Peace and Power
I looked at the text today and two words stuck out: Peace and power. If you like points to follow get ready because I only have one: the Peace of Christ is Power. The Peace of Christ is Power for those who believe. In reflecting on these words, my first thought was that they are opposites. So I created a research team out of my high school Sunday school class to see if my observation was correct. We formed two groups to write all adjectives, images, people, etc. they associated with their group’s word. Here’s a sample of some of their findings.
You can see there are exact opposites represented in these lists. What I found is that for some reason in our culture we associate peace with weakness. It’s unfortunate, but we need to be aware that when we talk about turning the other cheek, admitting our weaknesses, confessing our sins, we might be perceived as weak. Some people consider faith a crutch. Some say faith itself is for weak-minded people. Turning the other cheek, admitting your faults, that’s weak.
Let’s look at how peace is used in our text. Jesus’ followers are in a room; it’s possible they are hiding; it’s probable that they are scared, depressed, angry, confused. The Messiah, or at least he One they hoped was the Messiah, the one who they left everything to follow, has just been killed. The ride is over and it was too short. The excitement; the anticipation; the thrill of it all is done.
But some say he is alive. Some say they’ve seen him! The tomb is empty. Then news comes that others have seen Jesus. Peter has seen him. The two on the road to Emmaus have seen him. Could it be? Is Jesus really risen? As they are discussing these things Jesus appears. “Peace be with you.” What! Is that all you have to say for yourself? “Peace.” I’ve always pictured Jesus saying something more like, “Yeah, that’s right! Who defeated death? Take that!” Then the party would start, right? Instead, he says, “Peace be with you.” And instead of a party breaking out, the text says that the whole group thought they saw a ghost and became terrified. Even though Jesus told them he was going to do this, they never really expected a real bodily resurrection – a flesh and blood resurrection. This is a new thing! When God raised Christ from the dead, the whole game has changed. The resurrection is peace and power. Ephesians 2:14 says, “He himself is our peace, who has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” With the resurrection, God’s power breaks into the world, busts in and a new day begins. Now there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice, his willingness to suffer and complete the task for us and for the salvation of the world, brings peace. But that peace is power.
What can we say about Jesus’ offer of peace? Why is his peace powerful? Look at Jesus’ next move. He allows them to touch his wounds. Jesus offers a peace that is tangible. “Here, touch my hands and my feet. Go ahead, see that I’m real. The peace I give you is real.” The peace of Christ isn’t fluffy clouds; it isn’t a feeling or emotion; it is for real. The early church practiced the passing of the peace. In his letters, Paul instructed people to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” To kiss someone you need to be right with that person. You don’t kiss your enemies. Today we more often give holy handshakes or something like that, but do you seek to make peace?
I recently read a reflection on this text that suggested when we offer the peace of Christ we imitate Jesus. Jesus offers his peace, recognizes the situation of doubt, fear, and disbelief, and immediately allows them to touch him and see that he was broken for them. He doesn’t cover up his wounds. He allows them to see that he is real, and he is present. What if we did the same? What if, in passing the peace, we showed people that we are present for them? What if we were willing to show our wounds to one another and accept the peace of Christ that has the ability to heal our wounds? Financial troubles, family troubles, sin, brokenness, self-doubt, emotional distress, disease, addictions. Christ offers us a peace that is real – a peace that overcomes the world – a peace that overcomes our sin and broken relationships – Christ’s peace is power because Christ’s peace heals. Christ’s peace restores our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. Christ’s peace is tangible, real, and it is power. The peace of Christ – Christ’s presence; his sacrifice; the showing of his wounds – helps the disciples move out of their despair. He moves them and gives them a new task. Sometimes that’s what we need when we’re in a tough place. What else, but Christ’s peace, can help us move beyond the pain and troubles of our world? When loved one’s die; when people we love make bad choices; when finances get crazy; when nothing makes sense, when injustice goes unchallenged, allow the peace of Christ to wash over you because the peace of Christ is power for those who believe. How does peace move to power? What is the new task?
How many of you want a faith that is more than a feeling; a faith that moves and transforms lives; a faith like dynamite? The Greek word for power is “dunamis.” Sound familiar? Dynamite. When Jesus says, “Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” I get excited. Jesus says, “You are my witnesses. Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power.” The new task is to be Christ’s witnesses to the world; to be witnesses that proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in the power of the Holy Spirit. The image of the Holy Spirit coming on these people, clothing them in power is unbelievable. The peace of Christ is power. And we know that they believed it and it happened. So when the Holy Spirit came and clothed them with power, the disciples couldn’t stop talking about Jesus. They aren’t content with a faith that only looks to the life to come - to a heavenly home - they want to change the world now. According to Acts 2, the immediate result of this power in action was that there were people being saved daily.
Then in Acts 3, Peter and John are walking into the temple and they see a crippled man begging at the gate. This guy had been this way since birth. Peter looks intently at the guy and says, “Look at us.” Now that he has his attention, he says, “I don’t have money, but I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ get up and walk.” Bam! The man is healed. That’s power. Of course the Pharisees don’t like this display, so they haul Peter and John in. Look at what they ask them in Acts 4:7, “By what POWER or what name did you do this?” They recognize that there is a power at work here, but where did it come from?
Have you ever been asked that question? “By what power or what name did you do this?” I’ll be honest, I haven’t been asked that question. I don’t generally do things that elicit that question being asked. “Why not?,” I asked myself. Do you believe the same power available to Peter is available to you and me? I believe that God is still at work and still active today. Do you rely on, and call on, the power of God living in you?
