Dr. Chris White Feb 23, 2014
Of all the “blessed” statements of Jesus in Matthew 5, this one seems to be the least threatening. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9). Remember that blessed is also translated happy. It can hardly be simpler at face value. To live a life of peacemaking—to give peace and make peace—is to carry the distinction of being God’s child. Romans 15:13 calls God the “God of peace,” and so anyone creating peace shares in God’s work and is known by God as His child. That, Jesus says, will make us happy. But there is tension here, as in all the statements of happiness in this chapter. Making peace in a world of conflict is not so simple. Peace is expensive. It costs a LOT of humility and listening and apologies. It requires that we live with ideas and tensions and people we do not like. It means we do not win every argument. In fact, peacemaking rarely makes any list of modern Christian virtues. But it should.
I’ve never escaped the comment of a man named Michael Hart who wrote a book called The 100. In the book he ranked those he believed to be the most influential people in history. Jesus took second behind Muhammad. And the reason he relegates Jesus to second is because of what he judges to be our poor response to Jesus’ most distinctive teaching. Matthew 5:43-48: You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil as well as the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others. Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in heaven is perfect. It is a signature statement by Jesus, and one that the writer believed should obviously be the mark of Jesus’ followers. But his experience led him to believe that Christians, churches, and even Christian nations are not known for loving enemies and praying for persecutors. As far as he was concerned, we do not respond better than unbelievers to conflict and gossip and persecution. According to him, we’re not known for our kindness toward enemies or our prayer for those who persecute us or our love for those who do not love us.
That’s a matter of his opinion, of course. But we have to agree that few commands of Jesus are more difficult than showing God’s kindness toward enemies. Whether they are strangers or family, making peace is a big ticket. So where do we begin? There is only one way to begin. To ever enjoy peace and share peace with people in this world, we must find peace with God.
We’ll turn to Colossians 3:12-17 to consider God’s peace. Verses 12-14: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. A lot is asked here. And it would make little sense if not for the reminders about the grace God gave us: God’s chosen people; holy and dearly loved; the Lord forgave you. The Scriptures speak of us as set apart by God’s grace, a trophy of sorts in the story of salvation. We are on the receiving end of God’s goodness. But the real anchor for our peace is the Lord’s forgiveness. We who sinned found forgiveness: as per the parables of Luke 15, a lost sheep was found, a lost coin was found, and a lost son was found. We are rescued people called to do a bit of rescuing. We are people forgiven of much and called likewise to forgive much. We are called to share compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience for one clear reason: we’ve been on the receiving end of these from God. We are not poor in the realm of grace and kindness. In fact, we are fabulously wealthy. The call for peacemaking is a call to share only what we’ve been given.
Colossians 3:15 goes on: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. Peacemaking begins by letting Christ’s peace rule our hearts. In John 14:1 Jesus says, Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. Later, in verse 14, we find this, Peace I leave with 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. The only way to make peace and give peace in our homes and workplaces is to know this peace. We cannot give what we do not have. If our hearts are troubled and marked by fear, we have little to give. Jesus assures us that there is reason to rest. There is reason to feel peace. And so there is reason to make peace and give peace as God made peace in us.
A website called orthodoxheritage.org records the story of pastor Richard Wurnbrand who spent 14 years in Communist imprisonment beginning in 1946 in his home country of Romania. In 1966 he appeared before a Washington subcommittee to tell his story. To illustrate what he endured, he stood up, stripped to the waist, and revealed 18 torture wounds. But he also told this story about Orthodox Deacon John Stanescu: Colonel Albon, director of the slave camp, was informed that someone had dared to preach in a cell. He entered the cell carrying a cane and demanded to know the culprit. When no one responded, he said, “Well, then all will be flogged.” He commenced at one end of the cell, and there was the usual yelling and rising in tears. When he came to Stanescu, he said, “Not ready yet? Strip this minute!” Stanescu replied, “There is a God in heaven, and He will judge you.” With this, his fate was sealed. He would surely be beaten to death. But just at that moment, a guard entered the cell and said, “Colonel, you are called urgently to the office. Some generals have come in from the Ministry.” Albon left, saying to Stanescu, “We will see each other again soon.” However, the generals arrested the colonel, and after an hour Albon was back in the cell, this time as a prisoner. Many inmates jumped to lynch him. Now Stanescu defended the defeated enemy with his body, receiving many blows himself as he protected the torturer from the flogged prisoners. Later I asked him, “Where did you get the power to do this?” He replied, “I live Jesus ardently. I always have Him before my eyes. I also see Him in my enemy. It is Jesus who keeps him from doing even worse things.”
The peace of Christ in our own hearts is the only way we can share the peace of Christ with our home, our church, and our nation. The first step for peace outside of you is to welcome the peace of Jesus inside of you. How well do you know His forgiveness? How well do you know His love? You will only give as much as you have in your own heart.