This morning we continue our study through the Gospel of Matthew. We’re in the Sermon on the Mount, the most famous teaching of Jesus. And specifically, we’re in the opening section known as the Beatitudes, from the Latin word beatus for blessed, because it’s a list of eight behaviors and attitudes specially blessed by God.
But, we have been learning this is not a personality quiz that helps you identify your profile. You don’t get to pick and choose which of these are most like you because these are not natural behaviors that you exchange for God’s blessing. No, these are behaviors that God is working into everyone who has been born again in Christ.
In other words, if you are alive and growing spiritually, what we’re about to read will become a more and more accurate description of your life and your heart attitude as time goes on. And, since all of the blessings listed here already belong to you in Christ as well, you will know and experience them with increasing measure too. Will you read with me?
Matt 5:1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
We focus this morning on the seventh of the Beatitudes, here in verse 9:
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
And we begin by asking two very simple questions. If this is a blessing for the peacemakers, what is peace? And where do you find it?
We say things like we loved this or that place because it was so “peaceful.” Or we speak of our need to find a little “peace and quiet.” Often what we’re referring to is the desire for a break in the lack of commotion and conflict in our personal, daily lives. We want to stop fighting so much, to escape from the pressing and pushing and shoving and shouting, whirling and swirling, hurrying and scurrying down the hall to the next meeting, back in the car to the next event, dealing with this behavior or that attitude, or that response or reaction one more time! We want a breather, we want rest, we want peace. But where are we ever going to find it in these fast-paced frenetic lives of ours?
So, where do you find peace? In your room with the door shut and your headphones on? On the couch at night with a glass of wine? By leaving town? Going on vacation? Do you try and get away from it all, or get it all away from you? Where is your happy place?
For nearly 100 years governments have been trying to find peace in Geneva and in New York at the United Nations. The UN was originally established as the League of Nations after World War I in an effort to prevent another massive conflict from ever happening again. But despite their efforts World War II broke out. And after that war ended we tried the whole thing all over again but we restructured it and called it the United Nations – an organization devoted to collectively solving the world’s problems and keeping us from war.
That’s not an easy job. Today more than 110,000 UN peacekeepers serve on 15 peacekeeping missions around the world. These missions are occasionally successful, but there always seems to be another crisis unfolding somewhere – and sometimes it’s among the peacekeeping troops – reports come out of their own misbehavior among themselves or with the population they’re supposed to be keeping the peace for. It’s a piece of tragic irony when the arrival of peacekeepers makes things worse.
And so, we waste countless hours and billions upon billions of dollars trying to coax or force people to get along when it’s not in their hearts; it’s not their desire. People are voting for independence and nationalistic parties are coming to power all over the world, from divisive politics here in the United States to Brexit, to Germany, to Catalonia. Why? Because people want to preserve the differences between themselves and others. They don’t want unity, they want away from all of those people.
And when nations can’t find peace through diplomacy, they often turn to firepower. In fact, perhaps you’ve seen the cynical bumper sticker of a B-52 bomber made to look like a peace symbol, and it says Peace, Through Superior Firepower. But have you seen the pictures of Raqqa after ISIS was driven out? There may not be any more fighting, there may not be much active resistance, but do the pictures you see seem to represent peace?
It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about our personal lives or geopolitics: conflict, commotion, and chaos are constants and there’s a lack of persistent peace. Why?
Well, friends, it’s because the greatest problem of our world is not relational, it’s not economic, or environmental, it’s not political or military, it’s theological. If you want to understand what’s happening and why there is so little peace in the world, you don’t need to go to the economists, or the political theorists, or even the historians. You have go to the Bible where you discover that the source of all conflict actually lies in the human heart. And the Bible is very clear on all of this – it says something called sin is behind all the unrest.
When you read the first few chapters, in the book of Genesis, you discover things started rather peacefully. God created Adam and Eve and they lived together in harmony with God, with each other, and with the world. There was true peace and flourishing.
But it didn’t last long. Soon, a rebellion started, and we were the ones who fired the first shot. When Adam and Eve famously fell into the first sin, the seeds were planted for every conflict we experience today. Choosing to do what God had told them not to do led to conflict between them and God, and to conflict between themselves. And that conflict only grew as time went on. In fact, their kids would grow up to be the world’s first murderer and his victim.
Have you ever really thought about that? It didn’t take generations or thousands of years before we got to that kind of violence, it was already there in second-generation humanity. And this is why God sent Jesus Christ, to rescue us from what we could never fix on our own. Jesus was the first peacemaker – making peace between God and man.
So you need to follow this very important flow: peace began with God, conflict began with man turning away from God, and the only way to find true peace is to turn back to Him through Jesus Christ. All of the conflict we have with others or that they have with us is the result of someone being out of tune with God because His greatest commandment is that we love Him and love others as ourselves – obeying that command produces peace, not conflict.
And the glorious thing is: God offers to bring peace to us, He initiates it all. We started the conflict, He started the reconciliation.
I went to the mall with my family Thursday night, and there were already Christmas decorations up – just a day or two after Halloween and Christmas music being played over head. It’s crazy! But, what do we celebrate at Christmas? The birth of Christ. And what did the angels famously announce to the shepherds?
Luke Chapter two tells us:
Luke 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
In Romans, one the most doctrinally rich books of the entire Bible, Paul writes:
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fellow Christians, that is present tense. We HAVE peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples in the Upper Room
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 heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Again, that is present tense. This is something you HAVE if you are in Christ, if you are born-again, if you are alive to God. And think about the context. Really think about it. Jesus says this hours before His own merciless execution, which He knows is imminent! And yet, He has peace, and promises to leave that peace with those who come to Him, find forgiveness and rest, and seek to submit and obediently follow Him.
