"The Peacemakers' Blessing"
(Delivered Sunday, August 1, 2004 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version.)
We continue our study this morning of The Beatitudes. It seems that each time we look at them together, we discover their depth in a new and fresh way. It's clear that these words, uttered by our Lord, aren't a collection of spoken propositions given in a random order; but that they possess a wonderful interrelationship to one another. They present to us a full and orderly progression of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. They together - if I may put it this way - constitute a divine work of art.
We've already noted, for example, that there's a three-fold division to the eight beatitudes. The first three beatitudes lead us to a realization of our deep need for God's grace: that is, that (1) we must come to Him in poverty of soul as those who are "poor in spirit"; that (2) we must come before God "mourning" and grieving over the dreadfulness and offensiveness of our sin; and that (3) we must come before God "meekly" - no longer boasting in our own worthiness, but humbly seeking God's grace with childlike faith. This leads us to the fourth beatitude: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled."
The first division of these beatitudes shows us that we come to God in great need of His gracious gift of a righteousness that we do not possess. And the second division shows us how God gladly gives that full righteousness to those who hunger and thirst for it as a gift of His great grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That's how someone must begin the life of a disciple of Jesus. And then comes the third division. It highlights the life that His disciples are to now live as recipients of His transforming grace. And as we look at this third division, we see yet another sequence of beatitudes - this time, showing us the progression of the disciple as he or she grows in that life of righteousness.
In the fifth beatitude, for example, we formerly poor and impoverished sinners, who are now the recipients of God's mercy, are moved by that mercy to show compassion and mercy toward others in need. "Blessed are the merciful," Jesus says, "for they shall obtain mercy." And then in the sixth beatitude, realizing that the mercy God has shown toward us came at great cost to Himself - that is, at the cost of the life of His own precious Son on the cross - and realizing the great future glory that the cross purchased for us, we are moved to live lives that are, themselves, characterized by personal holiness and moral purity. We become motivated to now live in a manner that's consistent with what Jesus died to make us to be in the future. "Blessed are the pure in heart," Jesus said, "for they shall see God."
This progression, then, leads us to the seventh beatitude. In Christ, we are now the recipients of God's mercy upon us for our sins. We have been washed clean of our guilt by the Savior's blood; and are destined to share in the fully glory that our Savior enjoys in heaven. But there was a time, not long before then, when we were ruled by sinful lusts and selfish ambition. And those things were the cause of great contention and discord in our own lives and in the world around us. The apostle James wrote,
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:1-3).
Billy Graham once pointed out that, when the astronauts first landed on the moon, they landed on a place that they called "The Sea of Tranquillity". He said that it was easy to know why it was such a wonderfully peaceful and tranquil place: No human beings had ever been there before.1 Just let people take up residence there for a little while, and the name of the place will no longer be suitable. Wars and fighting and conflict come, ultimately, from the sinful desires that wage war within the human heart.
But once we have been truly transformed by God's gracious mercy toward us, and have become gripped by the purity of heart to which He calls us - when we realize that God has brought about peace between us and Himself through the cross of Jesus, and that we are no longer in a state of enmity with Him - then we become transformed with respect to other people too. We not only cease from being contentious people ourselves, but we become actual makers of peace - just as God has made peace with us. Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9).
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Jesus calls His followers to become "peacemakers"; and this is because He has demonstrated Himself to be the greatest peacemaker the world has ever known. Let's examine this beatitude in greater detail by, first, considering what this thing is that we are being called to "make". Let's first ask . . .
1. WHAT IS MEANT BY "PEACE"?
There are, broadly speaking, three kinds of "peace". One kind would be a kind that we might call "circumstantial" peace. It's the kind of peace that would describe the experience of an absence of distractions, or turmoil, or conflicts in our external 'circumstance'. It would describe a situation of tranquility, or quiet, or orderliness, or stillness with respect to all that goes on around us.
Everyone - with very few, unusual exceptions - wants "circumstantial" peace. Most people believe that "circumstantial" peace will lead to another kind of peace that we might call "internal" peace. "Internal" peace would be the inner experience that someone would have of calmness and tranquility within - a sense of personal serenity and well-being with one's self and with one's situation in life. Very often, unbelieving people put a great deal of effort into creating "circumstantial" peace because they believe that it's the cause of "internal" peace. But they seek to bring about this "circumstantial" peace while still holding on to sinful rebellion against the God who made them. And this is impossible.
