It’s easy to have world peace. All that is needed is a ruler so powerful that he (she) can control the entire world; so dominant that he (she) will tolerate no dissent; and so cruel that he (she) punishes any sign of rebellion immediately, viciously, and totally. Such a situation occurred when the Roman Empire was at its height. Most of the then-known world was under the control of Rome. The emperors brooked no opposition. Any hint of revolt was quickly crushed, with all rebels not simply put to death, but executed publicly and in the cruelest way possible.
Lest we think that Jesus Christ and the two thieves were the only ones to suffer crucifixion, remember that it was the favorite form of punishment for anyone who dared stand against the forces of Rome. The concluding scene of the movie “Spartacus” gives us a good example. We are shown a view of the Appian Way, the main road into the city. Down the road, as far as we can see, there are men hanging on crosses, the remnants of a failed slave rebellion. Anyone entering or leaving Rome would have to pass these dying men.
Death came slowly and painfully for those who were crucified. They were given no water to drink. Slowly, painfully, their weight interfered with their ability to breathe. Sometimes death took days, while the body inexorably caved in upon itself.
The lucky rebels died in battle. Yet even here no mercy was shown. The emperor’s soldiers were chosen for their cruelty, then trained to be efficient and merciless killers. They didn’t just kill: they dispatched their opponents as brutally as possible.
Who would want to rebel? Who would want to stand up to Rome, knowing that their fate was sure and certain? The Pax Romana was assured. As long as the empire maintained its military superiority and its vicious battle plan there would be peace—but at what price? Peace was purchased at the expense of freedom.
What a contrast from the peace Jesus offered his disciples in his final words to them before he too suffered a rebel’s death! “Peace I leave with you,” he said; “my peace I give to you.”
This is not a new concept. This is the same peace God promised God’s people from the beginning: God’s shalom. This is the peace of Eden before Satan. This is the peace Isaiah described in 65:25: “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” The peace at the end of time will be the same as at the beginning of time—not just the absence of conflict, but a peace so perfect humans can’t envision it. Natural predators and their prey will coexist. Children will be able to play in the open without fear of gunshot or molestation. Those who have been enemies for centuries—millennia!—will love their opponents as they love their own families. Peace will not come because a dictator achieves world domination, but because almighty God—who created the world—will set everyone free.
But what about now? Can we have peace now? “Yes,” Jesus says. “I leave my peace with you now. You won’t be able to do much about external conditions, but if you follow me and do my Father’s will, you will have internal peace. I’m not offering peace as the world does, with strings attached, or in exchange for your freedom. I’m giving you shalom, free for the taking, given by my grace and through my love for you.
What will you choose: pax terra or pax Deus? What are you willing to give up: life lived by the world’s standards, or life lived in alignment with God’s will?
It’s your choice. Choose wisely.