By J.R. Miller
John 20:19, 21, 26
No other benediction that could fall upon the ears of men, could mean more than this: "Peace be unto you!" This is a restless, striving, struggling world. Nation wars with nation. Business interests are in antagonism with other business interests. There are race wars which sometimes seem utterly unappeasable until one or the other race has been exterminated. Then there are family feuds which sometimes go on for generations in deadly enmity. And there are personal quarrels, alienations, strifes, which separate friends. Besides all this, there is a restlessness in human hearts. Men are unhappy and not at peace in themselves. There is strife within the bosom of nearly everyone.
No word Christ ever spoke caught more ears than when He said, "Come unto me ... and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28), or "Peace be unto you!" His words answered a universal need and a universal yearning.
"Peace be unto you!" This was the first word the risen Christ spoke to His disciples as a body after He returned from the grave. This gives special significance to what He said. Three different times He spoke the same words, "Peace be unto you!" twice the evening of the day on which He rose, and once the following week. Yet, while He used precisely the same words, they had a different meaning each time, and were not merely a repetition.
Look at the setting of the benediction as He first uttered it. It was evening. The disciples had sought the quiet and safety of the upper room for a meeting together. The doors were carefully shut, for fear of the Jews. The little company was in sore dread of those who had crucified their Master. "Jesus ... stood in the midst, and said unto them, Peace be unto you! And when he said that, he showed unto them His hands and His side." Why did He show them His hands and His side? Because of the WOUNDS. He reminded them of His sufferings, through which alone peace could come to them.
The second use of the words was a few minutes later. "Then Jesus said to them again, Peace be unto you!" Then He added, "As my Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive the Holy Spirit." Here the benediction of peace, is accompanied by the gift of the Spirit. There can be no true, deep peace in us--except when the Holy Spirit holds sway in our hearts.
The third time the benediction was given: "A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.' " Here the purpose of the benediction was to help Thomas' slow faith.
"Peace be unto you!" The spirit of Christianity is all in the direction of peace. There is a picture called "Peace" which is suggestive. It shows a cannon lying in a meadow, in the grass, with a lamb feeding beside it, nibbling at its very mouth. But while the picture is beautiful, it is incomplete. The cannon, which once was used in war, dealing death, is still a cannon, useless--but ready to be used again in the old way. The prophet suggests a more fitting and complete picture when he says in his vision of the redeemed nation, "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3). That is the kind of peace Christ would make. The sword shall no longer be a sword, though rusty and unused--but shall be made into a plowshare, doing its work for humanity. In the artist's picture would be truer to the spirit of Christianity, if the cannon were not merely lying in the meadow, with the lamb feeding quietly beside it--but instead was made into church bells to call the people to the house of God.
The peace which our Master would make is not merely the laying down of arms--but a peace which shall bring good to both nations and restore them to fellowship. Christian peace is not merely a drawn battle, with the old bitterness remaining. The bitterness must be swallowed up in love. If two have been estranged through misunderstanding, or by whatever cause, Christ's peace leads them together in a new friendship which forgets the past--and wipes out all traces of difference in a relationship of love.
"Peace I leave with you!" This was the Master's bequest to His friends. He did not leave them gold and silver. He did not entail great estates upon them. He had none of these to leave. In His life on earth, the birds were better off than He, for in the world His hands had made--He had nowhere to lay His head. When He died--He had no grave in which His body might rest, and would have been buried in the potter's field, amid criminals and outcasts, had not a noble friend rescued Him from that ignominy and lent Him a new rock-hewn tomb, for the three days and nights He slept. He was poor, and had no earthly inheritance to bequeath. But He left peace as a heritage. "Peace I leave with you!"
"MY peace I give unto you!" (14:27) It was not merely peace--but His own peace, that He bequeathed to His friends. "My peace"! Think what Christ's peace was. It was the peace that He had had in His heart and life all His days. You know how serenely He met all experiences. He never lost His quietness and composure in any circumstances. Life had no terrors for Him. His was not an easy life. Soon after His public ministry began, opposition began, developing into bitter enmity, with plottings and schemings for His death. But nothing disturbed Him. He was never fearful or alarmed. He knew what was before Him. The cross threw its dark shadows on His path--long before He reached it. But with unruffled peace He moved on toward it. "My peace I give unto you!" It is possible for Christ's followers to have the same peace the Master had. He bequeaths it to them--let them claim their inheritance. He gives it to them--let them accept the gift.