The Bible tells us "'There is no peace,' says the LORD, 'for the wicked'" (Isaiah 48:22; see also 57:22). Try as hard as they may to bring about "internal" peace through controlling their external circumstances, unbelieving people cannot achieve such peace in any lasting way. We have the promise in the Bible that true, lasting "circumstantial" peace will not occur in this world until Jesus Christ rules upon it. The Bible tells us that He is "the Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6); and He will, at His coming and through His kingly rule, bring about the full experience of "circumstantial" peace on earth. And what's more, we're taught that a genuine, enduring experience of "internal" peace is something that transcends the circumstances; and that it can only be experienced as a gift of God's grace. Jesus told His disciples, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). He told them, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
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The reason I take the time to describe "circumstantial" and "internal" peace to you in this way is make it clear that Jesus isn't speaking of either of them in this beatitude. He calls us to be "peacemakers"; but how can we bring about "circumstantial" peace in a fallen world that God Himself says will have no peace? And what's more, "internal" peace is not something we can ever "make", but instead is something we "experience" as a gift of God through Jesus Christ. It's the fruit of the Holy Spirit living in us (Gal. 5:22-23); and not a product of our own efforts.
But there is a third kind of peace; and it's what I believe Jesus is talking about in this beatitude. It's a peace that I like to call "relational" peace. "Relational" peace has to do with one's state of harmony with other people. It's a simple kind of peace to understand. It simply refers to the experience of an end of hostilities between myself and another person with whom I am in a state of alienation. It means that whatever stands between myself and that other person is removed, so that the enmity between us can come to an end and that we can become reconciled to one another.
"Relational" peace begins with the experience of peace with God. And by this, I hope you understand that I don't mean merely 'good feelings' whenever we think about God. "Peace", in this sense, means the full removal of the barrier of sin that stands between myself and the holy God who made me - the barrier that separates me from Him, and that places me in a state of enmity toward Him. The Bible teaches us that, as soon as Adam sinned in the Garden, there came to be a separation between himself and God. God had to call out to Adam and say - in what has to be the most tragic cry in all of history - "Where are you?" (Gen. 3:9). Think of that! The Creator called out to man and asked where he was; and this illustrated to us that a relational peace was lost, and that they were now alienated from one another because of sin.
The Bible tells us, "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isa. 59:1-2). Sin is what stands between God and fallen humanity; and until that thing that causes the enmity to exist between them is removed, there can be no "relational" peace between a man and God. But praise God! - the cause of that enmity is removed by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins. His sacrifice pays the penalty for our sin so that it can be forgiven; and His righteous obedience is credited to us by grace, so that God can declare us to be righteous in His sight through faith. And so, Paul writes, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). And what's more, it's that "relational" peace with God that makes it possible for the man or woman in Christ to now experience true, genuine, lasting "internal" peace.
Not only that, but the "relational" peace with God that Jesus has brought about makes it possible for us who are in Christ to experience "relational" peace with one another! Jesus has made "relational" peace possible between the two most distinct groups the world has ever known - Jew and Gentile. The Jew was related to God only through outward ceremonies and rituals - the marks of the covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel. And this meant that all other people in the Gentile world were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise" (Eph. 2:12). But we're told that, now - in Christ - those who were formerly far away (the Gentiles) are brought near by the blood of Christ:
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father (Eph. 2:14-18).
Early in my Christian life, I saw a great example of how peace with God leads to peace with others. I attended a church in which two men were leaders: one was an American veteran of World War II named Jerry, and the other a veteran of the same war - but for the other side - named Franz. Both men laughed about how, at another time, they were shooting at each other. But now they were brothers in Christ; and there existed no bitterness between them. They were at peace with each other because both were at peace with God in Christ.
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Now; the moment we stress the peace that Jesus has brought about, a problem comes up. Just before He sent His disciples out into the world to proclaim Him, He warned them that they would be rejected and would suffer persecution; and He took that opportunity to tell them, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household'" (Matthew 10:34-36). How do we account for this?
I think that it helps to keep in mind that "relational" peace with God through Christ doesn't automatically result in peace with everyone else. Peace with God will, in fact, become the very thing that hinders the relationship ungodly people formerly had with us. Jesus warned that His coming would result in separation and division and discord. Earlier, He had told His disciples, ". . . You will be hated by all for My name's sake" (Matthew 10:22). He later will tell them, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). In fact, after saying, "Blessed are the peacemakers . . .", our Lord goes on to say two beatitudes later, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake . . . Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake . . ." (Matthew 5:10-11). And why would this happen? It's because Jesus' coming into this world and saving people from their sins really 'rocks the boat' in a sinful world. He comes to save people from their sins; and yet leaves those He saves to live holy lives for Him in the midst of a world that remains devoted to sin!
