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The following is taken from Take Heart: Advent Devotional Series published by the EFCA. This advent season, the EFCA is focusing on the stories of taking heart and giving back with charitable giving. You may make an online gift here.
The Peace Christ Promises
Our devotional theme comes from Jesus’ words at the conclusion of His farewell discourse. Jesus says to the disciples, “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.” (Jn. 16:33) If we are to understand these words of Jesus, it is important to understand who He is.
In the Prologue of John’s Gospel (1:1-18), John states of the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (1:1-2). A few verses later, John further describes the Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). And at the conclusion of these introductory verses, John informs us that it is Jesus, who is God, who has made the Father known, the one who interpreted (exegeted) Him (1:18). We learn a number of important truths about the Word, Jesus.
After celebrating the last Passover meal with His disciples (and the transition to the first Lord’s Supper for Christians) (13:1-30), in which Jesus takes the towel and washes their feet, Jesus teaches His disciples for the last time prior to His crucifixion in a section referred to as the farewell discourse (13:31-16:33). Within this section, John records the longest prayer of Jesus, the high priestly prayer (17:1-26).
Cross, Resurrection and Confession
After Jesus prays, He undergoes the trial and the crucifixion (18:1-19:42). After His death and burial, He experiences His glorious resurrection (20:1-31). The culmination of Jesus’ revelation of the Father is the cross. The fitting and only appropriate response to Jesus comes on the lips of Thomas who upon seeing, hearing and touching the resurrected Lord exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). Jesus is God! Please note the profound connection between the last words of Jesus on the cross, “It is finished” (19:30), and the first words Jesus uttered after the resurrection, “Peace be with you” (20:19, 21, 26). Peace only comes through the cross and resurrection.
Peace in the Midst of Tribulation
We are going to return to these texts in John’s Gospel in the final devotional. For now, with this larger context in mind, let’s consider again the theme passage found in John 16:33: “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.” Related to this are Jesus’ words earlier in this section where He declares, “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” (14:27).
Considering these two passages together, we learn the following truths: (1) in the world we will have tribulation; (2) Jesus has overcome the world; (3) we have peace in Jesus; (4) the peace Jesus gives is not like the world gives; (5) our hearts are not to be troubled or afraid, but we are to take heart, to be strengthened and encouraged.
The pax Romana, the peace of Rome, was achieved and maintained by the sword. This explains why many thought the kingdom Jesus would usher in would be accomplished in similar manner, with the sword. To the contrary of what the world expects, Jesus would be a Messiah-king through suffering and dying.
Peace is a term much broader than the English connotation of peace. It does not merely refer to an absence of conflict and turmoil, but to blessing, specifically in terms of a being right with God. This God-given and God-produced peace is experienced in the midst of and through conflict and turmoil while we await the time at which there will no longer be any conflict, turmoil, trials, and persecution.
In the midst of suffering and hardship, disciples (not just those in immediate proximity to Jesus, but all disciples) can have and experience peace in union and communion with Christ. In the midst of sure and certain tribulation, Jesus promises peace and the peace comes from Him. In this world we will have tribulation. That is certain. But for believers, it is also certain that we can take heart and be encouraged and hopeful, because we are in Christ in whom is peace, and He has overcome the world.
This is the truth of Christmas. In the four studies, we go back to the beginning and follow the storyline of the Bible: creation, fall, redemption and consummation. What we celebrate at Christmas in the incarnation of Jesus Christ is the culmination of this story. For example, even here in John we hear Jesus refer to tribulation. We read of Jesus overcoming the world. We learn that Jesus brings peace. All of these truths have a background, which must be known in order for Jesus’ person and work to make sense. This story is vital to know if we are to understand the Christ of Christmas.
Jesus concludes His prayer highlighting His desire for followers to see His glory and to do with a deep sense of love and delight, similar to the same love the Father has for the Son. Jesus prays, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. . . . I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:24, 26).
My prayer this Advent season leading to Christmas is that you might see and savor the Savior.
1. Christ describes that in this world there will be tribulation. What sorts of trials and tribulations are you experiencing today?
2. Jesus promises that in Him we will have peace. If you believe in Christ, we have peace. However, there are peace-robbers that keep us from experiencing that peace. What are some of them?
3. Often the Christmas season is anything but peaceful. Why? What will you do this year to ensure you both affirm and live the peace we have in Christ?
4. Jesus’ prayer is for His followers to see and savor the Savior. This is the heart of Christmas. How will that prayer be answered in your life and the life of your family this year?
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Father, thank you that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We give you thanks that Jesus has come to bring peace and that he is our peace. Forgive us when our lives do not reflect that peace. We ask that the truth we have experienced in Christ would be reflected in our lives as we engage in the celebration of Christ this Christmas season. May we truly remember and joyfully live out the true meaning of Christmas – to see and savor the Savior. We ask this because we know when we worship the Son we glorify you, the Father. Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.
Read Part II Here – Take Heart: Advent Week One