by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.
We all experience times of uncertainty; moments that raise many questions and concerns about what we should do and how things will work out. Currently, like many of you, my wife and I and our six children are working through our own time of uncertainty.
Our nation is also facing uncertainties. Many are overwhelmed with questions and concerns: When will this pandemic end? Will there be another spike in the virus? Will there be a food shortage? Do masks really help? Should I go out in public settings? Will I lose my job? How will the election results impact my life, my family, America, the world?
So too, Jesus’ disciples experienced their times of uncertainty. For about 3 years, the disciples had served at the side of Jesus where they were direct recipients of His daily teachings and eyewitnesses to His miraculous power. Now, they were confronted with the uncertainty that Jesus was going to leave them and with the uncertainty of the implications to follow. Just as it would be today, we find in John chapters 14-17 many what, how, why, where and when questions (John 14:5, 22; 16:17, 18). In response to their questions, Jesus asserted that even though we will have tribulation in this world, we can have peace because He has overcome the world (John 16:32, 33).
In light of these words by Jesus, we are addressing here three specific questions about the peace that Jesus offered His disciples and is available to us right now.
Question #1: What is this peace?
The peace that Jesus gives (see John 14:27) does not come from this world. Instead of trying to find it by looking to others (celebrities, politicians, etc.) or looking within, the peace Jesus provides can only be found by looking to Him. The idea of peace that the world promotes is a life without conflict and difficulty, but there are problems with this approach to peace: It is circumstantial. In other words, it is a peace that solely depends upon your circumstances/conditions. Because it is circumstantial, a worldly approach to peace is temporary. Certainly, we all have moments when life goes well and we don’t face any direct conflicts or challenges. But we also know that this peace is short-lived because we are all going to face tribulation, conflicts, and difficulties. In fact, the Greek word Jesus used for tribulation in John 16:33 means to be pressured or squeezed to the point you feel confined with no way to escape!
This is exactly how many feel right now with the current pandemic and state of our Union; squeezed with no way to escape as these uncertain times have robbed us of peace, individually, and collectively as a country (and the world). But while the peace of this world depends upon life’s circumstances, the peace that Jesus provides transcends our circumstances. We do not have to wait for circumstances to change.
Jesus’ peace impacts our lives by producing courage. Amidst their questions and fear, Jesus told the disciples to “take heart” (John 16:33). In the Greek this means to take courage and be of good cheer. This is the courage of confidence that rests not in ourselves, nor in our circumstances, but in the God we serve. Consider Joshua who faced uncertainty as he led the children of Israel into the Promised Land. As he took on this momentous task, God instructed him to “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). The key for Joshua’s courage did not rest in his own ability but in the fact that He served a faithful God who would be with Him. This is why Joshua was told to meditate upon God’s law (Joshua 1:8), so that he would not only have a proper understanding of what to do but a proper understanding of the One (God) who called him to do it.
Jesus’ peace impacts our lives by the removal of anxiety and fear. As Paul sat in a prison for preaching the Gospel, he wrote these powerful words:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Despite his circumstances and the uncertain outcome, Paul still had the peace of God, a peace that Paul reminds all believers will guard us from being controlled by anxiety, doubt and fear.
Question #2: How is peace provided?
When we examine John chapters 14-17, we discover two ways Jesus provides this peace: first through the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-26; 15:26-27). “Helper” refers to someone who has been called to come alongside to help and plead the cause of someone else. This is exactly what the Holy Spirit did in the lives of the apostles as He provided them with wisdom, guidance and strength. In fact, Jesus goes on to say that it was for their advantage that He leaves them and sends the Holy Spirit (see John 16:7). How could it be an advantage for the disciples that Jesus would leave them? What could be more spiritually advantageous than literally walking and talking with Jesus? By forcing the disciples to step out of their comfort zone, they could learn to trust God in a deeper way and experience the Holy Spirit’s presence and power.
My sister and brother-in-law recently watched their only son leave for the Navy. But knowing they had raised him to love the Lord, the sadness of seeing him go also brought with it the joy and confidence that God would continue to work in his life in a deeper and more powerful way. Sometimes the only way to grow is to step out of our comfort zones and encounter the uncertainties of life with faith and trust. Thankfully, we do not have to do this in our own strength, because we have the active presence of the Holy Spirit who right now can strengthen and empower us in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16).
The second way Jesus provides His peace is through the fellowship (unity) of believers. As Christians, we are not designed to live as islands unto ourselves. Instead, we are called to live out our faith within the community of other brothers and sisters in Christ. Before Jesus faced His arrest, trial, and crucifixion He specifically prayed for the unity of all believers (John 17:20, 21). Unity within the body of Christ occurs both on a doctrinal level (what we believe) and on a practical level (how we live out our faith). It is on this practical level where – when we go through uncertain and difficult times – it is our function as a body to encourage and bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
I have several friends with whom I meet on a monthly basis to pray. They have been a source of peace in my life as I have been for them when they faced times of uncertainty. As the Body of Christ, Jesus wants us to face our problems unified, so we may have the peace that comes through the support and love of each other. As believers in Jesus Christ, may we be unified during this time of uncertainty so we can be instruments of hope and peace to a world desperately needing it.
Question #3: How can I experience this peace?
If you want to experience the peace of Jesus right now, the very first thing you must do is repent of your sin and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit will dwell within you and begin to produce the fruit of His Spirit in your life – one of which is peace (Galatians 5:22-23). Secondly, you must place your trust in God and not your circumstances. This act of trust will require you to yield your will to God’s will. Jesus provides the best example of this as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).
Knowing the agony of what He was about to experience, Jesus surrendered His will so that He could fulfill the will of His Father. This same attitude is what we need to display when we face times of uncertainty. We need to trust God and yield to His will, even when it does not seem to line up with what we want. Happily, we have the confidence that we are surrendering ourselves over to a sovereign God who is not only in control of every detail of our lives, but truly has our best interests at heart.
In this time of uncertainty, we should do more than strive for personal peace, but also seek to be used by God to bring hope to others. I recently read an article that discussed how previous pandemics in history caused major shifts in the world. Two of these impacted the Roman Empire in the 2nd century and 3rd century A.D. causing a major shift in the Empire’s worldview. According to the author, these pandemics had a mortality rate of about 25-30% of the empire’s population. At this time the empire was pagan; the majority of people worshipped multiple gods. Christianity was less than 1% of the population. The response of the Pagans and Christians to these pandemics was starkly different. The Pagans opted to live in self-isolation with the goal of self-preservation, while the Christians sought opportunities to minister to the sick and hopeless. This response by the Christians, along with several other factors, affected the Roman empire so dramatically that the author concludes by saying, “in roughly a span of a century, an essentially pagan empire found itself well on its way to becoming a majority Christian one.”
While we need to use wisdom during this pandemic – especially those of us who have underlying health risks – let us not waste the opportunity God has provided for us at this time in history! In a world overcome with uncertainty and fear, may we be living testimonies of the PEACE that comes from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:
I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).