“A Peace that Passes Understanding” – John 20:19-31
Easter 2 – April 19, 2020
1. Worldly fears
There are a lot of fears out there in our world these days, not the least of which is getting the
virus. What are the hundreds of people who stand in line at Costco an hour or two before the
store opens fearing? Not having enough toilet paper – seriously? That the stores will run out of
food? That they will starve to death? People are afraid of being alone. Some people, some
cultures may operate more out of fear than others. Some people are worry warts, others not, but
we all have concerns with what’s happening in our world right now.
It’s funny – people aren’t afraid of terrorism so much right now; not afraid of pipeline protests;
not afraid of gangs and violence; not afraid of climate change (hasn’t been on the news for more
than a month). It seems like our fears just take turns on the merry-go-round of life.
Some of our enemies are flesh and blood – that neighbour down the street who always seems to
be angry, at everybody, that rival at work with whom you jostle for clients, that brother-in-law
with whom you never see eye to eye. Fear is different… it’s a silent enemy, invisible enemy,
abstract enemy… but no less potent and dangerous. It’s always crouching around, ready to
pounce on you when you least expect it. Fear can debilitate you – controlling your thoughts, your
decisions, your actions, or making you completely unable to think, decide or act.
2. Ten fearful men
Ten men were hiding, doors locked and bolted – ten, because remember Judas had taken his life,
and Thomas was not there on Easter evening, but he was present a week later. Among the ten
were some rough and tumble fishermen who could steer a boat through a storm and haul
hundreds of fish from the sea into the boat, and a religious fanatic who was probably willing to
confront any disagreement with well-chosen words or even well-placed fists, and a tax
collector/an accountant… not sure why the accountant was there, maybe to bring some calm and
measured response to whatever decision was being considered. But that night, that Easter night,
those ten were afraid… yeah, afraid. They had worldly fears, too – fears of being arrested and
physically distanced from their families for months, for years, forgotten; fears of being killed like
Jesus was, for opposing the religious status quo; fears of always being on the run; fears of being
ostracized from religious practice, or from society. Their fears were both flesh and blood, and
abstract. But they were REAL!!
3. “Peace be with you!”
That Easter night, in the upper room, the risen Jesus came and stood among them. We don’t
know how – Did He walk through a wall? Did He materialize like they do on Star Trek? Did He
come in the back entrance when they weren’t looking? It doesn’t matter… He was there. And
what did He say to the fearful ten? Very simply… “Peace be with you!” Three times in these
eleven verses – twice to the ten, and then again directly to doubting Thomas… “Peace be with
The Hebrew word for peace is “Shalom” and it is a very rich word. Peace – in family, with
neighbours, with other countries, prosperity, work, emotional, mental, health, general well-being,
wholeness, inner peace, spiritual peace with God.
Shalom was exactly what the disciples needed when fear was paralyzing them and keeping them
in isolation. Shalom – peace – was something to calm their fears and assure them that God / the
risen Jesus was in control. Peace would help them to know that nothing would happen to them
that hadn’t first passed by the good and gracious will and counsel of Almighty God.
They needed to be reminded of some words that Jesus had spoken earlier in His ministry. “Do
not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Jesus went on to conclude that
God cares for the birds, and you are worth more than many birds, so He is definitely going to
care for you. Easter is all about LIFE – but not only, or especially about earthly life. Easter is
about LIFE with God – eternally!! That would give the ten and eventually the eleven that deep
and lasting sense of shalom.
4. Your fears
Like the ten, most of us are isolating in our homes – not necessarily behind locked doors, but
certainly not socializing very much, and maybe afraid of what is outside those doors. Maybe,
maybe not. Maybe just caution, and obeying the advice of health care professionals in a time of
pandemic. But we all have fears, whether they are related to COVID-19 or not. It may be fears of
the future. It may be that biopsy that we just had done. It may be fears for your kids or grandkids
and what kind of world they will grow up in, and what opportunities they will have or not have.
It may be fears about whether there will be more month left at the end of the money. It may be
about the toll the current situation will have on your marriage relationship in these next few
I think it was at Christmas time that I received a ball cap as a gift. It features three words on the
front panel: “Faith over fear.” and then on the brim it simply has Psalm 56:4. When you look that
up in the Bible – “In God I trust; I will not be afraid.” I don’t wear ball caps a lot, but I have been
wearing that one in public whenever I get the opportunity because it may give me a chance to
have a spiritual conversation with someone whose motto is the opposite – “Fear over faith” – and
to point them to Jesus, the one who calms our fears.
But our fears can paralyze even us Christians. If we falter in connecting with God in worship, in
prayer, in our Bible reading and devotional life, that worldly fear can raise its ugly head very
quickly as, like Peter, we turn our gaze on the storms around us instead of on the one who can
calm those storms. Our spiritual enemy, the devil, certainly wants to strike fear even into the
hearts of those who call themselves by Jesus’ name and who follow Him. That’s why that Psalm
verse is SO good – “In GOD I trust; I will not be afraid.”
5. Peace be with YOU!!
In the midst of our being isolated and maybe fearful, what does Jesus do? What does Jesus say?
He comes into your life through the apparently locked doors of your mind or faith, He appears in
your life, miraculously, unexpectedly, but in a welcome way, and He says something so simple
it’s profound: Peace be with YOU!!
PEACE – I have already explained the depth of that Hebrew concept of Shalom – complete well-
being and wholeness.
PEACE BE – This indicates that peace is not just a wish or a hope or a pipe-dream. When Jesus
says PEACE BE, it’s a reality, it’s a gift, it’s your state of being! It’s like the benediction… The
Lord BLESS you. That blessing doesn’t fall on deaf ears, it doesn’t float around out there in
space or cyber space, it isn’t abstract. It’s real and it’s good.
PEACE BE WITH YOU – It’s personal, and relevant, and meaningful, and lasting. Jesus is
imparting His peace, His shalom, His ultimate wholeness and well-being on YOU. That’s a gift
of His grace.
Now just so that you know, there is a difference between contentment and peace. In Philippians 4
Paul talks about how he has learned to be content, whatever the circumstances might be.
Whether he was in need or he had plenty, he was content. Whether he was hungry or well-fed, he
was content. In our context we might add, whether you’re staying at home or going out to work,
you are content. Whether you are alone or you connect with friends and family in some way, you
are content. Contentment is really being unaffected by the influence of external circumstances.
But peace is so much more than that!
Jesus had talked with His disciples about peace earlier in the Gospel of John, and if the
chronology is right, it was just on the Thursday evening before He was arrested and then
crucified. John 13 features Jesus washing the disciples’ feet as an act of servanthood. Then John
14 begins with these words of comfort: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust
also in me.” And at the end of the chapter, He adds: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give
you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” Then He repeats, “Do not let your hearts be
troubled and do not be afraid.”
If the world offers peace, that peace is usually related to and dependant on things like health, and
wealth, and work and leisure. But Jesus says His peace is categorically different from the world’s
peace. Remember that ancient Jewish concept of shalom included those things but it included
more. It included inner peace, being able to sleep at night because of a conscience that isn’t
plagued by either guilt or fear. Shalom also included a right and righteous relationship with a
Holy and loving God. That right relationship with God comes through faith in Jesus – crucified
and risen from the dead for our forgiveness and our salvation. In Romans 5, Paul connects that
right relationship with God with His gift of peace/shalom. He writes: “Therefore, since we have
been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” OH, what
great words those are!! The Easter weekend events in that first century are all about us being
made right with God. Now we hear and learn and rejoice that through that restored relationship
we have shalom! Oh, rest in that shalom!! I commend you who are standing strong in the Lord
and in His peace, not letting the world’s fears and anxieties toss you around like a rag doll.
One other curious little phrase in John 20 – it says that Jesus breathed on them… He breathed on
them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This was an appetizer of the Holy Spirit to be fully
poured out on them on Pentecost Day! It was as if He was saying to the disciples, and to us,
“You’re not in this alone. You’ve got the Holy Spirit to allay your fears, to give you peace, to
walk alongside as God sends you.” We’ll hear more about the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday
at the end of May.
6. A Peace that passes ALL understanding
I have already referred to Paul’s contentment in the middle of Philippians 4. Earlier in the
chapter, he talks about peace this way: “And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Did you notice how he describes God’s
peace? It surpasses all understanding… ALL understanding!! NO ONE can understand it, not
even the angels. But even though we can’t understand it, we can have it, we do have it. And Paul
says that peace will guard your hearts and minds… from what? From fear. Faith over fear. Peace
over fear. Jesus over fear.
Long ago a man was looking for the perfect picture of peace. Not finding one that satisfied him,
he announced a contest to produce such a masterpiece. The challenge stirred the imagination of
artists everywhere, and paintings arrived from far and wide. Finally the great day of revelation
arrived. The judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, while the viewers clapped and
cheered. The tensions grew. Only two pictures remained veiled. As a judge pulled the cover from
one, a hush fell over the crowd. A mirror-smooth lake reflected lacy, green birches under the soft
blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Surely
this was the winner.
But then the man who commissioned the contest uncovered the second painting himself, and the
crowd gasped in surprise. Could this be peace? A tumultuous waterfall cascaded down a rocky
precipice; the crowd could almost feel its cold, penetrating spray. Stormy-gray clouds threatened
to explode with lightning, wind and rain. In the midst of the thundering noises and bitter chill, a
spindly tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls. One of its branches reached out in front of
the torrential waters as if foolishly seeking to experience its full power. A little bird had built a
nest in the elbow of that branch. Content and undisturbed in her stormy surroundings, she rested
on her eggs. With her eyes closed and her wings ready to cover her little ones, she manifested
peace that transcends all earthly turmoil.
Peace be with you, says Jesus, peace BE WITH YOU amid the storms and uncertainty of this life
and of these times. And His peace IS with you, it’s God’s Easter gift, a peace that surpasses ALL
understanding and a peace that fill you with joy… in Jesus! Amen.