Monday, November 07, 2016

Sermon on Matthew 5:9, for All Saints' Day, "Blessed are the Peacemakers"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The Beatitudes are 9 deep and powerful statements that open Jesus’ longest recorded Sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. They set the tone and picture the life of Jesus Christ reflected in the lives of the believers, or followers of Jesus. In other words, they paint the picture of how your life is modeled after the life of Jesus Christ, and what the blessings are of being attached to His life. This life is very obviously different from the desires and examples of the world. Today, we’ll zoom in on one Beatitude in particular: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
To be called sons of God shows that peacemakers reflect one of God’s key qualities. How is God a peacemaker, and how do we reflect that? Colossians 1 describes how Jesus makes peace. Jesus is the image of the invisible God—meaning that what we see in Jesus Christ is the exact imprint of God’s nature (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). All the fullness of God dwells in Jesus Christ, so that through Him God could “reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). God the Father and God the Son, united in purpose and action, reconciled the whole world to Himself, making peace by the blood of the cross. The cross of Jesus is the heart and center of God’s peacemaking activity. This Bible passage shows us that peacemaking is reconciliation, and that God initiated and accomplished this reconciliation through Jesus.
Five times in the New Testament, God is referred to as the “God of peace”. Once in the Old Testament, after God led Israel through the Red Sea, Moses sang in a victory song, which contains the line: “The Lord is a man of war”  (Exodus 15:3). Isaiah 42:13 describes the Lord going out “like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes.” Are these two descriptions of God compatible, or contradictory? Is God a “man of war” or a “God of peace”? Or should we just oversimplify that the Old and New Testaments disagree?
First, we should note that God in the Old Testament gave peace to His people by going to battle against their enemies and defeating them by His might. He is mighty against His foes. Crossing the Red Sea brought the people of Israel to safety, and prevent Pharaoh’s army from killing them or bringing them back to slavery. Second, we should note that all kinds of conflict, war, and strife exist because both humans and the spiritual forces of darkness have made themselves to be enemies of God. We have instigated the fight against God by our sin and rebellion, and God is not neutral toward the conflict or His enemies. God is all powerful. The book of Romans says that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet” (Romans 16:20). God is not a pacifist, but He brings peace by battling and destroying evil. As long as evil exists, all the evils of war, conflict, violence, and strife will continue. Only at Jesus’ return will all of this be finally ended, at the Last Judgment, but until then, and between the now and the not yet of His return, there is much “peacemaking” or reconciliation still for us to do.
It’s also helpful to understand how the New Testament clarifies and reveals God as a God of peace, when we see where the battle lines are drawn, and what God’s battle plan is. The battle lines, as Paul reveals, show that our battle is not a physical one with flesh and blood and weapons of violence, but a battle against the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12ff). Also, Jesus’ reconciling work through the cross is to redeem us who once were enemies of God (Romans 5:1, 10)!! We have instigated rebellion against God through sin, but He has initiated and accomplished reconciliation with the sinful world. Sinners are enemies of God, but they also amazingly are the objects of Jesus’ rescue mission, that resulted in His death and our reconciliation—but also gloriously His victory over death by rising from the grave! Jesus’ blood was shed in the battle for our souls, and He brings us to peace with God through faith. This is the shape of the amazing peace that Jesus makes between us and God through His cross.
So given all this, how as Christians, do we continue in Jesus’ peacemaking mission as sons of God? Sons of God, by the way, includes men and women, as we are adopted sons and daughters of God (2 Cor. 6:18). Since we live in the time between Jesus’ peacemaking at the cross, and the final judgment, when He returns to end evil forever, and bring us into everlasting peace—there is much to be done. Jesus has permanently turned the battle, so that enemies of God, sinners in rebellion against Him, have been granted pardon or peace. We are at the front lines of battle, every day in our lives, as we carry and proclaim that message of God’s peace to others. When we forgive others, when we work to reconcile sins and strife, we are making peace as sons of God. We are living out Jesus’ peacemaking mission, and bringing captives from the enemy into the church of Christ, His hospital to forgive and heal sinners, and bring them into His freedom and life.
That all sounds very nice and lovely, but in the trenches, where the rubber meets the road, this is no easy task. How often have your sins or the sins of others, created seemingly irreconcilable conflicts? How often has pride or stubbornness gotten in the way? Jesus only talks about peace in one other chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and in chapter 10 He acknowledges how challenging this peacemaking mission will be. As the disciples bring the peace of the kingdom to homes and villages, some will receive it, and others will not. When people don’t receive it, Jesus’ disciples are to shake the dust from their feet and move on to another city. And Jesus puzzles us by saying He doesn’t bring peace but a sword, and that households will be divided over following Him (Matt. 10). Jesus’ sayings in the Gospel of John help us to understand that the peace Jesus gives is not the worldly kind of peace, but a heavenly, spiritual peace with God, that can’t be taken away (John 14:27; 16:33). Sadly, the end of conflict and war will await the end of times. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of opportunities for us to make peace through the forgiveness of sins until then.