Jesus comes to bring us into a state of "relational" peace with God; and this brings us into a state of discord with people who are committed to the values and priorities of this world - perhaps even with respect to those who live in our own home. But in recognizing this, we - as His followers - are to be careful that we ourselves are not the immediate cause of that division. If the people of this world hate us, it is to be because they hate our Savior - and not because we behave in a hatefully divisive and contentious manner toward them. The Bible tells us that we are called by God "to peace" (1 Cor. 7:15); and are, as much as possible, to pursue righteousness "in peace" (James 3:17-18). Paul tells us, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Rom. 12:18). Yet we need to know that, as the Bible tells us, ". . . All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12).
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So; that's what kind of "peace" Jesus is speaking of - a "relational" kind of peace that occurs when the cause of enmity between two warring parties is removed. It certainly has an impact on "internal" and "circumstantial" peace; but it is, above all, "relational" in nature. And do you notice what Jesus says about this peace in this beatitude? He didn't say that, under His grace, He makes us people who merely become "peaceful", or who simply "long for" relational peace. We certainly should be those things; but He calls us to something even greater than that. He calls us to follow after His example, and become positive, proactive 'makers' of such peace.
This leads us, then, to another question . . .
2. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A "PEACEMAKER"?
The peace that He has made between us and His Father is to now compel us to go out into a world that is filled with sinful conflict and contention, and act as agents of God's "relational" peace. We are to live lives of "peace-making" in all respects and in all our relationships - family, marriage, work, social, church; and even, if possible, toward our enemies. Always, we are to do all that we can to pursue the spread of God's "relational" peace to the lives of others.
For example, we are to do all that we can to pursue peace between ourselves and those fellow Christians with whom we are personally in a state of enmity. Jesus, after all, died to remove the barrier of sin in our lives and to bring about an end to the enmity it has caused. And as His followers, we have no right to then go on living willingly in a state of enmity between ourselves and another brother or sister in Christ, until we have done all that we legitimately can to bring about the removal of that which stands between us.
This is particularly the case when we discover that we are guilty of having brought the offense about in the first place, and are the direct cause of the rift between our brother and ourselves. Jesus said, ". . . If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). And on the part of the offended brother, Paul commanded, "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven you" (Eph. 4:31-32).
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There are times when we encounter an enmity between people or groups that does not directly involve us. In such a case, we are the outside observers of an enmity that exists between two believers who need to be reconciled to one another. As His peacemakers then - although we must be very cautious about how we go about it - Jesus calls us to do all that we can to facilitate peace between them.
One of the great heroes from the Bible in this kind of peace-making is a man who lived in Philippi - a man whose name we don't even know. We only know him by the nickname Paul gave him: "true companion" - or, as it is in the original language, "genuine yoke-fellow".
Apparently, two Christian women named Euodia and Synteche were at odds with one another within the church. It broke Paul's heart to see these two dear women in a state of enmity with one another, because they had labored well with him in the work of the gospel. And so, near the end of his letter to the Philippians, Paul spoke to those two women directly and said, "I implore Euodia and I implore Synteche to be of the same mind in the Lord" (Phil. 4:2). But he knew that they couldn't do it alone; and so, he called for that particular "peace-making" brother to come into the situation and help them remove the barriers that stood between them. He said, "And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel . . ." And he was not to do it alone. Paul said that he was to do it ". . . with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life" (v. 3). Clearly, there are times when "peace" between two believers cannot occur without the help of some "genuine yoke-fellows" - some outside "peacemakers". What a great service we provide to the body of Christ when we serve as such peacemakers! What a responsibility!
In a similar way, a peacemaker is to seek to remove anything that might potentially become a barrier between other brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome and urged them to be very careful about how they handled moral "grey" areas - that is, practices that the Bible does not directly forbid and about which a believer's conscience may be clear, but that may cause another believer of less mature conscience to stumble. In the case of the Roman church - a church that existed in an idolatrous culture - some were feeling the freedom to eat meat that had been purchased from a pagan temple and had been served to idols. But without realizing it, those who felt this freedom were causing harm to others in the church family whose conscience bothered them greatly about eating such meat.
Paul urged the believers in Rome to willingly and lovingly refrain from their personal liberties, in cases in which the use of those liberties would cause harm to the faith of another believer. In this context, he told them, "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another" (Rom. 14:19). This teaches us that the pursuit of "peace" within the body of Christ is to govern the decisions we make with respect to morally "grey" matters. I believe that this was what Paul meant when he told the Colossian believers, ". . . And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called . . ." (Col. 3:14-15).
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I'd have to say that the greatest work that a true "peacemaker" can ever do is to work to bring about peace between our fellow fallen human beings and the God who made them. We - who have been justified by faith, and who are now ourselves at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ - are to faithfully work to help bring about that same peace with God in the lives of others. We do this when we lovingly and clearly share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost people of this world.
