The Sermon on the Mount, Part 10

hands held together in reconciliation. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Why does Jesus bless peacemakers?

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9

The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire, for a child is born to us–a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called… Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:5-6

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 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

A popular internet statistic says there have been 268 years of world peace in the past 4,000 years, but I doubt that number. The history I’ve read is a continuous tale of wars and brutality. And the spirit that prompts war between nations is the same spirit that creates enmity between neighbors and schoolmates and coworkers. It even infiltrates the bedroom.

We live in a world that is filled with angry and hurting people, and peacemakers are desperately needed.

Jesus became the ultimate peacekeeper when he gave his life on the cross, and he continues his work of reconciliation today through his apprentices. That’s why peacemakers are more than peaceful people–they actively seek to “make” peace between those who are at war with God and others.

But being a peacemaker today is as countercultural as it was in New Testament times. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the Israelites hoped for a day when, “the boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned” (Isaiah 9:5), but as the years passed and the injustices mounted, many chose retaliation over reconciliation. By the time Jesus reached adulthood, the violent Zealot resistance movement was popular in Israel, and there were thousands of vigilantes in the land. The seventh beatitude totally opposes that approach. Jesus tells his followers to seek reconciliation instead of revenge. And every time a disciple seeks to make peace between feuding parties, they will become more like Jesus and more like their heavenly Father.

That is part of what Jesus means when he says peacemakers will be “sons” of God. In Jewish thought, sonship was often used as a metaphor–a “son” was someone who reflected the nature of another person or group. Jesus spoke of “sons of the kingdom” and “sons of the evil one” (Matt. 13:38) and described his enemies as the “sons of those who murdered the prophets” (Matt. 23:31). Jesus encouraged his disciples to be “sons of light” (John 12:36) rather than “sons of this world” (Luke 16:18), and he contrasted the “sons of this age” with the “sons of God” and the “sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:34,36).

So “peacemakers” are people who want to be like Jesus, but following his example is easier said than done. Christians can’t even agree on the best way to keep the peace. Some cite the seventh beatitude in support of pacifism. Others believe the beatitude applies to interpersonal relationships but not international disputes; they contend that the best way to keep the peace is by maintaining a strong military.

But while Christians can’t all agree on the path to peace, I hope we can agree with Jesus that his followers are to be peacemakers. And here’s another thing I think we can agree on: very few of us will act as peacemakers on the national or international stage. Our peacemaking attempts will usually take place within our families, neighborhoods, and workplaces.

What does peacemaking look like in those environments? That’s a good question, but it would be a mistake to just make a to-do list for peacemakers. Why? Because peacemaking is more about who we are than what we do. The kind of peacemaker Jesus blesses has all the characteristics he has already mentioned in the beatitudes (humble, repentant, gentle, merciful, single-minded, and intent on living in a way that honors God). The person who possesses those qualities will be able to help others because they have their priorities right. First and foremost, they see themselves as children of their heavenly Father, apprentices of Jesus, and ambassadors of God to their world. They enter peace negotiations with God’s righteousness as their benchmark, and they look to Jesus’s words for guidance. When helping others reconcile, they do not ignore, minimize, or suppress the differences between the warring parties. So, for example, if a peacemaker is talking with a non-believer about their estrangement from God, the peacemaker might explain why people are separated from God, the consequences of remaining alienated, and how Jesus made a way for that wall to fall.

Perhaps the greatest benefit a peacemaker provides is an environment of love— a safe place where enemies can discuss their differences and seek to resolve them. But the ability to provide a loving environment is not something a peacemaker acquires auto-magically. It requires soul training. Lots of it. Which maybe explains why peacemakers are so scarce.

The Bible has good counsel for peacemakers in training. Below are three helpful guidelines:

  • Learn to control the way you speak to others. Proverbs 18:21 says, “life and death are in the power of the tongue,” and nothing destroys the peace quicker than poorly chosen words. James 3 and the Book of Proverbs offer invaluable “how-to” guidance on controlling the tongue.
  • Become a walking and talking advertisement for peace. Philippians 2 tells us to “have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” If we do that, we will become unassuming and kind and gentle and approachable. We will be less inclined to demand our rights. We might even become proactive and go out of our way to do things that let others know we care about them. For example, we might want to feed a hungry enemy (Romans 12:14–21). Doing something that countercultural will make us both salt and light.
  • Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). To “pray without ceasing” was Paul’s way of saying that Christians need to stay mindful of God throughout our day and remind ourselves that he did not leave us to figure everything out on our own. The Holy Spirit indwells us, the Scriptures are nearby, and we can talk with our heavenly Father any hour of the day. This is especially valuable when we are confused or unsure. Here’s a suggestion that has helped me make better decisions: Whenever I am unsure about what to do, I ask myself this question: “What would Jesus do in this situation if he were trapped in my body with my all my gifts, abilities, and limitations?” Taking time to pray and reflect on that question will improve your decision making and lead you to peaceful solutions.

 

Next: Blessed are the those who are persecuted because of Jesus.

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