Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Serenity of Christ

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss was researching the topic serenity and came across an online ad.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Here’s what that ad said:

"The SERENITY Pill. Real-Time Mood Management

  • Do you have mood swings?
  • Need a more positive outlook on life?
  • Are you stressed or nervous?
  • Does PMS or menopause get you down?
  • Do you have unexplainable outbursts?
  • Are you sad or unhappy?

We can help! Nothing helps like Serenity."

Serenity in a box—right? (Laughter)

Leslie: But that advertisement is bound to disappoint.

Nancy: Anywhere you look for serenity apart from Christ, you will find it to be elusive.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, March 16, 2015.

We’re focusing on Jesus in these weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. Nancy’s continuing in the series "The Incomparable Christ," and today we’ll study another important attribute of Jesus.

Nancy: Serenity—it’s not a word you often hear today, is it? We rarely hear someone described as “serene.” That word serene or serenity certainly doesn’t describe the era in which we live. We’re more familiar with things like hurry, crazy, busyness, 24/7, multi-tasking, off-the-chart stress, panic attacks, anxiety disorders . . . anything but serenity.

The dictionary says that some synonyms for serenity are: tranquility, calmness, and peacefulness, and antonyms—words that are the opposite—are: agitation, panic. These are the opposite of serenity.

A serene heart is what the psalmist had when he prayed in Psalm 131:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me (vv. 1–2).

I love that psalm. In fact, we have a whole Revive Our Hearts series on Psalm 131. You can go to the archives on ReviveOurHearts.com. We spent, I don’t know, I think the better part of a week just studying the few verses from that psalm. I love it because it depicts that serene heart that I often don’t have.

Serenity—it’s something that people desire. Think about all the women out there doing yoga—seeking serenity. Right? But anywhere you look for serenity apart from Christ, you will find it to be elusive. You can’t do yoga all day long.

Today we want to look at the serenity of Christ as it’s seen in scenes throughout His life. Again, on this subject, as on all the others we’re looking at through this Lenten season, we see that He truly is the incomparable Christ. He depicts serenity. He is serenity. He gives us serenity. He is our source of serenity, and we see it all throughout His life.

Think about some of those scenes, and pictures will come to your mind as I say these things:

  • Picture Jesus asleep in the boat while His creation is storming outside, and then think about how Christ wakens and serenely calms His anxious disciples’ fears—serenity.
  • Think about 5,000—or maybe several thousand more when you throw in women and children—hungry people clamoring around Jesus and how He maintains perfect composure. He doesn’t get stressed.
  • Think about Jesus when He receives the news that His dear friend Lazarus is terminally ill—no meltdown. Now, this is not stoicism. He’s not detached. He’s not emotionless. Jesus weeps at the tomb of Lazarus. He cares deeply for His friends who’ve just lost their brother and friend, but He’s not out of control. He’s still composed and serene.
  • Think about Jesus—as we will over these next several days—when He stands before the Jewish rulers, before Pilate, before Herod at His trial. He is always a picture of perfect calm dignity. He is reviled; He’s falsely accused; He’s persecuted, but He holds His peace—the serene Savior.

I want to focus today on another glimpse of Jesus’ serenity that I think is an exquisite one. It’s found in one verse in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 26. I’m so glad Matthew’s gospel includes this phrase that shows us such a rich picture of His serenity.

The context is that this is the night that Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples in the upper room—what we call the Last Supper. As the meal ends, and the disciples prepare with Jesus to leave the upper room, Jesus knows that He is shortly going to be arrested, going to be betrayed, and that His closest friends and disciples—the ones He just had dinner with, the ones whose feet He just washed, the disciples He just served—they’re all going to abandon Him.

Matthew 26, verse 30 says: “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” When they had sung a hymn.

Oswald Sanders says it this way in the book, The Incomparable Christ, the book we’re following in this series,

The Savior sang under the very shadow of the cross. What serenity and inward triumph is reflected in this revealing sentence! Anyone can sing in the sunshine, but to sing in the shadows is a rare accomplishment.

Now, I think we’d all like to know: What did Jesus and His disciples sing? The Scripture doesn’t tell us, but commentators agree that it’s likely that Jesus and His disciples sang a group of psalms found in the Old Testament Jewish hymn book, the Psalms. This group of psalms was known as the Hallel.

