Friday, April 18, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 5:9, for Maundy Thursday, Beatitude 7, "Blessed are the peacemakers..."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Peace is an important word in the Bible, appearing 375 times. Peace is something that seems self-explanatory to us, as the absence of warfare or fighting. I think almost every grade school child has at some point expressed prayers or longings for world peace. So when we read various passages in the Gospels that you heard tonight, we may be puzzled. In particular I mean that Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). Doesn’t He want peace? Is Jesus an advocate of war? But then what can He mean by saying “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God?” Or in the Gospel of John, where He says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you”? Which is it? Peace or no peace?
To help sort things out, let’s briefly treat each of the various passages. In Matthew 10, when Jesus says He does not bring peace, but a sword, He’s talking about the (often bitter) division that will occur even between family members, over whether they take up their cross and follow Jesus, or not. Namely, the division between those who believe and those who do not believe in Jesus, and lose their life for Jesus’ sake. The believer in Jesus takes up their cross by turning away from the sinful world and counting everything in this life as loss, to gain the treasure of Jesus Christ. This can spark resentment and even hatred from the world; even one’s own family members. This is the “sword” Jesus brings—that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). Those who are in love with the sin and rebellion of the world, and will not turn to God, are at enmity with God. For us as believers, to break that “friendship with the world” and to instead be friends with Jesus, is to turn the world against us. This also leads into the next beatitudes on persecution.
So when Jesus says He brings peace, not a sword, it doesn’t mean Jesus is an advocate of war, but that there is no neutrality toward Him. One is either with Him or against Him (Matt. 12:30). This helps us better understand where and to whom Jesus gives peace. After all, the angels sang at His birth, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men”, and the prophet calls Him the “Prince of Peace.” So who receives Jesus’ peace? Jesus gives His peace to believers, to His church here on earth. John 14 said that “peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” Then in John 16:33 He says, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” So Jesus’ peace is different from the world’s. In Him we have peace, but in the world you will have tribulation. Difficulty, suffering, or distress. So the same person—a Christian, can have peace within and a courageous heart in Jesus—knowing that He has overcome the world—but at the same time face tribulation from the world around them. But to say that it is a peace given within us should not keep us from also adding that it is a peace to be lived outside us as well.
What then does that mean for the one who is not in Christ? God spoke through the prophets, saying that “There is no peace for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22; cf. Jer. 6:14; Ezek. 13:10). So inside Christ, we have peace with God. Outside Christ there is no peace. Outside of Christ there is enmity with God. But Scripture tells us some amazing things. It tells us that “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). It tells us that Jesus Himself is our peace, and that He came to us who were far off and alienated from God, and He brought us near and reconciled us to God by His blood shed on the cross (Eph. 2:12-17; Col. 1:20). We were all enemies of God before we were reconciled to Christ, and Jesus is the original “peacemaker” who seeks after the enemies of God to reconcile us to God through His cross. Jesus’ goal is to win over His enemies to bring them to God—which is what it means to reconcile. To restore the good relationship between them, through the forgiveness of our sins.
As Jesus is the original peacemaker, and the only begotten Son of God—we now have Christ-colored glasses by which we can both understand the beatitude and see our own Christian life in His light. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called “sons of God”—means that we are to be about the same peacemaking, forgiving, and reconciling task as Jesus was. We are to take the Good News of Jesus’ reconciling love shown to us through His blood shed on the cross, and we are to forgive others as we have been forgiven. Matthew 18 is a parable about forgiveness, showing how we who have been forgiven such a great debt of sin toward God, must go and do likewise as we forgive the lesser debts of sin that others have toward us. As many times as our brother sins against us and repents, so many times must we forgive them, without keeping count or record (Luke 17:3-4), for “love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5).
On this Maundy Thursday, the night when Jesus ate His Last Supper with the disciples, and the night on which He was betrayed, He took bread and gave it to His disciples, saying, “This is my body.” He took the cup and gave it to His disciples saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.” And so doing, Jesus made a covenant, a last will and testament for His disciples to keep, which marked the shedding of His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. A meal to be kept, not in His distant memory, but as an ongoing action as we live out that forgiveness of sins with one another. The Supper of mutual love and union, of gathering together in Christ Jesus as a fellowship of believers who have had their sins forgiven and are at peace and reconciled with God and with one another. The Supper that we call Holy Communion, as we commune or participate in Jesus’ body and blood offered for our peace, by the forgiveness of our sins. God has made peace with us as Jesus has taken away our sins, and so we are to make peace with one another. This is why we share the peace before the Lord’s Supper, to show we do not hold any grudges, bitterness, or resentment, and unforgiveness toward anyone, but that we are at peace with one another.
He doesn’t say that this job of being “peacemakers” will be easy—as Jesus sent His disciples out on their mission, He said that as they traveled, they were to greet a home with the words, “‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you” (Luke 10:5-6). Sometimes, though they came with peace, their peace would not be received. The apostle Paul later speaks of our peacemaking mission as Christians in this way, as being “ambassadors of Christ” carrying the “message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-21). As I’m sure many of our U.S. ambassadors right now can tell you, being an ambassador is not an easy job. Forgiving sin—especially when we have been sinned against—is not easy. Feeling angry, wounded, sad, or betrayed may all come as a result of someone’s sin against us. Repenting of our sins, and acknowledging our own faults can be equally difficult, as so often we cling to our pride and the felt need to be right.
And we must remember that it was Jesus who overcame all of our sin and enmity with God, and only by His forgiveness taking root and living in us, as forgiven sinners, can we become agents of His forgiveness toward others. But we must certainly do it. By His unsurpassed love, He has equipped us for an incredible and deeply necessary task. To a world hurting and broken because of the countless effects of sin, He sent His Son to bring peace with God, and now He sends us to live lives that spread His peace.
Through our daily interactions with one another, we are to “strive for peace with everyone” (Heb. 12:14), and to “aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11). For the reward of peacemaking is to be called sons (and daughters) of God. It is to show that we are His children, working in the ministry that He started—making peace and reconciling us through the forgiveness of sins. God in His grace and generosity continues to pour out His forgiveness and love into our lives, so that it overflows to others. His resources of love never run dry.

As “sons of God” we worship and love the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, who reconciled us to Himself, and adopted us into the family of God. And by that adoption we inherit eternal life. Jesus uses the phrase “sons of God” in the plural, in one other place, to say that the “sons of God” are “sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36). By God’s adoption we have a new nature and a new identity as sons and daughters of God; and all those who believe in Jesus are sons of the resurrection or sons of God. For our new life and identity is created and takes shape in Jesus Christ, and one day it will fully be revealed in perfection, when we attain to the resurrection. And until then, we go out as peacemakers with the same message of peace that was first spoken to us—your sins are forgiven through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. He Himself is our peace! Amen. 

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