Reading: John 14:1, 27-29; Philipp. 4:4-8
To this day, the traditional greeting in Israel is “shalom.” In addition to “hello,” it’s also often used as a “good-bye.” So, coming and going—shalom is very much a part of the whole conversation. The most common English word we use to translate it is “peace.” But in the Hebrew mindset, it means much more than that. This Hebrew word may also be translated contentment, completeness, wholeness, well-being, harmony, health, safety, prosperity, fullness or rest. You get the picture. More than a simple greeting, it’s spoken as a sincere wish—even a prayer over loved ones. It contains everything necessary for a truly fulfilled life. And it’s the promise Jesus left with his disciples on that last night.
Yes, I’m aware that our New Testament was written in Greek, and Jesus was speaking in Aramaic to his disciples that night, but whatever the language, in the mind of Jesus and his disciples, the intent was clear. “Peace (shalom) I leave with you. My peace (shalom) I give to you . . . “ (v. 27)
It had to give the disciples mental whiplash. Jesus, you’re driving us a little crazy here. You’ve been talking about death and betrayal. You’ve just told us you’re leaving—and we can’t come. You even told us we need to start washing each other’s feet! And now you’re telling us about the peace we should start having. Well, why don’t you start by taking back all these scary things you’ve just said? Honestly, we’re not feeling very peaceful right now.
But Jesus had opened up this portion of his final conversation with his disciples with a straight directive. “Do not let your heart be troubled . . . “ (v.1a) As if the choice was really theirs to make. And it was . . . and it still is.
The essential lesson here is that it is possible to choose a peaceful mindset. And especially in the middle of turbulent times—it’s vital for us to choose a peaceful mindset. We could even say that, for the believer, Shalom is something we choose to receive.
After all, it’s the Lord’s own peace. He can give it to anyone he wants—and he has promised to give it to us. Re-read his words slowly—meditatively . . . “My peace I give to you . . . Do not let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.”
It’s a question of choosing what we will allow to become the central reality of our life.
Will we allow those things that rattle our emotions and produce fear to become the central reality of our life? Or will we, by an act of our own choice, make Christ’s own presence the central reality of our life? Jesus said, “ . . . believe in God, believe also in me.” (v.1b) If God were not with us . . . or if he was somehow unreliable, then peace would really be impossible. But he’s here . . . believe it! You can—you must stake, not only your life—but your eternal soul on it.
Today’s reading also includes an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And the central statement in that passage is Paul’s declaration, “The Lord is near.” (v.5b) Everything else flows from that. Because the Lord is near, we don’t have to feel we’re at war with the world. In fact, we can afford to become famous for our gentle spirit! (v.5a) Because the Lord is near, we can even afford to rejoice. Always! (v.4) Notice that Paul felt so strongly about this that he repeated his command twice in one verse. And because the Lord is near, we can receive the peace that is beyond our ability to even understand. (v.7)
This peace goes beyond our human capacity to comprehend, precisely because it’s the Lord’s own peace. Not the world’s peace. That’s what Jesus was talking to the disciples about that night, remember?
Don’t misunderstand. We’re not talking about becoming some sort of Pollyanna—deliberately closing our eyes to unpleasant realities. We are realists, and in the real world, stuff happens. Bad stuff happens. In verse six, Paul shares the secret of dealing with adversity. First, don’t become agitated about anything. Instead, pray about everything. And don’t forget to keep a thankful spirit through it all. Why? Because the Lord is near! Did you get that? We aren’t thanking God for the bad stuff. But we are thanking him for being near—very present—when the bad stuff happens. (Ps. 46:1) Then, allow yourself—give yourself permission to receive the incomprehensible peace of God. It will literally stand guard over your heart and your mind. (v.7)
He concludes with a bit of advice for the preventative maintenance of our souls. That’s what verse eight is about. We don’t deny the existence of the fearful circumstances. But we don’t allow them to be our focus. Instead, we feed our minds with the things that will serve to flush out the fear producing thoughts and replace them with peace producing thoughts. And the list begins with those things that are true. Often the fearful thoughts are really based on distortions and lies anyway. Think about true things, like “The Lord is near . . . “
It was a lot for the disciples to digest on that final night with the Lord. In fact, I suspect we’re all still trying to digest it. You see—this shalom really does surpass all our understanding.