Does that sound familiar to you? “Hall-el-lu-jah.” Hallel means praise—hallelujah, praise to God. The Hallel, often known as the Egyptian Hallel is found in Psalms 113–118. It was called the Egyptian Hallel because it was sung at national feasts like the Passover, which the Jews would celebrate their deliverance out of Egypt. It was an Egyptian praise . . . deliverance.

These psalms were grouped together and sung as a single song that were sung during the annual Jewish feasts, and typically (the commentators say) the first part, Psalms 113–114, were sung in the middle of the dinner, and then the second part, Psalms 115–118 were sung at the end of the banquet.

Let me ask you to turn to Psalm 115, the Jewish Hallel. I want us to look at just a few of the words that Jesus likely sang with His disciples that night before He headed into Gethsemane and then on to Calvary.

We see here the serenity of Christ. Now we won’t have time to look at this whole passage. I thought that maybe we would actually read a lot of this, and I’m thinking perhaps we’ll do a whole series on Revive Our Hearts some day on the Hallel, this psalm, this hymn that Jesus sang, but we won’t read through most of it today. I would encourage you to take time during this Passover and Lenten season to read through the entire passage—Psalms 113–118, but let’s just look at a few verses.

At the beginning of what they would have sung there as they left that meal, Psalm 115 we have the first stanza of what Jesus and His disciples likely sang leaving that upper room. Psalm 115, verse 1:

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?" Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (vv. 1–3).

Now, let me just stop there. From the very first stanza of this psalm, we see in Jesus a supreme desire for the glory of God and for the will of God to be done on earth . . . regardless of what price that might mean for Him. “Our God is in the heavens; He does all He pleases.”

That brings to mind another verse which Jesus surely would have known in Isaiah chapter 53, the song of the suffering servant, where it says: “The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (v. 10 NASB). Jesus knew that the Father’s pleasure, the Father’s good will, the Father’s glory was bound up in Jesus being willing to be crushed, bruised, crucified, to suffer and die, to be put to grief.

Jesus sings in this psalm, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all He pleases.” He praises God and says, “I want Your glory to be over all the earth. I want what honors You; that’s what I want, even if it means that You are pleased for Me to suffer. If it pleases You, it pleases Me.”

Now, they weren’t just opening their Bible and reading this psalm. These were passages the Jews had memorized, and they would sing them to a melody, to a tune. They would sing together. So here was Jesus with His disciples, singing, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory.”

Again, let me encourage you to read from this passage all the way through Psalm 118, in light of what Jesus was facing, but now let’s skip to the last stanza of the hymn, as we come to the end of Psalm 118, verse 24. Again, Jesus is leaving that upper room; they’re getting ready to head out to Gethsemane and then on to Calvary. In verse 24, they sing, Jesus sings:

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Look at verse 28:

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (vv. 28–29).

Not only is Jesus singing as He faces the cross, but what is He singing? He’s singing praise, worship, thanksgiving, honor to the Lord. He starts with the focus on the glory and the sovereignty of God, and He ends with thanksgiving for God’s goodness and God’s covenant-keeping love. That’s the meaning of “His steadfast love endures forever.” There’s no doubt here; there’s no fear. There’s no anxiety; there’s no turmoil. There’s just that calm serenity that God is good; God is in control; God’s will is going to be done.

In the book we’ve been following, The Incomparable Christ, Oswald Sanders says,

What can we learn from the Passover Song? [We learn] that we can turn our trouble into treasure and our sorrow into song. Faith can sing her song in the darkest hour. Sorrow and singing are not incompatible.

As we see the serenity of Christ, we’re reminded that "trouble can be turned into treasure, sorrow can be turned into song. Faith can sing her song in the darkest. Sorrow and singing are not incompatible."

Does this remind you of some followers of Jesus not too many years later?—Paul and Silas in that Philippian jail, beat up, wounded, legs and arms fastened in stocks, “praying and singing hymns to God” in the middle of the night—like Jesus—serenity—a calm, composed, assured spirit, peaceful, tranquil in the midst of turmoil (see Acts 16:25).

Now, if you don’t know Jesus and you don’t have Him working in your life, this could sound like craziness. How in the world could Jesus sing—especially the kinds of things we just read that He sang. How could He sing those kinds of things on His way to be betrayed and crucified?

