THE GIFT OF PEACE
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Mr. Danielson was one of the six men who sailed across the Pacific on a raft. He wrote about it in the best selling book Kontiki. While making this adventurous voyage he had a wonderful time on a balmy peaceful island in the Pacific. When he returned to the U.S. he could not stand the inner tension and the fast pace of living, so he took his family and went back to that lovely island to live. He had plenty of money from his book; the food was plentiful; the natives were friendly, and the weather was ideal. There was nothing to worry about. There was no taxes, no politics, no job, and not even a newspaper. He stuck it out for a year on this island paradise, and then he headed for home. He had failed to find peace by the method of escape from struggle and tension.
Nothing it more futile and doomed to failure than the constant attempt of men to find inner peace by means of external escape. Every man belongs to his own private peace movement, for peace is a pearl of great price which all men long to possess. Peace of mind and peace of soul books are top sellers, and this proves that people are searching for some formula for peace. Men are seldom successful in their search, however, because they stress only the negative aspect of peace-that aspect that the world can sometimes give, which is freedom from war and worry. The escape method is all they know. Cowper expressed it well:
O for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade;
Where rumor of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more.
The goal here is absence of all bad news, but there is no mention of the presence of good news. It is concerned only about the negative absence of the bad and not the positive presence of the good.
The problem with this goal is that it is an illusion. It is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and even when men come close to finding it, as Mr. Danielson found his paradise island, it gives no inner peace. This is man's real need. He needs an inner peace that is not dependent upon externals, but which gives assurance and security even in the midst of storm and turmoil. It leads only to futility and frustration to hope that some change in circumstances and the environment will lead to the discovery of the pearl of inner peace.
External peace is a value and a blessing which the Bible also recognizes, but it is a beautiful apple which seldom lasts because of the worm of worry that rots it, and the storm of sin that knocks it to the ground. External peace is dependent upon man, and man is not dependable. For example, in June of 1502 England and Scotland made what they termed a perpetual peace. Margaret, the daughter of Henry VII was betrothed to James IV. Man had by external manipulation arrived at a state of peace. A few years later they were fighting the battle of Flodden Field. Just one of the many cases of the kind of perpetual peace the world offers.
This is not to say that men should cease to strive for external peace, and cease to believe in finding ways to end all wars. Ideals are important, but we must be realists, and recognize that even at best man will not be able to eliminate the causes for war in this world, and even if he could, it would not bring the peace of heart, mind, and soul that he needs. The peace of Christ is different from the peace of the world. "Not as the world gives, give I unto you," said Jesus. He left the gifted peace that is His own. The peace which He demonstrated in His own life.
Jesus never found a secluded peaceful island. He was in the midst of turmoil in a degree that surpasses anything modern life can throw at us. He had continual intrusions upon His privacy. He could rarely be alone, and yet He was not irritated by it. There was a constant drain on His resources. He got tired, but we never read of His rejecting anyone's request for help because He was exhausted. He was criticized and misunderstood, and even hated. He was disappointed by His disciples often. He bore a crushing load of tensions, yet He never lost His temper.
His peace stands out in contrast to the irritations of His disciples. They were ready to call down fire from heaven on those who frustrated them, but Jesus forbid them. They were ready to get rid of the children who were a nuisance, but the Master said let them come unto Me. They said send the crowd away, but Jesus said they are hungry, and He fed them. Peter whipped out his sword and began swinging in the garden; the others fled in fear, but Jesus calmly healed the injury Peter caused, and met his captures with such fearless courage the soldiers fell back, even though he was unarmed.
This is the kind of peace that Jesus had, and which He left as His legacy to His disciples. This inner tranquility in the face of struggle and trial is the peace that passes all understanding. This is the perpetual peace that man so desperately searches for. Escape from the storm is an illusion, but peace in the midst of the storm is a reality that is possible for believers.
The relatives were assembled to hear the last will and testament of a man who had very little in the way of earthly goods. They all wondered why they were summoned. The will was read: "To my brother Alex I leave my sense of humor, in as much as he has never cracked a smile in his life. To my cousin Sarah I leave my optimism to mitigate her habitual gloomy and pessimistic view of everything. To my nephew Richard I leave my standard of values, in the hope that it may help him to learn that a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And so it went-a legacy of no cash value, but of spiritual qualities of surpassing worth. This is the kind of legacy Christ left His disciples. Not a quantity of cash, but a quality of character. Jesus gave them the gift of His peace which was worth a fortune. Francis de Sales said, "Peace is better than a fortune."
