The LORD is peace (Judges 6:11-24)
Gideon was no hero, from either a military or a spiritual point of view. His initial reaction to the angel’s message was one of disbelief: he saw no evidence that God was with him (or with the nation as a whole), and he had no personal pretensions to greatness whatsoever.It was only when his offering was consumed by supernatural fire that he realised with horror who he had been talking to. Surely such an encounter with God would be fatal! “But the LORD said to him, ‘Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.’” (verse 23)
How can human beings have any confidence in the presence of a holy God? Only by the knowledge that we have been reconciled to Him through Christ’s death (Romans 5:1). The consequences of this are peace with God, access to His grace, and joy in suffering. “There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favour to them in life, through death, and on for ever.” (J I Packer: Knowing God) Gideon could not have known this; he had to accept the assurance of the angel’s word. But we have the word of our risen Lord Himself (John 20:19,20). One reason for Jesus’ resurrection appearances is to assure us that His atoning sacrifice on our behalf has been accepted.Jesus showed the disciples his wounds, not just to establish His identity, but to remind them of the means by which He had made peace with the Father for them – a peace that He had now come to bring to them.
But not for the wicked (Isaiah 57:19-21)
God’s love and grace are all-embracing; no-one is excluded by race or class (Ephesians 2:17). However, we can exclude ourselves by rejecting His overtures of peace. But without the deep security of a relationship with God, one has to seek another means – maybe superstition or astrology – in order to relieve anxiety and restlessness. Such was Cain (Genesis 4:13,14). This is the root of idolatry: the search to find a source of stability in an insecure world while turning one’s back on God.
And not for the fool (Psalm 85:8,9)
The peace of God is His gift – but it is a gift that can be withheld or withdrawn. Those who enjoy His peace are those who are faithful and obedient (Isaiah 48:18). But what if we insist on going our own way? He does not promise to bless us regardless of what we do or how we behave.
There is a strong link throughout the Bible between peace and righteousness (e.g. Isaiah 32:17). If peace is the fruit of righteousness, then we had better be cultivating righteousness.
A false peace (Jeremiah 6:13,14)
Around 600BC, Judah’s very existence was under threat from the superpower of Babylon. The nation needed God’s protection, but had become almost totally idolatrous. When Jeremiah preached a message of coming judgement and the need for repentance, he found himself a ‘lone voice’, continually contradicted and undermined by the official religious establishment. “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (verse 14) They made the wrong diagnosis, and prescribed the wrong treatment; they failed to address the real issue (the sins of the people), and thus made the situation even worse. Instead of averting disaster, their spiritual blindness made it inevitable.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had similarly set themselves against God so persistently that they had become totally blind to what He was doing. Jesus lamented over their hard-heartedness, knowing that there would be no welcome for Him in His own city – just bitter hostility and cold rejection (Luke 19:41-44). He also knew what the inevitable consequences would be: there would be no peace for the ‘city of peace’. In rejecting the salvation offered to them, they drew down on themselves the dreadful judgement of God, which would result in Jerusalem’s total destruction. They had been offered the ‘chance of a lifetime’ for reconciliation – and yet they missed it.
True peace (John 14:27)
The ‘peace’ promised by the false prophets was based on a lie, and could not last for long. The ‘peace’ offered by the world is just as temporary – an occasional breathing-space in an atmosphere of strife and envy. But the Lord of Peace (II Thessalonians 3:16) can give us the genuine article. Peace is to be found in His presence, because His death has healed the breach between us and God. Peace is the fruit of His Spirit growing in us (Galatians 5:22). We no longer need to strive for God’s approval, or to compete with our fellow men for status and attention. No matter what our circumstances or problems, we are secure in the love of God – and this gives us confidence and stability.
For those who pray (Philippians 4:6,7)
Life is uncertain, and things like health and employment can never be guaranteed. The necessities of life are important; that is why we naturally worry about them. But worry is the antithesis of peace. No wonder, then, that the peace of God “transcends all understanding” (verse 7)! The people of the world rush round, trying to ensure security by accumulating money and possessions – while we have a God who loves us (Luke 12:22-31), who promises to look after us, and to whom we have access at all times.
So why do we worry so much? We have no excuse for not taking all our needs and problems to God as soon as they arise (I Peter 5:7). Prayer is the means through which we unburden ourselves of anxieties and fears. As we pray, we are expressing our trust in our loving heavenly Father. And by putting our everyday concerns into His capable hands, we can experience His peace (Isaiah 26:3).
Pray for peace (Psalm 122:6-8)
‘Salem’ means ‘peace’ – and Jerusalem should have been the city of peace. But there is probably no place on earth more notorious for division – division between communities (it is fought over by Arabs and Jews) and even division between Christians (as members of different churches squabble over the holy sites).
And yet Jerusalem is the place where Jesus died to reconcile us with God. This is where the great dividing wall between Jew and Gentile was broken down (Ephesians 2:14-18). And as we follow Jesus, we are also called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) – first and foremost amongst our fellow believers, but also in the wider world. So, “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (verse 6). But peace will be attained only if we genuinely desire it and make the effort to work towards it, by putting the needs of others above our own personal interests (Ephesians 4:3; Hebrews 12:14).