Christianity doesn’t enjoy the place in my society now as it did in the past. Christianity has moved from shaping our society to becoming that weird uncle you try to avoid at family gatherings. Many Christians are left fearful and with the longing for peace. But how does Jesus respond to the fearful?
Christians believe the world is against them, that being a follower of Jesus leaves them open to attack. Just look at Steve Klomp’s statement the Australian Christians website:
‘Well, we all know the negative effect admitting our Christianity can have on our careers, and how suspicious people can be about the reasons behind our actions at work.
We also know we are ridiculed when we admit we believe in the inerrant word of the Bible, or if we work to preserve human life, or if we question evolution.
And we now know anti-vilification laws that prevent us speaking out about different issues and different groups (although interestingly, these laws don’t seem to be applied to those who express anti-Christian sentiments).’
But, how is a Christian faith compatible with fearful Christians? Let me be clear, there may be times we are fearful as Christians. But what defines us – our fear or our faith?
Jesus Embraces the Fearful
When it was evening on the first day of the week, the disciples gathered with the doors locked because they feared the Jews. Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Having said this, he showed them his hands and his side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
And Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The disciples had lost all hope. They saw Jesus, the one they placed all their hope in, arrested and killed a few days earlier. He was gone. Fineto! What’s more, now his body was missing. There were some reports of resurrection but they weren’t sure what to make of those.
If the Jewish leaders arrested and crucified Jesus, what would stop them for doing likewise to his followers? Was it any wonder they were fearful?
John paints a beautiful picture of Jesus’ response to the fearful. How did he respond to the disciples hiding behind locked doors? Did Jesus chastise them for abandoning him in his darkest hour? No, he stood among them and said “Peace be with you.” He breathed into them – restored them.
I don’t know anyone who’s been arrested or killed for following Jesus in their workplace, but Jesus still meets me in my fear saying “Peace be with you” in daily life. He renews me with his Spirit. He reminds me of what the scars on his hands and side have achieved. In short, it’s grace. And whenever grace shows up it’s always for the undeserving. It’s never earned. It’s always a gift.
Finding Peace means Finding a Person
I’m positive Jesus is offering ‘shalom’ when he uses the word peace. I mean, what Jewish rabbi wouldn’t have this concept in mind? Here’s how Tish Harrison Warren describes shalom in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary:
“Shalom [is] – a very pregnant word that means God’s all-consuming, all-redeeming peace. The hope of a kingdom where God is worshipped wholly, where humanity extends love and mercy with generosity, where systematic injustice is broken and the “oppressed are set free”.
Every Christmas we turn to the pages of Isaiah and read about a baby born ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace’. Prince of Peace… Surely when Jesus says “Peace be with you” he is saying something far greater than “You don’t need to be afraid anymore.”
I think Jesus is saying something more like “I am with you. The one who is shalom itself. The one who will bring God’s all-consuming, all-redeeming peace with my kingdom. I am the one with you.”
You see, peace isn’t a concept; it isn’t the absence of fear or hostility. Peace is a person – Jesus.
Fear isn’t an Excuse for Passivity
It can be comforting to look back at the context of the story. We’re reminded of the gospel truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We can be thankful for how that truth is a reality in our life. Equally, shalom leads us to look forward to a day when we’ll see Jesus bring shalom in all of its fullness. But the gospel doesn’t let us rest in the past and future, it has to impact our life today.
Jesus didn’t say the New Testament equivalent of “She’ll be right mate.” It’s not a morale booster – a pep rally. Jesus has a purpose for his followers. He sends us to continue his work in our communities. He sends us to be his agents of grace, his bearers of shalom, his people of mercy and healing. We invite others to be reconciled with him as we do this.
So how do we do it?
We listen to what Jesus is doing in people’s lives. We listen to hear the places they need Jesus in their life, the things they are trusting in instead of Jesus, and the things they are looking to for hope. And we ask God for opportunities to speak into that.
My friend Ben Connelly shares a story of what this looked like for one of his friends. It’s a great picture of knowing Jesus is present in a hostile situation but still understanding what it is to be a sent one.
We can go to our workplaces, the shops, the gym praying, ‘Lord, help me to be your servant on mission today. Show me what you want me say.’