Children of God - Matthew 5:9 - September 11, 2011
Series: Kingdom Life – A World Turned Upside Down #7
I’m not sure if you’re aware of it or not, but Canadians have a rich history of peacekeeping. To date, more than 125,000 Canadians have participated in peacekeeping duties, in more than 75 countries, around the world. For the most part their contribution on the world stage is something that we can be justifiably proud of and more Canadian citizens have served in peacekeeping roles than have the citizens of any other nation on earth. Those who do so have come from different walks of life – some serve through the military, others as policeman, some as civilians – but they all had a similar vision – to help make the world a better place in which to live. In the process of doing so, nearly 275 of them, have lost their lives. There is no way to know how many lives they’ve saved by being willing to go where others dare not. (Knights Canadian Info Collection at http://members.shaw.ca/kcic1/peacekeepers2.html)
Their service, their sacrifice, is noble. It’s laudable. It’s praiseworthy. But I want you to understand this morning that as Christians we are called to something even greater than keeping the peace. Turn in your Bibles with me, to the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew, chapter 5, and we’ll begin reading in verse 1. This is the seventh message in our series entitled: Kingdom Life – A World Turned Upside Down. And what we’ve discovered in this series so far is that the life Jesus calls us to really is different than the life the world is calling us to. Life is turned upside down when Jesus is at work. But that’s a good thing. So let’s continue in our study of the Beatitudes as I begin reading in verse 1 …
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:1–8, NIV)
And then, verse 9, read it aloud with me, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9, NIV) Blessed are the peacemakers. Folks, the greater thing we are called to as Christians, is to be peacemakers – not just keepers of the peace – but makers of the peace. And that’s an important distinction. Peacekeepers seek to keep a peace where it has already been established. It’s important work. But peacemakers seek to bring peace to the midst of conflict and chaos. Jesus is calling us to be peacemakers. Those who do so are blessed – profoundly happy – for they will be called children of God. In other words, those who seek to actively bring peace to the midst of conflict and chaos, are living out the very heart of God Himself, because God’s heart is for peace.
And that becomes apparent as we read His Word. There are 66 books that make up our Bible – 52 of them contain the word, “peace.” The word itself appears more than 400 times throughout the Old and the New Testaments combined. It’s an important concept for us to grasp because it’s a concept that’s near and dear to the heart of God. In fact this peace is part of the very character and nature of God. In the book of Romans we read of the “God of peace.” (Romans 15:33, NIV) Jesus Himself carries the title, “Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NIV) And it’s through the Holy Spirit that we have “peace and joy.” (Romans 14:17, NIV) The biblical idea of peace is, in many ways, irrevocably tied to the heart of God.
Now to us here today the word “peace” simply conveys the idea of the absence of conflict or the presence of tranquility. So when the kids are all getting along, things are running smoothly, we might say we are at “peace” with it all. Or, to give you another example, if two nations are not at war with one another, a state of peace is said to exist between them. Or in still another example, we say we are at peace with something if we’ve come to a place of acceptance of certain truths. That’s our English understanding of peace.
The Hebrew concept of peace, “shalom,” is a little different. It’s not just the absence of conflict with someone. When you wish someone, “shalom,” you are desiring God’s very best for them in all areas of their lives. If they are sick you desire them to be well, if relationships are fractured you desire that there would be reconciliation, if they are without hope your prayer is that hope would spring up within them, if they are downcast that they would be moved to rejoice, if they mourn that they would be comforted. In this sense Jesus’ understanding of peace goes above and beyond what our understanding of it has been to this point. But His is the sense in which we need to understand it because it is He who has said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be children of God.” Blessed are those who seek to bring God’s very best into the lives of others.
Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” (John 14:27, NIV) The peace that Jesus brings, the peace that He gives unto us, is not merely the absence of conflict or the presence of tranquility. That’s the peace the world understands. Just because a husband and wife might not be at each other’s throats, though, doesn’t mean that peace exists within their home. The peace that Jesus gives goes beyond that.
And that peace starts with God because it is first and foremost peace with God. Turn to the book of Colossians with me for a moment. Colossians, chapter 1, beginning in verse 21. This is what Paul writes to the church in Colosse, and keep in mind that these words he writes are just as true for us today, as they were for the Colossians way back when. He writes these words, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” (Colossians 1:21, NIV)
What’s that verse telling us? Simply this: that every single one of us has been alienated from, and is an enemy of, God. Not just the person sitting beside you this morning, not just the folks locked up in the jails, but you and me. At one time we were, or even now still are, enemies of God. We might not think of ourselves that way. In fact most of us tend to think of ourselves as pretty good people, but the reality is, that in our sin, we are enemies of God. The truth of this is shown by our own evil behaviour.
Let me ask you this: Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? So much brokenness in families? So much discord in churches? Why? Because of our own evil behaviour – things like pride, selfishness, jealousy, greed, envy, lust – the list goes on and on. All these things that God calls sin, manifest themselves as our evil behaviour – in the way we act, and think, and speak, and live. That’s why there is such a need for peacemakers today because our sin destroys the peace that God intends for us to have with one another. But first and foremost that sin has destroyed our peace with God.
And that’s something that only God can deal with. Where does that evil come from? From within our hearts. Jesus says this, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:19–20, NIV) Now your heart is the essence of who you are. It’s where your decisions are made, from where you emotions spring forth and so on. Scripture tells us in the book of Jeremiah that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV) You and I cannot change our hearts – it’s beyond cure – but unless the heart is changed that which comes out of the heart won’t be changed.
