John 20:19-21 New International Version (NIV)
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Have you ever noticed that God like to use repetition to get our attention? In the book of Joshua, chapter 1, God says to Joshua “Be strong and courageous” (v.6)– but then he says it again, and again in the next few verses. In Genesis, God sends Pharaoh two dreams, which Joseph interprets. Joseph points out that the two dreams are the same, and that God has used them to grab Pharaoh’s attention.
The Apostle John took great notice of Jesus’ use of repetition. In the final chapters of his Gospel, he points out two instances where Jesus repeats questions and phrases to his disciples. Three times he asks Peter, “Do you love me (more than these)?” And three times, he gives him the charge to “feed my sheep/lambs”. Earlier, to all of the disciples, Jesus greets them with the phrase “Peace be with you.” Three times over two separate appearances, Jesus uses the same words. To this day, these words are used as a greeting in many churches around the world.
Often, this phrase is used as a blessing or a benediction–almost as a prayer FOR peace. Certainly, when Jesus used it to greet his disciples, they were in dire need of peace. They were holed up in an upper room, hiding from the Romans and Jewish leaders, in fear for their lives. The words may be interpreted as “Peace be given unto you” or “Peace come to you.”
But I think there is another meaning; a slightly different way to interpret this phrase. I think Jesus is announcing that peace actually resides WITH them, and will soon be within them (through the Holy Spirit). There may be chaos in the streets and all around us, but God’s Peace should go with us wherever we travel, wherever we are.
When we pray, we can do so in peace and confidence that God will hear our prayer, grant us the grace sufficient for our every need, and keep that which we have committed to him (our souls, our dreams, our hopes, and our burdens) safe.
Our culture is flooded with false assurance, and substitutes for the “Peace which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). In fact, a popular cultural phenomenon– the Star Wars saga– offers a similar phrase, used as a benediction by the Jedi adherents: “May the Force be with you.” The Force referred to is a nebulous thing–energy that exists all around and can be tapped into, controlled, and used for good or evil, healing or power. The idea in Star Wars seems to be that there are two sides to “the Force”; presumably the person using “the Force” in a benediction is referring to its better nature, as the “dark side” of the Force brings violence, destruction, greed, and hatred.
God’s peace is a perfect peace. And it is one that should always be with us, even as it is poured out on us. Jesus adds: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We are not just praying for peace to enter our lives and stay with us. We are to be the bringers of peace, the ambassadors of peace, and the beacons of peace in a dark and chaotic world.
The apostle Paul includes peace in his analogy of “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6, where he describes having our feet “fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. We need to walk in peace, march in peace, and stand firm in peace! Peace isn’t like a sword or shield that we take up or lay down. Peace needs to be part of our wardrobe– literally “with” us everywhere we go.
Let’s get moving!