I want us to think for a moment about that statement Jesus made in John 20, “Peace be with you.” Why did he say that? He had just risen from the dead. He had appeared to a few of his followers. But here in John 20, in this next section, he is standing before the majority of his disciples, and the first words out of his mouth in John 20, “Peace be with you.”
Now, some might say that’s just the normal Hebrew greeting. Jesus was simply greeting like anyone else would greet, and it’s true. Today in Israel “shalom aleichem” is still a common greeting. But there seems to be something more here because he repeats it three times. Verse 19, “Peace be with you”; verse 21, “Peace be with you”; verse 29, “Peace”; 26, “Peace be with you.”
Why is Jesus so intent on giving away peace? I think there are some clues in the text. Let me suggest a couple: One — because the disciples were unsettled — unsettled, anxious, fearful, agitated, even alarmed. Why? Well, verse 19 tells us they were hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They had seen Jesus be betrayed, arrested, humiliated, executed. And they knew they could be next, and they were fearful. And then suddenly, their nerves already ramped up, Jesus suddenly appears. No doors were opened; no locks were unlocked. There he is. And his first words — “Peace be with you.” They were unsettled.
Second reason he was so intent on giving away peace is they were unqualified. What do I mean by that? Look at verse 21. He said, “Peace be with you” again, but this time it appears to be connected to his plan to send them. Look at verse 21.
“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
And then he goes through a kind of dress rehearsal, a dry run to the commissioning he will enact later on. And then the filling of the Spirit on Pentecost … He breathes on them right after saying, “Peace be with you.” Now, why? What does “peace be with you” have to do with their feelings of being unqualified? Well, they knew what it was like to feel like failures.
Right at this moment, they were probably vacillating between two extremes. One, just a feeling of inadequacy — when Jesus needed us most, we fled and failed. And a feeling of gullibility. We trusted him. We left everything for him, and look where we are. Peter had denied Jesus three times. They had all scattered. And Jesus has no interest in fueling their going with things like, motivations like guilt, or fear of failure, or a sense of inadequacy. He has no interest in their being insecure. So, what does he say to them? “Peace be with you.” Do you see the significance? They haven’t done anything. They haven’t proven themselves. And he is saying, I’m giving you peace before you prove yourself, before you earn anything, before you vindicate yourself. No, no, no! Right now! “Peace be with you” even in your sense of inadequacy.
Third, they were not only unsettled and feeling unqualified, they were unconvinced. Look at verses 24-29. Especially Thomas, but we know from the other gospels, there were other followers who were still unconvinced, as well. Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared. He was down at the local cafe reading Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. And he said in verse 25, he insisted to the other disciples,
“Unless I see in his hands the mark of his nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
And now, eight days later, the doors once again are locked, and Jesus once again appeared, and his first words to Thomas — “Peace be with you.” And then he turns to Thomas specifically and says, Thomas, “put your fingers right here.” Feel that?
“Put your hand right here. Do not disbelieve, but believe. And Thomas exclaimed, ‘My Lord and my God!’ And Jesus said, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
Do you see what Jesus is doing in these three offerings of peace? He is giving peace to people who don’t have it — people who feel unsettled, people who feel unqualified, people who are unconvinced. “Peace be with you.”
But there’s one more reason I believe Jesus is so insistent on giving away peace. And it’s the umbrella reason that covers all these other three reasons. And you could summarize it simply “because he said he would,” because he said he would. Three days earlier in the upper room, John 14:27,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
I’m going to give you my peace. It’s a different kind of peace than you can get on Amazon. It’s a different kind of peace than you can watch on YouTube. It is not as the world gives peace.
So, how does the world give peace? Well, the world gives peace when you can finally buy the house of your dreams, have your dog running around in the backyard and your BMW in the garage … peace. When you hang out with people who get you … peace. When your TikTok followers double in a month … peace. When my political candidate wins and finally begins enacting his or her agenda, I feel peace. When my society affirms my chosen identity … peace. When my family is watching TV rather than arguing with one another, or when my kids are all in bed and I can get the drink of my choice and put my feet up on the couch and relax … peace. When my doctor says the scan is clear, when I feel good about the way my life is going, that’s how the world gives peace.
Are all of those wrong? No. Many of those things are gifts from God, but they are not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is offering his disciples, and he’s offering everyone here this morning a different kind of peace. It is not transient, passing, or dependent on circumstances. It’s not subjective, depending on a certain feeling I can muster up. It is what he calls “my peace.” And in a sense, it’s cosmic and global and immense. Look at Colossians 1:20.
“And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
When Jesus left his disciples and gave himself over to the Jewish and Roman authorities to be mocked and beaten and killed, he was making peace — shalom — on a global scale. His death, burial, and resurrection leads to world peace, environmental harmony, civil justice. Ultimately, that is where all things are heading.
But that doesn’t seem to be his focus here. How do we know? Look at John 14:27. “Let not your [what?] be troubled.”
