The most dangerous message your student hears today is not one that centers on sexual immorality or even outright rebellion against the morals of a past generation. It is a message of peace and it is at the center of the Olympic games. Stay with me here.
Certainly the Olympics has its draws. I myself have spent hours watching these games. Whether it’s the heart tugging details of miraculous comeback stories, the awe-inspiring display of expertise in games we might not even understand, or the simple appeal to patriotism, the Olympics provides any observer with plenty to capture their heart over the course of two weeks.
Beyond the attraction provided by the games themselves is the political ambition of the IOC and their underlying belief that “sport always triumphs” over even the most broken political relationships. This year, the relationship under the spotlight is that of North and South Korea. To the casual observer – witnessing the Korean women’s hockey team carry a united flag, and then watching the sister of North Korea’s dictator speak with other world leaders – it may very well appear as if the IOC is not mistaken in their confident endeavor.
Through appearance, the attraction of their message only grows stronger.
That message spills over, of course, into every major advertisement seen throughout the events. As we listen to the words of songs like “Glorious” by Macklemore and “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman – songs that speak of our own inner glory and strength – we are encouraged by companies such as Toyota and Samsung to start the impossible and to do what you (apparently) can’t.
Throughout the games, the political discourse, and in all of the advertisements, the message is the same. It proclaims peace, and promises the furtherance of that peace if we simply work together. It is attractive. It is inspiring. It is easily embraced. And it is a lie.
This lie is, of course, nothing new. The first lie spoken in the Garden was, ultimately, a guarantee of peace (rather than death) through selfish ambition. And that similar lie is found throughout the narrative of the Old Testament. Simply read through the pages of Jeremiah and you will find accounts of God judging false teachers within Israel for offering a very similar lie in order to gain a following.
Jeremiah 6:13-14 says this:
“For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ where there is no peace.”
Rather than encouraging the people of Judah to turn away from their sin and return to a life of obedience to God, these leaders had sought to only bring false comfort to God’s people. In the midst of spiritual calamity, those leaders proclaimed a present peace and assured the people that this peace would last. While the message of these leaders was, no doubt, initially encouraging to their audience, this self-proclaimed peace was a lie and it was about to be exposed as God would send invaders from a nearby growing empire in Babylon.
While the IOC is by no means the appointed leader of God’s people, the message they proclaim is ultimately the same. At face value, this message of peace appears just as encouraging and just as legitimate as it appeals to our natural desire both for external as well as internal peace.
We want to believe that something as tumultuous and complex as the relationship between North and South Korea can be significantly helped by a few hockey games, and by waving a unified flag. So when we watch the political theatre of the Olympics, we naturally want to believe it is true. But just scratch the surface of that narrative and the lie of peace is quickly exposed amidst the noise of protests in the streets and ongoing atrocities still taking place within the closed borders of North Korea. Where there was once the appearance of peace, is instead ongoing chaos.
In a similar manner, we long to believe the message of those inspirational advertisements. We long to truly believe that we are at peace, that we are glorious, and that we are whole. But again, one simply needs to scratch the surface and the lie of that proclaimed peace is exposed in the midst of pain we can’t move past, shame we can’t erase, and the ever present seeking of glory that always lies beyond our reach.
We must be careful, then, that we do not offer a similarly empty message that ensures peace through mere human cooperation. Instead, we offer the message like that of the prophet Jeremiah, who in the midst of a sea of false teachers proclaiming peace spoke loudly of destruction and begged his people to turn to God.
In a way that even Jeremiah could not have fully understood in his day, we are able to proclaim a peace that is only possible through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Prior to going to the cross, Christ promises this peace in John 14:27:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled neither let them be afraid.”
The peace of Christ is precious because it is entirely different from the peace of the world. For it is not merely a peace with a hostile politician, but a peace with God. It is not a peace that requires that we simply ignore inner turmoil but a peace that makes us new and pure. Most importantly, it is a peace that is everlasting – it is the peace that Christ himself established in his life, death, and resurrection. It is with that peace that Christ greets his disciples after his resurrection in John 20:19, and it is that peace that we are able to offer only in the Gospel message today.
Like Jeremiah, we live in a world marked by the constant threat of nations going to war and the constant reality of sin raging within. Those struggles cannot be ignored, nor can they be remedied by human abilities. Thankfully, we understand that our hope does not lie in the hands of political leaders naively declaring peace where there is no peace, nor does it lie in the hands of a few capable athletes. Despite its abilities to entertain, sport will ultimately always fail – even in victory.
But we serve the Prince of Peace who will never fail.
As believers, while we enjoy these Olympic games, let us take comfort in this eternal truth. And as youth workers, let us ensure that our students follow after the one true source of eternal peace, rather than falling prey to a message of peace that will, like the Olympics, quickly come to a close.