Sunday 05 July 2020
Ps Ben Hooman
We come today to the last of the Beatitudes that describe the character of a Christian. There is one more Beatitude, but it speaks about the experience of a Christian, which is to be blessed by God, and persecuted by the world. This is the last of our Lord’s seven-fold description of Christian character.
We said at the beginning of the series that these Beatitudes tell us what a true Christian looks like. They give us a grid on which to measure our progress.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
Today we come to the last of these distinguishing marks: The Christian is a peacemaker. Again, our plan is to look at what that means, and then next time at how we can pursue this calling.
The importance of peace
The fact that this is the last of the seventh Beatitudes suggests its importance. This is the top rung of the ladder, the last ring to which all of the others have been leading.
We have seen that there is order and progress in the Beatitudes, and the fact that this is last tells us much about the heart of God. This is the most difficult of all and much more difficult than purity.
In these last years, this country that we love has become notorious for violence. Just look at the abuse against women and children, the strife and hatred between groups of colour, and the strife of ideology in politics to have power and control over people, evidence of it all even in our city, all destroying relationships, even between people of God. The Bible speaks about “violence and strife in the city” (Psalm 55:9).
Violence and strife in the city
“Destroy O Lord, divide their tongues; for I see violence and strife in the city” (Psalm 55:9)
There is strife in the city because there is strife in the family, and there is strife in the family because there is strife in our hearts. Psalm 55 is a lament over broken relationships. If you go through that experience, you will find it profoundly helpful.
When David says “I see violence and strife in the city,” he is talking about the city of God. The strife and violence did not come from invading armies. It rose up from among the people of God themselves.
“For it is not an enemy who taunts me – then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me – then I could hide from him. It is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house when we walked in the throne.” (Psalm 55:12-13)
David speaks words that will be well understood by anyone who knows the grief of trust being betrayed, whether in a marriage, or in a business partnership, or even in church.
“My companion stretched out his hand against his friends; he violated his covenant. His speech was as smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart.” (Psalm 55:20-21)
There’s only one answer to that:
“Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)
Thomas Watson has a vivid picture: Satan kindles the fire of contention in men’s hearts and then stands and warms himself at the fire.
Called to peace
There are peacemakers and there are peace breakers. God calls us to be peacemakers in a world of conflict. God has called you to peace.
If you belong to Jesus Christ this is your calling. God calls you to contribute to the peace of your family: Picture your father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter. They are your family.
They may love each other dearly; they may be at each other’s throats. They may not be speaking to each other, whatever it’s like, God calls you to contribute, to the best of your ability, to the peace of your family. Whether it’s dysfunctional or happy; you are called by God to be an influencer towards making it better.
It’s the same in the church: As a member of the congregation, God calls you to contribute to its peace. That’s not an option; it is a calling from God Himself.
The same is true at work, in the community, in a restaurant. Wherever you are, whatever you do, God has called you to peace, and therefore plan for peace.
Plan for peace
“Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.” (Proverbs 12:20)
Since this is the calling of God, we should be intentional about pursuing it: Plan peace! Where we don’t have it, as a believer we should be asking: What’s the best way to get it? And where we do have it, we should be asking: How can we protect it? How do we make sure we don’t lose this peace?
What is peace? In the Bible, the word “shalom” (or peace) is more than the absence of conflict. It is the active enjoyment of all that is good.
As I think about what I say and what I do, I should be asking this question: What would promote peace? What would promote the greatest wholeness and health in my family, church, colleagues, neighbours and friends? I should plan for that, plot it, hatch schemes for it. Plan peace! Those who plan peace have great joy!
Work for peace
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
Peacemakers don’t stop with plans; they plan the work and they work the plan. The word “strive” indicates effort, hard work, and perseverance. There’s a reason why it’s the seventh beatitude, because it is the summit.
Today we look at what it means to be a peacemaker, and why peacemakers are called sons of God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”.
What It Means to be a Peacemaker
Peacemakers are people who bring peace to others, because they have it themselves. They are at peace within. A person who lives with unresolved conflict on their own heart cannot bring peace to others.Conflict seems to follow some people around. The reason it follows them is that it lives in them. What fills you will spill out from you when other people bump into you. You cannot give what you do not have.
How do you get peace?
Peace in your heart flows from purity in your life. Notice the order: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God” (5:9). There’s a direct connection.
“The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open for reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)
First pure, then peaceable, and clearly there is an order there. Peace of heart flows from purity of life. Why?
