The Gifts of Christmas- Peace
Copyright December 17, 2017 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche
The world around us is filled with conflict. This is not particularly new. When I was a toddler all the talk was about bomb shelters in the backyard because of the fear of nuclear war. We don’t talk much about those today, but the threat of terrorist attack or random violence seem ever present. Sadly, even Churches are not exempt. One authority declared that in the better than 3500 years of recorded history, only 286 of those years has been spent without a war someplace on this earth.
Back in the days of Jesus the world was in turmoil as well. The Romans were in charge. The Jewish people strained at the restrictions of the Romans.
War however is not the only thing that has us churning. We churn because of
Physical pain that defies explanation
The stress of ever growing demands and expectations
Growing older and facing the reality of death square in the face
The uncertainties of retirement
Most of us have already learned that peace is not gained through success, riches, or relationships. These things often only create more stress. Think of all the celebrities who kill themselves. Peace is ellusive in the world.
On and on it goes. The point however is clear: if someone offered us peace in the midst of this chaos and stress, we would listen carefully to the offer. And that is what I want you to do today: Listen to God’s offer of peace. We see it right at the beginning of the Christmas story. The angels in Heaven sang,
“Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
This peace of God is not an absence of conflict; it is something much greater. This morning we are going to look at three different dimensions of the peace that God offers. My hope is to help you see how great a gift God offers us through the birth of Christ.
Peace with God
The first area where the Lord brings us peace is in our relationship with God. Romans 5:1 says,
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.
There are some people who tell you that even apart from Christ they are “OK with God.” I have no idea what those people are thinking. Some may be measuring themselves by their personal definition of God, (they often say, “MY God would not do such things”) . . . unfortunately, it is the True and Living God who will be determining our destiny.
They may also be measuring themselves by the people around them. They believe they are better than most of the people (and most of the people feel the same way when they compare themselves against us) and therefore God must be delighted to have them on His side. Unfortunately, God does not grade on a curve! His standard is absolute holiness or perfection. He makes this demand because God is Holy and will not be compromised by our sinful and rebellious behavior. This fact leaves us in a real mess.
Some people feel they are OK with God because they go to church, or serve on a committee, or teach Sunday School or lead a youth program. In other words, they feel they are acceptable to God because of their resume. They too are wrong. Jesus reserved His most stinging rebukes for the people who were the most religious.
This means, we are in deep trouble. If you were to put in terms of school, the only grade that is acceptable is 100%. This is because God is Holy. There is no “extra credit,” there are no transferable credits. And the Bible tells us that no one has ever met God’s standards.
Sin is anything we do that is against God’s will and heart. Even when we seem to do the right things we are usually doing it for selfish reasons. We either want to earn the favor of another (get credit) or we hope to earn credit with God. However, the only time a good deed is truly good is when we do the right thing purely out of love for the Lord.
In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul said,
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
The way God brought peace to our relationship was to send Christ to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus came to live the life we could not live and die the death we deserved. His life, as the Son of God, was given as payment for our sin. His perfect obedience was credited to our account. Justice was satisfied. God remained holy. We received mercy and grace.
Because of this, the person who puts their hope and trust in Christ no longer needs to fear God. They do not have to carry the heavy burden of guilt that we all carry to some degree or another. We don’t have to question where we will spend eternity, because Christ has told us that He is preparing a place for us.
Paul says we can now enter confidently into God’s presence. It is not because we are good or because we are worthy. . . it is because we have been declared right (or righteous) in the sight of God because of Jesus. As we pointed out a couple of weeks ago, we have been adopted into His family.
This brings the peace that comes from
No longer having to look over our shoulder thinking God is mad at us
No longer having to pretend that we are better than we are
Knowing that our eternity is settled
Knowing God is for us and working in us
If you truly understand this peace it is something for which you will give thanks every day many times a day. We once were lost but now are found; were blind but now we see.
Peace in Trials
The second place we experience God’s peace is in the times of trial or difficulty. Early in the Apollo moon launch years the astronauts were being closely monitored (as they still are) and it came as somewhat of a surprise that their pulse rate at lift-off was the same as it was before lift-off. This was the result of great training. Spiritually, Jesus says we can be like those astronauts.
In John 14:27 Jesus said,
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
In John 16:33 he continued the discussion,
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Paul tells us in Philippians 4;6-7,
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
The principle is simple: God is over all things. He is stronger than anything that comes against us. There is nothing that the world and the Devil can do to us without the permission of God. We know God loves us. So, we know nothing is going to happen that is not intended for our benefit and the benefit of His Kingdom.
Most of you know my simple little theology for life:
God is in Control
He loves me
He never makes a mistake
That doesn’t mean we will understand everything that happens. It doesn’t even mean that we will LIKE everything that happens. It just means that no matter what happens we are never outside of His protection and love.
