Peace By Piece
One of my favorite “Peanuts” comic strips is the one where Lucy decides that her brother, Linus, has got to grow up and learn to live without his security blanket of his. So while Linus is asleep, she slips the blanket out of his hands, takes it outside and buries it in the ground. When Linus wakes up and discovers the blanket missing, he is panicked. He falls to the floor, traumatized and screaming: “I can’t live without that blanket.” Snoopy sees how distressed Linus is, so he goes outside, and with his trusty nose, sniffs out the blanket, digs it up, and brings it back to Linus. Linus cries out: “Snoopy, you saved my life!” He then hugs the blanket, and his face has upon it a look of pure peace. The last frame shows Snoopy lying on his back on his doghouse, a peaceful look on his face and thinking this thought: “Every now and then my existence is justified!”
Well, let me say that if I, with God’s help, can help you to find a sense of peace in your own life today, then my existence will be justified. In order to accomplish that, I want to take the story of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, break the story into pieces, and use the pieces to lead you to a sense of peace in your life.
The first piece is that Jesus is available to us.
When Jesus met Nicodemus, it was at the end of a very long day. After hours of teaching, preaching and healing, and after a full day of dealing with the incessant press of the crowds around Him, Jesus was tired, worn out, spent, and in need of a good night’s sleep. But Jesus didn’t go to sleep. Instead, that night, He went out to a nearby garden, and there He had this extended conversation with Nicodemus. In spite of all of the pressures of the day, He made Himself available to this ruler of the Jews.
Do you remember back in 1985 when TWA flight #74 was hijacked to Beirut by a group of Muslin terrorists? They murdered one of the American passengers on board—his name was Robert Stebbin—they threw his body out of the plane and onto the tarmac. They threatened to systematically execute each of the passengers unless they were given fuel for the plane. The authorities finally agreed to provide the fuel out on a distant runway. The captain in charge of that plane was named John Testrake. As he steered the plane, with its crew and 153 passengers toward the fueling place, he felt the quivering muzzle of a pistol at the base of his skull. There was a hand grenade held beside his face. He was receiving the hysterical commands of the terrorists who, after all, believed that if they died in the midst of such violence, would by some perverted understanding of decency and faith, spring immediately into the presence of God in paradise. Yet, in spite of all of that pressure upon him, John Testrake remained cool and calm, displaying no fear. Not only that, but for the next seventeen days, he held that group together through all of the strain of that nightmarish experience. How did he do it? Well, when it was over, he was asked, and he said: “I am a Christian. Long ago I gave myself to Jesus Christ. My life is His, and He is always with me. At no time, then, did I feel separated from Him. That is what made the difference.”
And that can make the same difference in your life and in mine. Jesus says: “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.” And He does. He is available to us. That’s the first piece required to find peace in your life.
The second piece is that Jesus knows us.
Nicodemus was a man of wealth, power, influence. The world saw him as a man of authority, but Jesus saw into his heart. Jesus saw beneath that aristocratic exterior was a deeply troubled heart. Jesus knew Nicodemus as he really was, not as others saw him to be.
When our daughter, Meg, married her husband, Billy, one of their wedding gifts was a delightful little plaque, which now hangs in their home. The plaque reads: “Jesus knows me; this I love.” And Jesus does know us. He knows us as we really are. Have you ever paused to ponder the fact that Jesus dealt with people who had broken every one of the Ten Commandments; “no other gods before me”—yet Jesus talked with Pontius Pilate and Pilate regarded Caesar as his god. “Worship no graven image”—yet Jesus counseled the rich young ruler and tried to lead him away from his adoration of money. “Never take the Lord’s name in vain”—but Jesus talked with Peter after Peter had cursed and profaned the name of God. “Remember the Sabbath day”—and Jesus took time to meet with and teach some Greeks who had no concern whatever for such laws. “Honor your father and your mother”—and Jesus told a parable about a young man who did anything but that, who ran off and squandered his father’s money, but who, when he did come home, was received with great love. “Thou shalt not kill”—and those two men hanging beside Jesus on the cross were killers as well as thieves, yet Jesus said to one of them, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.” “Thou shalt not commit adultery”—and they brought to Him a woman caught in the very act of it, and He said to her, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” “Thou shalt not steal”—and Jesus said to Zaccheaus, who was crooked as the day is long in the collection of taxes, “Zaccheus, I’m going to have lunch with you today and we are going to talk a bit about your business methods.” “Thou shalt not bear false witness”—and Jesus washed the feet of Judas, extended to him the sop of honor at dinner and accepted from him the kiss of friendship, all in an effort to call him back from evil. “Thou shalt not covet”—and Jesus had a long visit with the mother who coveted the seats at Jesus’ right hand and left hand for her own two sons.