When the unsaved people around us hear of the sacrifice of Jesus for them on the cross, and - by God's grace - place their faith on Him, then the barrier of sin that stands between themselves and God is removed. They are free to enter into a full and satisfying relationship with the one who made them for Himself, and to experience "peace with God"! What a privilege it is, then, to be a peacemaker through sharing the message of the "gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15)! As Paul said, "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things'" (Rom. 10:14-15).
When you and I support the work of the spread of the gospel around the world, and when we faithfully share that same gospel with others within the 'mission-field' that God has personally placed us, we are doing the work of a "peacemaker"!
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There's one more aspect of the work of being a peacemaker that we don't think about very often. Admittedly, it's not something we like to do; but it's something that we nevertheless must mention in the context of biblical peace-making. We become peacemakers whenever we lovingly but clearly confront sin in the life of a fellow professing Christian. Jesus said, "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector" (Matthew 18:15-17).
That doesn't immediately impress us as a work of "peacemaking", does it? In fact, it may even feel like the exact opposite - more like "trouble-making"; and that it would be more in keeping with "peace" if we were to mind our own business and not confront sin in one another's life. But given the fact that sin separates us from a holy God, and breaks our fellowship with Him; and given the fact that harboring sin in our lives hinders the peace with God that we were meant to enjoy - the peace that Jesus died to bring about; and given the fact that sin in our midst separates and divides the members of the body of Christ from one another; then confronting sin within the household of God is one of the greatest and most needed works of "peacemaking" that there is.
The Bible tells us that it's not the work of a peacemaker to only pursue the superficial feeling of "peace" alone. Something else must be pursued at the same time, or else real peace will not be possible. The writer of Hebrews urged his readers, "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled . . ." (Heb. 12:14-15). Peace and holiness must never be pursued separately.
It should go without saying, then, that this means true "peacemakers" are not to seek peace "at any cost". We must not seek peace at the cost of holiness; nor are we, in any way, to make peace with sin. A better word for that would be "appeasement" rather than "peace". Such a cheap, artificial version of "peace" would involve making peace with the very thing against which our Savior has declared war. To declare "peace" while sin remains in the picture is to cry out as the false prophets of old did. God said of these prophets, in Jeremiah 6:14, "They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly [that is, superficially], saying, 'Peace, peace!' when there is no peace."
Peace requires repentance of sin. "Cheap forgiveness" buys "cheap peace."2 May we never settle for "cheap peace" in the household of a God who is described as, "Holy, holy, holy" (Isa. 6:3)!
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Clearly, peacemaking is a very hard and costly work. It requires that we be prepared to seek the forgiveness of those whom we have wronged. It also involves being ready to forgive those who genuinely seek our forgiveness. It may at times involve the pain of withholding forgiveness from a brother or sister until true repentance occurs. It could involves stepping into the pain of others and helping them to remove the barriers that exist between them. It most certainly always requires patience, and endurance, and God-given wisdom and understanding.
But it's worth it. According to Jesus' promise, it is a work that is greatly blessed. This leads us, finally, to ask . . .
3. WHAT BLESSING DOES JESUS PROMISE TO THOSE WHO ARE PEACE MAKERS?
Jesus says "peacemakers" shall be called "the sons of God".
Now understand; this does not mean that people can somehow earn the right to become the children of God through being peacemakers. The right to be the children of God only occurs through faith in Jesus Christ and as a gift of God's grace - and never as a result of works. As the Bible tells us, ". . . As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe on His name . . ." (John 1:12).
In the original language, this beatitude doesn't say that we shall be called "children" of God" (as it is translated in the KJV). Rather it literally says that we shall be called "sons" of God. It specifically says "sons" rather than "children"; and though this might seem like a minor thing at first glance, it's actually a difference that makes an enormous difference in meaning.
The phrase "sons of God" suggests that someone is being identified as a 'partaker of the character' of God.3 Jesus uses the phrase in exactly this way in His Sermon on The Mount. In Matthew 5:43-48, He says, ". . . Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:44-45).
When we, in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, work in this world as peacemakers, we are behaving like Jesus Himself behaved. And note that Jesus says we will not only truly be "sons of God" but shall be "called" sons of God. That is, we will have gained a reputation as sons of God because we imitate Him who is the greatest of all peacemakers. Peacemaking is a work of God; and we show ourselves to be most like His own precious Son when we act as His peacemakers in this world.
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Can you think of a greater honor than to be identified clearly, by our conduct, as "sons of God"? And can you think of a greater, more needful, and more eternally valuable work we could be doing in this world that to be God's "peacemakers"? May God help us to commit ourselves to this high and honorable task.
May He help us to begin within our own circle today.
1Billy Graham, The Secret of Happiness (Minneapolis: Grason, 1985), p. 151.
2Adapted from John R.W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978), p. 51.
3D.A. Carson, The Sermon on The Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 26-27.
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