One of my seminary profs describes peacemaking this way: “The Christian is not only committed to preach the message of God’s reconciliation, but must be in fact reconciled to all. …Reconciliation is…not taking retaliation for evil done and of doing all in one’s power to bring about peace with the offended brother (5:21-25, 38-48, 6:14-15)” (Scaer, 89). We see that Jesus did not retaliate against evil with evil, when He died on the cross—but instead spoke peace, trying to reconcile His enemies through the Father’s forgiveness. Our task also is not to retaliate against evil with evil, but to return good to those who do us evil (Romans 12:17-21). So the Christian, like Christ, is never to fight evil with evil, but with kindness and with good. This is to say that we are constantly looking to initiate or reestablish peace where it has been broken.
The apostle James also writes about the themes of Jesus’ beatitudes. He says that our deeds should show heavenly wisdom in resisting jealousy and selfish ambition. Rather, we should show God’s wisdom from above, which is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:13-18). Here he is praising those who are peaceable and open to reason, in contrast to being combative or argumentative, unwilling to listen. And there is a harvest of righteousness sown in peace by those who make peace. The rewards of harmony, of unity, and friendship are all the outcomes of being peacemakers. We first learn this wisdom from above, and then practice it in our lives. Doing good follows after knowing what is good—even if it follows imperfectly because of our sinfulness. God supplies us the heart and will to be peacemakers and Christ-like in this way.
The Proverbs also give wisdom for peacemaking. One particular passage gives several helps for avoiding conflict: “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears. Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife” (Prov. 26:17-21). From these we learn that it’s not wise to meddle in other people’s quarrels—we might get bit! Meddling in other people’s quarrels is not peacemaking! Also, lying and deceiving others is madness and provokes anger. Gossip is fuel for quarrels, and remove the fuel, and quarrels die out. The New Testament also gives us frequent urgings not to be quarrelsome, but to seek after peace.
Daily life is full of opportunities for making peace—settling quarrels, forgiving sins, humbling ourselves to say we are sorry, or were wrong, being reasonable to listen to another, and seeking reconciliation. To be peacemakers, and spreaders of peace, we must be receivers of peace—which brings us full circle to where we began. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. We began by saying that to be a peacemaker and called sons of God, means that we are little reflections or imitators of Christ Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace, and it is through His peacemaking mission to shed His blood on the cross, that we have been reconciled to God. We are at peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins, and we participate in His peacemaking mission wherever and whenever we forgive others their sins as He has forgiven us. Peace from God is constantly flowing and circulating from the heart of God through the bloodstream of Jesus Christ, to us, His living members. And now may that peace which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In the 9 Beatitudes Jesus teaches in Matthew 5, look at the 7th, Matthew 5:9. To be called “sons of God” means that we are in some small way reflections of the Son of God. How is this true? Ephesians 5:1-2; 1 John 2:5-6; 4:7-8.
  2. How does the Bible say Jesus reflects the image of God? Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3.
  3. How does Colossians 1:19-20 explain what “making peace” means? What word in vs. 19 means the same as “making peace”?
  4. Five times in the NT we find the title: “God of peace” (Romans 15:33; 16:20; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23; Hebrews 13:20). When the OT describes God like a “man of war” (Exodus 15:3; Isaiah 42:13), is this a contradiction? How does God bring peace for His people in the section before Exodus 15? In Romans 16:20?
  5. What are the “spiritual battle lines” (i.e. who is the real enemy, and who is not)? Ephesians 6:12ff. What does Jesus do for those sinners who are enemies of God? Romans 5:1, 10.
  6. What is our main responsibility in carrying out Jesus’ peacemaking mission? What are we to do for others, as God has done for us? Matthew 6:12. How hard is this?
  7. What is the difference between the peace of Jesus and the peace of the world? Compare Matthew 10:34-39 and John 14:27 & 16:33.
  8. Being a peacemaker means not to retaliate against wrongs done to us. What are we to do instead? Romans 12:17-21.
  9. Where does the “wisdom” come from that teaches us peacemaking? James 3:13-18. What is not peacemaking? Proverbs 26:17-21. How do these things stir up more trouble?

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