The Peace that Passes
The Bible is a book that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Look at it from one perspective, and it’s rather a small book. It occupies less space on a shelf than a dictionary. Some versions you can even carry in your pocket. Yet when we consider all that is within it, it’s a rather large book. It equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16). Its riches can and will occupy our meditations into eternity.
Many, if not all, of the Bible’s parts have much the same quality. Jesus gives the most famous, most significant, most far-reaching sermon in all of history, and yet it covers just three chapters, Matthew 5–7. In those short chapters, Jesus tells us how we may receive the blessing of God. He speaks to how His people are to relate to the broader world, calling us to be salt and light. He explains how His Sermon on the Mount relates to the first “sermon on the mount,” the giving of the law at Sinai. He expands our understanding of the Mosaic law, tells us how to love those within the kingdom, and shows us how to serve those without. He teaches us how to pray, and how to fast, then reminds us that our treasure is in heaven.
All of this fits nicely into such a significant sermon. These are matters of the first importance, fitting themes for this cosmic exposition. But then, Jesus does something most of us wouldn’t expect — He tells us to stop worrying. Why this? Why here? Sure, avoiding anxiety is important and valuable. But couldn’t this have waited for another sermon, for a less auspicious occasion? Precious few freshly minted seminary graduates would include such an admonition in their first sermon. Not many pastoral candidates would choose this application to conclude their candidating sermon. But Jesus includes it. Why?
Our first clue is this — Jesus doesn’t merely tell us to not worry. Instead, He tells us what we should not be worrying about: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (6:25). Stranger still, in this brief sermon, Jesus reiterates this point: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things” (vv. 31–32a).
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is, before He tells us to seek the kingdom, telling us what life looks like inside the kingdom. This is how you love; this is how you pray; this is how you obey. And this, He tells us, is what you don’t do — be anxious about what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear. This mindset defines the people of the kingdom; it sets us apart from the Gentiles. This is the mark of Christians. You will be recognized, Jesus tells us, not because you have no food, drink, or clothes. Your Father in heaven knows you, like the Gentiles, need these things. What will set you apart from the world around you, what will separate you, is that you will not worry. You will be at peace. You will have but one priority — to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
We should be encouraged to remember that Jesus preached this sermon to the choir. That is, Jesus isn’t here castigating the scribes and Pharisees. He is talking to His own. The same is true with that first sermon on a mount (Ex. 20). While all men everywhere must not worship false gods or construct idols, while all men must honor God’s name and His Sabbath, while all men must respect those in authority, keep covenant, and so on, God is speaking to His own people here. He is saying, “I rescued you from Egypt, because you are Mine. I am carrying you on eagles’ wings, because you are My people. I will establish you in a land flowing with milk and honey, because you are My beloved. When you get there, be sure not to murder each other. Don’t steal the property of your neighbor. Keep covenant with your wife.” In like manner, Jesus is telling us not to worry not because we are never tempted to do so, but precisely because we are so tempted. He is preaching to the choir because we aren’t choirboys. We do fret. We do fear. We do follow the patterns of the Gentiles.
Our calling, then, is twofold. First, we need to learn to believe that our Father in heaven cares for us. Jesus in this sermon makes this abundantly clear. God provides for the sparrows, for the lilies of the field. He knows what we need, and He will provide. Second, though, we must repent of our fears. In the end, this is what marks the Christian, not that we are sinless but that by His grace we repent when we fall. When we repent, we have been promised that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When peace passes, when it slips from our grasping hands, we rest here, and thus rest in that peace that passes understanding.