My peace I give you, as I hang here

crucifixionIconGeorgia12thCenturyJohn’s Gospel has been a wonderful resource of insight into Jesus’ perspective on his own Cross. I’ve commented on John 16.31-33:

A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

And on John 14.30-31 as well:

The Prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on/in me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

From these we gain an invaluable insight into the one person’s perspective on the Cross that many writing on the subject today ignore, that of Jesus, and also into a transforming assurance, namely, that how God is with Christ in his suffering is how God will be with us in ours.

There’s no getting around the presence of mind and sense of purpose that Jesus possesses on the eve of his crucifixion. But some argue Jesus comes to despair of these same truths when he encounters what he did not expect, namely, the reality of godforsakenness, that moment on the Cross when he realizes this was something he did not plan for, that the Father he trusted to be “with him” had in fact abandoned him, and that he was wrong to have thought the Prince of this world “had no hold on/in [him].”

I want here briefly to introduce two further statements Jesus makes in Jn 14 which I previously failed to engage. First, in Jn 14.29 Jesus expressly mentions his deciding to give his disciples assurance “before it happens” (i.e., his crucifixion) so that when it happens they “might have faith.” Every evidence of God’s faithfulness was to disappear from the horizon. Nothing within the created order would remain as a resource for Jesus to know the “peace” he was promising others for when they hung on their crosses.

That’s what the Cross does – for Jesus and for all of us – it takes ‘what is created’ to the absolute end of its resources and into the Void of our created nothingness. Only an uncreated source, an uncreated voice from beyond the horizon can assure the human heart that it is loved, that it is not alone, and that it is secure. I think most (many?) assume Jesus must be thought of as being divested of any such assurance. But this is false (Heb. 12.2; what does he “endure” if he dies on the Cross?).

Jesus knows what conclusion the Cross will press upon his disciples (and which many theologians today conclude), and so he mentions this “before it happens.” Mentions what? He mentions what will soon seem unbelievable to imagine. And what is that? Only this – that contrary to every evidence of Jesus’ godforsakenness, the Father has not abandoned him. He says it now “so that” when he suffers, we will have faith.

Jesus makes a second astonishing claim just a moment earlier, in v. 27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” When is this true? Where is it true? It’s true tonight as they break bread, but will it be true tomorrow when Jesus is hanging on the Cross? Here’s the point I think we race by in these assurances Jesus leaves with his disciples on the eve of his lynching. We don’t connect these sayings to the event of the Cross. If we do, it’s only because we think the Cross is the one place where these assurances fail to define for Jesus the truth of his existence, perhaps because we think their failing to be true for him then and there is the cost God must pay so that they can be true for us here and now. I can’t imagine a more despairing account of the Cross.

Let me suggest that what Jesus promises on the eve of his crucifixion his Cross actually demonstrates, that the peace Jesus leaves his disciples prior to being crucified he actually possesses and embodies as he is crucified. “My peace I leave you” essentially means “I’m going to show you how to have the peace that only God can give when the world takes everything else from you.” What Jesus promises his disciples the night before he dies, he gives to them as he’s being murdered. Only faith will see it this way, because as Jesus said, it is “not as the world gives.” It is only found through participating in Christ’s sufferings, traveling with him to the brink of the Void and learning there from him how to hear the assurances of an uncreated source, how to live ex nihilo.

Three truths that define Jesus’ view of his Cross:

“I am not alone, my Father is with me.”
“The Prince of the world has no hold on/in me.”
“My peace I leave you, not as the world is capable of giving. Don’t be afraid.”

If these are not true of him as he hangs on the Cross, they can’t be true of us as we hang on ours. For the reason nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom 8) is because nothing can separate God from himself in Christ.

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