The Gift of Advent: Peace
Text: Romans 5:1-11
Audio: The Gift of Advent: Peace
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
Turn with me if you would to the Book of Romans in the New Testament, chapter 5, and verses 1-11. In the season of Advent each year, we take a moment on each of the four Sundays of Advent to light the candles on the Advent Wreath: The candle of Hope, then Peace, then Joy, and then Love.
I invite you to listen to the Apostle Paul’s words here in Romans 5, and see if you can hear him name these same attributes as the gifts God has given us through Jesus Christ.
So did you hear the Apostle Paul highlighting peace with God, the “hope of glory,” a deep seated joy even in the midst of sufferings, and the love of God poured into our hearts?
Well, peace, hope, joy and love are what we might call the “gifts of Advent,” because they are what we receive as a result of the advent of Jesus. God so loved the world that He sent His only Son that whoever believes in him should receive peace with God, the hope of glory, the joy of salvation, the love of God poured out.
We are going to spend a little time this Advent reflecting on each of these great gifts. Last week, we lit the candle of hope, and Monica Romig preached on the hope of glory. Today, we lit the candle of peace, and I’d like to reflect with you on what this peace is which is the gift of God for all who have been justified by faith in Jesus Christ. In the coming weeks we’ll look at joy and love, but peace is actually the very first fruit that Paul names as the result of what God has done for us in Christ. He writes,
“Therefore since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Peace…with God. My friends, is there anyone here today, or even anyone you know, who does not want more peace in their lives? In fact, we probably all want more peace in just about every realm of our lives, don’t we?
We want personal peace right here in our own souls: a rest from worry, anxiety, fear, distress, and loneliness.
We also want domestic peace in our homes: a rest from tension, misunderstanding, conflict, and anger amongst family members.
We want peace in our workplaces and schools as well: a rest from the power struggles, peer pressure, and the success syndrome, not to mention school or workplace shootings!
We want peace in our churches: a rest from the interpersonal conflicts that crop up just as much in churches as every other place where people try to make community life happen.
We want peace in the world, peace among nations, peace among religions, peace among ethnic groupings, peace in the midst of all our diversity as humans.
I passed a car on the road traveling down to Cape May that had a bumper sticker that said, “War isn’t working.” You see, another guy just wanting some peace. We all want it, but very few seem to have it.
The Apostle Paul spends the whole first 3 chapters of this letter to the Romans telling us that the primary reason we don’t have such peace in our lives is human sinfulness. He says it’s our sin and estrangement from God that undermines peace in every realm of our lives: in our souls, in our homes, in our schools and workplaces, in our churches, in the world at large.
And sin, Paul says, is fundamentally a rebellion against God. It is a lack of peace with God. From Adam and Eve on down, humans have been seeking to be our own gods, by throwing God off of his rightful throne and putting ourselves or some other idol in his place. That is the heart of sin, and it’s the reason we have no peace in this world.
But guess what? The good news, that Paul calls “Justification
by faith,” is all about how God has reconciled us to Himself and made peace with us through Jesus Christ.
Verse 8 says, “God demonstrates his love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
And verse 10 says, that when we were still God’s enemies he reconciled us to himself through the death of his son.
It was by taking our human sin on Himself, and in his death paying the penalty for that sin, that God Himself in His Son Jesus made atonement for us. He made peace with us. That is why peace is the very first fruit of justification by faith. In Christ’s death on the cross, our sin was dealt with. Our rebellion was overcome. We who were once enemies are now reconciled to God and made his friends. The war is over. We can lay down our arms and be restored to a right relationship to God. Peace is the by product.
So you see, peace is first and foremost “peace with God.” It is not simply a “peaceful easy feeling,” but rather an entire change of status. We who were once enemies are now made members of God’s own family. And that is the basis of all other forms of peace.
And my friends, this is exactly what the prophets foretold would be the supreme blessing of the Messianic age. As we read a moment ago from the prophet Isaiah,
“The people walking in darkness will see a great light… the yoke of sin that had oppressed them so long will be lifted, the warriors bloody garments will be burned in the fire, and a new kind of government will rule on earth, the rule of the Prince of Peace.”
That is what we light this second Advent candle to symbolize. That is what Jesus, the light of the world, came to do by his death and resurrection. That is what has been accomplished for us. Peace with God is a present possession for those who are justified by faith. If you are in Christ and trust in his atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins, you have that peace with God now.
And that peace WITH God is the basis for all the other kinds of peace the NT promises. In his letter to the Philippian church, the apostle Paul speaks of the “peace of God that passes all understanding and that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This is that peace in our soul that we so long for. It is not an end in itself for the Christian, but a by product of justification by faith. If we have “peace WITH God,” then the “peace OF God” comes as well and guards our hearts and minds.
