June 8, 2014

“True Spiritual Peace”

St. John 14:25-27


These things I have spoken to you while being present with you.  But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.  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. St. John 14:25-27


In Jesus I find rest and peace, the world is full of sorrow.

His wounds are my abiding place, let the unknown tomorrow

Bring what it may, here I can stay,

My faith finds all I need today

I will not trouble borrow.


The rest and peace we find in Jesus doesn’t come to us through thin air.  It doesn’t come by mental, physical, or spiritual exercise.  It isn’t something we seek out and find by our cleverness or ingenuity.  It isn’t a process by which we struggle to obtain a higher level of spirituality.  The peace that we Christians receive from Christ is given to us by the Holy Spirit.  How does he give it to us?  He teaches us.  Doctrine or teaching is the source of genuine spiritual peace.


Doctrine is a cold sounding word.  Many people who think that they are God-fearing Christians look at the doctrine or teaching of the church as getting in the way of peace, harmony, and everything good.  So they suggest that we downplay pure doctrine and work instead for a closer walk with Jesus.


But if you want to walk with Jesus you must be taught by Jesus and the Holy Spirit is the one who does the teaching.  The joy, the peace, the love, and every other spiritual benefit the Holy Spirit has to give to us he gives to us by teaching us.  Consider the words of Jesus recorded by St. John in our text for this morning.  He promises that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in his name and that the Holy Spirit will teach them all things.  Jesus goes on to talk about the peace he gives them.  Jesus ties true spiritual peace with the teaching of the Holy Spirit.  If you want to enjoy peace with God you must be taught by the Holy Spirit.


The reason people enjoy no rest or peace is that they are ignorant.  The reason they are ignorant is that they don’t want to be taught.  The reason they don’t want to be taught is that they think they know all they need to know already.


What am I talking about?  I’m talking about God and I’m talking about you.  You and God.  Religion.  Life, death, right, wrong, heaven, hell, time and eternity.  What do you know?  And how do you know it? 


It is truly amazing how arrogant folks can be.  The more ignorant they are they more arrogant they are.  People who don’t even know the Apostles’ Creed will pontificate on all sorts of spiritual issues with authoritative confidence, as if all divine truth resides within the inner recesses of their heart!  They are unteachable!  They cannot be taught because they will not admit that they need instruction.


We need instruction.  We will always need instruction.  Confirmation is not graduation from instruction in God’s word.  Confirmation is the public promise of the catechumen to remain a student of God’s word.  Christians are willing to be taught.  Those who will not be taught by God cannot know God.  They cannot enjoy peace with God.  To despise what God says is to consign yourself to a life of uncertainty and doubt concerning your spiritual condition.  Only the Holy Spirit can confirm in our hearts the true faith that receives peace with God.  The Holy Spirit replaces our false notions with divine truth.  He corrects our misunderstanding.  Without the Holy Spirit we stumble around in spiritual darkness.  We don’t know up from down.  We don’t know what and who we are or where we are going.  He enlightens us.  He enlightens us with heavenly teaching that we couldn’t have found by ourselves.


The Holy Spirit is God almighty.  We need the power of almighty God if we are to be and remain Christians.  We confess the Holy Ghost as the Lord and giver of life.  He has almighty power to save us sinners from the power of our sins.  He does so by joining us to Christ and working faith in our hearts so that we can receive from Christ everything he has.


When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane and he sweat drops of blood as he faced the suffering of the cross he said that his soul was sorrowful, even to the point of death.  Sin brings sorrow.  Forgiveness brings peace.  Jesus faced the sorrow of sin.  The sin of the world descended upon him.  God reckoned it to him.  He bore it.  It robbed him of all joy, all peace, and left him miserable as he experienced the deepest sorrow within all human experience.


This suffering of Jesus takes away our sin.  It is the power of God to forgive us all we have ever done wrong.  It is the victory of God over the devil.  This is the peace that Jesus promises and that the Holy Spirit gives.  The Holy Spirit brings to us the fruit of Christ’s sorrow and suffering wherever we may be in life.  Jesus says:


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.