Isaiah 26:3 says,
You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
There are two conditions to knowing God’s peace: 1) Trust Him (and this starts by trusting the Savior God has given us). 2) Keep your thoughts focused on Him. We lose our peace when we lose sight of our Savior. The best way to keep Him in focus is to immerse yourself in God’s Word, memorize His promises, and talk often with Him in prayer.
When we know this peace, we will have calm in the time of sickness; we will be steady when circumstances come like a hurricane into our lives; and we will even face the end of life without fear because we know the One who waits for us. God is no longer some distant force; He is an intimate companion.
Do you have someone in your life who puts their arms around you and you immediately feel peace? No matter what is going on, their embrace makes everything seem like it is going to be OK. It may be a mate, a parent, a friend, or someone else. The point is this . . . multiply that peace many times and you have the peace that God wants to give you. He wants you to come into His presence and know that things are under control and He is protecting and defending you.
Peace as a Way of Life
In Isaiah 9:6-7 we read these familiar words,
6For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!
The coming Messiah – Jesus – is called the Prince of Peace. The Hebrew word for peace is a rich and wonderful word, it is the Hebrew word Shalom. It denotes the ongoing presence of God’s rich and full blessing. If you will, it is the smile of God over your life. Eugene Peterson in his classic book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction wrote,
Shalom is one of the richest words in the Bible. You can no more define it by looking up its meaning in the dictionary than you can define a person by his or her social security number. It gathers all aspects of wholeness that result from God’s will being completed in us. It is the work of God that, when complete, releases streams of living water in us and pulsate with eternal life. Every time Jesus healed, forgave or called someone, we have a demonstration of shalom.
The thing we need to see here is that the gift of peace that Jesus brings is not a one- time act of reconciliation between us and God; it is not only a strengthening peace and presence in the time of trial; It is a settled state. In the book of Hebrews we read these words,
18And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him? 19So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest.
God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. 2For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. 3For only we who believe can enter his rest. (Hebrews 3:18-4:3)
Don’t you love the word “rest”? It seems like such an elusive idea doesn’t it? We like the idea of rest but we are just too busy right now to think about it.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is Jason Gray’s song about the Innkeeper. He was so busy making a living that he couldn’t see what was happening right under his nose. Listen to some of Jason’s words and see if they don’t resonate with your own life,
There are no rooms to rent tonight
The only empty bed is mine
‘Cause I’m overbooked and overrun
With so many things that must be done
Until I’m numb and running blind
I need rest, I need rest
Lost inside a forest of a million trees
Trying to find my way back to me
I need rest
As a boy, I heard the old men sing
About a Kingdom and a coming King
But keeping books and changing beds
Put a different song inside my head
And the melody is deafening
I need rest, I need rest
Like a drowning man in the open sea
I need somebody to rescue me
I need rest
Tonight I can’t get any sleep
With those shepherds shouting in the streets
A star is shining much too bright
Somewhere I hear a baby cry
And all I want is a little peace
(used by permission of Jason Gray)
Jesus came to stop the madness of our lives. He came so we could get off the treadmill that is speeding up and going nowhere and instead, enjoy the life he created us to live. He came to introduce us to what life is. It is not meant to be the madness of trying to make more, achieve more, prove yourself more. He wants us to see that life is A GIFT. It is meant to be a walk with Him, a time of learning from and enjoying each other.
I can’t imagine there is anyone in this sanctuary today who doesn’t need and desire God’s Shalom in their life. It starts by stopping long enough to open your heart and your life to the Savior who came to set you free. Don’t be so busy this Christmas season that you miss Christ!
Take time, like you would if you were standing at a Nursery window in a hospital looking at your new child or grandchild. In those moments, all other thoughts are gone. You are lost in wonder, gratitude and love. Take the time to see Jesus in this way!!!
Once you have seen Him and embraced Him, let Him see you! Dare to allow Him to search your heart and life and begin to make you whole. Dare to let Him refocus your eyes so that you see the world not as it is, but as it was meant to be. Work to shake off the madness of the world and embrace His peace. In the madness of frantic activity dare to stand on the island of calm. Embrace Shalom.
You don’t have to run from God anymore! You don’t have to prove yourself or try to earn His favor! He loves you and has come to make you new. You don’t have to live your life churning with fear. He has come to you. He will protect you, lead you, defend you, and give you His strength for the trials of life.
You don’t have to embrace the madness of the world. You need rest. He came to bring it to you. It is threatening for us to step off of the treadmill. And that is because it is all we have known. We think this is the way that it has to be. But we are wrong! Jesus came to show us a different way. The way of peace. It is the gift he brings at Christmas.
Copyright December 17, 2017 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche