The God of peace be with you all. Amen.
When Peter Jeffery went to the Evangelical Church in Rugby about thirty years ago the congregation was soon to experience a local awakening. In other words numbers of people became Christians and the church observed considerable numerical growth. No doubt one of the reasons for this was the barrenness of gospel ministry that had existed in that old community for decades and then into it came this lively supernatural Christianity, a message that came from heaven, and people weary of materialism responded to words of eternal life. Then there were the considerable gifts of Peter, experienced in preaching after his first pastorate in Cwmbran and at the summit of his skill as a proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The congregation too was prayerful and longing to know a work of God in their midst. Some had been praying for God to revive his work there for years.
Peter Jeffery soon took a decision to preach a series of messages on ‘The Perfections of God.’ And it was during this series that a consciousness of the greatness of God came upon the people and numbers of the congregation were converted including Michael the father of one of our deacons, a brother who regularly worships with us on his visits to Aberystwyth to see his son, daughter, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. I am telling you this that you might not imagine that we are engaged in some theological exercise these Sunday mornings as we pursue the same scheme. It is our longing that the true God should pity us and pardon our sins and make himself known in our midst, to our minds and affections. I want you all to know God. This is eternal life.
I am conscious that there is no silver bullet that kills complacency and brings revival. Because the Lord used a series of sermons on the attributes of God in one church to revive it does not mean that he guarantees to use such a theme in any other congregation to awaken those people. Salvation is of the Lord. In the past God has used sermons on regeneration or messages on justification to transform whole areas.
Now you understand that I’m telling you this history of the church in Rugby to emphasize the experiential and saving dimension of sermons on the greatness of God. May the Lord be pleased to use our preaching to convict and to humble and save ten men in our town by introducing them to the one living and true God. That is always our prayer.
Today we are going to consider the peace of God from this text in Romans 15 and verse 33, “The God of peace be with you all.” You immediately see from the context of our text the difference between the biblical approach to the peace of God and the Buddhist or the meditationalist chanting pursuit of peace. I was reading in the Times on Saturday last week a former Anglican archbishop describing his morning prayers, the Christian mantra he repeats, and what he has learned from Buddhism and its way of meditation. How different is the reality of a Christian’s way to knowing peace with God. Paul, in the context of four verse earlier, exhorts the congregation in Rome, “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (Roms. 15:30). In other words, “Fight with me; stand in the battle alongside me,” he says. Prayer was a struggle for the apostle; the Christian life an invitation to a fight. God is a God of peace, and our God gives us his peace, but the Christian life is also a life of conflict and that struggle will register in our praying. Hollywood and the pop world has its millionaire stars who talk ‘cool’ about their meditation techniques that give them peace. The world is groaning; the god of this world is blinding the eyes of them that don’t believe; our flesh has declared war on our spirits – and are we looking for a religion that will blot all that out to give us perennial peace by chanting and crypto-Buddhist meditation? Away with such a religion! A truce with Beelzebub must be torn in half and thrown into the bottomless pit. Being justified by faith we have peace with God through the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ alone, but we are also called to a holy war. We are urged each day to clothe ourselves in the armour of God. We fight against principalities and powers. Let’s not cry to God, “Give me the secret of a life of peace” if we are imagining that that gift will make us indifferent to the pain that’s all around us. We have to know the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, that is the fellow feeling with those who suffer because of Christ, throughout our lives. The world lives under the influence of the god of this world – such a disreputable and merciless enemy who is seeking to devour us. He would destroy little Christian boys and girls whose presence creates in us such delight. The gates of hell would swallow them up if they could. Look to God! God is a God of peace; God gives us his peace; what blessedness! But that peace is always on his terms. It never negates our need to watch and pray, and equip ourselves as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
The peace of God is an objective reality, not an inner feeling. You can by various techniques or by medication attain a sense of tranquility, but you may not proceed to call that the peace of God. Possessing that laid back state is no indication that all is well between you and God. God’s peace is something different. It is an objective reality. God creating all things out of nothing is a reality. The world we see around us, the mountains, the sea, the sky and all living things are the tangible creation of God. I see each one and I say to myself, “God made that. God made this. God made them.” Those creatures are divine realities. I hold in my hands a book; it is the word of God. I can touch and weigh and turn its pages and read it. The Scripture is a reality. The resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first day of the week was a reality. A fellow Christian is a reality, an adopted child of God. I am a part of a church, a congregation of redeemed men and women. The body of Christ is a physical/spiritual reality occupying space and time. So it is too with the peace of God; it is a reality akin to all of those facts. We are not talking in mystical terms now about some cool feelings.
