Sunday, June 19, 2016

Understanding Peace

Do you remember praying as a child?  Do you remember the words that you prayed?  Let’s try it together:  Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.”  But what if when you laid down to sleep you knew that would be the last time you ever laid down to sleep? 

What if when you closed your eyes you knew it would be the last time you would ever close your eyes to sleep.  What if you knew when you went to bed tonight that tomorrow night you would be history, that you would never again hold the ones you loved, that you would never again be held by the ones who loved you.  That you would never see another sunset, never hear another bird sing, never live another day.  How would you sleep?

I’ve read that they often put a suicide watch on prisoners in the United States who have been sentenced to death.  Probably don’t want the prisoner to cheat the state out of all their fun.  I mean do they really use an alcohol swab to sterilize the site for the lethal injection?

If you knew that tomorrow there was a pretty good chance that you would die, do you think you’d be able to sleep? 

I’m not sure if I would be able to or if my mind would be racing with regrets and what if’s.  Wondering if I had said good byes and thank-yous to all the right people.  Asking myself if I had left a mark and whether or not I’d be remembered. 

That was exactly the situation that Peter was in.  King Herod had ordered execution of James who was the brother of John, maybe you remember him as one of the sons of Thunder, or Zebedee’s boy, or one of the original group that Jesus called to be his disciples.  It really doesn’t matter but what does matter is that he was executed by King Herod.  One line finishes the story of James, you’ll find it in Acts 12:2  He (Herod) had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword.  And that was all that was written.  Herod had James killed.

Now perhaps you’re thinking “I remember King Herod he was the king who ordered all the baby boys in Bethlehem killed when Jesus was born.”  Well you’re partially right, that was King Herod but it wasn’t this King Herod.  Then you’re thinking that it must have been the King Herod that had John the Baptist killed.   Well again you are partially right, it was King Herod but not this King Herod.  This is in fact King Herod Agrippa and after he saw how much his killing James had pleased the Jewish leaders he thought, Great, all I have to do to become popular is kill Christians.” 

Justin Trudeau and Stephen McNeil, they have to reduce taxes to be popular, but Herod he just had to kill preachers.  And so he figured If killing James made me popular think how popular I would be if I killed Peter”, and so he had Peter arrested and thrown into Jail.

Now it was the Jewish celebration of Passover, probably the 12th Passover since Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead, and Herod couldn’t very well execute Peter during the holidays so he decides that as soon as Passover is done, then he will separate Peter’s head from the rest of his body. 

And so here Peter is, in prison, waiting to stand trial with execution being a very, very real possibility.  As a matter of fact, it was virtually the only probable outcome of the trial. 

It’s the night before the trial, the church has called a prayer meeting and they are up praying.  I don’t know if they were praying for Peter’s release or if they were praying for Peter to have the courage and strength to face his imminent demise.  We don’t know, but we do know that they were praying.  And Peter, you’d think that Peter would either be wide awake worrying or wide awake praying. 

But that wasn’t the case, instead of being wide awake for anything Peter was sound asleep. 

Chained between two Roman soldiers this boy wasn’t just napping he was out like a light, dead to the world so to speak. 

And suddenly a great light filled the prison cell and standing there was an angel, and Peter didn’t wake up.  Boy you gotta hate that, this angel had this great entrance, poof, a great light fills the cell and there stands this great big strapping angel shinning in all his glory and Peter doesn’t wake up, at all.  Having lost all of the impact of a dramatic entrance the angel pokes Peter and says, Hey, come on wake up we’re out of here.” Or something like that.

The thing that amazes me isn’t the great rescue with the angel, that’s a God thing, God can do those things.  What amazes me is that Peter is asleep.  This is the same Peter who had hacked off the guy’s ear in the garden of Gethsemane, the same Peter who avowed that he would never let Jesus down and then denied he knew him three times, the same Peter who saw Jesus walking on the water and jumped out of the boat and joined him.  Everything we knew about Peter is turned inside out when we see him sleeping between these two Roman soldiers the night before his execution. 

