Jan 2020

Peace That Surpasses Understanding

Barry Rodriguez

Jan 5, 2020

Did you know that March 1 used to be the beginning of the year? Back in the early, early days of Rome, they had 10 months in a year, starting in the spring, with winter being "month-less."

That all happened until some jerk came along and invented January and February and said January 1 was the beginning of the year.

So now, when we reach a new year, with all of its hope and new beginnings and gym memberships, we dive straight into the depths of winter where all hope is crushed and resolutions wither and we forget the warmth of the sun.

All that to say, happy new year everyone! Welcome to the 20's.

Today we are starting a new series called "Relief," because even though I'm (sort of) joking about how rough new years can often start, the reality is we are, collectively, living in a genuinely tough time.

Chronic anxiety, epidemic loneliness, insecurity, purposelessness...

I've spoken with many of you recently and it feels like so many of us are just grinding along, trying to keep our heads above water. We're barely in control. And we need relief.

So for the next four weeks, we are going to look at some of the words Jesus shared with his disciples when they needed relief as well. When they were facing an anxious and painful and chaotic time.

Because the words Jesus shared with them were also meant for us.

Even though our world may look very different from theirs, our fears and insecurities do not. And I believe these words of Jesus can give us hope, life, and strength as we head into this new year, even if it does start out a bit cold and grey.

So let's dive in. Grab a Bible and turn to John 14. [House Bibles]

John 14:22

First, a little bit of context. We're going to look throughout this series at what Jesus taught his disciples during the last supper - the meal he had with them before being crucified.

Now, the last supper shows up in all four gospels, but in John, this one meal takes up a full quarter of the book. John is zooming in on the teachings of Jesus in this moment with his disciples because these words are relevant to all who would come after them.

At the meal so far, Jesus has washed his disciples' feet, and then explained to them that he will soon be leaving them. They're very confused about this, and in their fear and anxiety they're asking him questions to try and understand. Like this one:

John 14:22-27
Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, "Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?" Jesus replied, "All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn't love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative, that is, the Holy Spirit, he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. 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.

Ok. The passage begins with Judas asking a question (poor guy had a rough name for a follower of Jesus - "Hi, I'm Judas not that Judas";).

Anyway, his question in verse 22 is "why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?";

In other words, "Jesus, you've spent all these years building into us and showing us that you are the messiah, but if you leave, we're the only ones who will know. Everything seemed to be building to this moment, but now all of a sudden, you're out?"

Jesus' answer is a bit... indirect. "ll who love me will do what I say"? What does he mean?

Well, to answer that we have to kind of work backwards. Let's start at the end of verse 27. Jesus tells them "don't be troubled or afraid."

That word, "troubled," (tarasso) could just as easily be translated "agitated." It's the same word for water that' being stirred up somehow. In English, "trouble" comes from the root as "turbulent." Think white water rapids or a waterfall.

Image: rapids

Water that's gushing and churning all over the place. When you're troubled, your heart is swept along and battered by the rocks.

By the way, isn't that a perfect image of what anxiety feels like? That unsettling feeling of agitation. A lack of control? Like you're just being swept along.

You can understand why the disciples might feel this way. Everything they knew was about to come to an end. And they didn't know what was going to happen next. Their teacher - the Messiah - just told them he was leaving them.

And yet Jesus tells them not to be troubled or afraid. Don't be agitated. Don't be anxious. Why?

Well, go back to the beginning of verse 27. Because even though Jesus is going away, he says he's leaving his disciples with "a gift - peace of mind and heart."

Now this word, peace - tranquility - it's the opposite of agitation. The Greek word, eirene is the root of our English word, "serene" or "serenity." Compared to the rapids of trouble and agitation, peace is like a glassy mountain lake.

Image: lake

Ok. So Jesus is giving his disciples a gift of peace, not trouble, in their hearts. But where is this peace supposed to come from?

Well, look back one more verse - at verse 26. "When the Father sends the Advocate as my representative - that is, the Holy Spirit - he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you."

The Holy Spirit. Jesus is essentially saying, "yes, I'm going away, but the Advocate - the Holy Spirit - will continue my work with you. I taught you some things. Through the Spirit I will teach you all things."

And who is this Holy Spirit? Well, that's very complicated and theological and debated, but look back at verse 23. Jesus says, "My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them."

Put simply, the Holy Spirit is the very presence of God in our lives. Yahweh, the creator of the universe dwelling in our hearts. Jesus Christ taking up residence within us.

The concept of the Trinity - three persons (The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) making up one divine being (God) - is not easy to wrap our minds around.
But essentially, it is the Spirit who breathes life into us, who shapes us to become like Jesus in the way we live. It is the Spirit who speaks to us, teaches us truth, and helps us understand God's heart for healing the world (John often refers to him as the Spirit of Truth).

That is the gift Jesus is leaving with his disciples. That is the reason they do not need to be troubled, anxious, and afraid when he goes away. Because through the Holy Spirit, Jesus would be present with them forever. More present than he ever was before.

So let's look back at the question asked by Judas (not that Judas) in verse 22 and see if we can understand Jesus' answer better now. "Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?"

Jesus' answer is basically, "I am revealing myself to the world at large. I'm doing it through you. My Spirit will take up residence in your heart, will teach you everything, and you will reveal me to the world.

"Rather than being limited to this one human body, my body will become the Church.

"My followers - with my Spirit guiding them - will heal the world in my name and bring my salvation to humanity. So, even though I'm leaving, you can have peace in your mind and heart. You do not have to be afraid, because I am with you."

Now, we can only imagine what the disciples felt when they heard this. My guess is that it was not really much of a relief in the moment since they had absolutely no idea what was coming next or how it all fit together. Think about it:

Their teacher, their best friend, was about to be executed on a Roman cross.