1. GOD IS THE GOD OF PEACE IN HIS VERY BEING.
It is a wonderful concept that God is a God of peace. You go into him and he is peace. You go in and in, and he is peace. You go in and in and in, and he is peace. You go in and in and in and in, and he is peace. You go in and in and in and in and in, and God is peace. In other words, there are no neuroses in God; no obsessive fears in God; no phobias in God; no distracting anxieties in God; no gnawing tensions in God. There is peace, right down in the profoundest depths of the mind of God. Peace all the way in, all the way out, all the way up, all the way down, all the way through the being of God! There is not a molecule of worry or discontentedness or frustration somewhere hidden away in a corner of the mind of God. His entire being has the texture of undistilled, all-pervasive, immeasurable peace – through and through. In some remote corner of heaven there is not one little resentful cherub feeling sorry for himself, feeding his rebellion and complaining to God about stuff, about you or me. Heaven is a world of peace. There is nothing like a pocket of discord. There is also total love between the Father and the Son, and Spirit and Father, and Son and Spirit. The Son never grumbles to the Father about the Spirit. The Father never tells the Spirit that the Son is getting too touchy-feely. The Spirit never says to the Son that the Father is getting too big for his boots. There is loving harmony; the three of them sing from the same hymn-sheet; there is joyful admiration and respect between the members of the Godhead. There is utter peace between them and that peace goes out and out and out through heaven and it embraces every angel and all the spirits of just men made perfect. The peace of God reigns comprehensively in all of heaven. He is the blessed One, completely integrated, totally fulfilled, a happy unified personality. Not an envious thought exists or can exist in heaven, no grumbles, no animosity, no resentment whatsoever. Peace fills heaven and the heaven of heavens. As far as the east is from the west there is nothing but peace. God is there and so also must be peace.
i] The Father is the God of peace. He looked at Satan tempting our first parents, and the fall of Adam and Eve, and discord breaking out in the paradise of peace. He heard the man blaming the woman and saying to him, “You gave me this woman,” and then the woman blamed the serpent. Soon they were out of the Garden and it was not long before their first son became a murderer and he killed his brother. Violence, discord, rebellion! But the God of peace acted again and planned the great covenant of peace. He would bring rebels to kneel at his feet and so he would make them all at peace with one another. He would do this through the plan of redemption. He would accomplish man living at peace with himself through his beloved Son.
ii] The Son is the Prince of Peace. That was one of the four titles Isaiah prophesied would be his, “Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.” He makes peace between man and God. He reconciles a sin-hating God to sin-loving men and women by his life and death as the Lamb of God. He is our peace, and he says, “Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you peace.” Peace on our lips and peace in our hearts is the blessing he is pleased to give to those who trust in him.
iii] The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Peace. Remember at the very beginning when the earth was pitch black and formless? It was a scene of utter chaos. But look, who was there moving over the face of the troubled waters in that darkness, utterly tranquil and unafraid? It was the Holy Spirit there, in and with the Father he worked as step by step the chaos was transformed into order. That same peace of God is his gift to men, and that is the explanation of how into the angry, bitter heart of Saul of Tarsus the Holy Spirit came and he created there understanding, and enlightenment, and trust in Jesus Christ, forgiveness and repentance for the awful things he had done. Think of it, that the God of peace can come right into the turmoil of your divided heart and make himself at home there. Imagine a gentle and pure young Christian girl having access to your heart, and freely seeing and hearing all the thoughts and emotions and desires that you experience! How shameful it would be for you to know that she is seeing close-up the things that you think about, and look at, and imagine. What tension and embarrassment and pain you would feel knowing that she was hearing and watching everything in your inner life! You would long for her to get out of your soul, and forget all she’d seen. But the Holy Spirit comes and stays, and we want him to abide in us and pour his oil on the troubled waters of our hearts and to do so every day of our lives. We couldn’t survive without him and his ministry of mercy and peace to us. That is the privilege of the Christian faith, peace with the God of heaven and with the indwelling God
So God in his being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the God of peace.
