The Hebrew word “Shalom” was a greeting, but more than a casual greeting, like our “Hello” and “Goodbye”. It was a word used in greeting that communicated good will. But it was also a word that described a desire for peace within a relationship. And more than that, it embodied the hope of Israel for the peace that would come through the Messiah.
Our Lord, in the usual sense of ownership seemed to have very little in the way of material possessions. On one occasion he would say, “the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Mt. 8:20). Jesus had no possessions to his name, nothing he could give his disciples. And when the crucifixion drew near, he had no bequests of land or money, no business he could leave them. But what he did leave them, was of so much greater value. He said, “Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27). And what a great gift it is that Jesus gives us. Paul calls it “the peace that passes all understanding.” There are incredibly wealthy people who would give everything they own just to experience an hour of it.
Without peace, no matter how many possessions we might have, we are never going to find any real happiness. Man desires so many things – health, home, family, wealth, love, beauty, power – and yet without peace, none of them really mean very much. If you have peace, you might not have much else, but very likely your life will be happy and abundant. But unless you have peace, whatever you have just won’t be enough.
We come this morning to the seventh of the blessings or beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” It calls on us for the deepest kind of commitment, because it demands from us the greatest personal involvement, the greatest risk in the lives of others.
The problem of strife and warfare has been with us for a very long, long time. On the very outskirts of Eden, we are told how Cain rose up and murdered his more righteous brother Abel. And John, over in his first epistle, asks the question, “And why did Cain murder Abel? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous” (1 Jn 3:12). They were fighting then and they are still fighting now.
Quincy Wright in his book, A Study of War, analyzed the wars that had occurred between the years 1480 and 1941. He noted that Great Britain had been involved in 78 wars in that period of time, France 71, Spain 64, Russia 61, Austria 52, Germany 23, China 11, Japan 9, and the U.S. 13. Since that book’s publication the U.S. has been involved in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I, Iraq II, and Afghanistan. In the last 4000 years of history there have been less than 300 years of peace. Even the most optimistic person is forced to admit that there has to be something wrong.
If someone were to visit our world from outer space and closely observe the workings of this planet, they would go back with the conclusion that the business of this world is war. It seems to be our major industry.
Not only is it wars between nations, but wars among the forces within our nation, wars within our families, and perhaps the war with the most casualties is the war within ourselves. Why is it, in the thousands of yrs we have inhabited this planet, we are no closer to peace than we were the day Cain murdered Abel?
James asks the question in James 4:1-2, “What causes wars and what causes fighting among you?”
Do you find yourself wondering why there is war, and questioning why we can’t just do away with it? If you are a Christian, you really shouldn’t be that surprised. In fact, it should be a rather powerful confirmation of the biblical teaching.
Many times we regard wars as matters of economics or sociological distinctions, or geography, or personality clashes, or philosophical differences, when really what the Bible tells us is that it is just plain sin. The trouble is not in the externals. It is in the heart of man, and until the heart of man is changed, you will never solve his problems by manipulations on the surface.
· A man parks a truck filled with fertilizer and diesel fuel and destroys the federal building in Oklahoma City and killed 168 people.
· Two suicide bombers hijack airplanes and run them into the towers of the World Trade Center killing almost 3000 people.
· A man walks into a crowded theater and starts shooting people killing 12 and injuring 70.
· Teenagers across the nation decide their troubles are too overwhelming and bring automatic weapons to schools and slaughter teachers and classmates. Over 250 separate incidents since 1970 alone, with hundreds of deaths and thousands of lives shattered from those shootings.
It’s almost more than you can take in, to consider how we are surrounded by violence and death – not over there somewhere, but here among us.
Among the acts of the sinful nature that Paul lists in Gal. 5 are these: “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy.” These are the kinds of qualities and attitudes we see in the world today. And the truth is, a man will never be at peace with himself, with others, or with God as long as he is a slave to these sins and passions. And the only true hope for peace today is not in some international summit talks, or in cease-fire agreements, or more gun laws, or in some kind of “12 Steps to Peace Within” book. The only place peace can ultimately be found is in Jesus Christ, and the reconciliation that he makes possible with God.
Perhaps the more fundamental questions we need to ask are, “Do we really understand what peace is?” and “Are we willing to accept the conditions of it?” Peace is one of those concepts that everybody agrees with on the surface. What does every beauty pageant contestant want? “World peace.” Hating peace is kind of like being against mom and apple pie. We are all peace lovers. Ah, but are we peace makers?
Peace, first of all, needs to be understood, not in worldly terms, but in Jesus’ definition. Our first words today were, “My peace I give you… not as the world gives.” There is a radically different kind of peace that Jesus suggests and offers.
Peace, in the world’s frame of reference has to do with a lack of open hostility. As long as the guns aren’t blasting then we feel like the situation is acceptable. You accomplish this kind of peace by surrendering to the enemy, or through the tricks of the trade of the Henry Kissengers or Colin Powells or Condoleeza Rices of this world, you mediate a compromise of sorts.
Real peace is not that uneasy tension that is accomplished only through shows of force and weakness or a Mexican standoff where you each have a gun pointed at you and you’re both afraid to lower yours.
We see nations “at peace” with one another, yet we wonder at this strange definition of peace. There is no trust, no compassion, no mutual respect. It may be preferable to bombs dropping, but it’s not peace.
I’ve seen the family where the husband and wife never exchange physical blows, or cut each other with unkind words, but the air is filled with a deadly silence. It may be preferable to abuse or divorce, but it’s not peace.