The fact is that Jesus talked with people who were morally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically weak. I would even go so far as to say that there is nothing in you or in me that Jesus has not already encountered and dealt with in someone else. There is no deed we have ever done, no word we have ever spoken, no thought we have ever thought which He has not already met in someone else’s life. Jesus says: “Come unto me all you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He knows all there is to know about us, and there is no burden of ours which He cannot carry; yes, Jesus knows me, this I love. That’s a piece of what it takes to know peace in your life.
A third piece is that Jesus understands us.
Notice in the story that this conversation was begun by Nicodemus. Jesus listened. Look at the other conversations Jesus had with other people, and in virtually every one, the conversation is begun by the other person. Jesus always listens before He speaks. He forces Himself on no one. Why? Because He came as one of us. He understands us.
We as Christians are not like Indians who bow down before some wooden totem. We as Christians are not like Buddhists who sit in awe looking at their leader as he contemplates himself beneath a tree. We as Christians are not like devotees of scientology, seeking to unburden ourselves by talking into machines. We as Christians do not keep company with astrologers who look at self-incinerating stars far out in freezing space and try to divine from them some comfort and peace of heart. We as Christians are not like witches who do weird dances around cannibalistic symbols chalked on cellar floors. No. We have One who lived as we live, and who therefore completely understands our human predicament.
Isaiah says “Unto us a child is born.” Christmas is not the celebration of a philosophy or a theory or even a lovely story. It is rather an event in history. It celebrates the birth of a person who experienced the ups and downs, the victories and disappointments of life which are a part of our experience, and who showed us not only how to live, but also how to die. He understands us—and that is a great boon to anyone seeking peace of mind and heart.
The fourth piece is that Jesus leads us.
See how gently Jesus leads Nicodemus. There is no pushing, no shoving, no arguing. He introduces him to the concept of new birth. He teaches him about the Holy Spirit. He explains to him the promise of heaven. He didn’t try to coerce Nicodemus into the Kingdom. He simply laid out the case and invited Nicodemus to follow Him.
Not long ago, one of our members who is a graduate of M.I.T.- the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—sent me a copy of their alumni magazine which is called “Technological Review”. The magazine contained articles about subjects like chemical warfare and international environmentalism and the development of the space lab. But right in the middle of these very sophisticated scientific articles was an article on God and the students at M.I.T. Now M.I.T. is a thoroughly secular institution. It has never had any religious affiliation. It does not even hire chaplains to minister to its students. Yet, in the midst of this intentionally secular environment, the article revealed that there are hundreds and hundreds of students at M.I.T. who regularly worship God in Jesus Christ, and who seek out spiritual counsel from Christian leaders. Why? The reporter who interviewed those students said that it is because they are looking for guidance in morality, in ethics, and in the use of the very technology they are developing. I don’t know what that says to you, but to me it is a wonderful thing to know that these brilliant students who trust in the certainty and dependability of scientific principles are seeking a certainty and a dependability upon which they can build their whole lives. When it comes to the science of life, more and more, they are putting their trust in the God they find in Jesus Christ. The One who said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” speaks the truth—and more and more people are being led to find the way to the truth about life in Him. That’s a great word for those who are seeking peace of mind in life.
The last piece is, best of all, Jesus loves us.
It was to Nicodemus that Jesus spoke the words which have become the best known, best loved words in all the world. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Nicodemus didn’t understand that at first, but later on he did. We know that because, later on we are told that it was Nicodemus who lovingly, carefully, and reverently prepared the body of Jesus for burial after the crucifixion. And we know also because the only way we would have the words of John 3:16 is for Nicodemus himself to have shared them. No one else was present when this conversation took place. So the day came when Nicodemus could say it and mean it: “Jesus loves me, this I know.”
By the way, did you see in our paper yesterday that a recent poll reveals that only one-third of adults in this country said that the birth of Jesus is what makes Christmas important to them? Worse yet, among professing Christians, only 37% said that the Son of God sent from heaven to offer salvation to us is the most important aspect of Christmas. Will Willimon of Duke University says; “I guess it demonstrates what preachers have been wringing their hands over. Christ has been evacuated from Christmas.”
But not here. Please not here! Christmas is John 3:16 and John 3:16 is Christmas—and let us never ever forget it. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Jesus is available to us. Jesus knows us. Jesus understands us. Jesus leads us. Jesus loves us. This we know. Put those pieces together in your life, and you will know peace in your heart, mind and life. And then, like Linus in “Peanuts”, you will cry out: “Lord, you have saved my life!”
I can tell you that if today, by God’s power, I could help you to find that peace and security of the Christmas Christ in your life, then, like Snoopy, my existence would be justified…