2. GOD CREATED THE WORLD IN PEACE.
At one moment in calendar time, God began his work of creation. God spoke into the silence of nothingness and said, “Let there be . . .” and there was light. We have a lovely phrase in the hymn, “Immortal, invisible, God only wise,” the phrase that describes God is this way, “and silent as light.” God didn’t huff and puff to create all the universe! And though now it’s a fallen cosmos we can still see the marks of his peace everywhere especially in the furthest recesses of space. The moon is a place of peace, and the planets too. The sun is a distant peaceful furnace making no noise as our central heating furnaces do, constantly generating light and warmth and projecting it onto our world. We see extraordinary pictures from the Hubble telescope of the immense clouds of galaxies in space and there they hang in peace. We look in vain for signs of discord but what we meet is loveliness, and things of beauty and good report. God is sustaining the whole cosmos moment by moment. It lives and moves and has its being in his peace.
Or we turn to Eden, and we see God and man walking together in the cool of the day. What a scene of harmony and delight in one another – peace throughout the Eden plantation! It was Satan who terminated that peace and brought alienation and bloodshed into the world. What pain and death came through Adam’s fall. But God determined to make an end of all that. It was not that Adam went searching for God crying out, “Where are you God?” It was God who came looking for the truants, the hidden Adam and Eve. God sets out to reestablish peace between us and himself.
3. THE SON OF GOD HAS MADE PEACE BETWEEN GOD AND MAN.
You can readily understand the absence of the peace of God with ourselves when we sometimes behave the way we do. Think of a little blow up in the family. The children misbehave. One of them says a terrible thing to his mother and immediately there is tension in the home. The mother busies herself in the kitchen and there is obvious alienation in the house until there is apology and sorrow and forgiveness. Or a husband and wife have a row and they go to different rooms. On a human level the peace of a household is shattered when something bad occurs. It must be if there is love. So it is between God and us. When David took another man’s wife and then had her husband killed then God was not at peace with David for behaving like that. When Peter cursed telling a teenage girl for the third time that he “never knew that blasted man Jesus,” then God did not smile and nod like a senile old man. God is just and righteous in all he does and his wrath is revealed from heaven against behaviour like David’s or Peter’s. How can that specific outrage for such sins be removed? “I will go and propitiate it,” cried the Son of God. “I will take their guilt and blame. I will be their substitute. I will suffer the judgment that they deserve.” The Son of God became the Lamb of God who gave his life in receiving the condemnation for all of our sin. That is the meaning of the death of the Lord Christ on Golgotha. Atonement was made and peace with God established by Jesus’ free and loving sacrifice as our substitute. Our God is reconciled. That reconciliation is received by us as we go to him and put our trust in him. “Forgive me for Jesus’ sake,” we cry. So, being justified by faith we have peace with God. We can again look into God’s big lovely smiling face. He smiles for ever at us having become our eternal Father through Jesus Christ. Then it is well for ever with our souls! The apostles knew that there were times when it would seem incredible for the mere Christian to believe this, and so they felt the pastoral need in their writing and preaching of urging and encouraging us to believe it, “Trust him! Go with boldness to the throne of grace and speak to him. You will find mercy and grace to help you in time of need. Don’t let your sense of guilt keep you away. Don’t let Satan’s accusations keep you away. All is well between heaven and you. Jesus has died and there is peace with God.”
There was once a bricklayer who had a very serious industrial accident and he lay dying. The management sent for a vicar who came to him. The clergyman told the brickie. “Try to make your peace with God.” The man in his pain looked up at the vicar and said, “Make my peace with God? I thank God that that’s been made long ago, before I was born. Jesus Christ is all my peace with God.”
