Waging Peace

Waging Peace

Let me pray for the reading of God’s word this morning. Let us pray. Thy righteousness is righteous forever, and thy law is true. Blessed God, eternal goodness, righteous and truth forever. Blessed are you, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Grant to us that pure and Holy Spirit that our hearts may be right with your law written on them, that the inspiration of our thoughts may be true and all of our ways, truly righteous. Father, pour down your spirit that we might be filled up in your presence, that we might dwell in righteousness and live forever, bathed in your truth and resting in your peace. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen. It’s an honor to read Matthew 5:1-10. This is the Gospel. Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him, and he opened his mouth and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The word of our Lord. Thanks be to God. You may be seated. We pray for the preaching of God’s word. Father, as my words are true to your word, may they be taken to heart. But if my words should stray from yours, may they be quickly forgotten. I pray this in the name and in the power of Jesus Christ. Amen. Well, a couple of months ago, when Pastor Lloyd recommended that we or decided that we would preach through the beatitudes, I was pretty excited. As I’ve had the opportunity to preach along in this series, I looked back to my files from 2009, which is when I last preached through the whole beatitudes. For this week in preparation, in that sermon, my opening question was, Why do we need peacemakers? That was answered with a tense and tenuous ceasefire in Gaza. In that introductory paragraph, there was a further listing of trouble in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

Twenty-four years later, not much has changed. In fact, I read recently that in the last 3,421 years of recorded history, only 268 have been free of wars. But we don’t have to look as far as to the Middle East or to the war in Russia and Ukraine to see the need for peace. We can look to our own nation and the growing deep divides. And if we are really brave, we can look into our own churches, our own homes, those relationships with those we most love, and notice the stress, the tension, the fighting, and the division. All of this has led New Testament scholar, RT. France, to comment, quote, In a world characterized by conflict and rivalry, a keeper of peace is rare, a peacemaker, still rarer. And yet Christ has called us to be peacemakers, and he has declared that calling as blessed. And as daunting as this calling may seem, as impossible as this task may be, it is not because our God is the great peacemaker, and because we reflect his character, he both calls and equips us to this extraordinary task. This is an undertaking that we cannot take in our own strength.

Martin Lloyd Jones notes, There is nothing more fatal than for the natural man to think that he can take the beatitudes and try to put them into practice. Simple pleadings for peace. A pie in the sky, slogans like, What if they gave a war and no one came? They fail to take into account the sinful nature of mankind. We are proud and selfish beings. And apart from Christ, we will continue to collide with one another in devastating ways. And yet Christ has called us to a radically different path, one in which we don’t just seek peace for ourselves, but rather wage peace into the conflicts around us. Notice where this beatitude sits in the sermon. It’s the seventh in a listing, but it’s also the last which explicitly deals with our character. And as we begin to look at what a peacemaker is, perhaps the word itself helps us to understand first what it’s not. The Greek word for peace here is one that points to the Hebrew concept of shalom, which Kent Hughes notes it, quote, bears the idea of wholeness and overall wellbeing. A huge Hughes goes on to further note, When a Jew wishes someone shalom, he says, he is wishing for more than the absence of trouble, but rather all that makes for a complete and whole life.

We further see that in the second half of the word peacemaker, there’s a demand that we see this as an active trait. One scholar notes it’s a dynamic word, bursting with energy. That means that merely being a bystander isn’t being a peacemaker. A one who looks to avoid conflict by means of appeasement is not a peacemaker. And appeasement only delays conflict and rarely, if ever, solves it. One who is overly tolerant of sin, who is always easygoing about sin, isn’t peacemaking. Peacemaking generally causes conflicts. It creates waves, or perhaps more accurately, it brings out into the open and seeks to directly deal with the conflict that opposing parties are letting fester and spread destruction. The military understands this. Deployers are often sent out in missions other than war. Humanitarian missions, for instance, the delivery of food or aid. Peacekeeping missions where the military presence is set in a defensive posture against potential aggressors, and then peacemaking missions in which there are elite teams that look for and eliminate troublemakers. Peacemakers are on the balls of their feet. They’re moving forward to try to bring peace. To more deeply understand this call to peacemaking, we need to see some connection with these previous beatitudes because these character traits become fundamental in our peacemaking.

Our being poor in spirit ought to lead to our ability to be merciful. Those who have been forgiven can forgive much. Our mourning over the sin in our lives ought to begin to produce a purity in our heart. We grieve for the sin and desire purity. And in the same way, our meekness is what can bring about the ability to serve as a peacemaker. The link between the two is the necessity to wait upon the Lord and to trust in Him. When you are being wronged, when you’re involved in a conflict that is uncomfortable when you want to wage war. The temptation is to assert your rights and to retaliate. Christ is calling you to be a peacemaker. And this can only be done if you understand what it means to be meek. It’s also important that Christ gave this statement, this challenge, this calling to be a peacemaker during the time in which many of his Jewish followers were hoping that he would lead in a physical, political revolt against Roman rule. You may remember that it was after Christ dazzling the multitudes by feeding of the 5000 that John tells us in his account that the people tried to take him by force to make him king.