I was reading Ephesians and I came across some verses in chapter one, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Now listen as he describes this incomparable power available. He says, “That power is the same as the mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…” The power that raised Christ from the dead is available to us. We are clothed with the incomparable power of God. We wear the power of God!
I came across another that spoke of God’s power that shook me. Go with me to 2 Timothy 3:1-5…Read. Listen to that phrase in verse 5 again, “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” Is that not a message for us today? If I allow myself to be honest, that’s how I feel most of the time. I became really good at this from an early age. Allow me to explain. In 8th grade, I was taught and told that being a Christian wasn’t cool; rather, swearing was cool and talking about what you did with girls or at parties was cool. I learned that and quickly adapted to my environment, and I still fall into this trap at times. I still find myself trying to be someone I’m not at the baseball or football field. I have to remind myself that I need to live differently, set a different example, behave as Christ would. But sometimes it’s easier to blend in so we can “earn the trust” of others. Sometimes I would rather blend in. Putting yourself out there and talking openly about Jesus makes some uncomfortable. But we need to get uncomfortable.
That seemed to be the theme of the men’s retreat this year. We are too comfortable in our faith. In the 1800s, Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “To proclaim Christianity is to make sacrifices, to be willing to suffer. If there is such a one or if there are several such, then Christianity will once again begin to become power.” But what does suffering and sacrifice look like for us? The obvious is money, but what about our time? What about safety? We have built our lives around being safe and secure. We avoid pain and suffering at all costs. I was reading an article recently where the author questioned the prayer life of the church. He says that Jesus specifically calls us to pray for enemies in his name, but “I’ve never heard a really good intercession for Osama bin Laden.” Martin Luther King, Jr. knew the power of God. He relied on the power of the peace of Christ to confront and topple an unjust system of racial oppression. And for his efforts, he came to know sacrifice and suffering as well. But what about us? What about you and me? What might happen? What would we be called to sacrifice? How might we be called to suffer? To be completely honest, I’m a little scared to think about those questions, but I’m convinced that to see the power of God at work - to see the power the disciples called on in Acts – Christians must be willing to make sacrifices and be willing to suffer. We must be willing to admit we need the power of God; we need God to be in control; we cannot do it on our own. Our own power is temporary, fleeting, and will fail us.
Go back with me to our friend Kierkegaard for a minute. Before we get too excited, and I hope you’re excited, he warns us of a trick the world likes to play. He knew that a life of suffering and sacrifice isn’t an easy calling. He warned that the world gets freaked out when the church gets powerful. He writes, “The world has also taken care to protect itself so that Christianity does not through proclamation become a power, a power with the right to engage a person’s life, and therefore, this world requires the trustworthy guarantee that the proclaimer’s life turns the proclamation into shadowboxing. The world wants to be deceived…” Isn’t that true? “The world has taken care to protect itself so that Christianity does not become a power, a power with the right to engage a person’s life.” This is where I sometimes buy into the world’s trick. I buy the lie that I don’t have the right to engage a person’s life. I fear many of us have. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to sacrifice anything and I know I don’t want to suffer. Besides, tolerance is easier to sell than Truth. My faith is turned into shadowboxing. That’s a fascinating metaphor he uses. There is no opponent. We have eliminated the opponents not by bringing them into the kingdom, but by ignoring them.
For me, I convince myself that I’m just a coach. I’m just supposed to do my job and make these kids better athletes. In the end, I have a form of godliness – I know the right things to say and do – but often I deny the power of God living in me. I rely on my own strength. I have too much pride. I’m selfish. I might ruin a relationship. The conversation might get awkward. I don’t have the time, the energy, the right words. If God wants this person to know him, he can make it happen. Yes, I have godly desires, but I deny the power. But I am called to be more than a baseball coach. We are called to be witnesses to truth. We are called to preach the gospel of peace with power. Jesus gives us the task of being his witnesses, of imitating him. We are called to live in and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. In order for God’s power to become transformative in our world, we need to sacrifice and be willing to suffer. You see, the world doesn’t care about our faith as long as we don’t live like it matters. They would rather be deceived.
What about you? What would it take for you to see the power of God at work in the world? One thing I’ve tried to do is pray, pray, and pray some more. Ask God to reveal his power in and through me. Another thing is to trust that God is putting people in my path for a reason. We all have a sphere of influence. We all have a “world” we can change. What impact are you making on your “world”? Are you trusting in God’s power? Do you believe God will answer when you call on Him? We claim allegiance to a Lord who plays by different rules. Our Lord is willing to lay down his life. Our Lord speaks truth because he is The Truth. Our Lord touches the untouchables and sits down for dinner with sinners. Our Lord searches and seeks that which is lost. Our Lord is the Great Physician, the Prince of Peace, the Provider, the Author of Life, and the Creator. Our Lord is powerful. He is seated at the right hand of the Father, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked. God placed all things under his feet, and we have the awesome privilege of calling on that name. Let’s do it more often and see what happens!
We are witnesses. We are called to proclaim the good news of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation between God and humanity. We are called to shout to the ends of the earth that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We are called to be Christ’s ambassadors, representatives of Christ to a world in great need of the powerful peace of Christ. May you be clothed with the power of Christ. May you come to know and experience the peace of Christ as it reigns in you. May the Holy Spirit empower you to transform your world through Christ’s message of peace and forgiveness. Amen.