‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’. Chapter 14 of John’s Gospel commences (v.1) and concludes (v.27) with Jesus repeating this statement, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’. Well, you might say, “Easier said than done!” By nature, many of us find it difficult not to get anxious in some situations. How can we not get anxious, for example, during those times when the ground is dry, the cattle don’t have good feed, and the milk production is falling? How can we not get anxious when we see our child unemployed and struggling with life?
And yet this is essentially what Jesus is saying to us. ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ – do not be anxious, or worried. (The word that Jesus used here for ‘being troubled’ is the same word that would be used to describe the agitation action in a washing machine.) The passage tells us that the Christian can have freedom from worry through the peace of the Lord which Jesus offers to us.
So, the question that I would like to address today is, ‘How can we have this peace?’ There are three important points to consider about the peace of the Lord:
I. The peace of the Lord can replace worry
There is plenty of popular philosophy around that tells us we should not worry – that tells us that it is quite pointless to worry.
You might remember a song called Don’t worry; Be happy, that was written by Bobby Mcferin some years ago. It was played over and over again on the radio. I think that it was so popular because it presents an ideal that we would all like to achieve. The main message of the lyrics was this:
In every life we have some trouble But when you worry you make it double (that’s probably true!) Don't worry, be happy
Ain't got no place to lay your head Somebody came and took your bed Don't worry, be happy
Some of us might also remember a song with a similar sentiment written by George Asaf around the war years. It went:
What’s the use of worrying?
It never was worthwhile,
So, pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile.
There may be some value in worry – perhaps it may inspire us to make a greater effort, or some such thing. But largely, it is very true that worry is pointless, particularly if we are talking about worrying about something that has not happened yet and may not happen.
Winston Churchill once said, “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.”
So deciding that we are going to be happy and smile instead of worrying is a lovely sentiment; but, again I say, ‘easier said than done!’ The problem is that whilst these songs present an ideal of behaviour, they do not tell us how to achieve it.
I do not believe that we can achieve a worry free life simply by our own efforts. Some may be able to do this through will power to some degree; and there are heaps of people making much money out of ‘self-help books’ that they have written on how to be happy, how to overcome fear, how not to be anxious, etc. But, I think that people who can have total serenity through will power would be rather rare.
On the other extreme is the person who worries if they have nothing to worry about. Others seem to store up worry.
J There was a fellow who was looking particularly worried. A friend queried his worry and received the reply, “Worried! I’ve got so much worry already that, if anything bad happens to me today, it will be two weeks before I can worry about it.”
Now as well as this popular philosophy encouraging us to not worry, Jesus also told us not to worry. In Matt 6:34 he said, ‘do not worry about tomorrow’ and in Luke 12:22 he said ‘do not worry about your life.’
The difference between the secular advice, and Jesus’ advice, is that Jesus went on to tell us that worry can be replaced by the peace of God which is available to the Christian - and in today’s Gospel passage he further indicates how we may obtain that peace, and that is that ...
II. The peace of the Lord is available through trusting in God.
In verse 23 Jesus said, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and the Father will love them and I will come to them and make our home with them.’
The context of Jesus’ teaching that we are examining today is the last supper with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. Jesus knew that he was about to suffer a horrific death on the Romans’ instrument of execution – the cross. If you have seen the film ‘The Passion of Christ’ you will know what physical agony he had ahead of him. Even greater than that was the emotional and mental agony that Jesus, who was without sin, and daily lived in the real presence of God, was to suffer when God would place upon him all of the sin of the world ( including yours and mine) and would forsake him while he hung upon the cross.
I think that in the same situation, I would have been terror stricken! Yet Jesus went willingly to the cross, trusting in God. And it is this peace that Jesus had as he prepared to face his ordeal on the cross that he is passing on to his disciples when he said in verse 27, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.’
Knowing that his disciples would have to face persecution, and for some martyrdom, for their faith, Jesus left them with the same peace that he had as he went to the cross.
Note that the peace that Jesus offers is a different type of peace to that of the world. It is not a peace that exists only when all is calm about us, or when we feel secure because things are going well, or we have plenty of money in the bank. As it says in Philippians 4:7, it is a peace, ‘which surpasses all understanding.’ It is a peace that can exist in the midst of turmoil. It is an inner peace from knowing that God is sovereign and that, as a Christian, we are in his hands.
Jesus encouraged his disciples, and encourages you and me, to seek God’s kingdom, trust that God knows and will supply all of our needs, and put our faith in God. As we do this, we can have the peace of the Lord.
So, this is not a peace that depends upon our situation or upon our will-power; rather, it is a peace that is available by a supernatural means, because the third thing that the Gospel passage indicates about the peace of the Lord is that ...
III. The peace of the Lord is available through the Holy Spirit
When we trust in God, and obey his commands, we are drawn into his kingdom where we have the promise of the availability of his peace through the salvation that he offers. And, we know that one of the outcomes of putting our trust in God through Jesus, is receipt of the Holy Spirit.
This coming Thursday is the day in the Church Calandar that is designated as Ascension Day, that day when we celebrate Jesus’ ascending to be with his Father in Heaven. Before his ascension Jesus told the disciples that after he had left them he would send the Holy Spirit (the advocate, counsellor, helper, comforter) depending upon which Bible translation you have) to take his place in order to equip them for living for him, and serving his mission in the world.
In verses 15-17 of John 14, Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’, and (in return) I will ask God to give you the Holy Spirit ‘to be with you forever …’ ‘He abides with you, and he will be in you.’ And again in verse 26, Jesus speaks about ‘the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send ...’ And it is through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us that, even when there is turmoil around us, we can have that internal peace that he provides, knowing that God is sovereign.
Let me illustrate this internal peace in the midst of turmoil by a story about a merchant ship that, during WW II, was transporting 20 Sherman tanks across the Atlantic to Europe. Half way across they ran into a big storm. With the tossing of the ship the tanks, which weighed 30 tons broke loose. An 18 year old seaman, David Milton, related what happened. ‘As the ship would roll, these tanks would just slide through the hole and bang up against the bulkhead. Then they’d roll the other way, just shaking the ship apart. So we pulled out of the convoy. We headed into the sea, while the deck seaman went down below to secure those tanks. They were riding them like cowboys trying to hook cables through. Finally, they got the tanks lashed down …’
The ship was in grave danger while the tanks were loose; but not from the storm on the outside. Rather, the danger was from the disturbance inside. Once the problems inside were sorted out, the ship was able to continue quite safely through the outside storm.
We can be like that ship. If we do not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, then there will be nothing to stop the problems of life creating an inner turmoil of worry that can cause great harm to our health. But if we have received the Holy Spirit, we can have the peace of God. God’s peace is an inner peace that can exist even among outer turmoil. It is that total wellbeing and inner rest of spirit, in fellowship with God that is available through the salvation that Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross achieved.
We can have that peace if we seek God’s kingdom, trust that God knows and will supply all of our needs, and put our faith in God. Through this we receive the Holy Spirit who gives us the peace of the Lord. Amen.