4. GOD PRESERVES THAT PEACE WITH HIMSELF.
You know one of the most famous verses in the Bible where Paul speaks of the peace of God tell us that it passes all understanding. It is that peace that God gives to us. Remember the Lord Jesus speaking to his distraught disciples as he tells them that he is going to leave them, and then he says, “My peace I give to you.” The Lord dispenses his own peace to us. We don’t work up our own peace by loadsasinging. It is the gift of the fulness of his divine peace that every one of his people receive. Think of it! His people number more than all the sands of the seashore. Is there peace for all of them? Yes, because they are a mere finite number, but God’s peace is infinite. When he has given and given and given his peace to every one of his people then there is still left a vast reservoir of immeasurable peace to tap. It is inexhaustible peace. It is super-abundant peace. You take to God your worries, so unmanageable, uncontrollable, unpredictable and destructive. You take them to God and you make your request, dumping those worries on him. He accepts them all! He takes on board every one of your cares. He takes total responsibility for them, and in their absence he gives to you his own peace. The peace of the Lord is your strength and it is your deliverance. It seems incredible, so much so that some of you don’t believe that it’s so. He’s actually caught all the cares you threw at him because the Prince of Peace cares for you! If Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ, and his words are Spirit-breathed words then this word tells us that God’s peace homes in on us as God takes from us our worries, and henceforth he will keep your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. God keeps your heart – and your mind too. An undivided mind, the gift of God. He does it!
We are told that this peace is strong. It is mighty to resist every threat it faces. The description of God’s peace that we see in the letter to the Philippians is a peace that is actually indescribable, it passes all understanding, and it is actually keeping us day by day. The analogy is of security staff, or sentries on duty, or bodyguards, with all the paraphernalia of modern protection units, CCTV cameras, guard dogs, night vision glasses, razor wire, electric fences, bullet proof glass, a nuclear shelter with its own clean air supply and all of these thing have as their single aim to guard and to keep us. God’s sentinels of peace are at attention and on their watch and they cry, “Stop!” to the threats and worries that get nearer and nearer, “Halt! Who goes there? Who has given you right to come here?” They drive the carriers of dis-peace away. They do this “in Christ Jesus.” There is no secret as to the source of this blessing of a preserved divine peace. It comes through union with Christ. In other words it is one of the guaranteed consequences of being joined to him. The hosts of the Lord camp around us and guard us. Elisha’s servant lost all his peace when he saw the armies of the enemies surrounding their house. His worries attacked him like a swarm of wasps. Then Elisha prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes, and God did, and then Gehazi, the servant, saw another mightier host – the armies and chariots of heaven, and they were camping around Elisha and himself coming between them and their enemies, so that they were absolutely safe. “And walls of salvation surround the souls he delights to defend.” That is what God’s peaceful armies do, they protect the life of peace that God has given to us. It is his peace that is within us and his peace that surrounds us and protects us. This is the grace of God.
5. GOD IS TAKING US TO A FUTURE OF PEACE.
The next great event in the redemptive calendar is the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as he promised, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:3). The Prince of Peace tells us that he coming again and what a reign of peace will he establish! No more wars. No more war memorials and annual remembrances after he returns. Men will study war no more. They will beat their swords into ploughshares. The banners are furled, every assassin and suicide bomber is in the pit, the stains of blood are washed away from the earth. The songs sung there are not of vengeance but of peace. No more will wild beasts prowl and polar bears destroy teenagers. The lion shall lie down with the lamb. A child will put its hand in a scorpion’s nest and be unharmed. The day will come when there will be not a single man who breathes the air of the new heavens and the new earth who will hate his neighbour but will say of every man, “My brother! Dear brother!” The Lord Jesus Christ will be the Prince of Peace reigning over the whole of glory. Karl Marx could never promise that, only a class war for ever. Charles Darwin had no hope of this, just the survival of the fittest for ever. Only Christ could say, “I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.”