What happened?  Three words The Holy Spirit”.  In Acts chapter 2 we see how the Holy Spirit filled Peter and he was never the same again.

You’ve probably heard me speak about the Fruit of the Spirit from time to time.  You know it is a list of what Christ followers are to be like and the characteristics they are supposed to exhibit when they allow the Holy Spirit to control their lives.  It’s actually a part of the mission statement at Cornerstone. 

In case you’ve forgotten what all is included in the list it is spelled out in Galatians 5:22-23  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. And so, after Peter embraces the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit embraces Peter on the day of Pentecost the old Peter is gone and in his place is this new Peter.  Not the Peter who was rash and angry but a Peter whose life was characterized by  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control.  This morning I want to look at the Peace that is exhibited in Peter’s life the night before his impending death.  a

So what is peace?  Good question, it can be defined several different ways.  Thomas Jefferson has been quoted as defining peace this way: Peace is that brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading.”

And if you were to ask that question to a room full of people most would speak of an absence of war, something that we haven’t seen in the world for a long time.  If you asked me to define peace, I’d probably say “a small, round, green vegetable”, and then I’d have to confess that I hadn’t really been paying attention to the question, or at least that was what it was like in school. 

But for most people peace is an external, it is something that happens out there. 

The peace that shows up as a Fruit of the Spirit is a different concept.  Paul not talking about an absence of war or even an absence of interpersonal conflict in our lives.  The peace that Paul is speaking of is a tranquility of heart which derives from the all-pervading knowledge that we are in the hands of God. 

It is the peace that is written about in Philippians 4:7  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.   In the NKJV it says it this way Philippians 4:7 NKJV and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

To which Helen Keller commented I do not want the peace which passes understanding, I want the understanding which brings peace.”

And it would appear that Peter had discovered the understanding which brought peace in his life.  So what was it that he understood?

Peter Understood That God Is There  Last month while driving down Larry Utek I noticed the sign at Full Gospel and it said  “Know God, Know Peace.  No God, No Peace.”  It’s the truth, without an acknowledgement that there is a God you will not have peace.  That’s why it’s called the peace of God or God’s peace in the Bible.  If there were no other certainties in Peter’s life, there was the certainty that God was real.

If we are to find peace in our life the first step is acknowledging that there is a God.  The Bible says in Psalm 14:1 Only fools say in their hearts, There is no God.”

Abraham Lincoln echoed that when he said  I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heaven and say there is no God.” 

And so Peter knew that there was a God, he knew that whatever happened tomorrow that a higher power was in control, even if he was executed he knew that was not the end.  He would not share the epitaph of the Atheist which said Here lies the Atheist, all dressed up and no place to go.”

Peter Understood That God Is Aware  Not only did Peter know that God existed, but God knew that Peter Existed.  Or as the Bible says in Galatians 4:9  So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you).

And so we need to take our belief to the next level, not only believing in God but also believing that God knows what’s going on.

I have met people who assure me that they believe in God, but what they can’t believe is that God is interested in what happens on earth.  At the very most he is just a game master who put everything in place and now sits back and watches to see how it will work itself out.

However, Jesus made an incrediable statement concerning this remarkable attribute of God in Matthew 10:29  What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.

God didn’t create this world and then turn his back on it, he is aware what is going on, we aren’t alone.  He rejoices when he sees good and love and beauty. It breaks his heart when he sees war, and hatred and what we’ve done to this world.  And he knows you, and everything about you, David wrote in Psalm 139:1 O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.

And that is a struggle sometimes, is God in control?  And if so how come things aren’t perfect?   I truly believe that God has given us the resources and abilities for this world to be a much better place than it is. 

3000 years ago the people of Israel were told Deuteronomy 30:11-15  “This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you to understand, and it is not beyond your reach.  It is not kept in heaven, so distant that you must ask, ‘Who will go up to heaven and bring it down so we can hear it and obey?’  It is not kept beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear it and obey?’  No, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.  “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.”   The scripture goes on to tell them the choice they were being offered was to obey God and his commands or to reject God and his commands.  The choice is still there today, and God is cheering us on to make the right choice.  

