2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 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, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
You don’t need to be a genius to know that the world is in serious trouble. The political, social and economic climates worldwide seem to be spiraling out of control, particularly in the last couple of years. You’d be very hard pressed to find any country on the planet where there is no real turmoil and uncertainty.
So in an an age of such turmoil and upheaval, peace is one of the greatest words in the world. We all long for true peace and quiet, but the more we strive for it in the world, the more elusive those things seem to be.
The mess that we see in the world stands directly opposed to the kingdom of peace promised to us in Scripture, so it is clear that we have a problem. You’ll remember from a couple of weeks ago that we don’t live in a sick society, but rather a sinful society. The world is sick because of sin. Sin is the problem, and sin is the reason the world is sick, and there is little or no peace in the world.
So what an opportunity we have then to make a real difference. Romans 14:19 says, “Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace.” As we saw last week, we cannot do anything about purifying our hearts – it is only God who can do that. We looked at His wonderful promise in Ezekiel 36 last week: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” God does the work of changing our hearts. The work of salvation is His and His alone, but the response we can make to His mercy and grace is to be His ambassadors in the world. In fact, this is precisely what we are called in 2 Corinthians 5:20. “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Reconciliation is one of the political buzzwords we hear so often, but the Bible teaches us to be reconciled to God through Jesus before we can even begin reconciliation with each other. In 1 Thessalonians 5:13 Christians are instructed to “live in peace with each other.” That cannot happen without the peace of God in our hearts first.
We’ve all heard the saying, “There is no peace for the wicked.” I wonder how many people know that comes straight out of Scripture? Isaiah 48:22 – “There is no peace’, says the Lord. ‘for the wicked.”
So should we be surprised that the world is in such a mess? It seems that virtually every day we hear of new terrorist attacks and mass shootings. As tragic as those things are, we should not be surprised. The world is a wicked place, full of wicked people, and God Himself has told us that there is no peace for the wicked. So absolutely, be offended and saddened at all of the crime and destruction you see around you, but when you hear about the next terrorist attack, please don’t say, “I just can’t believe it!”
The point is that sinful man, no matter how good and honourable our intentions may be, simply cannot bring peace into the world. How many peace treaties have been broken throughout history? Peace is not found in treaties, but in hearts of people who have been changed by Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Is world peace possible? Yes, it is, but only when we replace sinful things like greed, distrust, and hatred with holy things like love, mercy, faith and kindness. It is not the absence of war that makes peace, but the presence of God, and that is the key to finding true peace.
As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2, “He (Jesus) is our peace.” The peace of God is completely different to the kind of peace the politicians speak about. The only lasting peace that can have any impact in the world is the peace that comes through justification by faith, as we read in Romans 5:1, “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Once we’ve grasped this idea that it is Godly peace and Godly peace alone that makes worldly peace possible, we are then able to take on the role of being peacemakers. Every kind of human peace flows from Godly peace.
As the commentator Donald Carson wrote, “Jesus does not limit the peacemaking to only one kind, and neither will His disciples. In the light of the gospel, Jesus Himself is the supreme peacemaker, making peace between God and man, and man and man. Our peacemaking will include the promulgation of that gospel. It must also extend to seeking all kinds of reconciliation. Instead of delighting in division, bitterness, strife, or some petty divide-and-conquer mentality, disciples of Jesus delight to make peace wherever possible. Making peace is not appeasement: the true model is God’s costly peacemaking.” That term “God’s costly peacemaking” refers directly to the cross. It is only because of the cross, and what happened there that reconciliation and peace is possible between a holy God and sinful man.
John MacArthur draws the distinction between Godly and worldly peace like this: “The peace of which Christ speaks in this beatitude, and about which the rest of Scripture speaks, is unlike that which the world knows and strives for. God’s peace has nothing to do with politics, armies and navies, forums of nations, or even councils of churches. It has nothing to do with statesmanship, no matter how great, or with arbitration, compromise, negotiated truces, or treaties. God’s peace, the peace of which the Bible speaks, never evades issues; it knows nothing of peace at any price. It does not gloss or hide, rationalise or excuse. It confronts problems and seeks to solve them, and after the problems are solved it builds a bridge between those who were separated by the problems. It often brings its own struggle, pain, hardship, and anguish, because such are often the price of healing. It is not a peace that will be brought by kings, presidents, prime ministers, diplomats, or international humanitarians. It is the inner personal peace that only He can give to the soul of man and that only His children can exemplify.”
We’ve seen as we’ve worked through this series how each of the beatitudes leads into the next, and if we consider last week, it makes perfect sense that only those who are pure in heart can be authentic peacemakers. Once you have been made pure and have seen God, you will naturally become a messenger of peace and reconciliation, encouraging people to be reconciled not only to God through Jesus, but being reconciled to each other.
