Jesus’ first contact with His disciples after His resurrection is telling for all His followers through the ages. His words speak to us more than ever, as if we ourselves are in the “upper room” of Jerusalem. He finds His friends hiding in “fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). Their human reaction is understandable. The One they followed for years was turned over by their countrymen and crucified by the Romans. The pounding, paralyzing, screaming question dominating their hearts was “Are we next?”
It’s here that Jesus not only miraculously came through walls to meet them, but penetrated their anxieties by greeting them with “Peace be with you.” These were His first recorded words as He displayed the wounds of His death to encourage them and verify it was Him, yet now risen! (verses 19-20). He again declared before leaving them, “Peace to you.” Here we discover how Christ enters and exits His encounters with those precious to Him, always embracing them—embracing us—with “peace.”
A week later He came through the walls again and greeted a disciple named Thomas who was fraught with understandable human doubt. He missed the first encounter, and Jesus offered him one-on-one attention to calm and restore him. Again Christ’s opening comments were “Peace to you!” Yet this time He not only penetrated physical walls, but in allowing Thomas to penetrate His wounds He also penetrated the wall of human apprehension that was thwarting Thomas’ ability to serve (verses 26-28).
What, then, of us today? What personal troubles are diminishing our ability to serve Christ? As I write we are experiencing some “upper room dynamics” of closed doors with regard to the Covid-19 virus. “Who’s next?” many wonder. “Will it be a loved one or me?” Such concern is perhaps layered on top of preexisting challenges—a strained marriage, lack of employment, social pressures or a serious ongoing ailment threatening your life or that of a loved one. In desperation we cry out, “What’s the sense of all this?”
It’s here in our most desperate and stifling moments that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls out to us, “Follow Me” (Mark 1:17; John 21:19) and bids us peace. He never changes His tune, His words, His personal presence with us accompanied by the peace He offers.
How then can we be at peace in troubled times? We must consider and follow Jesus’ own example, learning to live by specific biblical principles for experiencing the peace of God.
Experiencing peace and sharing it with others
Let’s first, then, appreciate that Jesus practiced what He preached. It may seem easy to say “peace” after one is resurrected from death, but that same peace was expressed and offered even before.
Look at what occurred on the last night of His humanity within hours of being tortured and crucified. He declared: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
Note His claim of “My peace,” and that it’s not as the world gives. It’s something that’s not from around here—not earthbound or homegrown. He offered it as a gift to be left “with” us. Such peace is custodial in nature, demanding stewardship to understand the life-penetrating invitation to be a disciple of Christ and to hold onto that peace not merely for dear life, but for the dear Life who gives it to us.
Jesus as a Jew would have said Shalom when greeting His disciples with “peace.” Shalom is not merely a hello and goodbye in Hebrew, but is most importantly a blessing. It’s a spiritually realistic affirmation to the recipients of not necessarily conflict-free existence, but rather of God’s companionship being with them and supplying the wisdom, strength and comfort needed as life’s challenges develop.
And here’s more to consider: Christ has called us to peace and grants us peace—His kind of peace, which includes, as He exemplified, extending peace to others. There is an implied demand for action in His encouraging beatitude “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). Note that He didn’t merely say “the peace dreamers.” We have to act, doing whatever we can rightly do to bring peace, starting with our own attitude.
How then do we experience the gift of God’s peace? Here are three biblical steps to guide us in living according to Christ’s invitation of “Follow Me.”
Stop and be still
The first step is to stop and be still. We live in a restless 24/7 world that encroaches on our already fractious human nature via instant communication. While often necessary, it’s also distracting and addictive. It can overwhelm us into forgetting who walks before us and reigns over our lives.
Consider David’s words in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted above the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The nations at large are not listening at this time, but individually we begin to exalt God when we get off the treadmill of fear and “stop, look and listen” to God before walking into the intersections of life.
Humble silence before God is a wise approach for the faithful. Psalm 62:5-6 illuminates the heart of the individual who musters up the spiritual awareness and nerve to remain still: “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation.”
Did you notice the word “wait”? This takes more than a minute of holding your breath while quietly murmuring, “I’ve been still enough!” We wait because there is an “expectation” that God will answer in His way and time. Caring for and expanding on the bestowed peace of God takes visionary awareness and determined personal sacrifice to move beyond the roar of self to be able to hear, as the prophet Elijah did, the “still small voice” of God apart from the storms and earthquakes of this life (see 1 Kings 19:12).
Spend time in solitude with God
The next step is to find solitude with God. We live in a crowded and noisy society. Think about it for a moment: Gas station pumps that speak to you, overhead music drowning out your dinner date with your spouse, people talking over one another and smartphones in our hands doing our thinking for us. The world has always been busy, but now it’s on steroids. Where do we find quiet as the storms of life swirl around us? People often speak of “getting away” on vacation, and that’s good. But for those heeding the invitation of Christ, should not “getting away” describe, to an extent, our spiritual vocation?
Consider some of those God called into desert solitude for a timeout. This was the experience of Moses, the Israelites after the Exodus, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostle Paul. Here in the desolate wilderness, away from everyone and everything, God’s servants could better commune with Him, becoming more grounded and fine-tuned for that which lay before them. The point was not merely that everything was still and quiet, but that they were alone with God.
Consider Christ’s example in Mark 1:35: “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” This was His regular practice. Luke 5:16 tells us, “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”
The “wilderness experience” is essential to walking the walk of Christ, who not only shows the way but is “the Way” to communion with God (John 14:6). I’m not talking about 40 days or 40 years of absence from life. I’m speaking of finding timeouts and places to “fast from this world” and “fast from the news,” focusing on God’s promises rather than our human premises.
At the same time God has not called us to be hermits. His Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness for testing (Matthew 4:1), but Jesus then returned to serve humanity—and so must we. Carving out “wilderness time” in our schedule affords us the solitude and quiet we need to hear the voice of the Shepherd over the roar of self. What might the outcome be? Scripture spotlights this promise: “You [God] keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3, English Standard Version).
Abide in faith toward God and go forward
The third step is to abide in faith toward God—to trust Him completely. We exist in a world that is dramatically changing moment by moment. Our personal circumstances are in constant flux. Educational factories of today teach that there are no absolutes—that everything is subject to change. But that’s not so. There are certain absolutes that never change, particularly the character and reliability of God the Father and Jesus Christ and all the truths they reveal. And we need to anchor ourselves in these and not the passing fancies of secular humanism.
Use these revelatory absolute truths to galvanize your walk with Christ. Isaiah 46:9-11 reminds us that we have surrendered our lives to One “declaring the end from the beginning . . . saying . . . I have purposed it; I will also do it.” We commit our hearts and minds to a Sovereign Lord who says, “I change not” (Malachi 3:6). We yield our lives to a Heavenly Father “with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). We follow the invitation of One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
There is great need for time in our spiritual walk to be still and for time to seek solitude and experience “the wilderness” to hear loud and clear the “still small voice” from God.
It’s revealing that on the edge of the Red Sea Moses told the troubled people of Israel: “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord . . . The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:13-14). And notice the instruction God then gave: “. . . Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (verse 15). To follow then was an act of faith.
Let us likewise leave our personal “upper room of trouble and doubt” and heed the same voice with its directive of “Go forward” and, as later expressed by Jesus to those of the past and us today, “Follow Me.”