The peace of Jesus is not the peace of the world.  The peace of the world is different in two key respects.  First, it depends on what the world does.  And the world is full of sin.  The peace of Jesus depends on what Jesus does.  And Jesus is full of righteousness.  He is sinless.  The peace he gives does not depend on our strength, but on the strength of his own holiness.


Second, the peace of the world is only temporary.  Not only is it imperfect because of our sin, it is temporary.  This world will not last forever.  It will be destroyed.  But Jesus is the eternal God.  The man who suffered and died for our sins is the eternal God.  This means that the peace he gives lasts forever.  It doesn’t pertain simply to this life on this earth, but to eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth that he will bring to us when he returns to judge the living and the dead.


This is what the Holy Spirit teaches us when we read the Bible and when we go to church and Bible class.  The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter or the Helper.  He comforts us with Christ.  There is much to trouble us and frighten us in this world.  As we get older we worry about different things, but most of our troubles come down to our own weaknesses and sins.  The most besetting of problems we Christians face in life are not the bad things others do to us, but are rather the bad things we ourselves do.  If left to ourselves we will become trapped in our own sin.  We will serve ourselves instead of others who need our help.  We will follow the ways of the world instead of God.  We will succumb to selfishness, lust, hatred, envy, and the like.  The Holy Spirit brings us the peace of Christ, which is the peace of sin forgiven.  By forgiving us, he sets our hearts at peace. 


This peace is the most wonderful treasure we have in this life.  You don’t have to know the specifics of your future.  You don’t need to understand how the troubles of life will be resolved.  What you need to know is that God, for Christ’s sake, forgives you your sins and embraces you with his love.  He looks on you favorably.  This is what his word teaches and why we hold on to it, listen to it, seek it out, confess it, and share it with others.  The gospel we confess is never just words.  It is a teaching from heaven that brings heaven to earth.


Pentecost is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Confirmation is when we publicly confirm the gifts the Holy Spirit gave us in Holy Baptism.  The two go together.  Our faith, as precious as it is, is always dependent on the Lord and giver of life.  When we are confirmed we promise we will faithfully attend church.  There are three things to remember with respect to this promise.  First, we should go to church faithfully – not just once in a while, but regularly, week after week after week.  Second, we should go to a church where God’s word is faithfully taught.  It does no good to attend churches that promote error and so lead people away from God’s word.  Third, we should pay attention in church.  We should focus our mind on the things of God in the liturgy, the hymns, the readings, the sermon, and the Supper.  Through these the Holy Spirit teaches us what sets us at peace.


Everybody has troubles.  Everybody needs to receive peace.  When folks don’t find this peace from Christ as a gift from his Spirit they will look for it elsewhere.  People look for peace with God in places that will only leave them anxious, afraid, and in doubt.  The most common source of spiritual pain comes from looking for the solution in the problem.  We are our own problem.  Christ is the only solution.  Only his obedience passes God’s test.  Only his suffering takes away sin.  So we latch onto his word.  His word is the vehicle the Holy Spirit uses to credit Christ’s obedience to us as our righteousness and to give us the fruit of his suffering: the peace of God.


The power of the Holy Spirit in our lives is the teaching we learn from the Catechism.  It sometimes feels like drudgery to prepare for Confirmation.  We repeat the same words over and over again so we will have them memorized and then we recite what we memorized.  But committing God’s word to our hearts is in fact a wonderfully liberating experience, because what then lies within is the power of God to soothe our troubles with God’s grace.  The peace Jesus promises is like no other.  It is the peace of being perfectly at one with our Creator.  By the merits of Jesus and his holy mediation for us, we live and walk within the favor of God.  Oh, it is true that the devil, the world, and our flesh will try to take away from us the peace that Jesus gives.  But the obedience and suffering of Jesus, brought to our hearts by the Holy Spirit through his word, are the power to silence those enemies and set our hearts at peace.  As the great hymnist, Paul Gerhardt, put it in one of his hymns:


Naught, naught can e’re condemn me,

Nor set my hope aside;

Now hell no more can claim me,

Its fury I deride.

No sentence e’er reproves me,

No ill destroys my peace,

For Christ, my Savior, loves me

And shields me with His grace.  


Rolf D. Preus


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