A Portrait of Jesus Painted By His Best Friend: His Peace
My great friend, Leonard Sweet, shared a collection of headlines which have actually appeared in newspapers in recent years. The headline writers, in an effort to compress the substance of the story into a few words wound up delivering some unexpected and humorous messages. Here are a few of those headlines:
- Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
- Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case
- If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, it May Last Awhile
- Two Sisters Reunited After Eighteen Years in Supermarket Checkout Line
- Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in Ten Years
- War Dims Hopes For Peace. Prostitutes Appeal to the Pope
Well, after nearly seventeen years as your pastor, I know you well enough to compress the substance of your life’s story into a few words. I look out at your faces this morning—faces I have come to love so deeply—and I know that behind those faces are a variety of feelings. I know that some of you have many great sorrows and very heavy burdens to bear. I know that some of you do not feel adequate to cope with all of the demands life sets before you. I know that there are some of you who are completely dissatisfied with the way your life is going. I know that some of you are wrestling with fierce temptations. I know that for virtually every person within the sound of my voice life is a mosaic-like mixture of success and sorrow, laughter and lament, humor and heartache, victory and defeat. Carve out a place in your mind for this rather horrifying statistic: the American people consume more than four billion aspirin tablets per year. That works out to about 50 headaches per person per year. And I suspect that most of us contribute our share to that statistic. That’s but one indication of what I’m trying to say today. We live in a world where it is easy to fall to pieces- and therefore, we need the calmness, the composure, the serenity, the security, the poise, the inner peace which Jesus seemed to possess.
When you gaze at the portrait of Jesus painted by His best friend, John, in the Gospel which bears his name, you cannot help but be impressed by the remarkable peace Jesus possessed. Think of what He had to put up with. His life was being interrupted constantly. People came barging into His quiet times with all their sins and sorrows. They pressed in upon Him as He went out on the streets. They dogged His steps out in the countryside. He had to bear constant criticism and nit-picking, never-ending work, a swelling flood of disappointment and frustration, and the crushing load of other people’s troubles. Even His own disciples nearly drove Him crazy- and yet never once do we see Him lose His calm, serene peace. The disciples wanted to call down fire upon a town where they had been less than graciously received- but Jesus gently rebuked them. They were caught out in a boat during a storm on the Sea of Galilee and they cried out in fear-but Jesus, speaking both to the storm on the sea and the storm blowing in their hearts said calmly: “Peace, be still.” Or how about the time they went up on the hillsides of Galilee for a day of rest and 5,000 people followed them? The disciples cried out in anger: “Send them away.” And what did Jesus say? He said: “They are like sheep without a shepherd and I love them.” Then of course, the trauma of His last 24 hours before Calvary would have shattered a lesser soul. But not Jesus. In the Upper Room with all hell ready to break loose outside, He spoke of a heavenly kind of peace and demonstrated it in His own demeanor, and then said: “My peace I give to you.” Later on in the Garden of Gethsemane the Bible says that the soldiers came to arrest Him. The Bible says that they were armed and that there were at least 200 of them. We know that for a fact because of the Greek word used in John’s Gospel- at least 200 armed men there to arrest just one unarmed man- and the Gospel of John says—and you ought to read it for yourself in John 18- the Gospel of John says that Jesus was so calm, so at peace with Himself and with His God that that small army of soldiers fell on their knees in awe before Him. All through that long night and into the next day He was beaten and scorned and ridiculed and interrogated hour after hour, yet never once did He lose His fearless dignity or His unshakeable peace- never once. His disciples felt that their world was falling to pieces and so they went to pieces, but not Jesus. Through it all, He remained at peace. And here’s the miracle: He offers that peace to us. He says: “My peace I give to you. It’s yours for the asking.”
Now let’s look at what gave Jesus His peace so that we can know how to gain that peace He wants to give us…
First, Jesus knew inner peace because His life was directed by discipline.
