The peace only Jesus gives
Have you ever had a ton going on at work, at home, and everywhere in between…so much so that you thought you were really going to go insane if something didn’t give? This little scenario might help set the scene.
“As I placed my key into the ignition – and started my car alone, in the dark, after a long day at work – I took a deep breath. On this particular day, I felt as though I had not paused to breathe since I rose from my bed so many hours before. For the past week, life had spiraled into a state of turbulence and unrest. My responsibilities at work felt overwhelming, as project after project landed on my desk. My commitments after work felt unmanageable as another family event pops up on top of spending the weekend driving to soccer practice, swimming lessons and play rehearsals. I wonder if my life will ever be normal again. I feel the kids and my work are running my life. I’ve lost control of my life”.
Can you relate to this person’s feelings in some way?
Has there been a time when your physical resources have been drained – the weariness, the tiredness, an unclear future, over commitment have left you not only a physical wreck but an emotional and mental ruin?
We can be spiritually drained too. Now you might say, “I’m not a spiritual person”. But the truth is, we are all spiritual people. Spirituality is not confined to those who follow a particular religion.
This spirituality might be expressed in believing in a higher good, thinking happy thoughts, doing good to others, being the best person I can, believing in the power of positive thinking, hugging a tree and somehow knowing that there is “Someone up there”. (By the way, none of these define who a Christian is).
But what happens when all of this lets us down? What happens when happy positive thoughts are no longer possible and doing good to other backfires. What happens when believing in the higher good, turns out to be a load of rubbish – there is too much evil invading our lives. What happens when the “Someone up there” is too vague and far away to be of any help?
You might be saying, “What a gloomy outlook on life and what a gloomy subject to talk about. But bear with me for a few minutes.
You see this pessimistic way of viewing life is very real and people reach the end of their own personal resources and strength; they only see futility, they see no ending to it all and too many resort to risky uncontrolled behaviour and even taking a life, maybe their own life.
What do we do when we have reached our limit? Physically we are down, emotionally we are drained and spiritually we don’t have any answers. Where do we go for strength to cope?
By the way, that’s not just a hypothetical question. In the pre-marriage counselling we do with couples; they complete a survey that looks at their relationship from all different angles. They are able to get a snapshot of about 20 different aspects of their relationship – and one of those aspects is the spiritual side of their relationship. And they are surprised. They are surprised that the survey has something to say about the spiritual nature of their relationship when they have nothing to do with any religion? The idea that we are spiritual people, that there is a part of us that is spiritual, has been overwhelmed by today’s heavy focus on material things and seeking out short-time pleasures. But the fact remains, we are all spiritual people.
And so we come to Jesus’ disciples in John 20:19. It’s the afternoon of Easter Day. They had heard that the rumour had been spread that the disciples who had taken Jesus’ body from the tomb. They were afraid that they would be arrested not only for grave robbing but also for concocting a story that Jesus had come alive again.
They were physically tired from the events of Thursday night when Jesus was arrested, his death on Friday and his burial that night.
They were drained emotionally as they relived the way Jesus’ was treated, his torturous death on a cross, their inability to give him a decent burial. They grieved over the way they had run scared and hid and even denied they had anything to do with Jesus. They were failures.
Spiritually they were at a low point. Everything they had hoped for, believed in, relied on just seemed to evaporate with Jesus’ death. What future did they have? The icy hands of fear and futility gripped their hearts, and their minds were clouded with confusion; they were stunned, sad, confused, distressed, without hope.
They were beyond trying to think happy thoughts, relying on the power of positive thinking, feeling the serenity of nature or indulging in a shopping spree to take their minds off all that had happened.
All they could do was gather together behind locked doors and somehow console one another.
So what happens. Jesus comes to his drained and bruised disciples and stood in the middle of them and said, “Peace be with you”. In fact, he says it three times in the reading from John 20:19-31. Thomas wasn’t present at the time when Jesus’ first appeared and had declared that he wouldn’t believe that Jesus had appeared the first time unless he could put his fingers in the scars in Jesus’ hands and side. “Peace be with you” Jesus says again to Thomas. This is more than a simple Jewish greeting. This is something significant.
Jesus is saying, I know the trouble that is resting on your minds and hearts. I know what is disturbing your souls, the guilt and fear you are feeling. I know how unsettled you are and how weak and vulnerable you feel right now.
Rest easy. I’m here. Yes, I died on a cross, but I did it for you because I love you. I am alive again and here with you now because I want to assure you that I will always be by your side from now and through all eternity. No trouble or trial or adversity or sickness or even death itself can come between you and me. “I am the resurrection and the life. … Those who live and believe in me will never die. … Be sure of this: I am with you always to the end of the age.” Nothing will ever be able to separate you from my love for you.
When the disciples are sinking, Jesus comes to give them hope and renews their faith and their strength. When we are sinking the risen Jesus comes to us and invites us to trust him, to believe that loves us and wants to help us. He invites us to place our problems in his hands and lean on him and enable him to give us the strength that is beyond our own strength to get through any particular moment. “Come to me”, he says, “if you are carrying a heavy load and I will carry it with you”.
Psalm 23 says that we can trust the shepherd who walks with us. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
Paul, the apostle, faced all kinds of difficulties and at times was close to being killed for daring to continue to talk about Jesus in a pagan world. But he kept going because he knew that nothing could stop Jesus loving him, and nothing could stop Jesus watching over him, even if it meant leaving this life and walking with Jesus into eternal life in heaven.
Paul had his low moments, he had times when he was sad and depressed, but in the end, he could always say, I can do anything, face anything, rise above anything, endure anything because it is Jesus who gives me the strength to do it.
Because of Easter and Jesus coming back to life, Jesus makes this promise to all of us. His love for us cannot be denied. Just look at the cross. That is the symbol of his love for you and me. That was the symbol that we received at our baptisms – you might say it’s an invisible tattoo that we all now wear. Jesus and the angels can see clearly it and say, “There is my child for whom I gave my life and now I give her my love and my forgiveness. There is my child over whom my angels now watch as long as she journeys on this earth. There is my child to whom I will give the Holy Spirit to guide and help come to me in prayer. Child, I love you. Peace be with you”.
As we travel along the ups and downs of life’s journey, as we travel along the highs and lows of the future, the one whose love for us has no ending, comes to us and invites us to trust him for strength and wisdom and courage to look ahead with confidence. When everything goes crazy and every hope goes out the window, Jesus comes to us and shows us his scars.
What do the scars tell us? The scars tell that Jesus was hopelessly surrounded by evil and death on Good Friday, but he is far more powerful than the worst thing that can happen in our lives, even death itself. He will help us through the toughest days.
When Jesus came to Thomas and showed him the scars on his hands he said to Thomas, “Stop your doubting, and believe!” In an instant Thomas changed. This spiritual wreck now proclaimed Jesus as not only ruler and king of the world but “my Lord and God”. The risen Jesus had a powerful effect on Thomas personally.
May we also be able to join Thomas and say, “My Lord and God”. Jesus isn’t out there somewhere. He is the only one who is able to make sense of the craziness of your life and the messed-up world you live in. Jesus invites all of us to “stop your doubting and believe!” and be filled with the peace that only Jesus can give.
May the Lord himself, who is our source of peace, give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2 Thess 3:16)
The Case for Easter – Lee Strobel
Resurrection and Easter Faith – Ralph F. Wilson
Vince Gerhardy Blog
The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross - Carl Laferton
Who moved the stone? - Albert Henry Ross
Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life - Eugene H. Peterson
Easter Faith - Gerald O'Collins