Well, first of all, we know that He could sing because He trusted His Father. We saw that in that psalm: “You are good; you are my God.” Now, not too long, not too many hours from then, He’s going to be crying out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” But He still knows that God is His God. “You are my God. You are good.” He trusted His Father. When you trust your heavenly Father, you can sing in the shadows of the cross.

He knew and accepted and embraced the Father’s plan. “I’m into it. I buy into that. I own it. Yes, Lord! Yes, Father!” He knew the Father’s plan; He accepted it, and He embraced it.

He could sing in the shadow of the cross because He loved others—He loved you; He loved me—more than He loved His own life. If I love my own life more than I love you, then I’m going to whine into the shadow of the cross, but if I love Christ, if I love my heavenly Father more than I love myself, if I love you more than I love me, then I’m going to be willing and able to sing in the shadow of the cross.

He could sing unto the shadow of the cross because He knew that even though the cross was just ahead, the cross was not the end. There was going to be life and glory and hope and joy set before Him that enabled Him to endure the cross and to sing as He was en route to the cross.

We can understand—some of us, anyway—the possibility of being calm and serene when our lives are problem-free. I know some people who are not calm and serene anytime, but I think we can imagine someone being calm and serene when there are no storms, when there are no problems, there are no crosses. (Although, let me say this—it’s possible to have a cushy life, but if you don’t have Christ, you can internally still be in turmoil, anxious, no serenity.)

So our circumstances don’t govern our serenity, but to me it’s amazing to see Jesus modeling serenity when life was squeezing Him the hardest. It’s been over the centuries true of many of His followers. It’s an amazing thing you can see in saints as they are being persecuted, as they’re being martyred, in some cases, in the big and little challenges of life, the big and little crosses. They are singing in the shadows, modeling a composed, serene spirit.

In fact, I’m learning that God often uses those pressures and problems and pains as a means to produce a spirit of serenity in our lives. You say, “I’m not a serene person. I certainly couldn’t be serene under problems.” It may be that it’s in the problems and the pressure and the pain that you develop a serene spirit, as you look to Christ singing under the shadow of the cross.

Let me give you several examples that have come to my mind about serene people—singing and worshiping God in the shadows of a cross:

I think about those three Hebrew young men that we read about in Daniel chapter 3. King Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man on earth, says, “Fall down and worship the image I have made, or you will be cast into the burning, fiery furnace.” What is their response?

“If this be so, our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (vv. 17–18).

That’s got serenity stamped all over it. It’s a calm, steadfast assurance that God is in control, that His plan is good, that He can be trusted. So we don’t have to get all worked up.

I think of Perpetua. Some of you have read the story of this twenty-two year-old wife and nursing mother, who, in the year 203 AD, along with four others, was arrested and martyred for her faith in Christ. She and her fellow martyrs entered the arena singing hymns and strong in their faith, say the historians. They were first mauled by animals, then put to death with a sword. The story is told that Perpetua actually guided the sword to her neck when the executioner faltered.

I'd say that's serene: singing hymns, strong in their faith, composed, stedfast, unafraid. Serenity.

I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whose biography I’ve been reading recently), a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was imprisoned and executed for his role in the German resistance movement against Nazism. His execution was particularly brutal. Bonhoeffer was stripped of his clothing and led naked into the execution yard, where he was hanged with thin wire and strangulated.

The camp doctor who witnessed the execution wrote this:

I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.

Singing in the shadow of the cross, trusting the goodness, the wisdom, the plan of God.

I want to remind us that serenity is not just a matter of natural personality or temperament. It's not a genetic disposition. It's not stoicism. It's not being indifferent to what's going on around you. Rather, it's an inner calm in the face of whatever circumstances may be raging around us.

It's a settled state of peace, of contentment, of trust. It's knowing that no matter what happens, our lives are bound up in Christ. We are resting in Him who is the source of our identity and all that we need.

I asked a group of women the other day on a phone call as we were interacting on this session, "Who do you think of as serene?" One of the women said, "Michelle Duggars is one of the most serene women I've ever seen." For those of you who don't know, Michelle Duggars has nineteen children, and counting, I don't know how many now. Can you imagine a woman having nineteen children, most of whom still live in the home, and being serene? But it was interesting that she came to mind as we talked about this.

Another woman said, "One of the most serene women I've ever seen was a widow at a funeral, so confident in the promises of God, who she was, and who her husband was in Christ." Serene.

