Sermon Text: Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.You could not get through this past week, I think, without concluding that the world needs more peacemakers. We’ve got multiple wars going on, families have disintegrated, our politics are deeply conflicted. We recently learned about the horrible crimes committed, aided, and abetted at the Penn State, as clear a demonstration as I could think of that our culture has a deeply confused, even missing sense of what is fundamentally right and wrong. This kind of moral confusion has even made its way into the churches, as it often does, introducing conflicts in the one institution where we are called upon by our sovereign Lord to be a people of peace, and who said to his disciples 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.”
So it should come as a great assurance to us that God is a God of peace, and that he grants peace to those who believe in the Son, Jesus Christ. And it should not come as a surprise that those who God calls to be peacemakers should be richly blessed by our Lord in today’s text.
But what is this peace that is behind Jesus’ blessing of the peacemakers?
Biblical Peace Is Comprehensive in Scope
The word “peace” has a much broader meaning than the contemporary meaning. The word your English bible translates “peacemakers” is derived from the Greek word for peace, a word that is commonly used to translate the Hebrew word shalom, a word you might be familiar with. This peace, biblical peace, is not just an inner peace experienced by individuals. Neither is this a peace that is simply the absences of all conflict or war. I’m reminded of that funny scene in the Sandra Bullock movie “Miss Congeniality” where she plays a character who goes undercover as a beauty pageant contestant in order to foil a bomb plot against the pageant. During the Q & A part of the pageant, each candidate comes up and dutifully tells the audience what they think is the single most important thing the world needs. “World peace.” Bullock’s character takes the microphone and answers the question, “What is the single most important thing the world needs this way, “That would he harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan.” Crickets. Anticipation. Disbelief from pageant watchers everywhere, until Bullock’s character continues by restating the mantra “… AND, world peace.”
The biblical view of peace, or shalom, is very broad. Bruner defines it as “a situation of comprehensive welfare,” and I think that’s a pretty good definition.1 Biblical peacemakers are concerned with far more than their own sense of inner calm, or ensuring that there’s no violence exhibited anywhere on earth. Those two things are both good and important, but I think they are actually products of the peace the bible speaks about. Biblical peace is a situation where everyone in the community lives in a just relationship with everyone else. What does such a peace look like? I think such a biblical peace would be like that which was present in the Garden of Eden before the fall of Adam. The man and the woman were at peace with God, they were at peace with each other, and they were at peace with the creation. Everything was in proper relationship with everything else.
What Happened to Shalom?
But the fall of Adam destroyed that shalom, and the result has been a broken world where disaster is commonplace. After Eve and Adam ate the fruit of the tree from which the Lord commanded that they not eat, God confronts fallen humanity with these words in Genesis 3:16-19:
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”In this passage, you can see how the sin, which began with an individual deception, resulted in something much larger. The one-flesh union of the man and the woman is embroiled with conflict. The earth is cursed. Death came to be because of human sin. This first sin, like all sins, had communal consequences and cosmological consequences, because sin is, first and foremost, a rebellion against God.
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
So we live world that is not just filled with fallen sinners, but the world itself is a fallen place. We don’t live in peace with anything. We are constantly butting heads with people, exhibiting prejudice and malice toward others who think differently from us, and we suffer the tragedies of a fallen creation. The shalom which was intended by God for humans from the beginning of creation was shattered by our sin. And because we have inherited that sin, we are all, individually and collectively, responsible for the marring of shalom, of God’s peace, today.
What Do the Peacemakers Do?
The bible teaches us that it is God’s desire, shown first to us in Christ, is to restore shalom in His creation. And so, people who answer the call to work for this kind of world are granted blessing by our Lord Jesus Christ. What to peacemakers do? They work to bring restoration to the relationships disrupted because of our sin. Peacemakers live in such a way as will bring about (1) restoration of people to a right, just relationship with God, (2) with each other.
