Sunday, August 7, 2011

Peace On the Night He Was Betrayed

No, this is not about Saul. We're taking a break from the first Israelite king and getting down into something more basic, something more light.

For the longest time, we have conceived of peace as a large white cloud or puff of smoke descending vertically from Heaven and everyone it settles upon goes into a high, like, “Peace, man!” It’s about time we kicked away that outdated hippie concept, including why we need to maintain a peaceful lifestyle.

We have always defined peace as the absence of conflict. And for as long as I could remember, this definition had always elicited immediate responses like “uh-huh,” or “ohh…kay,” or “I ssseeee,” all indicating a doubtful and incomplete agreement that, because it’s so obvious, to further elaborate on the statement is generally pointless.

There are, however, some of us who have at one point rebelled against this point of view and have kindly demanded elaboration, but all we got was a restatement of the meaning delivered in a sterner tone. In our gut, we have always felt that peace is something more than just an absence of something. Understanding peace in its framework against confrontation is downright limiting, in the same was as we would call “white” as the opposite of “black,” or “red” as not the other colors in the color wheel.

The most popular definition of peace is contentment. With this, it is pictured as a river running across a lush green nature garden where various species of creatures great and small thrives. Because of the abundance promoted by the eternal water, there is an absence of slaughter, struggle, and disenfranchisement. Because of the river, there is a harmonious interaction of species in that local system and the welfare of all is secure. Through, therefore, the context of contentment, we fit the virtue of “counting our blessings” instead of pursuing that which we have not. Ideally, this will bring peace, or a stillness, in our lives as we detach ourselves from selfish aspirations.

But alas, we also agree that we are creatures of needs, that our bodies will always be dependent on the basic attention of the environment. So long as the water keeps flowing, the peaceful cooperation of the creatures in the environment will perpetuate. But what if for some reason, the water stops flowing? We picture the entrance of distrust, discord, territorialism, the hedging of one’s own interest. By then, the stillness and the security  will be gone, peace therefore threatened. There will be a struggle to control the remaining resources; those not strong enough to withstand will leave in search for the same environment watered by a “river of peace."

Is this the peace that Jesus promised His disciples in John 14:27 where He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid”?

It was that significant night, the night of the last supper of Jesus, when this statement was made. What was supposed to be a time of jolly fellowship of feasting was sat in distasteful restiveness. On that night, Jesus predicted His betrayal (John 13:18, 26), and Peter’s denial (verse 38); Thomas wanted to know where He was going (14:5), and Philip—speaking for the group—requesting to see the Father in a way to still the trouble in their hearts (verse 8). It was a very unsettling time. For the disciples, that is. Jesus, on the other hand, was in perfect peace, as living up to the Scriptural fulfillment (as always!) of Isaiah 26:3: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee”—the very essence of which He condenses into a command for His disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (verse 1).

But was there really peace? In the ensuing events, Jesus gets arrested in the garden of Gethsemane and Peter draws out a concealed sword and successfully chops off one of the arresting deputy’s ear (18:10), Peter denies his Master three times (verses 17, 25 to 27), Jesus was shackled like a criminal (18:12), bounces from one judge to another and ends up dead on a cross. In a span of a few hours after that night of the last supper, it seems like the river quickly ran dry and all that depended on the life it promoted had since then “scattered” (Zechariah 13:7, Matthew 26:31). To them who see desolation as peace, then there was peace. A counterfeit type of peace, that is.

In our illustration of that ecosystem with the river running through it, we made notice of the relationship of those benefiting from the water. When Jesus spoke peace during the last supper, He spoke to all His disciples, who were all present (except for Judas Iscariot who earlier took off to consummate the betrayal). He revealed Himself to be the Source of peace: “Peace I leave with you.” So that peace is a river then? Not exactly, and this is a part of our spiritual lives where we miss a lot of those good things we are supposed to be thankful to God for.

Do you remember that story about Jesus and the storm? Let’s take the version in Mark 4:36 to 41. The scene begins with Jesus concluding a long day of teaching with parables, thoroughly teaching a “crowd…so large” that Jesus had to stand on a boat as a pulpit since the people all thronged “along the shore at the water’s edge” (Mark 4:1). Now, Jesus was no fisherman, so you can understand how rather unfamiliar He was with boats, that Jesus had to fight for balance every time He shifted His weight just a little to assume a momentary posture that relieved the strain of another. And He was teaching them “many things” (verse 2). In addressing a large crowd, He shouted every word He uttered, making sure that they understood “as much as they could” (verse 33). In addition, He continued to elucidate His teaching “when he was alone with his own disciples” (verse 34). So you could understand that when evening came, Jesus was sapped. This explains why Jesus was sleeping soundly on a cushion in the stern in the middle of a “furious squall” that threatened to drown the vessel and everyone in it!

Notice the cry of the disciples in verse 39: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” It’s just like the Psalmist who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning” (Psalm 22:1). Honestly, there were times when we felt that God, in our ordeal, just stood there, and by not “doing anything” had made Himself invisible and as deaf and motionless as an idol. Think of how that would make you feel if your daughter whom you love with all your heart and soul said thatto you! By doubting God of His very concern to save you in your time of need is virtually an insult to His character!

