Loving Father, may I have the power to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19).
“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world
you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
I appreciate the homiletical advice of the old country preacher about how to give a good sermon. “Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” In today’s scripture Jesus is telling the disciples what He had told them in the four chapters of the Upper Room Discourse: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.” All of His words have been about experiencing peace in Him. Early on, Jesus sounded the keynote, telling them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). He wants His friends to have peace, His very peace, even in the midst of trouble.
Surprisingly, Jesus puts together two words we would not expect to see together: peace and persecution. He points out: “In the world you face persecution.” And when He announces, “I have conquered,” He is clearly talking about battle. Yet Jesus promises a peace that is realized through struggle and persecution. They go side by side with the peace Jesus gives.
However, the peace Jesus gives is dependent on certain conditions. Jesus does not say, “I have said this to you so that you may have peace.” Rather, He says, “…so that in me you may have peace.” Note the “in me”! The peace that comes only “in me” goes with everything Jesus has said about the importance of “abiding” in Him, as a branch abides in the vine. This is from where fruitfulness comes along with peace. It will be by abiding in Jesus as He abides in us that we will experience peace, even in the agony of persecution. It is the peace Paul wrote about from a Roman prison: “And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Emphasis added.) (Philippians 4:7).
The tension between Christ’s victory on the cross and the opposition of the world cannot be escaped in this life. Jesus tells His followers to expect persecution for His sake. The world hated Jesus first and will hate any who follow Him. But never mind! Jesus gives His very own peace, even in persecution. Alexander Maclaren offers good counsel for any who face persecution or trouble today:
“Keep on the lee side of the breakwater and your little cock-boat will ride out the gale.Keep Christ between you and the hurtling storm, and there will be a quiet place below the wall where you may rest, hearing not the loud winds when they call. ‘These things have I spoken that in Me ye might have peace.’” (Alexander Maclaren, John)
Polycarp of Smyrna was a disciple of the John who leaned on Jesus’ breast that night in the Upper Room. He preached the message handed down to him by John and was a leader in the church in Asia Minor. When persecution broke out the eighty-six year old Polycarp was arrested, brought before the Roman proconsul and commanded to renounce Jesus. When Polycarp refused he was condemned to be burned at the stake. But as his hands were being tied and the bonfire lit he looked up to heaven and prayed:
“O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of Thee… I bless Thee for that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of Thy Christ…? For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, through whom with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now and ever and for the ages to come. Amen.” (The Letter of the Smyrnaeans, Translated by J. B. Lightfoot)
Polycarp joined that great host of the faithful who experienced Jesus’ peace, even in great trouble. Jesus never promises us an easy life, but He does promise peace, His peace. Peace is our portion as we follow Him. It is living the life!
- Alexander Maclaren says: “Keep Christ between you and the hurtling storm…” How can I keep Christ between me and the hurtling storms of my life?
- How might Jesus be calling me to step out and confess Him before others?
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, and follow Thee more nearly, day by day.
Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)