It is a living hope because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He was killed. He was pronounced officially dead. But the third day the grave could not hold on to him. He was more powerful than death and he came forth with the keys of death and hell in his hands. Alas, we preachers don’t speak enough of the heaven to which we are going whose doors have been opened by Christ for all his people. Heaven is a world of peace. One reason for that is that those who cause pain and strife will not be there. Revelation 21 and verse 7, “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars” will never disturb our peace again. All of them are absent from heaven. What of those things that destroy our peace? Revelation 21 and verse 4, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” What of our grief? God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” God will do it with the infinite tenderness and kindness that is his, the God of love, drying one eye and then another. No dull heart-ache in glory. Nothing that disturbs our peace and makes us afraid or anxious or depressed will be there. Our battles with the black dog will be over for good.
6. THE PRESENT BENEDICTION.
Paul knew much of the Christians in Rome. He knew their leaders, the size of the congregation, what were their questions and their tensions. His great desire for them all was this, “The God of peace be with you all! Amen.” He longed for this to be the real experience of the leaders, but of the children too, for the slaves but also for the freemen, for the beggars but also for those who lived in Caesar’s household, for the men who were legionnaires and centurions in the Imperial army, but also for the old men and women walking to church supported by a cane. May they all know the presence of the God of peace, on the Lord’s Day but on every other day, in the hours of darkness and the hours of light, when their best friend was taken from them and they were all alone, facing an unknown future, “The God of peace be with them all!” Think of it, a congregation at peace with God, with one another, with itself and with its neighbours.
What do we have in the years to come if this is not our prize blessing? God being with us. This God, the God of peace, the God whom soon we shall meet, with us in grace and blessing, keeping our hearts and minds from despair. We have seen our sin. We have felt our guilt. We have run to God because we want him. We can’t face the future alone. Whom do we have in heaven but him, and there is no one our souls long for but the God of peace. We have pleaded that in Jesus’ name he save us. We will not stop praying, we will not let go until this saving blessing is ours. The Prince of peace has become our peace, and through faith in Jesus Christ God is ours. The estrangement and condemnation that we deserved Jesus Christ the Lamb of God freely took. Peace like a river attends my way and then it is well – it is well with my soul.
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin.
The blood of Jesus speaketh peace within.
The Roman poet Petrach said there were five great enemies to peace and Spurgeon changed one of them. He replaced ‘avarice’ by ‘error.’ Error is the first enemy of peace, entering the church, spoken by men with shining faces and sparkling eyes and gentle sincerity. They claim the new light they’ve had, and new experiences, and new liberty, but they are actually telling us of old errors that would bind us with ancient chains. If you are in a congregation where great cardinal doctrines are not affirmed then there will never be peace in those places. Get out and find a church which is at peace with the Bible. There alone the peace of God will reign.
The next enemy of peace is ambition, the promotion, the big wage, the new influence and respect and rank and title that swells the head and makes some bold to stand in judgment on pulpits and churches. Good-bye peace! Then anger is the third enemy of peace – men who quickly fall into sulky fits and grumble about one thing or another, men and women you have to handle with kid gloves who quickly take offence. How little they know of the God of peace. Remember how Joseph exhorts his brethren as they walked off to their father’s house, “Do not fall out by the way!” That is what anger does. Keep together! Stand by one another! Defend each other’s characters! Love one another. We are all going to live together for ever. Then envy is fourth enemy of peace. Cry that the God of peace will kill that green-eyed monster whenever he raises his monstrous head in the congregation. Finally pride. Either the God of peace is going to kill our pride, or pride will quench the influence of the Prince of peace. There is a great word in the letter to the Romans chapter 12 and verse 16 almost buried by the language of the Authorized Version but clear enough in our translation, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” He is speaking of people with learning difficulties. He is speaking of little children and simple, poor, elderly people loved by God, our brothers and sisters for ever. Should we not love all them with whom the God of peace dwells? May the God of peace be with you all and error, and ambition, and anger, and envy, and pride be never tolerated for a moment in our midst, only God, God alone, the God of peace reign over us all. I pronounce this house to be the house of the God of Peace alone. Amen.
13th July 2013 GEOFF THOMAS