Sermon preached on Matthew 5:9 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/2/2014 in Novato, CA.
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Blessed are the Peacemakers”
We continue today our sermon series through the Sermon on the Mount. And we come to the 7th beatitude. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” And so we come in part to think about peace. The Bible reveals that peace is what we had at the beginning: peace in that Garden of Eden before sin came into the world. And peace is where we are headed. At the end, God will bring a final everlasting peace. But in the mean time, peace is often in short supply. Jesus himself predicted that after he went up into heaven, there would be wars and rumors of wars before the final end. So then, what does it mean for us as Christians to be peacemakers? How is this descriptive at least in part of the Christian here and now? What does it mean for how we live our lives? And how does it relate to being called a son of God? This is what we will talk about today.
Let’s begin then with talking about peacemaking in general. As soon as we talk about peacemaking, we realize that it presupposes the opposite. Conflict. Opposition. Enmity between different parties. Often one or both sides has committed some injury or wrong against the other side. And so someone makes peace in the midst of such conflicts. Peace is made when parties who are at odds come to a point of reconciliation. Peacemaking then, are those efforts to promote peace in the midst of conflict, opposition, and injury. It’s about bringing health, and harmony, and welfare, and tranquility back to relationships.
If you are a peacemaker, there are several objects of your peacemaking efforts; several situations where you direct your peacemaking efforts. One is to be a peacemaker for other people; to help them resolve their conflicts. Another is to be a peacemaker in your own personal conflicts with others. Yet another is to be seeking peace between yourself and God. This last one is obviously the most fundamental one. Peace with God is world’s greatest need, though in general when you talk about peace with the world, this is the last kind of peace even thought to be needed. Yet, if we are truly to be a peacemaker it as at the heart of all of this. To give away where I’m headed with all of this, let me say it at the start: To truly be a peacemaker, you need to first come to know this peace with God yourself. You are not going to truly be the kind of peacemaker envisioned here by Jesus unless you’ve first come to know this peace. And that peace is only found through God’s son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. More on that in a moment.
For now, let’s think about peacemaking in the first way I mentioned: where you help other humans find peace with each other. I’m talking now more on an individual level, particularly. In your interpersonal relationships, you may have opportunities to help people you know become reconciled. This is where the terms of arbitration or mediation can come into play. Arbitration is when two people in conflict come to a third part and agree to have the third party decide a fair resolution for them. Mediation is similar but involves that third party helping the two parties navigate through their differences and negotiate a resolution agreeable to both sides. We see some of this, for example, in 1 Corinthians 6. There Paul advises Christians who are in conflict to find wise brothers in the church to help them settle their disputes. That’s a peacemaking idea. You don’t have to be an official elder in the church even to do such peacemaking. However, let me clarify something. Peacemaking in other people’s conflicts is usually something they ask you to do. You have to be on guard against being a busy body or a meddler; something the Scriptures forbid us to do, 1 Timothy 5:13, for example. Peacemaking is never an excuse for being a meddler or a busy body. When you do that, you’ll find that you aren’t making peace, but you are making more trouble even!
Okay, so then let’s think about the next object of peacemaking I mentioned: where you are seeking peace in your own personal conflicts with others. Conflict in life is pretty common. It’s surely something we will all have regularly in our lives. But a peacemaker looks to resolve those conflicts and promote peaceful and healthy relationships with others. What does this kind of peacemaking look like then? Three principles to promote peace when we are in a conflict with others. One, is to remember the value of overlooking things. Proverbs 19:11, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” If we are easily offended, it will be harder to be a peacemaker. Likewise, if we let each and everything little thing a person does to us get us all upset, then it will be harder to be a peacemaker. More often than not, peacemaking is about us just overlooking the wrongs people do to us. Love them, forget it, and move on. It’s to your glory; to your credit. So often, that’s the best way for peace. Paul in that 1 Corinthians 6 passage admonishes them for suing their fellow Christians in court, and asks instead, “Why not rather be wronged?” That’s some serious peacemaking and some serious overlooking of sins. When you for the sake of peace, and grace, and mercy, and brotherhood, take on your brother’s sins and allow yourself even to be cheated. Now, again, a clarification here. Peacemaking is not sinful appeasement, or avoiding conflict at all cost. Sometimes matters need to be addressed, especially between Christians, and worked out. Sometimes promoting real peace and lasting peace even demands that.
So that then is the second principle for peacemaking when you are in a conflict with someone. This especially applies now if the conflict is with a believer. It’s to follow the steps of Matthew 18:15-20 to resolve a conflict. First, you go to the person you are in conflict with individually. Share your concern, and try to achieve some real reconciliation. If that doesn’t work, take one or two others along and try again. They will serve as witness first, but also mediators too. If you still can’t find reconciliation and peace, then third step is to bring it to the church; particularly through the courts of the church with the elders. Let the elders decide between you two and seek to bring reconciliation. You see, this is about seeking peace and healing in the relationship.