We no longer fear judgment or wrath, but look forward to God’s coming with joy and anticipation.
We no longer fear death, but look forward to even more of the eternal life that we have tasted in part here on earth.
We no longer fear even suffering and hardship, because as Paul says here in v. 3, even our sufferings God will use to produce fruits of perseverance, character, and hope in our lives.
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that Christians never have moments of fear or worry or anxiety. It’s not that Christians are always peaceful and at rest and live life on cloud 9. As we saw all Fall from Peter’s letter, the Christian life is not like that at all. The reality is simply that right in the midst of life’s worries and stresses and conflicts and sufferings God is with us, and God is always our resource for peace and grace and strength and comfort.
You see, we are not full of peace, but He is! And if we call upon him, God is always ready to meet us right in the midst of our lives. And it is amazing. His peace is there for us. Peace with God does not mean you won’t have anything stressful ever happen in your life. Far from it. But it does mean that God is now your friend and companion on the journey, and there is nothing that will ever separate you from his love.
And this brings us to the third kind of peace the NT speaks of that is a by product of justification by faith. It is what Ephesians 2 calls the “peace of Christ.” This is the peace that destroys barriers of hate and dividing walls of hostility between people.
When we experience peace with God and the hostility between us and Him is reconciled, this becomes the beginning of other forms of reconciliation. Christ begins working in our hearts to destroy the barriers we have erected between ourselves and others. He begins taking down the dividing walls. He begins dissolving our prejudices and the pride that separates us from others.
This again, does not happen all at once. It is the work of a lifetime. But it is part of the fruit of our justification by faith, that He who began the good work in us, is busy bringing to completion such that in that day we may stand hand in hand with people who were once our enemies, and we will sing together the praises of him who called us all out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Peace with God. The Peace of God. The peace of Christ.
All of these aspects of peace are fruits of justification by faith. And they are the kinds of peace that everyone wants, but very few in our world seem to experience. But my friends, they are given to you and me as a free gift of Advent. And by “Advent,” I mean, we are given this gift because of “the coming” of Jesus Christ into this world.
Paul says here, “…we have [this] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
You see, this peace has been given to us as a free gift of grace through what Jesus has done on our behalf. What we are called to do is receive the gift by faith. That means, we receive it by trusting in what Christ has done for us. And by trusting that indeed our sins have been forgiven, that we now are at peace with God, that we now have access to that peace that passes all understanding and can call upon it in every situation. And we go forth to live our lives sharing the peace of Christ with others.
The reconciliation we have experienced with God, we now get to pass along to others by learning to love, and accept and forgive others as God has loved and accepted and forgiven us. That’s what living in the peace of God starts to look like in our lives. That’s the kind of peace we get to bring into our homes, and into our workplaces, and into our schools, whether as a teacher or a student or administrator. That’s the kind of peace we get to practice first right here among our brothers and sisters in Christ in the church.
And we do. We have been experiencing that peace with God, and that peace of God, and that reconciling peace with each other for many years. And you know what? We kind of take it for granted around here. But other people find it noticeable, and remarkable.
On Wednesday I was at the wake for Beth’s mother, Beverly Convery, at the funeral home in Medford. And there was a couple there who came to our church for about a year back in the 1990’s. They then moved to Chelmsford, and found a good church out there, and amazingly enough, it is the same church Beth’s sister and brother in law go to out there. They were surprised to see me at the wake, and I was surprised to see them.
But they remembered our church fondly and said how much they appreciated the spirit of grace and peace they felt here.
Then on Thursday evening, I was here with Seth and Megan practicing worship music for this week and next. And we now have a community youth group led by Dawn and Troy Mini that meets in our fellowship hall on Thursday evenings. And I went down to say hi to them all and let them know we’d be upstairs playing music.
And Dawn Mini came over to tell me how much they loved being here at our church, and how thankful they are that we welcomed them in. And she said, “Every time I walk in the door to this church I feel God’s presence. I don’t know what it is,” she said. “But it’s… it’s of grace… and peace.”
That was twice in one week people used those words for what they sensed either from this place or this community of people or both. You see, we get to be a haven of grace and peace in our community. And each one of us gets to be both partakers of that grace and peace, and dispensers of that grace and peace.
Peace with God received as a gift of grace is ours in Christ. Receive it with thanksgiving again today as we gather at Christ’s table to remember all He has done for us. And then go out from this place to share that gift freely with others, just as you freely received.
It’s Advent after all. A time for giving and receiving great gifts.