After His death, burial and resurrection, Jesus makes a surprise visit to His disciples – you can read the story in the 20th chapter of John’s gospel where three times you find Jesus greeting them with the words, “Peace to you” or “Peace be with you.”
Through the life of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross, God makes peace with anyone who will receive it. And then, He calls you to repeat the process and make peace with others.
Notice the very important words here: blessed are the peacemakers. Not peacekeepers, peacemakers. Now, this is kind of elementary I suppose, but it bears mentioning: peacemakers are blessed because they are unusual, and if peace needs to be made, that means conflict exists. In other words, don’t be surprised by the conflict you see around you, people don’t naturally live at peace with others.
Jesus told His disciples:
John 16:33 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.”
God calls those who belong to Him to help spread peace in the world, to expect opposition in the process, but to press on anyway knowing that the final victory belongs to Christ.
Turn with me to Romans 8 and look at the instruction we find here, details of how we are to get along with others:
Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Looking back at verse 18 we find a perfect summary: 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
How, practically, do we do that? How can my life ever look like this? Let me give you some thoughts.
First, get into a right relationship with God. You can’t make peace with others if you don’t have peace with God. We are made to receive and then reflect – I speak of this so often because it is absolutely essential, foundational, Christian truth. God calls us to be distributors, not manufacturers. You have to know that! You distribute what He produces.
1 John 4 tells us to love one another BECAUSE God has first loved us.
As we mentioned last week, we show mercy because mercy has been shown to us. And if you need another data point, check out:
Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
We distribute what He produces and delivers to us. So, if you find it hard to love others, to show mercy, to be kind, or tenderhearted, or forgiving, go back and receive more of those things from God personally. You don’t do this on your own.
Remember, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you” (John 14:27).
So if you want peace, first, get right with God. Then, since there are always two sides to every conflict, work to reduce the only side you can control: your own.
Are you and your ambitions or your sense of what you ‘deserve’ or what you’ve earned, or what you’re entitled to, an obstacle to peace? God tells us in
Philippians 2:3-4 Let nothing be done of selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
How often does the conflict we experience in our daily lives occur because of competition? Who gets to watch what they want to watch? Who gets to go where they want to go? Who’s going to get the resources?
When everyone is looking out for number one, zero gets accomplished. Can you follow in the steps of your Lord and allow yourself to suffer loss for the sake of others?
What might that look like in your particular circumstance? How might you be able to make peace by simply giving up on your end of the fight? I’m going to say this very bluntly: hold your preferences and opinions lightly, be willing to go along and let others have their way if it’s not Biblically wrong, and see if your sacrifice leads to peace. God can still take care of you. He knows your true needs.
Here’s another area for our attention as we seek to make peace: our mouths and the way we respond. James tells us we should be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”
Proverbs puts it this way:
Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Where can you make peace just by guarding your reaction and response? Do you need God to help you respond gently to provocation, to be in control of yourself even in the most trying times?
How often do you get yourself in trouble by “getting things off your chest” or expressing what’s on your mind? What if you were to run your speech through a Christ filter – would He say it? Is it helpful? Will what you’re about to say, or will your typical response foster peace or spark conflict? It’s worth considering.
Here’s another way to make peace: let things die.
Proverbs 19:11 The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger,
And his glory is to overlook a transgression.
Don’t hold on to old grievances, old hurts. Give people fresh starts and new beginnings just like God has given you. And as often as you need a fresh start from God, reflect that to others. Don’t bring things up from the past, and don’t repeat things that you know are going to cause harm. You might make peace by being the boundary for the war. Don’t pass things on. When it comes to matters of eternity, you want to be knows as a peacemaker, not a warfighter.
And if all of this seems really hard or even impossible for you – “not really your thing,” or not who you are – remember this is the conduct God is calling all Christians toward, so that means we are capable of this! Following the example of our Lord, Christians are willing to suffer wrong (1 Cor 6), turn the other cheek, keep no record of wrongs, and count others as better than themselves for the sake of peace because blessedness, happiness, comes from making peace, not getting even.
That doesn’t mean you’re a softy, or a push over, or you always give in. Just as with all the other beatitudes, this is not speaking of a natural personality trait. This does not mean ‘blessed are the easy going types, the non-confrontational, anything to appease you, types.’ No,
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
When you make peace, you look like your Father. And God will judge sin. He will judge hate. He will judge envy and dishonesty. He will avenge ALL wrong doing. The question is: who will suffer the vengeance?
In many cases it will be poured out on the one who is guilty. And what a horrendous, terrible, thing it is to fall into the hands of an angry God as a guilty man or woman! But some will escape that judgment because they are hidden under the blood of Christ. He suffered violence on the cross so that they would not have to. Justice was done, but mercy was shown.
Col 1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Friends, we must remember that fighting and bitterness and wars, on the personal or national level, come from Satan and sin and self. Peace comes from above, from the God of peace, the true peace maker.
We’re going to celebrate communion together in a moment, to remember the blood that was shed in order to bring us peace with God. I want to encourage you to take a moment, reflect on all the things we’ve considered this morning and consider – where do you need to make peace in your life? Is there conflict between you and God? Is there conflict between you and others? Or is there conflict among others that you have the ability to influence? Where do you have the chance to make peace by making yourself available to God and allowing, or advocating for, His will to be done?
Rom 15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.