A third principle in trying to make peace with people that you are in conflict with is found in Romans 16:18. It says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” This principle says that you might do everything right, and still not find real peace with that person. For example, if you follow everything right in those Matthew 18 steps, the elders might even decide you were in the right in your conflict, and call for the other person’s repentance. But they might still not heed that call and refuse to be reconciled. Matthew 18 says that if they still won’t listen, to remove them from the church membership. Even then, seek peace with them. But realize that it’s not always possible, because it’s not just about you. But as much as it is up to you, seek that peace. The same applies for conflicts with non-Christians. They won’t be able to be removed from church membership obviously in order to be awakened to their need for reconciliation. But you can still seek peace with them, in as much as it depends upon you.
So those are two primary ways you can be a peacemaker: in helping others with their conflicts, and in promoting peace in your own conflicts with others. In both of these, there are some God-developed qualities that will assist such peacemaking: Seek to put on love, forgiveness, compassion, patience, and wisdom. Look to be someone who is slow to speak, and slow to anger. Get good at listening. Watch what you say with your tongue. Work on learning to turn the other cheek and to show mercy and grace. Focus on getting the log out of your own eye, before dealing with the spec in someone else’s eye. Be kind to your opponents. Remember, Proverbs 25:21 says that if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. These qualities will help you in peacemaking.
And so then, this means that peacemaking is not avoiding conflict at all costs. It’s not letting sleeping dogs lie. It’s not keeping status quo just to not ruffle feathers. It’s not sinful appeasement or toleration of evil just so you don’t have to fight. It’s not pacifism or an unwillingness to fight or even to go to war. Sometimes real and difficult confrontations have to take place to bring peace. We know this because Jesus, the Prince of Peace, though in one sense he came to bring peace, he says on the other hand that he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword, Matthew 10:34. He went on to explain that because of him, people on earth will become divided and have conflicts. Even within families. For that matter, this Prince of Peace is pictured in multiple places as a mighty warrior king that at the end, when he returns in judgment, will come to make war against all his and our enemies (i.e. Revelation 19:11). Jesus will make war in a final battle, in order to make a final everlasting peace.
This leads us then to our second main point for today. To consider how this peacemaking is seen and known in Jesus Christ. Yes, this Christ who on the one hand mentioned how he did not come to bring peace, but a sword, also is all about peace. He was prophesied by Isaiah to be called the Prince of Peace and that is exactly who he is. When he was born, angels announced the coming of peace to this earth. When Jesus stood before Jerusalem before he went to the cross, he wept over the city because they didn’t know the things which make for peace. After his death and resurrection, when he first appeared to his disciples in the upper room, he greeted them twice in a row in terms of peace, saying, “Peace be with you.” In Ephesians 2:14, Paul says that Jesus himself is our peace.
And so on the one hand, Jesus did not bring peace in the sense that many who reject him will therefore reject us who bear Jesus’ name. And yet Jesus’ ministry was all about peace at the same time. It was about the chosen of the Lord finding peace with God. This is the heart of the gospel and it’s at the heart of what Jesus accomplished by coming into this world. Romans 5:21 says that we as Christians “have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 5:19 explains this further. How is it that we have peace with God through Jesus Christ? 2 Corinthians 5:19 says, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” You see, we were enemies with God. We had hostility between us and God. That’s the language of passages like Romans 5 and Colossians 1. We had a major conflict between us and God. And to point out the obvious, God was not the one at fault. We were. We sinned and rebelled against our creator. We did that in our first parents in the garden, and humans have been doing it ever since. In our own lives we have heaps of sins that have been against our Holy God. Apart from the reconciliation that comes through Christ, we are in conflict with God. We need to be reconciled. God is rightly angry with us. Full of wrath against us. But that’s why Jesus died on the cross. To propitiate God’s wrath; to turn it away by satisfying our debt of sin. That we could then be reconciled to God, since the offense has been addressed and dealt with. Jesus did all this, to make peace. Because that’s what Jesus is for the elect: a peacemaker.
And so the only begotten Son of God is the ultimate peacemaker. He makes peace with sinners through either conversion or conquest. But in the end, when all the dust clears, there will be peace. Permanent, perfect, perpetual, peace. There will be no more enemies of God left at that time. And so this leads us again to the gospel call. Jesus as a peacemaker extends his hand of grace to you today. Take hold of his sacrifice by faith. Trust in it to forgive you of your sins. Repent of those sins and acknowledge him as your Lord and Savior. If you have not yet known this peace, I implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. Today, you can know this peace. Because the other way this peace will come is through conquest. There is coming that day when Christ will judge the living and the dead. Those who have persisted as enemies of God, unwilling to turn to him, will on that final day be destroyed. They’ll be cast into that eternal hell fire, where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies. Then that peace in the full will be made. I beg you not to wait until that day. Today, be reconciled to God through his Son. If so, God has made peace with you through Jesus Christ. He’s been a peacemaker to you. And he has begun to work this peace inside your heart as well. Since you have known this peacemaking first hand, he is growing you as a peacemaker. That’s where this beatitude again describes the Christian. Christians have tasted of God’s peacemaking, and in turn are being made peacemakers. As we see this, recognize then how blessed you are.