Now, think of how you’d feel if you were Jesus being told, “Yo, Jesus, we’re drowning here! Whatever’s wrong with you can probably wait!” But Jesus, thank God, was—and is—one who understands. He was also, at that time, physically exhausted: probably His arms and hips hurt after all that strain to hold the boat steady; His neck was yearning for a massage, His jaw wanting to shut for a month, and His voice sore. But He gets up and addresses the wind and the waves: “Shut up!” And the elements shut up! In this account, He says nothing to His disciples whether before or after He rebukes the storm. In Matthew 8:26, He encourages them with an emphatic: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” In Luke 8:25, it was “Where is your faith?” The accounts are very clear: Jesus delivered one rebuke and it was to the storm, not to the disciples. If we were to understand, it was to go as such: “It’s okay, guys, just relax. Everything’s gonna be just fine.” And it was this assurance—this peace—that Jesus delivered to the disciples on the night of the last supper.

On that evening on the stormy lake, the stability of the disciples’ peace was like a line attached to Jesus as an anchor. Their faith was there, but it was predisposed to be buffeted by the wind and the waves of life. In John 14:27, Jesus delegated the peace that their faith was anchored to into their very hearts because He was about to leave them (John 14:1–4). How did He do this? By promising the “Counselor” from the Father, to be with them forever (verse 16). You could say that He was “leaving a part of Him in their lives.” But it was really more than a part of Him; He was appointing His Spirit to “live with [them] and will be in [them]” (verse 17). Very reassuringly, He says: “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you” (verse 18). And by that promise, He left them His peace. It was then up to the disciples to take care of that peace, as good stewards.

Peace is one of the promises God had always guaranteed to all who put their trust in Him. Not all who put their trust in Him, however, understand that, like prosperity, peace is something that must be upheld. God had already provided His guidelines for peace in His Word, that is, the Bible. And in it, the procedures of preserving it must also be observed through lifestyle. The Apostle Peter in his first epistle charged the believers to “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11); centuries before him, King David said the same thing in Psalms 34:14. The Apostle Paul taught that to have peace, one must first choose to live in peace (2 Corinthians 13:11). It was, to him, a simple equation: you choose it, you’ll have it. It is therefore clear that peace is already present, and all we need to do is use it! Jesus had left us His peace since that night of the last supper.

Jesus, along with Peter, Paul, and David, almost a thousand years before, discovered and shared a concept of peace that what most of us to this day conceive of something as a situation, which shatters at the slightest rumor of conflict.

After discovering peace, using it, and finding that it works, we are told to “pursue it,” or maintain it. The most pervasive reason why many choose and maintain peace is because we’re scared of conflict. By this, our illustration of peace transforms from the life-giving river into a life-preserving wall. But there’s also another reason why we see peace as a protecting wall. The walls of peace convey power, confidence, and sovereignty. A very good supporting example for this is how painstakingly and vigilantly Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem to get rid of the distress and reproach of Israel (Nehemiah 2:17).

Maintaining peace is a mandate Jesus had provided all Christians to pursue. He left His peace into our stewardship. Stewardship? Now, there’s a word we have always associated with prosperity, but not really with peace! We understand stewardship in the context of a parable where three servants were left with certain amounts of money to develop while their employer was away on a long journey (Matthew 25:14–30). In the story, the money loaned to them was carefully measured according to the ability of each to generate profit. It was a fair deal. The first two produced the expected revenue; the last one kept it in a hole in the ground. This last scheme is what some of us do with peace.

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). But what do many Christians do? They sue each other “before the ungodly for judgment”—meaning, before courts of law—“instead of before the saints” (1 Corinthians 6:1)—or, settling the dispute before the elders of the local church who know what is best for the flock. Jesus told us to promote peace as we would the Gospel, calling us “peacemakers,” in addition to “Christians.” First, He makes known that “the kingdom of God”—to which all believers belong to—“is…a matter…of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Then, He commands us to “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (verse 19). He adds: “anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men” (verse 18). If there is something the people of God and the world share in understanding, it’s “peace” through “mutual edification.” The only—big—difference is that to the people of the world, peace and mutual edification is a slippery, if not unattainable, ideal; to the people of God, however, they are realistic, livable perspectives.

As peacemakers, Christians are not to be a source of turbulence, controversy, intrigue, or anything that provides hatred, doubt, and disrespect for the Name of Jesus. Peacemakers promote unity in the Body of Christ and in the way they conduct their lives in the sight of the unbelievers, even subservience, compliance and respect toward temporal authority (Romans 13:1–7), the concept and fire of the zealot of Jewish nationalism, the Apostle Paul abandons and discourages all believers to adopt. There should be no trace of rebellion or agitation against established authorities, in the local church or in a country’s government. That personal goes for us who have mostly or entirely lived our lives in a democracy thinking it perfectly fine to speak against the government without any responsibility or accountability of whether we have planted a seed of rebellion or discord in anyone who happened to be listening to us.

Perhaps the final thing (as of yet) that could be said about peace, which we have not really completely grasped, is that it is the agent that holds all the other blessings of God in place. If we go back to our illustration of peace as a river, we will notice that there was a place for the species to gather on while the source of life ran in the midst of them. What kept the opportunity for unique growth and proliferation was their positioning, that without the careful positioning of each life according to their capabilities, only a few forms would endure: probably aquatic and amphibian, and even some reptilian. What secured this opportunity for the mammals to join the system was the physical channel, the confinement of the river into a specific body. Peace functions in the same way: it is the entrenchment by which the blessing of God’s prosperity flows through.

[There's more on peace--I know, I know! I know you're thinking that every article I make never ends! Well, this one's gonna--on our Part II of this subject on Peace. So...peace!]

Photo Credits:
   1. David Barnet/Illustration Works/Corbis
   2. Frans Lanting/Corbis
   3. Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis
   4. Brooklyn Museum/Corbis
   5. Brooklyn Museum/Corbis
   6. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis
   7. Frans Lanting/Corbis


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