That’s where the grace of God comes in. God says to His people, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; [in other words, I will do for you what you cannot do for yourselves] I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you … will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness.” (Ezekiel 36:26–29, NIV)
Which takes us back to the book of Colossians because what God was promising to do was to restore peace between Himself and His creation and that’s what He did on the cross through Jesus. In Colossians we read these words, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19–20, NIV)
Jesus does not give as the world gives. Jesus gives Himself for you that you might be reconciled to God – that that enmity that existed between the two be washed away – and that you enter into a new relationship with God the Father – a relationship based on a peace made possible by Jesus’ death on the cross. That is the heart of God!
So if we are ever going to be peacemakers it has to start with God doing a work in us and bringing us to salvation that we ourselves might know the peace of God. But that still leaves us wondering, what does it mean to be a peacemaker? We have Jesus’ example – He’s the ultimate peacemaker - but what does that mean for us in practical terms? Well think of it this way: If the first sin separated man from God, then the second sin separated man from man. The goal of the peacemaker is to bring the peace of God into every place that evil has taken root.
And the peace that the peacemaker is promoting, seeking, desiring, is more than just the absence of conflict. In this sense it is desiring all the goodness of God be brought to bear in a person’s life or a particular situation. To that end the heart of the peacemaker is to see mankind reconciled to God. Turn to the book of 2 Corinthians with me. 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, and we’ll begin reading in verse 17.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, [in other words, if anyone has received the peace that comes from God] the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: [this is the ministry that God has called each and every believer to] that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–20, NIV)
God desires to make His appeal to hurting and lost people through you. And when we have peace with God we are in a position to help others understand how they can receive that peace as well. In doing so we become “children of God” for we are living out the heart of the Father – His character – His nature – as we proclaim peace through Jesus Christ.
Peacemakers seek to bring people into a reconciled relationship with God but peacemakers are also those who see to bring peace in the realm of human relationships. They seek to actively overcome evil with good and rejoice in seeing people reconciled to one another. Here’s another question to consider: How many broken, fractured, hurting relationships are you aware of in your life? It could be a marriage. It might be relationships within a home with children. It could be at work. Sadly it could even be here at church. The heart of the peacemaker desires to see all the goodness of God poured into those relationships that they might be healed, restored and made whole. That’s what the peacemaker is working towards. In so far as they are able, they take the steps necessary to create peace – in their homes, their schools, their places of work, their churches, and their communities.
But folks, please understand, peace is never separated from truth. The peacemaker does not seek peace at any cost. You don’t compromise the truth to bring peace. I think back to a young couple I once knew many years ago. The husband and I had similar interests in that we met while I was still flying and we both entered the ministry at nearly the same time as well. He was involved in different ministries in the church he was in and through one of them he met a girl and, even though he was already married, he allowed his heart to stray. And I spoke to him about it. I tried to encourage him to do what was right. And although I didn’t understand it at the time, I ultimately failed. It got to the point that for the sake of the friendship we just didn’t talk about it anymore – it was easier to ignore. But understanding Jesus’ words concerning peacemakers as I do now, I understand that I compromised the truth in that I did not persist in what I knew to be good and true and right. He and his wife eventually divorced, he left the ministry, and the friendship failed anyways. Now the divorce was not my fault but I’m also certain that the idea of shalom was not in my heart – seeking God’s best for all involved. I was willing to make peace at any cost but I wasn’t seeking the right type of peace.
So peacemakers are those who are willing to pay the price to see the peace that God desires come about in the lives of those God loves. Jesus died that we might have peace with God – what price are we willing to pay to see the peace of God made manifest in people’s lives and in our relationships? Because you know people who are hurting, you know relationships where the peace of God needs to be made manifest, you know where you have been satisfied with the absence of conflict but have not desired shalom – God’s best – for the people in your life. We must repent and seek after the very heart of God as we work to bring God’s peace into every situation we find ourselves in.
Now, I want to tell you about a man who lived a few hundred years after Jesus went to the cross. Telemachus was a monk who lived during the early years of the 5th century. I believe he was a man who could be called a peacemaker in the truest sense of the word. Legends about his life abound and it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction. Many stories have him being struck down by a sword in a Roman coliseum. But the facts, as far as I’ve been able to discern, go a little something like this: During his lifetime he either witnessed, or heard of, the cruelty of the Roman coliseum. Crowds of thousands would gather to watch men fight to the death. This was their entertainment. They reveled in the blood and the gore and the suffering and the death. But Telemachus was appalled by it. These men, like all people, had been made in the image of God. But here they were and their lives were being wasted in senseless slaughter.
Determined to stop this evil that was being done, Telemachus entered into the arena itself and got between the combatants and called for peace. He called them to lay down their arms. According to the Bishop of Cyrrhus it was not the gladiators who ran Telemachus through with their swords but rather the crowd, angered that the slaughter had been stopped, who stoned the monk to death. Telemachus’ blood was shed alongside the blood of those he sought to save. His was the heart of a peacemaker. He died that day, but he did not die in vain. When the emperor heard of what had taken place he decreed that men would no longer fight one another as the gladiators had done. Telemachus had brought the peace he had sought. (Telemachus: The Monk Who Ended The Coliseum Games, by Monk Preston, www.prayerfoundation.org)
So how do we become peacemakers? The passage that ______________ read for us before the message gives us some good insight. Let me read it for you again and as I read it listen for those things that will make for peace in our relationships: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9–21, NIV)
The challenge of those verses is this: We need to live them out in the context of every one of our relationships. If you desire to be a peacemaker spend some time this week reading those verses over and over again. And then consider where God would have you seek to bring shalom into places of anger, and hurt and darkness. As we do so we imitate God who stepped into the darkness of our lives that we might have peace with Him and what Jesus has spoken comes true – we are called children of God – because we’re living out the heart of the Father.
Let our prayer this morning be that of Francis of Assisi who prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hate, may I bring love. Where there is offence, may I bring pardon.”
Let’s pray …