Well, then, how does all this relate to us being called sons of God? We’ve seen in these beatitudes that the quality or trait described has some connection with the blessing held out, mourners comforted, the hungry filled, etc. That is again the case here. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. How does being a peacemaker relate to being called a son of God? To understand this connection, I point you to later in this chapter. To verses 44-47. Look at what Jesus says there. Jesus says to love your enemies and bless those who curse you and do good to those who hate you; to pray for them. This is the language of peacemaking; the kind of radical peacemaking Jesus is calling us to, because that’s what God in Christ has done for us. And why in verse 45 does Jesus say we should do this radical kind of peacemaking? That you may be sons of your Father in heaven. “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Did you catch that? This isn’t saying that in order to earn your way into God’s family you need to act like God. No, it’s saying that as those who have God as their father, you should seek to begin to act like his son. And what is God our Father like? He’s a radical peacemaker. He’s the person who loves enemies. So if we are to be his son, that’s what we should do too. Because that’s what sons are supposed to do. To imitate their fathers. To want to be like them and look like them and act like them and think like them. So, as a Christian, God has become your father. So start acting like it, by trying to be like him. Sons of this Father love their enemies and are radical peacemakers.
Need further proof that that’s what sons of this Father do? Just remember again Jesus. It’s what we’ve already said. He was the ultimate peacemaker that loved his enemies by going to the cross for them. That blessed those who cursed him by speaking words of peace, even to his disciples who had deserted him when he was arrested. He’s the one who did good to those who hated him by suffering God’s wrath in their place. He’s the one who prayed for his enemies, even us, as we see in John 17, that we would be reconciled to God, though him.
Do you see then the connection between being a peacemaker and being a son of God? God’s radical love for enemies is something his sons are supposed to mimic. As we know his peace, he cultivates that peacemaking spirit within us. People look at us, and either now or eventually will recognize God’s hand in our lives. We will be acknowledged, if not know, then on the day of Christ, as the sons of God. That’s what Romans 8:19 says will happen. It will be made clear to all one day, that we are God’s children.
And yet, already this is our reality as Christians. Already, we have the Spirit of Adoption in us, that makes us cry out to God as our Father, Romans 8:15. Do you understand that? As a Christian, God has put his Spirit in you. When it says that it’s the Spirit of Adoption in Romans 8, that means he making you look like a son of God — because his Spirit is doing that in us. That’s why we are peacemakers already now. Because God the peacemaker put his Spirit of sonship in us, and so it’s making us more and more like our new Father. Praise be to God.
So then, we are blessed. Blessed to have been made at peace with God. Blessed in turn to be growing as a peacemaker. And blessed to be sons of God. Let us therefore exercise this new identity we have come into. Let us be like those children trying to imitate their father. Let us seek to be peacemakers, and be excited as you see the Holy Spirit developing this in you.
As I make this call to be a peacemaker, let me add a qualification here. This is another one of those things where we see some have taken this and applied the wrong emphasis to the visible church. Some have taken this idea of Christians being peacemakers and tried to make that the primary mission of the church as an agent for peace between nations in the world. Now if you are a Christian, and find yourself individually in politics and in some position to be such an agent for peace individually, go for it. But is that the primary mission of the church as a church? No. In fact, we are given a very clear peacemaking mission of a different sort. It’s described in 2 Corinthians 5:18. It talks there of a ministry of reconciliation that we have been given. That’s peacemaking language. But the peacemaking there is not about facilitating peace between nations, or even of peace between fellow humans. It’s about seeking to bring people into peace with God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This ministry of reconciliation gets Paul to call himself an ambassador of God, imploring people to be reconciled to God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Don’t get me wrong. This world needs peace in all areas. Peacemakers surely do seek it in all ways as we have opportunity, using the principles we talked about today. But the church particularly sees the greatest need for people is their need for peace with God. That’s what Jesus wept over Jerusalem about. And that’s the ministry entrusted to the church. If we lose focus on that mission because we’ve put our energy into international diplomacy as a church, then we’ve failed in our calling. The church as a church has the most fundamental peacemaking mission given to it, and we must prioritize that.
So then, as individuals, let us be peacemakers, having known the peace of God. Let us be peacemakers in all the arenas we find ourselves in; in whatever opportunities that present themselves. But let us both as individuals and as a church remember the greatest peace all of us need. Peace with God through the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In fact, it’s really only through him will any of the other human-to-human peace even come. He’s the source for any real sustainable peace between humans. Let us then rejoice in this greatest of peace we have come to know in Jesus Christ, and delight to grow to be more and more like God our Father, and our elder brother the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 2:11). Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.