Peter Understood That God Cares Of the three this is probably the most important thing that Peter knew.  It’s not enough that there is a God out there, if he’s not aware of what’s going on in my life.  And it’s not enough that there’s a God out there who is aware of what’s happening in my life if he doesn’t care about what is happening in my life.   Earlier we read Matthew 10:29  Jesus said “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.”

But Jesus didn’t end there, he went on to say Matthew 10:29-31  Jesus said “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

When Peter closed his eyes that night in the prison cell between the two guards he knew that if nobody else in the universe cared about what happened to Peter that God did.  That ultimately he mattered to God and that ultimately God was in control.  Maybe it was this experience that caused Peter to write later on in the Letter of 1 Peter 5:7  Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

Peter knew that there was absolutely nothing he could do to change his situation, so why worry about?  Larry Eisenberg summed it up when he said For peace of mind, we need to resign as general manager of the universe.” 

If we are going to have peace in our life it will only be when we realize that God not only knows what’s best for us, but that he wants what’s best for us.  And not only do we need to realize that we need to believe it and act upon it. 

How many of our troubles could we have avoided if we had believed that God had our best at heart all along?  Too often we second-guess God.  We decide that even though God is God, and that he is the creator and ruler of the universe that he’s not nearly as smart as we are.  That we know what is best for us, and if that doesn’t agree with what God says then that’s because God doesn’t really want the best for us, all he wants is to ruin our fun. 

And so we do the things we want to do, and when it flies all to pieces and when we have to pay the fiddler so to speak, we wonder what went wrong.  And sometimes in retrospect we say Wow, if only I had done what God wanted me to do.”

It’s easy to believe that God will do what is good, it’s more difficult to believe that whatever God does is good.  A lady whose son had leukemia was talking to another lady and the second woman said Maybe God will be good and heal your son.”  To which the first lady responded God will be good whether he heals my son or not.” 

God does care, and God sees a much bigger picture then we do.  God cared enough about Peter that he sent an Angel to deliver him, did that mean that he cared less about James when he allowed him to be executed.  No, I can’t explain it, and I don’t understand it, but even though James was killed and that caused his family pain and grief, God is still good.  And Peter understood that.  The book of Romans hadn’t been written at this point in history but the premise of  Romans 8:28 was still real  Romans 8:28  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

I wonder if when James’ mother heard the news about her son if she remembered the time she had asked Jesus if James would be permitted to sit at his right hand?  And if so, I wonder if she could believe that is where he was?  It was Paul who would later write in Romans 14:8  If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

It is reported that John Wesley once said “Until my work on this earth is done, I am immortal. But when my work for Christ is done … I go to be with Jesus!”  We don’t know why James died that week, but we do know that Peter’s work wasn’t done.  That he would go on to become the Father of the Western Church.

Peter knew that Peter could do nothing, and God could do everything, so why worry?  

Even though Paul hadn’t written it yet Peter seemed to have embraced the philosophy of Philippians 4:6-7  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

So, maybe Peter had prayed, told God what he needed, thanked him for all he had done, and was experiencing the peace that is more wonderful than the human mind can understand.  Or maybe Peter had discovered the truth of what Clive James would write 2000 years later Stop worrying -- nobody gets out of this world alive.”

A story is told by Bishop William Quayle, he said that one night all the worries and concerns of his parish seemed to catch up with him, and as he paced back and forth that God spoke to him and said Quayle, you go to bed; I’ll stay up the rest of the night.”  Well two thousand years ago God told Peter, Peter, you go to bed; I’ll stay up the rest of the night.”

And that’s what he’s telling you. 

Perhaps that night Peter simply remembered and claimed the promise that Jesus had made to him 12 years before, when he said:  John 14:27  “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

And that promise and that gif wasn’t just for Peter, it was for you.  Jesus didn’t say he might leave us with the gift of peace of mind and heart.  He said he was leaving it with us.  Can you believe that today?

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