And how many times have I sat across the desk from a man, who outwardly appeared so calm and in control, but inwardly was being torn apart as if in some medieval torture where two horses are wrenching him in opposite directions. He may look in control, but he does not have peace.
Nor is peace accomplished by the jovial, easy-going kind of “peace-at-any-price” person – the one who says, “Anything to avoid trouble.”
There are really three dimensions to peace, and failure at any point hampers our ability to move any further in the continuum of making and attaining peace in our lives and the lives of others.
I want you to know that there will never be any peace between nations, races, in the home or in ourselves until there is peace with God. Man has been alienated from God for a very long time. About 2800 years ago, Isaiah wrote that, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:2). And that is really at the foundation of every other problem which we face. In the home when husbands can’t get along with wives – the children with their parents – brothers with sisters, there is something wrong, first of all, with the relationship with God. And if there is no peace with God, there will be no peace in the home.
It was into a world that was filled with hatred and sin and strife that Jesus was born. And Isaiah prophesied of him, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given… and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6). And with the birth of Jesus, some 700 yrs later, it was announced by the host of angels to the shepherds in the field, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14). And thus the coming of Jesus was the fulfillment of the proclamation that he was to be the “Prince of Peace.”
It was then after the death and resurrection of our Lord, that the disciples began to fulfill the great commission. And as Peter stood before the household of Cornelius, Acts 10:36 tells that Peter said, “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.”
Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace. (Eph. 2:13-15)
What God did through the death of his son was to destroy the wall of sin that separated man from himself. Paul said it so well in 2 Cor. 5:18-19, All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. And so, Christ really is the great peacemaker. He, by his blood on the cross transformed us from enemies into children of God, and made us peacemakers.
The second dimension of peace is that peace within – and there is no peace within, without first have peace with God. We all desire that inner serenity, yet it is such an elusive quality.
So many times that inner peace eludes us because we fail to take God at his word. Jesus, later in the Sermon on the Mount will say, “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body what you will wear…. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well.”
Any time you divide your love and loyalties, there can never be peace. As our passage last week mentioned, God desires for you to have a pure heart, the heart that is truly committed to God, unpolluted and unencumbered by other loyalties. A few verses later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will say “You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Do you want to have peace within? Search your heart to make sure that your heart belongs to only one.
That third dimension of peace – the one that is really the most obvious to the observer is that peace between people. Whether it is a peace between a husband and wife, between black and white, or between North and South Korea, or the U.S. and China, the principles are the same that will accomplish this peace. And by the same token, if there is no peace with God, and no peace within, there will be no peace between people – it is that fundamental.
What then is peace, and who is the peacemaker?
Peace, as Jesus uses it, never signifies merely the absence of fighting, the cessation of open hostilities with the enemy. Peace is a positive attribute rather than a negative. It is that inward calm that comes, not necessarily from a confidence in oneself or even in the abilities of others, but in a true trust and confidence in God. Peace in my world does not depend upon whether Ukraine and Russia sign a peace treaty, or whether we pull our troops out of Afghanistan or Iraq, or whether there are terrorist bombings or school shootings, but upon God. My inner peace doesn’t depend upon my own ability to handle the problems and the crises in my life, but upon my trust in God to resolve them. Peace is a completeness and a wholeness within that results in my ability to extend that peace to others.
How is that peace accomplished – who is the peacemaker – who is it that brings peace in the midst of discord and introduces Christ into these relationships that are locked in conflict?
I’m not talking about a crash course in mediation, or becoming a professional counselor. I’m talking about each of us knowing how to bring peace into our lives and our relationships and into the lives of those around us.
The peacemaker is called upon to take some difficult steps and take on some very unnatural, or we should say, supernatural qualities:
· If you are to be a peacemaker, you must first understand and embody the quality of forgiveness – having been forgiven and willing to forgive.
· Second, you must be able to love unconditionally – no strings attached – loving even your enemies.
· Third, you must be willing to sacrifice your rights, even lay down your life, to obtain this kind of peace. You must be willing to absorb the hatred and hostility of others without revenge. You must be willing to respond with kindness in the face of anger. Paul instructs us: Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Rom. 12:17-18)
· Finally, you must bring those relationships to the cross where Jesus is the one who brings true peace. 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. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Col. 1:19-22)
Yes, there is risk involved in being peacemakers. To call men and women to lay down their arms, their pride, their rights, their lives for peace. There is no greater call than to be peacemakers between God and men.
Now the promise: “for they shall be called sons of God.”
There is nothing quite so special as being told your children look like you. More than their looks, I want to invest certain qualities in their lives that I hold dear – that when people see how they act and how they treat people they will think – just like their father.
That’s the key to this promise – that God wants for us to look like him, acts like him, to take on his qualities and his nature – to reflect his heart. And there is no quality so close to his heart as making peace, because he allowed the blood of his beloved son to be shed for that very purpose.
And when you are a peacemaker, people will look at you and think – just like their Father. That is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
I realize that I’ve spent the majority of time in this sermon telling you what you already know – that we are surrounded by war and fighting and violence – and most of it of a nature that we cannot do anything about it on a global or national scale. What we can change is ourselves and the relationships we are in. We can be people of peace and seek and pursue peace in the world in which we have influence. We can find peace in ourselves by pursuing our relationship with God. We can pursue peace in our relationships with others by laying down our pride and our agendas and letting God have a voice... a word… and that word is “Shalom.”