You may also remember that late in John the baptizer’s life, when he was imprisoned, he began to wonder, Is Jesus? Is this the Christ, the Messiah? Perhaps John began to let himself look for a political rule, a political kingdom. But Jesus was speaking about spiritual issues. The kingdom he was and is ushering in is first a spiritual kingdom. Sure, when the new heavens and the new earth are created, there will be a physical element. But first, the kingdom is spiritual. If you study these beatitudes, you will continually see that they deal with spiritual issues much more than with physical ones. Why is this an important point? Well, it’s precisely because the beatitudes are often misunderstood. In fact, when people think about the good truths that the Bibles teach, and many people believe the Bible teaches good things, what do they think of? Perhaps they think of the Ten Commandments, even if they can’t name them all. Perhaps they think of a few Proverbs which are beneficial. Perhaps they’ll cite passages that aren’t even in the scriptures. Cleanliness is next to godliness. God helps those who help themselves. And some will think of these beatitudes, or at least some of the beatitudes.

Blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor, blessed are the peacemakers. But I hope that we’ve seen, as we’ve worked through this series, that we’ve tried to stress that when these are viewed in purely humanistic terms, they’re understood or rather misunderstood apart from their context, the phrases lose their spiritual meaning and then, frankly, lose any meaning at all. In the same way that one is blessed, the blessed are those who mourn, rather, is a call not for people to simply be more sensitive or more feeling, but it’s a call to weep about the sin in our own lives. This call to be a peacemaker is in Jones’s word, not just a call to keep people from fighting. It was years ago that I watched the heartwarming film, Pay It Forward. It’s a story of a seventh grade social studies student who, for extra credit, designed a plan to improve the world. He would do something big and nice for three people, and then they were each to do something big and nice for three others. And in rather short order, at least on paper, the world would change as there would be a bunch of people doing big, nice things for one another.

Of course, the major flaw with the film and the idea is the painful reality that while these people are doing three nice, big things, those very same people are also doing bad things to one another. We unfortunately pay more than just a few good deeds forward. And so world peace, utopia is never realized because the heart is not changed. Peace in the world, peace in our homes, peace in our own lives cannot happen without changed hearts. And Christ has called us to be a peacemaker. Peace isn’t simply tied to morality. It’s not about being ethically right. It’s not enough to be nice. It’s tied to spiritual issues. Don’t get me wrong, you can certainly do an awful lot to destroy peace in the home or around the world through immorality or unethical behavior or just plain meanness. You can also lay the groundwork to help build peace through right living. But you can’t restore peace in a troubled marriage or end a thousand-year war by simply a few good deeds. For peace to be realized, the issues must be doctrineal, theological, spiritual. Why? Because they deal with man’s heart. So then a peacemaker is one who, in humility, actively seeks to work spiritual peace into the lives and hearts of troubled relationships and situations around him.

He or she recognizes that they have theological and spiritual work to do. And as they function as a peacemaker, they begin to reflect the character of God. First, he or she understands the need for peace, and because they understand the need for peace, they themselves are peaceable. That is, they’re not tangible, some. They are interested in peace, not in everyone knowing how right they are. They are unconcerned with their image. They don’t need to have the last word. To live this way, they must have pure hearts. They must have meek spirits. They must be new creatures. Perhaps we can look at it in this way. A peacemaker is not someone who views everything in terms of how it relates to themselves. They are first not interested in their own rights and desires. They are not principally concerned with their own agendas. They have replaced a love for themselves with a love for God. And in doing so, they fulfill Christ’s commands that whoever loves his own life shall lose it, and he who hates his life shall gain it. They picture Christ, who in Philippians 2 reminds us that he did not count equality with God, had something to be grasped or held on to, but rather emptied himself, taking the form of a servant for the sole purpose of saving us from our sins.

Christ, the great peacemaker, took all of my arrogance, my spiritual pride, my sinful affections, and lovingly bore it on the cross. And he has done that for you as well. A peacemaker has experienced the extraordinary spiritual gift of forgiveness and peace. How radically different Jesus is from us. We and our pride are often trying to be like God, and we often expect others to treat us like God. But if we bring that pride into a conflict, we’ll be more of a troublemaker than a peacemaker. Humility is key to peacemaking. A peacemaker needs to be aware like the hall of the battles going on in their own life, and they need to regularly seek to the Lord to give them strength to put away the old nature and to put on the new. Martin Lloyd Jones reminds us that the peacemaker is one who is only concerned about one thing, the glory of God. In all he does, in all she says, she lives to bring glory to God. I think for a moment about Christ’s own life. He didn’t live for himself. He lived for the glory of the Father. He allowed himself to be killed for our sins.

Jesus knew that because God is a just God, all sin must be fully punished. And therefore to make peace for us, he was willing to take our sin and die so that both in his life of perfect obedience and in his voluntary death, he brings glory to the Father who sent him. The peacemaker remembers that all men and women are image-bears. And so when he sees them struggling and arguing and fighting, when people are quarreling, involved in empty disputes, involved in trouble, it grieves them, and they know that it attracts from the glory of God. Peacemakers are peaceable themselves, and they live for the glory of God, but the duties to peacemaking requires some practical thinking, as well as a discussion of a few problem areas. First, you must be at peace with God. We, all of us, have sinned against God. And peace isn’t found in dismissing your sin or calling God’s laws outdated or old-fashioned. Peace is only found in recognizing that you are a sinner, and then asking God to forgive you of your sin. And when you have seen your sin, when you have wept over it, when you have humbly asked for his forgiveness, he gives you a peace that surpasses all understanding.

And you begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness. At that point, you’re ready to begin to make peace with others. First, maybe there are those that you’ve offended or a brother or a sister that you know that has something against you. Matthew 5:21 and following tells us how we are to seek them out in order to be reconciled, to be a peacemaker in those closest relationships first. And as we seek to make peace with others, we then may be in a position to serve as a peacemaker in third-party disputes as well. As you engage in this call to peacemaking, you must know yourself and your own tendency. If you tend to lean forward, if you are generally more assertive, then as a peacemaker, you may need to cultivate silence. James teaches us we must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. You may have heard it pointed out that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason, because we are often troublemakers with our words. James tells us that the tongue is a fire. It can be a deadly evil capable of setting fire to a forest. So then to be a peacemaker, we must guard our tongues against gossip.

When you found that a brother has failed you, must you pass that story on to others? Proverbs 17:9 reminds us that whoever covers an offense seeks love, that’s peacemaking. But he who repeats a matter separates close friends. That’s troublemaking. Proverbs 17:14, The beginning of strife is like the letting out of water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out. Well, how hard this is. When others vent to you or on you in their frustration, can you keep it silent? Can you work towards peace? Or do you find that you’re always repeating things, even true things, when you know they will only do harm? It’s not working towards peace that’s making trouble. Practically, in addition to cultivating peace as a peacemaker, we must also be actively looking for ways to extend that peace to others. And this may be more of a challenge, the active side may be more of a challenge to those with reserved or reactive natures. Perhaps this needs to start with going out of our way to make peace with members of our own family or people that we work with or colleagues or some other relationship where we’re forced to first set aside our ego and then search for anything in that relationship that you can ask for forgiveness for to extend to them an olive branch that you desire peace.

Arty, France, quoting another scholar, he writes this. He says that the Sermon on the Mount, quote, recognizes war, persecution, and injustice as part of an evil world. Peace making is a means of involvement in the human predicament of war-like conditions. War-like conditions. That’s what peacemaking calls us into. He further notes that it implies, one, assuming responsibility against all odds. Secondly, risking peacemaking out of a situation of powerlessness. And thirdly, demonstrating the conviction that in the end, God’s kingdom will prevail. These are especially difficult for us. We would rather refuse responsibility. Blainshifting is much easier. And we would also say, Well, if I have to make peace, I’d rather make it from a position of power. But we reflect Christ when we humble ourselves and take the form of a servant. Peace making may and should involve the sharing of the peace of Christ with those in need to volunteer either formally or informally to serve those who are needy. Remember that Christ stated that whoever serves the least of these brethren has served him, bringing peace into chaotic lives. There are a myriad of ways of extending peace to one another. So then to be a peacemaker, we must first understand the need for spiritual peace, which can only be found through the blood of Christ.

And we must live our lives in such a way that we bring glory to God. And how can we do this? Perhaps through cultivating silence, perhaps through more active service and care. As we do that, the world will begin to see us not as prideful, selfish beings, but as peacemakers, reflecting the character of the great peacemaker. Only then do we receive this benediction, this good word of being called sons of God. And a peacemaker is called a son of God because reflecting his character, our lives also repeat and reflect what God himself has done. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Let us pray. Father, thank you for your word. It is difficult to preach this when I know that many times I have been more of a troublemaker than a peacemaker. Father, thank you that forgiveness is found in Christ Jesus. Jesus. And Father, work into all of our lives. Work into my life, a desire to truly hunger and thirst for righteousness, to hunger and thirst for your son, Christ Jesus, righteousness himself, that my life would begin to reflect his, that each of us, Father, would find ourselves as servants to one another, bringing peace, speaking words, true words out of love as we seek to bring people into a state of spiritual peace.

Father, bring to mind perhaps some, that we might need to begin to be obedient to this call that we might need to pursue peace with. We ask that you would assist us and that your spirit would go before us and you would bring reconciliation. For that, you rather do exactly that. Reconcile us to yourself and to one another. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen. Amen.

Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription