A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on December 22, 2019.
I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:25–33 ESV).
John Lennon’s Imagine is a brilliantly crafted and performed song in which the listener is invited into an imaginary world. It is a world in which we all want to live, a world of peace. In order to see this world in our mind’s eye, the song leads us to first imagine no heaven and no hell, “Above us only sky.” Once God, the devil, and eternity are eliminated from your imagination (supposedly “easy if you try”), then you can live for today.
By living for today, heaven on earth is seemingly achieved: No killing or martyrdom, no religion, mutual sharing and cooperation, brotherhood, peaceful existence. And who doesn’t want peace? The problem with the song is neither the simple piano chords or the characteristic Lennon vocals; it’s the naivete of the human condition and a misplaced peace. We are not evolving into better humans or devolving into less than human (at least not most of us), but the fallen human condition cannot be ignored.
Like Lennon, we tend to overemphasize our ability and under emphasize our condition. As much as I can imagine people living life in peace, the reality is that people living for today is precisely how we ended up in this mess. One tree, one serpent, one man, one woman, two people living for today . . . with no consideration of the cataclysmic consequences.
There is, however, no reason to abandon the optimism of the song. It’s just that the peace is misplaced. While we may think that our greatest need is world peace, it is not. As a people in rebellion against a holy God ever since the Fall, our greatest need is peace with God. The peace that Lennon longed for does not begin with us or between us. No, true peace, eternal peace, begins with God. He must act first, he must monergistically initiate peace, so we may have peace with him. And so he has. As prophesied, God promised and provided peace in Christ.
The Prophecy of Peace
The prophetic words of Isaiah are familiar, especially this time of year: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6). It is hard to read the words without hearing them sung in Handel’s beautiful arrangement in Messiah.
To this familiar verse, the prophecy continues, revealing, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isa. 9:7). The peace prophesied is a sovereign peace, a reigning peace, an eternal peace. And while it would be easy to dismiss such peace as a future peace of the new kingdom, it is apparently a peace inaugurated with the birth of the child, the incarnation of the Son of God.
Defining this prophesied peace is neither difficult nor politically correct. Clearly, it is not a peace from violence, at least not initially, since Jesus’ birth resulted in Herod’s genocide. Yet, how often are we encouraged to think of the peace of Christmas in terms of world peace. It is not familial peace either. In fact, the Prince of Peace himself cautioned, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36). Yet, how often have you heard Christianity touted as bringing peace to all of life’s conflicts?
It is not even peace with yourself, or inner peace. As the Apostle Paul confessed, “But I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:23-24). That sounds more like war than peace to me.
What then are we to make of this child, this Prince of Peace? First, he was not any child but a child conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, the Son of God, fully God and fully man. As the prophet lists them, this child’s titles are striking, sounding more like a reigning sovereign than a baby in a manger. Yet sovereign he is, coming first not in judgment but redemption, redeeming his people from sin and reigning in our hearts through faith.
Second, through his perfectly righteous life, his atoning death, and his resurrection from the dead, he secured peace with God for all who trust in him. This is not a temporary peace conditioned upon human performance but is an everlasting peace resting completely on the finished work of Christ.
Third, there will be a final fulfillment of the prophecy of peace. Rather than “above as only sky,” imagine this: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:1-4).
Therefore, the Wonderful Counselor will reign in wisdom over his people in the new kingdom. The Mighty God is indeed the Lord of lords. The Everlasting Father is the King of kings. And, the Prince of Peace reigns in perfect peace, not over an imaginary utopia but an eternal kingdom of heaven. Therefore, the reign of the Prince of Peace was inaugurated at his birth and will be consummated in his second advent in the new kingdom in the new heavens and new earth. But what about until then? How shall we who have peace with God live with peace in this world? We live as people of promise, the promise of peace.
The Promise of Peace
The prophecy of peace was of a child to come but having come Jesus comforted his disciples in his leaving, saying to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). As Jesus describes it, the promise of his abiding peace is a gift, but how could this gift be received in his absence? How could his abiding peace be known if he is not present?
After Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension his Spirit descended upon his disciples in power and fullness on the Day of Pentecost. On that day Peter testified, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:32-33). The promise made was received as the Holy Spirit was poured out in full.
Yet, the promise of the Holy Spirit is not given and received exclusively by Christ’s apostles. The Holy Spirit indwells all his elect who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus explained to his disciples, through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). Jesus’ promise of peace cannot be understood apart from the Holy Spirit, or in a worldly sense, but as a ministry of the Holy Spirit. In referring to the Holy Spirit’s ministry, Jesus uses the Greek word parakletos, meaning “comforter,” “counselor,” or “helper.” Therefore, Jesus’ promise of peace is tied unequivocally to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Afterall, one of the fruits of the Spirit’s sanctifying work within us is peace (Gal. 5:22).
One of the often-ignored aspects of this promise of peace in the Christian life is prayer. This is unfortunate, as there is a direct connection between prayer and peace. Jesus said, “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” By virtue of our peace with God in Christ, we may pray to our heavenly Father in the name of Christ, our mediator. Christian prayer then is a means of peace enabled by the Holy Spirit. It is no surprise that the Apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). Let us not ignore this means of grace, because it is a means of peace.
The Provision of Peace
Therefore, in considering peace, we find what is found not in God’s absence but in his provision. As prophesied, God provided a savior for his people, a child born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, and crucified in Jerusalem, resurrected, and ascended to heaven. A man who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). As the prophecy of peace was given so it was fulfilled: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
As God promised, so he provided, giving “His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NASB). In Christ, he has given us his abiding peace through the provision of his Spirit. In Christ, he has given us his means of grace abiding in his peace. In Christ, he has prepared his kingdom that we may know eternal peace.
In reality, the world of Imagine does not exist, nor will it at least as Lennon imagines it. Unbeknownst to Lennon, what he longs for is heaven but what he proposes is hell. In contrast, not in an imaginary world but the real one, Horatio Spafford lost his four daughters in one day in a tragic transatlantic voyage. How can you know peace in a situation like that? In the outer turmoil of death and the inner turmoil of heartache, he could pen these words:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
It is well (it is well),
with my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.
The difference between the two songs is quite simple. One does not know true peace but longs for it. The other knows peace, true, eternal peace, peace in Christ.
 John Lennon, “Imagine,” Lyrics.com, accessed December 30, 2019,
 Trinity Hymnal (Suwanee, GA: Great Commission Publications, 1990), 691.