Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." This morning, we continue our "walk by the Spirit" focusing on this facet of the fruit of the Spirit called "peace."
'Peace.' Such a great, yet elusive thing. How many FORMAL 'peace treaties' have been painstakingly worked out between one nation and another only to be broken no sooner than the ink has dried? How many INFORMAL 'peace treaties' have been negotiated between husbands and wives, family members, between friends, which turned out to be nothing more than brief delays in the battle?
The problem with 'peace treaties,' is all that they can do is try to regulate the EXTERNAL conflict between two parties. "Don't cross this line. Don't fire that missile. Don't push the button." But they can't control the INNER conflict that may well continue to rage if when the EXTERNAL conflict is under control. Truth is, unless the heart and mind are changed, even the most binding 'peace treaty' is a fragile thing. How many 'middle-eastern peace treaties' have their been over the centuries and peace is no closer because hearts and minds have not been changed.
On the other hand, where hearts and minds are changed and where an INNER reconciliation takes place, it's amazing how bumps in the road are smoothed over and infractions are overlooked and transgressions are settled by forgiveness rather than retaliation.
Of course, this is where our 'walk by the Spirit' is leading us. It is the Holy Spirit who changes hearts and minds. That's His business. As we said last Sunday, the work of the Holy Spirit is "conversion." And the Word and the Sacraments are the tools of His trade. He works an 'INTERNAL' peace that produces an 'EXTERNAL' peace.
The Holy Spirit Creates Conflict and Peace
As we said last week, this 'conversion' that the Holy Spirit wants to work in us 'internally' so that we bear fruit 'externally' works in two directions.
Sometimes the Spirit works through the Word to create 'conflict' in us where we are currently at peace. There are some things that do not cause us conflict that should. We've acquired certain habits, certain attitudes, certain ways of going about things, what St. Paul calls, "the works of the flesh," that should us a good deal of internal conflict in us but that we have made peace with.
Jesus Christ is the "Prince of Peace." Yet He instructs His 12 disciples saying, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword." (Matthew 10:34). Where we have made peace the false gods and sinful ways of this world, Jesus intends to create conflict and disrupt our tranquility. The divine bringer of peace is also the divine disturber of peace.
Here's a good example of how the Holy Spirit does this. St. Paul says he was living in perfect peace with his sin. It was only when the Holy Spirit, through the Word said, "thou shall not covet," that the conflict began. What had been peaceful and tranquil life lived contrary to God's Word, became an all out war inside Paul. "I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind." (Rom.7:23). But it was in the midst of this conflict and war that the Holy Spirit created inside Paul that He led Paul to a real peace based on Jesus Christ.
So, as the Holy Spirit works to create His INNER peace in us, very often it is necessary for His work to begin by destroying the peace that we have created for ourselves and creating a conflict within us and our 'works of the flesh." The old must go so that the new can come. No one puts new wine into old wineskins. Especially not the Spirit of God.
The True Peace of Christ
In place of our old peace, which is really no peace at all, the Spirit works to produce in us the true peace that Jesus Christ has won for us by His suffering, death and resurrection from the dead.
To all who are sick and tired of conflict with others, family members, friends, enemies, spouses, Jesus says, "Come to me, and I will give you rest." His rest is His peace. For now, it's not the absence of conflict and warfare, but His rest and peace in the midst of it all. "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)
To all who are weary of the conflict and the battle that rages within over our sinful ways and God's holy way, the Prince of Peace says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you." (John 14:27) His Word gives what it says.
The peace that Jesus has won for us and established for us is a threefold peace.
I. First, He has established for us a peace with God.
In the Old Testament, God gave instruction to Moses for the offerings that the people of God are to make. They're recorded in the book of Leviticus. There are basically three different kinds of offerings to be made and each has a different purpose. There are 'burnt offerings' that are for the forgiveness of sins. There are 'grain offerings,' that are for giving thanks to God for our daily bread. And there is a 'peace offering' that is for making peace with God.
The reason that God establishes a 'peace offering' is because we are not at peace with God nor is God at peace with us as long as we continue to rebel against His Word and put our trust in false gods. But by establishing a 'peace offering' for Israel, God was saying, 'I want to be at peace with you and I want you to be at peace with Me. And here is the way of peace between us.'
The peace offering was an animal sacrifice, to be roasted over the fire and eaten by the priests and the people in the Temple. It was a holy communion with God. The eating of the 'peace offering' was God's declaration that He was at peace with man AND the people's celebration of the reconciliation of God with them.
Now in these New Testament days we no longer make a 'peace offering' to God. And that's because Jesus Christ is the 'peace offering' to end all 'peace offerings.' God the Father has provided the sacrifice. And the Lamb has been slain and roasted on the spit of the cross over the fires of hell. And now, in Holy Communion, as we eat the sacrifice here, God declares His peace with us and we celebrate the reconciliation that He has been established between God and man by that same sacrifice.
So, St. Paul writes to the Romans saying, "therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom.5:1). The peace treaty between God and us has been worked out between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Written in the blood of His beloved Son. Signed and sealed signed upon your forehead and upon your heart in your baptism, marking you as one with whom God is at peace. Therefore it is a firm and solid peace that is lasting and eternal based on the grace of the Triune God.
II. Second, Jesus has established for us a peace with one another.
The Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton once wrote, "Man is not at peace with his fellow man because he is not at peace with himself. And he is not at peace with himself because he is not at peace with God."
The foundation for peace with one another is our peace with God. The 'peace offering' that Jesus made was for true reconciliation between God and all mankind. Through the offering of His Son, almighty God is at peace with you and at peace with your neighbor, and at peace with your enemy. This means that the way is opened up for us to be at peace with one another.
St. Paul explains that the peace that we have with God is the basis for our peace with one another like this. "He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… that He might create in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace." (Eph.2:14).
So, this peace that the Holy Spirit is at work to produce in us is not just a peace with God. There's no room here for us to seek peace with God but not our neighbor. Jesus instructs the crowd about the right reception of the 'peace offering' when He says, "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)
The peace that we have with God through faith in Jesus Christ brings the power for reconciliation in our human relationships. His offering for our peace means that our conflict and warfare with others is not just between us and them. Jesus is right in the middle of every conflict and war with His peace to make peace on earth.
III. Third, Jesus has established for us a heavenly peace.
When the promised Prince of Peace was born of the virgin Mary, the angels announced that He had come to bring "peace on earth." And He has done just that. But it is a peace on earth that is comprehended and experienced by faith alone.
But our faith is weak and we're filled with doubts that cause us to stumble and fall. We desire to walk by the Spirit in the bond of peace but our selfish desires and stubborn pride get the best of us. Rather than seeking peace with God or our neighbor, we seek to justify our actions, protect our position and prove that we are right and you are wrong. As long as we live in this sinful and fallen world, peace is always going to be elusive and fleeting.
Also, we may strive to live at peace with God and by His power working in us, strive to be reconciled and live at peace with our family members, our friends and enemies, our spouse. Yet sometimes, it's the other party that doesn't want any part of it. So we struggle to live with an INNER peace even while we face EXTERNAL conflict.
And so we look forward to that "peace of God which surpasses all understanding." We can't understand it because we have never experienced it. But there will come a time when our INTERNAL peace will be perfected, matched by a perfect EXTERNAL peace. And what has been so elusive in this world will be an abundant harvest of fruit in the world to come.
For now, "let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body." "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Col. 3:15 Philip. 4:7)