It would be wonderful to speak about peace. I would love to shout, "Peace on earth, and to goodwill to men!" Or, "Peace!" to the SBC. "Peace to South America!"
But that Passover weekend around 30 AD was anything but peaceful. That passover was marred by at least three crucifixions. And one of them was God. In one of the Gaithers' songs, there is a line that said something like, "The earth shakes with the force of the conflict, and the sun refuses to shine." (My apologies to the songwriters if I missed that.) Do you see that word? Conflict. Does that sound like peace?
God was fighting for the souls of mankind. There was a conflict going on. His only begotten son was hanging on a Roman death tree. His hands and feet were fixed to the wood with spikes. His body was unrecognizable. If we had been there, up close, we could have smelled the horrible odors rising from his ravaged body. And would have heard, not just seen, the blood as it puddled down, slowly, steadily, drop by drop, around the ground. Does that sound like peace?
See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e're such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Why did the sun refuse to shine? Did God turn out the lights? Or were the demons of hell so thick in that place that their presence darkened the whole earth? Or had that spot of ground become hell? After all, Jesus said that unbelievers will be cast into "outer darkness." And the Scriptures say that God made "him who knew no sin to be sin for us; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor. 5:21) Does that sound like peace?
In six short hours, it was over. Jesus was dead. The demons croaked with glee. The priests and the rabble they had aroused were not so certain; after all, an earthquake had raped their temple. Their most holy place was desecrated by light from without. The ark, if there was one, was now exposed for all to see. I can envision those poor Levites scurrying about, trying to close the doors so that no one could see within their sanctuary. The priests were so uncertain they asked for Pilate to grant a guard for the tomb where Jesus was buried. It was an armed guard. Their weapons were not for show. Should anyone approach, death would have been likely. Does that sound like peace?
Again, it's a stretch of my imagination, but I can envision the procession from the cross to the grave. Men and women walked, carefully, mournfully, carrying the body of Jesus. Maybe there were others there, warning the pallbearers that they were ceremonially unclean and no longer eligible to partake of the fast-approaching Passover. Waltzing, buzzing about, jumping for joy, and cackling were those foul, stench-covered demons. They drooled with delight. They strutted like proud turkeys. Not far away were the legions of righteous angels.
Joseph and the others laid the body in the niche inside the tomb. They came out and rolled the stone into its groove in front of the opening. As the stone groaned while the men pushed it into place, those forces of evil wheezed for joy. The stone finally rolled into place, fully covering the opening. What light there was, was extinguished. The son of God was dead and buried. Does that sound like peace?
Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior.
Time passed by slowly. One day melted into another. Who really wanted to taste the roasted lamb this year? There would be no celebration for Jesus' friends and family. The bitter herbs the disciples had tasted on Preparation Night were more bitter than ever. They laid heavy on their stomachs. Every belch was a bitter one. There were no more tears to shed. All that was left was the empty heaviness that accompanies death and separation. All that enshrouded their hearts was confusion. They walked the streets, perhaps kicking at a lone pebble here and there. "Peace I give you," said Jesus. Peace? What peace? "My peace," said Jesus. Is this what your peace feels like? I am not sure I want this!
The Sabbath gave way to Sunday. Early in the morning the brave ladies went to the tomb. We know what they found. The stone was rolled away. Before too long, their darkest doubts gave way to the light of a sudden realization. Jesus was alive! No devils were there now! Stalwart angels, illuminating the glory of God, stood erect and regally. Soldiers lay in heap, sleeping a holy sleep placed on them by the brush of angels' wings. King Jesus rose from the grave!
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
It's the evening now. Sunday has come and gone. At least nine apostles (Judas is dead, hanging by a rope from a tree,and cursed is everyone who hangs from a tree, Peter is out, still processing his encounter with Jesus, and Thomas is just absent) are still huddled in the upper room. Jesus appears out of "nowhere" and calls out, "Peace, y'all!" Once the shock and awe passed of seeing someone alive whose death they had witnessed only a few days earlier, that peace began to grip their souls. Not like it would on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to indwell them. But it was there. And it was real. And it is real. Because it is his peace.
More than 2,000 years later, I want to stand on my rooftop. I want to shout to my lost neighbors, to the two men I watched sipping their suds at a local gas station, to the Jehovah's Witnesses who doggedly pound on my door, to all of this city somewhere in South America, to the SBC, to its leadership, to the IMB, to its leadership, to you, "PEACE, Y'ALL!"