How Can I Find Peace?
A Sermon by Coty Pinckney. Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, May 31, 1998
Brynn Hartman was a woman who, to all appearances, had everything: At 40 years of age, the former model was strikingly beautiful; she had two children, a boy and a girl, aged 9 and 6, whom neighbors describe as loving and happy; her husband, Phil Hartman, was a successful actor and comedian; she had oodles of money, a new boat, their own airplane, a $1.4 million mansion, fancy cars. In a 1995 interview, Phil stated, "Iíve succeeded beyond my wildest dreams -- financially and in the amount of fun I have in my life."
On Thursday morning this week, Brynn Hartman shot and killed her husband; then, sometime later, while the police were entering her house to investigate, she shot and killed herself.
Said a friend: "They had something everybody dreams of -- and look what happens."
Another friend who had known Phil for 20 years said, "This shows that you can see people and not know the complications behind their lives."
Why did this happen? Why would a woman who, according the worldís standards, had everything, kill her husband and herself? What was her life missing?
While we donít know all the motivations for this murder-suicide, we do know that Brynn Hartman must have been deeply troubled. All her possessions, all her success did not satisfy some need in her life. She had no peace.
How can we find true peace -- true well-being, and wholeness? If we donít have peace, there are several common ways to try to find it. Here are three:
(1) Change your circumstances! We might trade in our wife or our husband for the 1998 model year; change our jobs, start a new career, move to a new town. Or we might try to make more money, to find peace and security by building up our assets.
If that doesnít work or is infeasible, we might
(2) Run away from the problem! This might include forgetting about the problem by using drugs or alcohol, or literally running away from our parents, our spouse, our children, our jobs.
And if that doesnít work, we can always take the last option:
(3) Blame someone else, and, ideally, get a good lawyer who can get the courts to agree your problems are this personís fault.
But you know, none of these alternatives leads to peace. Oh, all might lead to a temporary easing of our stress and strain, but sooner or later our changed circumstances turn bad once again; we wake from our drunken stupor and find peace is even further from us than before. And blaming someone else, even when we succeed in proving it to others, never satisfies in the end.
So how can we find peace?
Several weeks ago we began a series of sermons on the book of Leviticus, this often overlooked gem in the Old Testament. We noted that this book begins with a description of the five sacrifices that God ordains for the Israelites. Each sacrifice represents Godís provision for meeting one of our deep needs; each sacrifice displays a different aspect of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. The first sacrifice, the burnt offering, pictures Godís loving acceptance of us, of all parts of us. This animal sacrifice was consumed by fire in its entirety, and the fire never goes out on the altar. God chooses us as his own treasured possession; we belong to him. He loves us with a deeper love than we can imagine -- meeting our need to be loved, to be accepted. The burnt offering pictures the first phrase of John 3:16: "For God so loved the world . . ."
The second offering is usually called the cereal or grain offering, but I suggested that a more literal rendering would be the "Present Offering." In this picture, we present back to God the very stuff of which we are made -- our staple food -- as a response to his loving acceptance of us. Just as Jesus presented himself completely to God to be used for His glory, so we must present to God lives characterized by prayer, infused with the Holy Spirit, and based on the promises of God. And when we do this, we find that we have satisfied another basic human need -- the need to respond. God shows his love for us in the burnt offering, and our presenting ourselves back to him is the logical response. And only when we respond in this way do we experience the deep joy that comes from living a life holy and acceptable to God.
Today we come to the third offering, the peace offering. Here God answers the question, How Can I Find Peace? The order of these offerings is not arbitrary; each offering logically follows the one before it. God begins this series of pictures with his acceptance of us, meeting our need to be loved; then he pictures our proper response to that love, which leads to true joy in our lives. But we can belong to God and offer ourselves to him and still be caught up in the trials and difficulties of living in this fallen world. We can know that we belong to him, yet still face trouble and persecution, famine, nakedness, and sword (as Paul says). In the midst of these trials, we need peace -- and God lovingly provides for that need also. So all these sacrifices picture Godís provision for meeting our needs through Jesus Christ, and the first three represent Godís providing us with Love, Joy, and Peace.