Restoring Right Relationships with God
To restore a right relationship with God is to do the work of evangelism with people everywhere. Jesus commands the following at the close of this gospel:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20).To make disciples means proclaiming the good news of the gospel of Jesus so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, sinners might be gathered into God’s kingdom. True peace is only possible if there is peace between God and human beings. Such a thing is possible in Christ, who suffered the penalty that was due to us for our sin so that we might know the peace of being right with God, of having no fear of judgment at all for any sin we have, are, or will commit. Having a right relationship with God is essential for the establishment of shalom on earth. People who do not have a right relationship with God in Christ will not know the kind of peacemaking that is at the core of this blessing. Peace with God comes at great cost, the cost of the life of his precious Son. Having been granted such a gift frees us from worry and fear, and enables and empowers our own peacemaking work. To say that an evangelist is a peacemaker may seem unusual, but I think it is true. Evangelists are all about proclaiming the message that Holy Spirit uses to bring people to God through the sacrifice of his Son. By working to bring people to faith in Christ, God’s kingdom shalom breaks further into the world. Paul, writing to the Romans, says this in Chapter 5:1
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.Those called and claimed by faith in Jesus have the absolute, rock-solid assurance of salvation at the Last Judgment, and therefore know true peace.
Promotion of Social Righteousness
One of the great ends of the church, as stated in our constitution, is the “promotion of social righteousness.” What does this mean? It means to have a passionate concern for injustice in the church and in our society. Peacemakers come to the aid of those who are victims of unjust relationships between people. They have a passion for the poor, the destitute, the emotionally shattered, and the physically abused. Peacemakers work to bridge gaps between hostile groups, as God has reconciled us to Himself through the blood of Christ. Listen to these words from Ephesians 2:13-16:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.Those “who once were far off” refers to the Gentiles, to those who were not of the tribe of Israel. With Christ and his perfect fulfillment of the law, all of the barriers of the law that formerly distinguished between these groups were broken down so that there would be one people from all the nations of the world. What is the root of this new reconciling work? Jesus. “For he himself is our peace.” Because salvation in Jesus can be found no matter what your race, nationality, or economic background, there can be true peace between people. This knowledge empowers the peacemaker for the work and the calling of bringing people together. So peacemakers work on the sinful barriers that separate people today – racism, poverty, hunger, thirst, violence, abuse – all of these things sinfully separate people from one another. Peacemakers work to bring people together, as God reconciles has reconciled sinners through the cross. They put themselves out there for the most helpless in our society, the disabled, the unborn, the unwanted. They are empowered to do this work by the Holy Spirit, and when this happens, God’s peace continues to grow and flourish in the world.
The hope of the gospel is the hope of those who do not, at present, know any kind of peace. This shalom peace is to be first demonstrated to the world by the church, with the promise that it will ultimately be fulfilled when Christ comes to redeem the whole creation, the whole cosmos, according to this plans for permanent, eternal peace and joy.
People who have been reconciled to God through Christ and given the gift of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit do not have the luxury of pawning off the responsibilities of peacemaking to others. Pastors can’t pawn it off on members, and members can’t pawn it off on pastors, and churches can’t pawn it off by simply writing checks. Christians who have been so graciously grafted into the kingdom of peace in Christ will, over time, grow in their peacemaking ability and engagement.
The Blessing – To Be Called Sons of God
The blessing for peacemakers is that they will be “called sons of God.” People who do this kind of work will be blessed by becoming adopted joint heirs with the naturally born Son of God, Jesus. To be “called” sons of God does not mean simply having a title, it means you are “called” as in “brought in to the divine family.” You are granted a seat at God’s table in the Kingdom of Heaven. Some people, when texts like this are read, might mistakenly believe this blessing is only for men, but this would be totally wrong. What this means is that for all who are peacemakers, male or female, will be treated as “sons” of God, meaning they will be joint recipients of a divine inheritance granted to Christ for his victory over sin and Death. Those joined to Christ, who do the work of peacemaking, will receive everything Jesus has received from his heavenly Father, which is nothing less than the kingdom of God:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV)All our peacemaking activities must be conducted as if we were serving our Lord Himself. You cannot love Jesus without loving those whom he calls “least of these my brothers.” To claim that you love Jesus and then to ignore totally the injustices of society is total hypocrisy.
Notice that those who engage in Godly peacemaking do so almost without noticing it. That’s how you know God is at work in you. You’ll be surprised at your generosity with the poor and stranger. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Amen.
1Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007. 177.
Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnsota
November 13, 2011
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew