God or do you want the God of peace? I'll take the latter. And the Bible says that the peace of God is guarding the outside of your heart, but the God of peace is in your heart, keeping you calm in the midst of stress. As we look back at the wonder of God's peace, I want to encourage you to cultivate that peace in your life. And there are four main highways upon which the peace of God travels: the Spirit of God, the Son of God, the Word of God, and prayer. I want to say just a few words about each one of them. First of all, peace in the Spirit of God. Did you know that when Jesus was teaching his disciples and telling them that he was going to have to go back to heaven, he told them that it was a good thing he was going back to heaven because when he was gonna go back to heaven, he was gonna send the Holy Spirit down to take his place.
You say, "Well, how could the Holy Spirit be better than the Son of God"? In one way. When Jesus Christ was on this earth, he confined himself to the limitations of his human body, so that Jesus was where he was while he was on this earth only where he could be personally. And as you know the story of the Bible, Jesus really never left the land of Israel. But he said, "When I go back to heaven, I'm gonna send you my Holy Spirit, and he will not be so confined. The Holy Spirit will come to live within the heart of every single person who puts their trust in me, therefore through the Holy Spirit I will be available to you wherever you go, whatever you do, whatever happens to you".
The Bible teaches us that when we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within our hearts and becomes our perpetual, eternal Savior. John 16:33, Jesus finished his speech to his disciples about his going back to heaven, and said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace". The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, and peace. When you have the Holy Spirit in your heart, you have the possibility of peace in your life. And the Bible says that peace is the inevitable result of the Holy Spirit controlling your life. So, how can I tell if I'm controlled by the Holy Spirit of God? By the quietness within me when there's turmoil around me. How do I know if the Holy Spirit's working at peace in my life?
When I have some moments when everything should be coming unglued, and I just feel this little sense in my heart, "I'm gonna be okay. God is with me. I'm gonna make it". That's what God says he will give to us through his Spirit. And then the peace of the Son of God. When Jesus was preparing his disciples for his departure from them, he encouraged them with these words, he said, "Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid". Just a few verses later, Jesus expounded on his earlier promise. He said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. Now, to be honest with you," he said, "in the world you're going to have tribulation; but be of good cheer 'cause I have overcome the world".
Some of you remember, and others of you have read, about the dark days in England during World War II when the terrible blitz by the Germans upon that land was in full force. Bombs were raining down on the city all of the time. The people were afraid, and their hearts were failing them with fear. And then a man whom they greatly respected would go to the microphone and he would begin to speak. That one man's voice would ring out over the nation and the people would listen and they would take heart again and the morale would be strong for Winston Churchill would inspire them to new hope and new belief.
Winston Churchill's one of my favorite characters of history and I have a bust of him in my office at home about this big that I bought in England one time when I was there. But what Winston Churchill did for the people of England is what Jesus Christ does for us. He comes to us in the midst of the struggle when the battle is almost unbearable and the circumstances look impossible, and he speaks peace to us. And he gives us the encouragement that we need for our morale to go up and then we can go back into the battle and be victorious.
In his book, "Deserted by God?" author and pastor Sinclair Ferguson shares the following story. He says, "The first physician to die of the AIDs virus in the United Kingdom was a young Christian. He had contracted AIDs while doing medical research in Zimbabwe. In the last days of his life, his power of communication failed and he struggled with increasing difficulty to express his thoughts to his wife. On one occasion, she simply could not understand his message and he wrote a notepad and just wrote the letter 'J.' So she ran through her medical dictionary, saying various words beginning with 'J.' None was right. Then she said, 'Jesus,' and that was the right word. Jesus was with him. That was all either of them needed to know and that's always enough".
Jesus speaks peace into our sorrows and strength into our weakness and courage into our fear. Henri Nouwen said: "Keep your eyes on the Prince of peace, the one who doesn't cling to his divine power; the one who refuses to turn stones into bread, jump from great heights and rule with great power; the one who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind; the one who speaks words of forgiveness and encouragement. Keep your eyes on him who became poor with the poor, weak with the weak. He is the source of all peace".
I love this question that is tucked away in the book of Job. I never realized this was there. I've read the book of Job a lot of times, but this one escaped me, but it's worth writing down. Job 34:29, "When he gives quietness, who then can make trouble"? Isn't that a great verse? If he, and this is obviously speaking of God, if he then brings quietness here, who's going to make trouble? Here's my prayer for all of us borrowed from the prayer Paul prayed for his friends in Thessalonica. Here's what he prayed: "Now may the Lord of Peace himself give you peace always in every way". That's my prayer.
Then there's peace in the Word of God. Did you know that the Psalmist gives us in his book the longest chapter in the Bible? How many verses are in Psalm 119? I'm sure some of you know: 176. And one of the interesting things about Psalm 119, in the 176 verses, is almost all of these verses, with the possible exception of 1 or 2, almost all of these verses have a synonym in the verse for the Bible. So if you read this, it's all about the Word of God and then the synonyms are, like, statutes and commandments and all of that sort of thing. But here's the interesting thing. Just 11 verses from the end of that Psalm, David writes this verse. Listen carefully. "Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing shall cause them to stumble".