So let us turn to Leviticus chapter 3. As with the burnt offering, several different types of animal can be offered, depending on the wealth of the offerer: a bull or cow, a lamb, or goat. The procedures for each animal are similar; letís read the section on offering a goat, beginning with verse 12:
'Moreover, if his [peace] offering is a goat, then he shall offer it before the LORD, 13 and he shall lay his hand on its head and slay it before the tent of meeting; and the sons of Aaron shall sprinkle its blood around on the altar. 14 'And from it he shall present his offering as an offering by fire to the LORD, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, 15 and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, which is on the loins, and the lobe of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys. 16 'And the priest shall offer them up in smoke on the altar as food, an offering by fire for a soothing aroma; all fat is the LORD'S. 17 'It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall not eat any fat or any blood.'" (Lev 3:12-17 NASB)
Note that the pattern for this offering is quite similar to that for the burnt offering. The offerer brings the animal to the entrance of the tent of meeting, then lays his hands on the animal. This symbolizes his identification with the animal, so that the sacrifice is both a symbol of the offerer himself, and a symbol of Jesus. Then the offerer kills the animal himself. The priest does not kill the animal. By this picture, we see that the offerer is offering his life to God, and the offerer symbolically is responsible for the death of Jesus. Next, the priests sprinkle the blood -- representing the life of the animal -- on the altar before God.
All these points are common with the burnt offering. There are several ways that the peace offering is distinctive, however. Of these, this morning I want to emphasize only four.
(1) All Fat is the Lord's
In the burnt offering, you recall that the entire animal was consumed in the fire. In the peace offering, God provides detailed instructions concerning the parts of the body that are to be burned. This is primarily the inner fat and kidneys. And verse 16 includes this interesting phrase: "All fat is the Lord's."
Now, Iíve gained a few pounds of fat in the last year; itís good to know all that belongs to the Lord.
What does the fat represent? Why does all fat belong to the Lord?
Today in our culture the word "fat" has negative connotations. Our ideal male and female forms are slender and thin; none of us wants to be called "fat." But for most cultures in most times, this has not been the case. Since most people in the history of our planet have lived in poverty, only the prosperous could become fat. So those who are heavier than average tend to be those who are prosperous.
We found this to be the case in rural Kenya. There, if your wife looks like a fashion model, other men feel sorry for you. To call a child "very fat" is a great compliment to the parents. When a person earns a good bit of money, almost always their girth goes up with their income.
I suspect the Israelites had a similar attitude towards fat. Indeed, the word "fat" is used in the Bible in positive ways. Consider Genesis 45:18, where Pharaoh is speaking to Joseph:
'I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you shall eat the fat of the land.' (NASB)
The "fat of the land" is the best of the land, the produce of the land. Fat is an image of abundance and prosperity.
Consider also Numbers 18:12
All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the LORD, I give them to you. (NASB)
The word "fat" doesn't appear in our English translations. But the word translated "best" by the NAS and "finest" by the NIV is the same Hebrew word, "fat." Now, wine has no fat in it. But the "fat of the wine" is the best wine, the finest wine. This is why all fat belongs to the Lord; the fat represents the finest parts of our lives.
So by offering all fat to the Lord, we are reminded that all good things come from him. Whatever we have that makes life worth living is from God. James puts it this way:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights. (James 1:17 NASB)
In order to have peace, we need to know that God is the source of all goodness -- and that there is nothing good in our lives except what comes from God. We donít deserve what we have, we did not earn what we have, and thus we need to offer everything that is good back to God in thanksgiving.
This is a basic requirement for peace. If we are trying to hold onto what we have, protect ourselves from losing what we have, then the more we have the more we worry. If we can hold what we have lightly, with confidence that God is sovereign, we are in position to have peace.
(2) The Offerer Eats the Sacrifice
The second distinctive I want to highlight this morning is that the offerer participates in eating the sacrifice. This is the only offering of which this is true. As we have seen, the fat of the peace offering is burned on the altar; we will see that parts of the animal are given to the priests to eat. But then the rest of the offering may be shared with anyone who is ceremonially clean; that is, with all who belong to God, all who are not tainted with the sin of world. So the peace offerings led to a time of celebration, a time of sharing with others. Indeed, at the time of Israel's four annual feasts, the whole community would come together and slaughter thousands of animals as peace offerings. The entire assembly would then join together in sharing a large "fellowship supper" of meat from these offerings.
The peace offering completes the image of the perfect relationship between God and man. In the burnt offering, God says, "You are Mine! You belong to Me!" Then in the Grain or Present Offering, we respond by saying, "All that I am I give to you!" So in the peace offering, we celebrate this relationship between God and man, this relationship that will hold no matter what the future circumstances of our lives might be.