“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
What’s the heart? The heart is the control center of the person. Jesus is starting really close. The camera is moving up close and moving in to the core of our identity, to the very control center of our being. And he is saying right at that small, intimate place, the core of who you are, I am giving peace. My peace. Yes, things are not the way they’re supposed to be yet, but I want to start close to home. I want to start with your agitated, broken, sinful heart. John 16:33, he said,
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation.”
Last month, U.S. News published a poll, and the first sentence said this: Americans are more stressed than ever. Now, that was last month. You think about it. I thought the pandemic that has been occurring for the last two years was receding. So, you would think stress and agitation and fear and anxiety would be leaving. But this poll revealed something very important: Stress does not evaporate; it migrates. Because the poll revealed whereas people were primarily anxious about the pandemic and all the politics and everything that went around that and the health issues, last month people were concerned about rising inflation and the horrible things that are happening in Ukraine as Russia invades Ukraine and the fear of cyber attacks. And they listed many more — nuclear threats, social and moral upheaval. The point is this: there is always a good reason to be anxious. There’s always a reason not to be at peace.
So, when Jesus says in the world “you will have” … and he uses a very general Greek word there for pressure, like the doctor when he says, “you’re going to feel some pressure.” That’s what Jesus is saying. You live in a world that is full of pressure, tribulation, distress, and stress. But take heart. I have what? I have overcome the world. I have overcome the world.
So, when Jesus appeared to his disciples on Resurrection Sunday evening and showed them his scars, he wasn’t simply proving that he was not a ghost. He was doing that, but he was showing definitively the means of victory, that through my death, burial, and resurrection, through my wounds, I have overcome, won victory over the cross. His peace is purchased on his cross and delivered through his empty tomb. He can deliver peace to his petrified disciples because their biggest problem has now been solved. Amen? The disciples’ biggest problem was solved when Jesus rose from the dead. Yet the Romans were still in charge, and in one sense, nothing had changed. But in a very real sense, everything had changed. And that is why Jesus came and said, “Peace be with you.” Shalom in me. You will have peace even if in the world you are under pressure.
He was delivering his promise to give them peace, “my peace,” the kind of peace that only someone who is innocent yet suffered as if he were guilty could give; the kind of peace that only someone who was cursed so that we would not be under the curse could give; the kind of peace that only someone who went through death and came out the other side can look back and say to all of us this morning, “It’s going to be OK. We’re going to get through! My peace I give to you.”
Last week, in the middle of the night, I was trying to sleep. It was a week and a half ago. I was trying to sleep on one of those little pull-out chairs in a hospital next to my wife’s bed. She had just had surgery, was still in a lot of pain, was struggling to not continually vomit. We had just found out the cancer had spread, and there were very kind health workers coming in and out all night. And so, there wasn’t a lot of sleeping going on. And as I was trying to rest on this little pull-out chair/bed-like thing, this promise kept coming to my mind.
“My peace I give to you. My peace. Peace be with you.”
Right where you are, in all the uncertainty, without having all the answers. Jesus is offering peace to people who feel unsettled, who feel unqualified, who maybe are unconvinced. Lord, we have doubts. We have fears. We don’t have all the answers. We don’t know what next year will bring.
“Peace be with you. My peace I give to you. I don’t give as the world gives. So, let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
The question I would love for us to think about for a moment here is, will you, this morning, receive Christ’s gift of peace? Imagine for a moment he is still insisting on giving away peace. It’s not the fake kind of peace that the world gives. It’s not a subjective, passing peace, a feeling that just comes and goes when everything goes your way. It’s a deep rebar sense that’s grounded in his promises that he will fulfill. And he demonstrated that on the cross and through the empty tomb.
And so, no matter who you are this morning on this resurrection morning, no matter how much anxiety you’re carrying or sin you’re carrying, how many doubts and questions you have, can you, for a moment here, imagine for a moment, what if Jesus is offering me the same gift he was offering to his broken, failing, doubting, fearing disciples? Peace. Shalom. Wholeness.
Let’s pray. First of all, Jesus, thank you so much that when you came to your disciples, your first words weren’t, “I told you so.” Your first words weren’t throwing in their faces their failure. There were many of those. But your first words here in John 20, “Peace be with you.” You. You who are unsettled, you who feel unqualified, you who may be unconvinced, I have enough peace for you. You don’t have to be at war with my Father. Your sins can be washed away.
Father, as we repent of our seeking peace in everything but you and believe in Jesus, we pray that many this morning would receive your resurrection gift of peace. This is one of the big differences between your people and the world, Lord, is that at the core of our being, we know things are right. No matter how broken the world is — and we want to serve in every way possible; we want to bring this shalom to the world — but no matter how broken the world is, we can be at peace through Jesus Christ.
I pray that right now there would be many prayers rising up to the skies, repenting of fake peace, trying to seek peace in alcohol or drugs or peace in entertainment, peace in relationships, or peace in purchasing things, proving to people. God, we want your peace. “My peace I give.” And we thank you that on this beautiful resurrection morning, you are giving away lots of peace. And we praise you in Jesus’ name. Amen.