Did you know that of the 27 New Testament books, 18 of those books begin with a greeting of peace? And did you notice it's always "grace and peace," not "peace and grace," 'cause you can't have peace 'til you get grace. Grace is always first. There's no exception. Grace and peace. The book of Philippians starts like this: "Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and the deacons: Grace and peace from the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father". In every instance, in every situation, peace is our promise from the Lord.
Let us acquire the resolve of the Psalmist when it comes to our response to the Word of God. He wrote in Psalm 85:8: "I will hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people and to His saints". I will hear what God the Lord will have to say 'cause when I listen to him, he speaks peace. Did you know that the Bible is the key to your peace? That when you read the Scriptures, God's peace jumps out at you, and when I'm going through some times and I don't know what to do, I try to find a way to spend more time in the Scripture. Not to prepare a sermon, but for my own help and encouragement.
And once in a while, you guys, you should memorize a few verses from this book because they act as anti-terrorism agents in your life. So when bad stuff is happening and terror's going on, you know there's a verse someplace you can grab hold of and use it as a weapon against anxiety. And finally, there's peace and prayer. Listen to what Paul says to the Philippians in chapter 4: "Be anxious for nothing," listen to this. Anxious means worried. Did you know the old King James of this verse says, "Be careful for nothing"? I always thought that was kind of like a proof text for when you're a teenager, "Be careful for nothing". And then I realized the word "careful" means anxiety. "Be anxious for nothing," says the Scripture, "but in everything by prayer and supplication, let your request be made known to God".
Now, here's the way I sort that out in my mind. In essence, Paul says the Christian life is composed of three circles. First of all, there's the worry circle or the anxiety circle. And if you read the text, what belongs in that circle? Be anxious for what? Nothing. And then, there's the prayer circle, and what should you pray about? What goes in the prayer circle? Everything. And then there's the thanksgiving circle, and what goes in that circle? Anything that God does for you, always be thankful. In the very act of being thankful for what God has done for you, he begins to dissipate the anxiety that's trying to hurt your heart. So, in other words, we must be anxious for nothing, prayerful for everything, and thankful for anything. That's the kind of peace that never fails to produce that quiet center in your heart.
Some years ago, I was given the opportunity to speak at the Moody Pastors Conference in Chicago. I spoke there on a Wednesday night and I was supposed to come home the next day. There were 1000 pastors at this event and what I most remember about my being there was not my message but hearing those guys sing. Have you ever heard 1000 pastors sing? Oh my goodness, it's the most amazing thing you ever heard in your life. It kind of reminded me of the first day I went to chapel when I was a student at Dallas Seminary and in this old stone chapel with walls that reverberated, I went in there for the first time and the whole seminary of men stood up to sing, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God".
It was an amazing experience. After I went back to my room that night, I decided to catch an earlier flight home the next day that was to leave at 7 a.m. As I was getting ready for bed, I began to calculate how early I would have to get up in order to make that flight. On my time, which was 2 hours earlier, I asked for a 2:30 wakeup call. I made it to the airport in plenty of time and I went to my gate, only to discover that my flight was delayed for an hour, which later became 2 hours. You guys know what that's all about. So, since I was gonna have a 2-hour delay, when I checked in, I asked the young lady at the desk if she knew what was going on with my flight. She said, "There's a storm hovering over Chicago, would you like to see it"? I said, "What do you mean"? She said, "Well, come around here and I'll show you the storm on my computer screen".
So, I went around the welcome desk, and there on the screen of her computer I could see the storm. Here was Chicago, and surrounding it was this red mass. That red mass literally swallowed Chicago up on the screen. And we were right in the center of the storm. The storm was over the top of Chicago so no planes could land and no plans could take off. Everything was shut down. So, I went back, sat down in my comfortable chair, and began working on my computer. And for the next few moments, I watched as the storm I had seen on the computer rolled into the city of Chicago. I saw this ferocious storm, the rain beating against the glass windows. You could actually see the windows moving with the pressure of the wind and the rain. I had a moment of clarity right then, a moment of truth. I was surrounded by a storm.
In fact, I was sitting at the very center of that storm. But I was sitting in a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee in my hands, working on my computer, and I was just as safe as anybody could be. I was sheltered in the midst of the storm. And I remembered this psalm, "Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer. When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in your tabernacle forever. I will trust in the shelter of your wings. For you have been a shelter for me".
The Lord Jesus Christ has more than I can count sheltered me in the midst of personal storms when I didn't know what was gonna happen and the storm seemed almost unbearable. Down in the quiet place in my heart where no one can see but God himself, there was this quiet peace that was beyond my understanding and didn't seem rational because it wasn't, it was super-rational. It was the peace of God which passes all understanding.
And that's the peace God wants you and me to have. That's his gift to us. He has bequeathed it to us and made it a legacy of the cross. And if you will receive him, first of all, you can have peace with God, but after you become a Christian, you can know the peace that comes from God. And most of all, you can learn how to accept the peace of God and the God of peace who lives within your heart, and you will be better. And in this crazy world which seems to be spinning out of control, you will be the only stable thing in your whole neighborhood. And people will look at you and say, "What's wrong with him? Isn't he reading the news? Isn't he hearing the story"? Oh yeah, we hear the story, but we're sheltered by the Lord Jesus Christ.