Furthermore, note that the celebration is not limited to the person making the offering, but can be shared with all who are ceremonially clean. God's provision of peace in the midst of our daily lives affects us not only individually, but also corporately. We are the body of Christ, and we all benefit when each one of us is in a right relationship to God, when we can share the love, joy, and peace of God together.
(3) The Right Thigh and Breast Belong to the Priests
The common people, however, do not consume all the meat of the sacrifice. Turn to chapter seven of Leviticus, where we will begin reading in verse 29:
29 "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'He who offers the sacrifice of his peace offerings to the LORD shall bring his offering to the LORD from the sacrifice of his peace offerings. 30 'His own hands are to bring offerings by fire to the LORD. He shall bring the fat with the breast, that the breast may be presented as a wave offering before the LORD. 31 'And the priest shall offer up the fat in smoke on the altar; but the breast shall belong to Aaron and his sons. 32 'And you shall give the right thigh to the priest as a contribution from the sacrifices of your peace offerings. 33 'The one among the sons of Aaron who offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat, the right thigh shall be his as his portion. 34 'For I have taken the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the contribution from the sons of Israel from the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons as their due forever from the sons of Israel. (NASB)
So the right thigh and the breast belong to the priests. Why?
The breast is the meat closest to the heart, the seat of the emotions. The breast, I believe, represents God's love.
The thigh, on the other hand, is the strongest muscle in the body, and the right thigh, the thigh on the dominant side of most people, is usually the stronger of the two. The thigh is frequently used as an image of strength in the Bible. For example, consider Revelation 19:16, where John describes his vision of Jesus:
And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. (NASB)
The name is written on his thigh, because the name describes his strength.
So these two pieces of meat represent God's love and God's strength. The priest eats them as God's representative.
The truth represented by the thigh and the breast is vitally important for us. We will have no peace unless we have confidence in God's love, and in his mighty power.
Psalm 62 brings this out beautifully. The whole Psalm is relevant, but here I will read only four verses:
3 How long will you assault a man? Would all of you throw him down-- this leaning wall, this tottering fence? 4 They fully intend to topple him from his lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse.
11 One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, 12 and that you, O Lord, are loving.
In verses 3 and 4 the Psalmist is describing his situation. He is under attack, and feels like a wall or fence that is about to fall down. These pseudo-friends are trying to bring down the Psalmist. But he knows that God is his only hope, that God is his only source of rest; he sums up these truths in verses 11 and 12. God is strong; the Lord is loving. By focusing on these two attributes of God, the Psalmist finds peace in the midst of this attack on his position.
This is fundamental to having peace in the midst of trials, isnít it?
God is loving. Therefore, God is working all to the good. No matter how bad the situation may look, no matter what the circumstances may be, God loves us and wants to work all to our benefit.
God is strong. Therefore, God's love can be effective. A loving God who is not almighty is not much of a comfort; He may want to aid us, but be unable to do so. But our God is loving and almighty. Everything that we fear is under His control. Nothing can overpower him.
Weíll come back to this point, but first let me point out the final distinction of this offering:
(4) All the Meat Must be Consumed Within Two Days
Look back at verse 15 of Leviticus 7:
15 'Now as for the flesh of the sacrifice of his thanksgiving peace offerings, it shall be eaten on the day of his offering; he shall not leave any of it over until morning. 16 'But if the sacrifice of his offering is a votive or a freewill offering, it shall be eaten on the day that he offers his sacrifice; and on the next day what is left of it may be eaten; 17 but what is left over from the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day shall be burned with fire. 18 'So if any of the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings should ever be eaten on the third day, he who offers it shall not be accepted, and it shall not be reckoned to his benefit. It shall be an offensive thing, and the person who eats of it shall bear his own iniquity.
God details rules for different types of peace offerings; in some cases the meat had to be eaten the same day as the sacrifice, but in all cases the meat must be consumed within two days. No meat of the peace offering could be eaten on the third day.
What does this symbolize?
I believe this symbolizes an important truth: We cannot depend on God's granting of peace in the midst of past trials. If we have confidence in God's love and power today, then we will have peace regardless of our circumstances. And we should celebrate that. But we cannot live on that victory over circumstances. The next day, and the next day, and the day after that we need to renew our confidence in God, to rely on Him again and again, to continue to meditate on His love and His strength. If we fail to do so, we will lose God's peace, no matter how profound His comfort may have been in the past.