That same executed friend would then be resurrected from the dead, revealing himself to be not just the promised Messiah king, but the very son of God.

That same son of God would ascend into heaven after giving the disciples a mission to take his teachings to the whole world.

That same mission would be launched - just as Jesus promised - by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, empowering these low class, backwoods, nobody disciples to speak new languages, to heal disease, to cast out demons, and to speak truth with power and insight. Empowering them to be the body of Jesus in the world.

That was a pretty wild and unpredictable set of events for these poor, confused, anxious disciples.

But after the fact? After God's kingdom began spreading in the world and the mission of Jesus began to be realized? Well, then, the disciples could look back and remember what Jesus had taught them during the last supper.

With the help of the Spirit of Truth who now lived within them, they could understand what had once been incomprehensible.

Even if his teachings did little to calm their fears in the moment, when they remembered back to what he had said after all these unexpected events, these words became a source of tremendous encouragement and relief.

"Jesus didn't leave us. His Spirit took up residence within us. He is here."

This is why John captured this whole conversation with Jesus, because these words weren't just for the original band of disciples. They were handed down for the benefit of all Christ-followers throughout time. They were meant for you and me.

Because the truth is, we all find ourselves confused and lost at times, trying to understand God's plan in this world. Just like the disciples, we all get caught up in uncertainties and struggle to see how Jesus is working.

Which is why we, too, as we head into 2020, need to look back to these teachings of Jesus to find relief.

Relief from our loneliness and isolation.

Relief from our insecurity about eternity.

Relief from feelings of insignificance.

Jesus talks about all of those at the last supper and we're going to look at all of it this month. It's going to be a really good start to the year. Listening to the voice of our savior and hearing him say, "It's going to be ok. I am with you. I'm right here."

Today, though, I want to go back and look a little more deeply at the relief Jesus promises specifically from fear and anxiety in this passage.

Because let's face it. This is very "troubling" time. It's a white water rapids time. Our hearts are agitated. When we read about the disciples' fear, we know what that feels like.

For example I know many, many of us struggle with anxiety on a daily basis.

With the demands of work and school pressing in on us from all sides, it's no wonder panic attacks are becoming commonplace.

With social anxiety at record levels, it can be extremely hard to develop deep, trusting relationships.

And with the threat of terrorist attacks and school shootings and natural disasters and war always in front of us, it can be hard just to get ourselves out the door.

We're troubled. We're turbulent. The idea that our hearts could ever be peaceful like the glassy mountain lake seems almost laughable.

And yet, Jesus tells his followers in verse 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."

"A gift the world cannot give." What does he mean by that? How does the world try to give peace?

Well, I've spoken about this before. In Jesus' time, it was the Roman Empire enforcing "peace" with an iron fist. Pax Romana. "You fight against us, you die." Peace supposedly just meant a lack of conflict, and it would be enforced, even with violence.

Why do you think the authorities executed Jesus? He was creating too much of a stir.

But the biblical idea of peace - Shalom - is far more all encompassing. It means a lack of war, yes, but it also means overall wellbeing, completeness, health, life, joy, calm, and serenity. Shalom is God dwelling with his people. Biblical peace is the world made right.

Which, ironically, is exactly the kind of peace made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

His death meant forgiveness for the shameful things we've done.
His resurrection meant harmony between people who once hated each other.
His giving of the Spirit meant life and healing in the midst of a broken world.

Jesus brought shalom and it's a peace the world could never hope to replicate.

Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes this peace in his letter to the church in Philippi.

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.

By giving us his Holy Spirit, by taking up residence within us, God made it possible for us to experience not just an absence of conflict, but shalom.

Does this mean we no longer have problems? Of course not. The disciples faced persecution and death after receiving the Holy Spirit.

But it does mean this: we no longer have to fear death. We don t have to be anxious about the future. Our hearts don t have to be troubled because our lives are now wellsprings of shalom.

Despite our circumstances, we can have confidence that our savior is here - right here within us - and he is a savior who gave his own life to heal the world.

Do we understand every aspect of God's plan? No! It exceeds anything we can understand, as Paul said. But we can have confidence that he is working.

God's presence within us - his Spirit - opens the door to a kind of peace which looks nothing like the conflict-avoiding, comfort-seeking, reality-denying peace that the world tries to offer.

God's Spirit in us is a peace that allows us to say, "You are here. And I know you will carry me."

It's a peace that stills the troubled waters of our self-sufficiency. That soothes the buffeting of our anxious souls.

It's a peace that brings us relief.

"You are here. You are working. And I am not alone."

Now, I realize all of this is pretty heady and theological. When you saw the topic today I'm sure some of you were hoping for 5 life hacks for beating anxiety or something.

But instead I just want to give you two tools to consider using if you need relief from fear and anxiety in 2020.

First, I want you to consider signing up for Rooted. One of the beautiful things about being part of the body of Christ, the Church, is that the Holy Spirit isn't an individualistic thing. No, God's Spirit exists in one another, and we encounter that Spirit in community.

If you feel alone. If you are battling anxiety and fear by yourself. This is the time to find a spiritual family. To find friends. This is the last weekend to register for the winter session. Don t wait till the spring.

Second, we want to give you a small gift. At all three campuses, you'll receive a small key fob with verse 27 on it.

Take this, put it somewhere you'll see often (Like your keychain). And whenever you see it take a moment. Close your eyes if you can, take a breath, and say in your mind, "You are here." [let's practice]

Will this solve all your problems? No. But it will remind you that the Spirit of Jesus is right here. And I believe that truth can bring you relief.