As I thought about serene people, I thought about an email exchange I've been having recently with Chris and Carrie Thifault. You don't know them, but they are friends of this ministry. One month ago they had a little baby boy born, their seventh child, with a heart abnormality that they didn't know about until the day after his birth. They thought everything was fine. But then they found out a valve was not connected.

Over the last month that couple has been keeping us updated so we could pray how baby Micah is doing. As of this recording, we don't know what the outcome is going to be. It's been a miracle that he has lived this long. We are praying and asking God to spare little Micah's life. But the parents do not know what the outcome will be—whether he will live beyond just a little longer.

In the emails from both Chris and Carrie, who are suffering greatly, who are round the clock vigil with this little boy (in addition to the care of six older children), their hearts have been serene. They've been quiet, at rest. In fact, their focus has been how can they bless and serve and minister to the people around them who are also suffering in that Intensive Care Unit.

Serenity. It's a calm disposition of heart. Yes, it hurts. Yes, sometimes you feel like your heart is breaking. Yes, sometimes you feel like "I can't go on another moment." But there is that core that's at peace.

I think of an email I got from a woman. She said,

My husband left me over three years ago. I don't even know where he's living—he won't tell me. I started praying for our reconciliation soon after listening to my first Revive Our Hearts broadcast in November 2008. I sent him a short email tonight. I empathized with him about something that had not worked out for him in a financial venture and then reminisced about something I had admired about him and then closed with, Love, [then she signed her name].

I felt I was able to say something without questioning him, explaining something, or defending myself. I hope it encouraged him. I hope that one day I can write and tell you of my husband turning to Christ and coming home. But if that does not happen, I so want to remain faithful no matter what.

And I thought, Serenity! That’s a serene woman who has fixed her hope on God. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen in her marriage, she knows whom she has believed, and she is persuaded that He is able to meet her needs, to keep her, to hold her until that final day.

So how can we sing in the midst of the shadows, in the shadow of the cross, in the midst of darkness and grief and turmoil going on around us?

I would remind us of that wonderful verse in Matthew chapter 11, the words of Jesus, where He said:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (vv. 28–30).

You see there the link between the humility of Christ and the serenity of Christ? You can’t have a serene heart if you don’t have a humble heart. So He says, “Come to me . . . learn from me . . . I am humble.” With that humility comes a serenity and the rest that our hearts long for. The humble heart that accepts all of our Father’s dealings as wise and good will be a serene heart—a heart at rest.

How’s your heart today? Serene? Well, it’s easy to be serene sitting in this auditorium listening to the Word of God being taught, but think about what you left this morning at home. Think about what you’re facing when you get back into your work place, into your church, into your marriage, into your mothering, into wherever it is that you serve the Lord.

You say, “I don’t have that serenity, but I want it!” Consider Christ. Learn from Him. He is humble; He is lowly. As He transforms you into His image, you’ll find He gives you a serene heart and rest for your soul.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been describing true serenity. Her words today are part of a series called "The Incomparable Christ.

To hear all the messages for yourself, just visit ReviveOurHearts.com. It’s the type of insightful Bible teaching Revive Our Hearts listeners have come to expect, and God’s using this teaching in very practical ways. Here’s Nancy to tell you more.

Nancy: Today’s study on the serenity of Christ has been deeply challenging to me. I know that listeners have heard that message while thinking about all kinds of challenges that threaten their serenity.

One woman wrote us about the patience that’s required in her difficult situation. She’s been a caregiver to her husband for almost fifteen years, and as she patiently fulfills those tasks day after day, she listens to Revive Our Hearts. That helps to remind her why she’s serving. She wrote and told us, “Thank you for your words of encouragement many times when I felt I was at my breaking point.”

We’re able to encourage listeners like that woman through all kinds of challenges thanks to listeners like you who support the ministry financially. So when you donate any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts this week, we want to show our thanks by sending you a copy of a wonderful book by my friend Elyse Fitzpatrick.

The book is called Comforts from the Cross. Elyse writes in an easy-to-read, personal style about important, deep truths of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for our daily lives. As you read this book, you’ll understand better what Jesus did on the cross and how that can enable you to experience greater grace and freedom from sin.

Just ask for the book Comforts from the Cross when you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts. You can give us a call at 1-800–569–5959, or you can make your donation online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Leslie: If you study the life of Jesus, you may be surprised at how often He prayed. Learn about prayer from the life of Jesus tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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