What we need to keep in the forefront of our minds when we look at the turmoil we see all around us and the desperate need for peace in the world, is that peace must begin with God, and it only comes in Jesus Christ. In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Do you want to see real peace in the world and in your own life in particular? Then you have to know Jesus, the Prince of Peace. 2 Peter 1:2 says, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”
And of course, that wonderful promise we find in Philippians 4:7, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The title of the last hymn we’re singing this morning is “Let there be peace on earth.” You hear that cry all over the world, especially nowadays where we have terrorist attacks and random mass shootings virtually every week. Peace is possible, simply because of Jesus, and in that hymn the next line tells us how peace is possible: “And let it begin with me.”
That is the duty and responsibility of every Christian – to take the peace of Christ into this dark world.
But are we doing that? Are you doing that?
Are we contributing to peace as we are instructed to in the Bible?
1 Peter 3:10-12 quotes directly from Psalm 34: “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Two weeks ago we looked at the beatitude that calls us to show mercy. It is the first beatitude which deals directly with our behaviour, rather than an attitude of the heart and mind. Today’s beatitude is the second one. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” When we make peace, we are doing something. We are putting into action the changes God has already begun on the inside. Being a peacemaker does not mean that we wish for peace. It means we make peace. We bring about change in positive ways by actually doing something about this wonderful faith we claim to believe in.
It’s been said before that the word Church should not be a noun, but rather a verb. Church should be something we do, rather than somewhere we go.
I found a website recently which actually asks the same question: “Is Church a noun or a verb?” It goes on to answer the question like this: “How you answer this question explains whether you understand the Gospel or have totally missed its point. Our role as Christians is to ‘be’ church not ‘to church.’ It’s not about ‘doing’ church better but ‘being’ church better. So what does it mean to ‘be’ the church? Being church means that real ministry begins after we leave worship. Worship is what prepares us to be the church. But being the church doesn’t end when we leave the building. We become the church when we leave the building to be God’s hands and feet.”
Most of us understand that. We’ve heard often enough that the Church is the people and not the building, but are we living out that belief? Are we taking this theory which every Christian agrees with and actually doing something about it? One of the most effective ways of being the Church is by being peacemakers in practical ways. It’s very closely linked to be being merciful, which we looked at two weeks ago. We have this incredible gift of life and salvation, and we are honour and duty bound to live out this gift in the way we treat others.
In Matthew 7 Jesus talks about recognising people by their fruit. In other words, our behaviour is directly connected to who we really are. And since we have the Spirit of God within us, we should be displaying the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul writes in Galatians 5: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” That’s what the non-believing world should see in us. But if they’re not, that means we are suppressing the work of the Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” This means the same thing. To grieve or quench the Spirit is to do what our sinful nature wants to do, rather than what God would have us do. The effects of quenching and grieving the Spirit are much the same, in that both hinder a godly lifestyle. When we refuse to forgive as we’ve been forgiven, to love as we’ve been loved and to consciously bring Godly peace into a situation of hatred and conflict, we are quenching the fire of the Spirit that lives within us. And when we do it often enough, that fire will eventually become nothing more than a mere flicker, and tragically in some cases, it is extinguished completely.
Blessed are the peacemakers. And what is the blessing promised in this beatitude? We will be called the sons of God!
God Himself acknowledges us as belonging to Him. We are His children because we reflect the character of our Father.
I’ve mentioned Ephesians 5:1-2 often throughout this series: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
You’ll remember from last week that Jesus makes a simply stunning declaration in the previous beatitude. Because our hearts have been purified, we – sinners who deserve eternal punishment – are now able to “see” God, to live in a relationship here and now, and ultimately in eternity with Him. But if anything, the promise He makes here is even greater: “They will be called sons of God.” Romans 8:14-17 expands on this promise: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.”
We are His children because of what Jesus has done for us, and one of the acts of gratitude towards Him is to bring peace into the world whenever the opportunity arises.
One final point, and I think this is important. There are Christians all over the world who have taken seriously the call to be peacemakers. I hope all of us here today are among them. So why then, is there still so much hatred and violence in the world? If we are being the peacemakers that God has called us to be, why then are things getting worse instead of better?
The simple answer is that we live in a sinful world. Being peacemakers is not the same as being peace achievers. Not all of our efforts at making peace succeed. A peacemaker longs for peace, and works for peace, and sacrifices for peace. But the attainment of peace may not come. Romans 12:18 puts it like this: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Your attempts at making peace may have the exact opposite desired effect, but make peace anyway. Someone once said, “The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow, but do good anyway.” Remember that you can’t change people’s hearts. Only God can do that. And in case you haven’t noticed it yet, when you try to be a peacemaker you sometimes end up being hurt and heartbroken as a result. You try to make peace, but things just seem to get worse. But we don’t make peace for ourselves. We are doing it for God, and for His glory.
As Paul writes in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”