But why is it that so many Christians do not have this peace? What restless lives many of us live! Some of us scarcely ever have an hour of real peace. We fret at every trifle. We allow ourselves to be annoyed by the smallest things that do not go as we want them to go. We are full of discontents and complainings. We are envious at the prosperity of others. We vex ourselves over the things that are disagreeable in even the least way. We are continually dismayed by life's experiences. We are afraid to live--and afraid to die. Is that the best that Christ can do for us? Is that the full meaning of His words here, "Peace be unto you; Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you"? Is that all that our religion can do for us?
No! Jesus meant just what He said. He means for us to have His peace. We may have it too. He shows us His hands and says, "Peace be unto you! I have purchased peace for you." He breathes on us His divine Spirit, and says, "Peace be unto you!" Let the peace of God into your heart today. You have had enough of restlessness, fret, anxiety and struggle. Let Christ's peace rule.
"Peace be unto you!" "My peace I give unto you!" When men have fought for their country, loyal patriots, and when the war is over, and the victory won, those who survive come home with wounds and scars, maimed and broken, and those who look upon them see the price of the peace which the country is enjoying. Let us not forget that the peace which Christ gives, cost Him suffering and shame and death. We have peace--because He went to His cross!
In a gallery in Europe, two pictures hang side by side. One is of a sea swept by storms--great waves, black clouds, lightning bolts, and on the wild water wrecks of vessels, with human forms struggling or dead. The artists calls His picture, "Life".
Hanging beside this picture is another, almost the same--a rough sea, billows, clouds, lightnings, wrecks, men struggling in the waters. In the center of this picture, however, a great rock rises up out of the wild sea, reaching above the highest waves, standing serene and firm in the midst of the storm. Then in the rock, far up, is a cleft of herbage and flowers growing, and as you look closely, you see in the midst of the herbage--a dove sitting quietly on her nest. The artist calls His picture "Peace."
It represents the Christian's life. In the world there is tribulation. Peace does not come through the quieting of earth's storms. Christ does not make a little spot of calm for us, shutting off the storms. No! that rock rising above the waves tells the story.
It is peace in the midst of the storm, in Christ. We have it in the hymn, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me; Let me hide myself in Thee!"
The Christian has no promise of less sorrow than his worldly neighbor; or of an easier life, a life without struggle, pain, or buffeting. You remember how Christ got His peace--not by living in a little paradise--but in the enduring of all manner of suffering calmly and quietly. His peace was within. We must get our peace--on fields of struggle. It must come through Christ's victory over the world. It must be Christ's gift. It must be in our heart.
President Eliot, of Harvard University, said this at the dedication of an art gallery: "The main object in every school should be, not to provide the children with means of earning a livelihood--but to show them how to live a happy and worthy life, inspired by noble ideals which will exalt and dignify both labor and leisure. To see beauty and to live it--is to possess large securities for such a life."
To live only to get bread and clothes--is a groveling aim. To live only to make money, to get on in the world, is an unworthy aim for an immortal being. We live worthily--only when we live to grow into beautiful character and to do beautiful things of love. Peace is the highest mark of spiritual beauty.
There is a German legend of the origin of the moss rose. One day the angel of the flowers, weary in his ministry in the heat of the sun, sought a place to rest--but found none. Turned from every door, he lay down under the shelter of a rose, and slept and was refreshed. He thanked the rose for the pleasure and comfort he had enjoyed in its shade, and then said that, to reward it, he would adorn it with a new charm. So soft, green moss grew around the stem, and those who looked at the flower saw the beautiful moss rose, loveliest of all the roses. So to those who are faithful to Christ, He gives a new charm, life's highest and most heavenly adornment, peace.
We should be at peace with all men. If there is bitterness toward any human being, our peace is not Christ's peace. No matter what wrongs Jesus suffered, how unjustly or cruelly He was treated--He kept love in His heart. It is easy to cherish resentments. We like to say we have a right to he angry. Yes--but that is not the divine way. God forgives and forgets and loves on. Suppose God never forgave! Suppose He cherished resentments and refused to love us and to bless us! Let love heal all heart-hurts. If we think we have been treated wrongfully, let us forgive, and new beauty will come, instead of a scar. The storm made a great gash on the mountainside--but grass, moss and flowers came, and the mountain was never so beautiful before as now it became.
We should have peace also in our own hearts. Why should we go on in the old restlessness and strife a day longer? Why should we worry so and fret--when Christ offers us His own serene peace? No matter what may come to us in any possible future, nothing will come which could break our peace, if only we are obedient and true to God. There will be mysteries, contradictions, perplexities, disappointments--but in all these a divine Hand will move--and nothing can fret us--if we are truly Christ's. "The peace of God ... shall keep your hearts and your minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7).