This entire passage is summed up beautifully in Romans 8. Consider here the last five verses:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)
Do you see Godís love and power in those verses? The passage begins and ends with the love of Christ and the love of God; where is power? Power is in the word "able." Nothing is able to separate us from the love of God! There is no power that can reach in and grab us away from Him, no circumstance that can overwhelm us.
But without this confidence in Godís love and power, we can be overwhelmed by our circumstances. We live in a world that seems out of control, where often we donít think we can stand another minute of the pressure and stress. So the world must have seemed to Brynn Hartman -- and without this confidence in a God who loves and a God who is powerful, she tried to find peace in the most extreme way -- by ending her life and the life of her husband.
But we see a different reaction to extreme stress in the lives of John and Betty Stam. This couple met while studying at Moody Bible Institute around 1930, when they were in their mid-twenties. Betty had grown up in China, the daughter of long-term missionaries, and returned there in 1931. John followed, and after a period of living in a different part of China, the two were married in October of 1933.
Fourteen months later, communist insurgents under the overall command of Mao Tse Tung captured the town where John, Betty, and their infant child Helen lived. The Stams were arrested. Early on December 8, the soldiers discussed how they would kill baby Helen. A poor Chinese farmer stepped forward, pleading for the child's life. The soldiers replied, "Fine. We won't kill the child -- if you're willing to die in her place!" The farmer agreed. The soldiers shot and killed him.
The next morning, the soldiers forced John and Betty to leave their house without Helen. They stripped the couple down to their underwear, and marched them through the town, mocking them. As a crowd formed, the Stams were sentenced to death. A Chinese doctor, until this time a nominal Christian afraid to speak up, made a last-minute plea for their lives; the communists asked if he was a Christian. When he professed Jesus as his Lord, they killed him. Then John and Betty were ordered to their knees. John was beheaded with a sword; Betty grabbed him to hold him and then she too was beheaded.
When Bettyís parents were informed of her death, they replied by telegraph to the staff of China Inland Mission:
Deeply appreciate your consolation. Sacrifice seems great, but not too great for Him who gave Himself for us. Experiencing God's grace. Believe wholeheartedly Romans 8:28.
Betty Stam's parents knew the truths of Romans 8 that we read above. They knew that no matter what the circumstances, even in death, we are "more than conquerors through him who loved us."
Furthermore, read what Bettyís sister Helen wrote to her bereaved parents:
Dearest Daddy and Mother, you don't need to hear me say how much we love you and are thinking of and praying for you in these days... I have such a radiant pictures of Betty and John standing with their palms of victory before the Throne, singing a song of pure joy because they had given everything they had to their Master, that I cannot break lose and cry about it as people expect. Crying seems to be too petty for a thing that was so manifestly in God's hands alone; but my heart is very, very sore for you.
Do you know this type of peace? Do you have confidence in Godís unfailing love? I hope that none of us have to encounter the severity of trials faced by John and Betty Stam, her parents, her sister; I hope none of us have to face whatever personal circumstances led Brynn Hartman to her extreme act. But I can guarantee that each one of us here this morning will face difficulties in this life that are unfathomable, trials that we cannot understand, circumstances that on the surface make this world appear to be governed by a malevolent power or random chance rather than by a loving and powerful God. And all of us face small trials on a day to day basis that tempt us to lash out in anger or impatience instead of responding in God's peace. But the message of this Book, the message throughout the Bible, the message of the Peace offering, of Psalm 62, of Romans 8 is this:
that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.
God provides peace for us through our Lord Jesus Christ in the middle of whatever trial we might face. The worldís suggestions for finding peace never work for long; they are only temporary palliatives. You too can have the confidence of the Stams, you too can have the confidence of Paul. Through Jesus we can have this peace that passes all understanding, this peace that is beyond our comprehension. Believe God when he says: Nothing is able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 5/31/98. I decided to preach a series of sermons on Leviticus after reading Ray Stedman's series, which is available at thePBC web site. I am heavily indebted to him both for his insights into Leviticus, and for all I learned about expository preaching from him. The story of John and Betty Stam was taken from one of John Piper's sermons and an article from Christian History.
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