Jesus was in all things superbly disciplined. Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten how important discipline can be in a life. In fact, for us discipline has almost become a dirty word. That’s a shame. I mean, we think of a disciplined life as a life so dull and dreary and filled with drudgery that we can hardly stand it. But that’s not the case at all. Jesus was the most superbly disciplined person ever to walk this earth, and Jesus was the brightest, sunniest, happiest soul who ever lived. I submit to you that it is a sense of discipline which gives us our deepest, most profound joy in life. Show me a life without discipline, and I will show you a life without peace, a life in pieces, a life bereft of joy. Someone has said that the word “discipline” and the word “disciple” come from the same root—and there is no way you can be the latter without undergoing the former. We need the gift of a disciplined life. That’s a great lesson, and I would have to tell you that it is a lesson I have learned in the very act of preaching itself. Do you think that I would dare to stand up in this pulpit and preach unless I had spent hours with my text trying to become a part of it, trying to let it become a part of me—unless I had struggled through prayer to discover what it is that God wants me to say—unless I had written the sermon and then rewritten it—unless I had prayed and sweated and prayed some more? I need discipline to preach from the heart. By the same token, I think we need discipline in our lives to gain peace in our hearts.
Do you know the name Paul Carlson? He was a medical missionary murdered by rebels some years ago in what we now call the Congo. Paul Carlson was the only doctor serving 100,000 people. He saw hundreds of patients every single day and every day he performed at least one major surgical procedure, most days more than one. Friends wondered how he could stand up under such endless strain and stress. His wife said: “It was because he stayed so close to God through regular prayer and the study of the Scriptures.” On the night before Paul Carlson died- and he knew that the next day he would be executed as a martyr for his faith in Jesus Christ- on the night before he died, what did he do? He took the little pocket New Testament that he always carried in his pocket and he opened it up to the front page and on that page he wrote a single word: “Peace”. Out of the discipline of his life came a sense of peace. Because he was at peace with God he could stand up to the unbelievable strains and stresses of his life. And because he was at peach with God he could stare death right in the face and know that he would win over it.
Dear friends, I call us to pray with discipline for discipline in our lives. For out of that discipline, we can experience the peace that Jesus longs to give us.
Next, Jesus knew inner peace because his life was controlled by commitment.
Look at Jesus in all of His terrifying suffering. He was serene, confident, calm, peaceful. Before the spinelessness of Pontius Pilate and the buffoonery of King Herod and the cruelty of the soldiers and the red-hot hatred of his enemies- with treason and treachery all about Him, no one speaking for Him, no one standing with Him- yet in all of it He retained His kind, gentle, loving, peaceful spirit. How could He do it? Because He knew that He belonged to God. He knew that His commitment to His heavenly Father remained firm and fixed. That’s how He could do it.
Just a few weeks back, Trisha and I had the privilege of spending 45 minutes in an intense and profoundly meaningful visit with Kenneth Starr, the Independent Counsel. That visit has led to other opportunities to be with him. He is, of course, one of the centerpieces in the greatest controversy of our time. You are aware of how he has been attacked, maligned, criticized and ridiculed. Liberals vilify him and even conservatives are taking shots at him. But let me tell you that when you lay aside all the “stuff’ surrounding Kenneth Starr’s life these days, when you have the opportunity to sit and visit with him as we did, I can only tell you that it is a deeply moving experience. Why? Not because his face, his name and his words are splashed across the news media constantly these days. Rather, it is because he is an absolutely genuine man and a deeply committed Christian. In fact, we have spent virtually all of our time together talking not about what’s going on in his professional life, but rather, what’s happening in his faith and in his commitment to Christ. He has articulated that faith in ways which neither Trisha nor I will soon forget. At one point I did ask him how he was able to maintain his equilibrium in the midst of the swirling currents all about him. Very calmly, he looked me straight in the eye and said: “The answer is simple. Long ago I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ and I made the commitment that I would try to live for Christ every single day regardless.” That’s what he said, and the key word there is the word “regardless”. No matter what happens, he remains committed to Jesus Christ. Trisha and I both agreed that only rarely have we been in the presence of an individual so kind and calm, so gracious and genuine. Only rarely have we seen the depth, the quality and the staying power of the commitment he has made in his life. My point is simply this, when you see Kenneth Starr, his name or his face, or when you read his words, whether you agree or disagree with his positions and his points of view, you must see him for who he is- a deeply, permanently, profoundly committed disciple of Jesus Christ. He has taken the promise of Jesus seriously: “My peace I give to you.” Consequently, in the midst of the storm surrounding him, he is calmly determined to live his faith every day.
Dear friends, there is an unshakable, undeniable, unconquerable sense of peace which comes from a deep and profound commitment to Jesus Christ in your life. That’s the peace Jesus possesses, and that’s the peace He longs to give to you in your life. Do you understand that if you can know that kind of peace in your life, then my prayers for you will have been answered. Amen.