The only physical possession Jesus had of any worth was His beautiful robe, and the soldiers gambled for that. Yet a king certainly could not die without leaving some value, worthy of royalty, to His subjects. Jesus, the King of Kings, whose kingdom is not of this world left the value of values that is also not of this world. He left the gift of inner peace-His peace. This gift made the church by inheritance the richest group of people on earth. Nobody has ever been more richly endowed. The disciples did not horde this inheritance. They invested it in a ministry of world wide distribution. Rome had conquered the world, and had suppressed all rebellion. External peace was available. It was called Pax Romana-the peace of Rome. Yet men were lost, and in darkness and despair, for all their external peace did not give inner peace. When the Christians demonstrated by their lives and their courage that they possessed this inner peace, people flocked into the church to partake of this great inheritance from Christ.
With in infinite supply of the peace of Christ, there was no limit to the expansive potential of the church. It had what no other philosophy or religion had. It alone could give men assurance of peace with God by faith in Christ, and, therefore, inner peace. The church later, however, cease to draw upon the resources of the Spirit, and cease to produce the fruit of the Spirit-love, joy, and peace being the first three. It neglected its great inheritance, and began to depend upon external resources for its power. It became like the world, and sought to bring in the kingdom of God by force, and by changing external circumstances.
The result has been that to this day many Christians are ignorant of their inheritance. They do not live like children of the King and followers of the Prince of Peace. They live on the same level with the world, and are perpetual peace pursuers hoping that some external change in circumstances will at last bring them into a paradise of peace. We do, of course, have the hope of one day experiencing perpetual external peace with all the circumstances ideal, and a perfect environment. Hope, however, is not peace, and we do Christ and ourselves an injustice if we allow a future hope to cause us to neglect a present gift of peace. Charles Mackay wrote,
War in men's eyes shall be
A monster of iniquity
In the good time coming.
Nations shall not quarrel then,
To prove which is the stronger;
Nor slaughter men for glory's sake;
Wait a little longer.
Yes, for the conquering of all external evils we must wait a little longer, but meanwhile we dare not let our priceless pearl of inner peace lay idle and useless in the bank of neglect. We need to draw it out and live victorious lives now in the midst of the battle. We are to be more than conquers through Him that loved us. We need to demonstrate by our peace in a perplexing world that Jesus has already won the greatest war in the universe. He has defeated the final foe, and He has set the captives free, and now all men are free to enter the kingdom of light, and to come out of the darkness into His marvelous light.
Charles Sumner rightly shouted, "Let the bugles sound the truce of God to the whole world." The Prince of Peace has come and conquered. God and man are reconciled. Peace is possible for all through faith in Jesus Christ. Now the problem is that many who know the Prince of Peace do not possess the peace of the Prince. The problem is due to ignorance and a lack of conscious effort to develop this gift. Our ignorance shows up in our expectations of external peace. The same thing that has confused Christians in the past, and led them astray. This misconception should be shattered once and for all by listening to the words of Christ about what external circumstances Christians should expect.
Jesus said, "I came not to bring peace but a sword," as He referred to externals. He said houses will be divided, and there will be tribulation and persecution. He said men will hate, fight, and kill them because of Him. But He said also, to be of good cheer for I have overcome the world. In other words, as far as externals go the disciples would have had far more peace if Jesus had never come. William Percy grasped this when he wrote-
They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown;
Such happy, simple fisherfolk,
Before the Lord came down.
If absence of trouble and tension was the goal of life, these men were better off before Jesus came. When Jesus called them He led them into trouble with authorities. They became outcasts and persecuted men because of Christ.
Young John, who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head-down was crucified.
All of the disciples died a martyrs death. This hardly supports any idea of external peace being the hope of the Christian. It is superficial and unrealistic to expect it. It takes no serious account of the true state of reality in which there is a constant battle between good and evil. To expect external peace and escape from all tension and trial is to assume the false picture of the universe described by H. Richard Niebuhr. "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of a Christ without a cross." Let us not dwell in the realm of such illusion, but face the facts. Christians live on a battlefield with everyone else, and as a whole do not have more external peace than anyone else. In fact, they often have less. If we shed this false hope, and claim instead the gift of inner peace, we will have the advantage over the world that Christ intended us to have, for in inner peace there is great power. G. A. Studdert Kennedy put it-
Peace does not mean the end of all our striving.
Joy does not mean the drying of all tears.
Peace is the power that comes to souls arriving,
Up to the light where God Himself appears.
Peace is power. Why could the Apostle and early Christian face the dangers and death they did with such courage? It was because of the power of inner peace. No external circumstances could shake this inner trust in Jesus. They had the same power that enables Jesus to say from the cross, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." It was external power against internal peace, and peace always wins. This is the gift that determines if we will be heroes or cowards in the battle of life. We need to be serious about developing this gift, and be praying the prayer of Whittier-
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess,
The beauty of thy peace.