Purity of heart is to “will one thing.” The person who wills one thing is a person who can be at peace. The impure person has a heart that is fundamentally divided. He or she wants two contradictory things at the same time. As long as that unresolved conflict rages there is no peace. James speaks about this:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” (James 4:1-2)
Passions are “at war” at the core of the divisive person. If this person had come to a place of willing one thing, they would have a means of dealing with their passions. But without purity, this person finds himself constantly “limping between two opinions,” to use Elijah’s wonderful phrase.
He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). That’s why the Bible says, “There is no peace for the wicked” (Isaiah 57:21). The wicked cannot have peace because they do not have purity.
Peace flows from purity, so the more you pursue purity, the more you will discover and enjoy peace in your heart. The more you give way to impurity, the more conflicted, disturbed and restless you will become.
Bringing peace to others
Peacemakers are people who bring peace to others, because they have it themselves.
Most of us can think of a relationship that didn’t end as we would have liked it to end. We live in a fallen world, and even at our best we’re sinners in the process of recovery. Other Christians, let alone those who are not in the Lord, are in the same position.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a place where we are not able to make peace. We feel as David did in Psalm 55. How do you live with that?
How you grow as a Christian
This entire series has been about sanctification: It’s not about how you become a Christian; it’s about how you grow as a Christian. This series is about what Christian growth or Christian maturity looks like.
There is no doctrine in the Bible that Christians struggle with more than with the doctrine of sanctification. It’s important to remember that sanctification is a journey in which every Christian makes progress. But no Christian completes the journey in this life.
Purity of heart (to will one thing), hunger and thirst for righteousness, meekly submitting to the will of God, the beginnings of all these things are in the heart of every child of God.
If there is no sense in which you are pursing purity of heart, you’re not yet a Christian. If there is no sense in which you find in yourself a hunger and a thirst for righteousness, you’re not yet a Christian. If there is no sense in which you are submitting yourself to God, you are not yet a Christian.
So, as we look at ourselves in the mirror of these Beatitudes, we will be thankful for the grace of God if we have begun this journey, and we will be humbled because we still have so far to go. If you are the most mature Christian in this congregation, this will be your experience.
This whole question of sanctification is troubling to many people for different reasons. Some lack progress because they do not see what they could become: “This is who I am, and I’m never going to be anything more.” Others see what they could become so clearly that they feel defeated, and they are overwhelmed by their lack of progress.
We desperately need balanced, biblical thinking.
There is a little book by Bishop Handley Moule, that is very helpful. It’s called Thoughts on Christian Sanctity. Not the most exciting title, but in the 19th century, people were wise enough to choose books by the author rather than by the title.
This is an important matter to tuck away in your mind. Who you read matters more than what you read. Are you reading someone that you have good reason to believe is following hard after God, or is it just another populist or someone boosting own ego.
The first chapter of Moule’s book on sanctification is titled “Aims, limits and possibilities” Under aims he says: It is nothing less than the supreme aim of the Christian Gospel, that we should be holy. In particular he identifies these aims for every Christian:
To be like Him “whom not having seen, we love…” To displace self from the throne and to enthrone him, To make not the smallest compromise with the slightest sin.
We aim at nothing less than to walk with God all day long; to abide every hour in Christ, to love God with all the heart, and our neighbour as ourselves.
I mean not limits in our aims, for there must be none, nor limits in divine grace itself, for there are none, but limits, however caused, in the actual attainments by us of Christian holiness. There will be limits to the last, and very humbling limits… to the last, it will be a sinner who walks with God.
In other words, there will be limits to what you attain in every one of these Beatitudes; purity of heart, meekly submitting to the will of God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and mourning over your sins.
There will also be limits in what you attain when it comes to peace-making. Peace is never complete in this life. The world will persecute you, hate you and say all kinds of evil things about you. There won’t be any peace there. This is why Paul says,
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
There will be situations where you cannot make peace. But don’t let that stop you from trying. Don’t quit the journey just because you can’t get to the end of the road.
To live in peace in the midst of pressure; For affections and imagination to be purified through faith; To see the will of God in everything, not with a sigh but with a song.
Some Christians are troubled because they forget the limits. They are constantly downgrading themselves for their lack of progress saying, “After all these years I have been a Christian, I should be much further on than I am.”
Others are hindered because they don’t see the possibilities, they haven’t really grasped what God can do for them. They find it very difficult to picture themselves in a better condition of spiritual health. They speak about having to “come to terms” with themselves. There’s a sadness about them because they do not have much hope.
Here’s what you need for a balanced, biblical approach to sanctification: Embrace the aim! Recognize the limits! Go after the possibilities!
All of that is beautifully expressed in prayer of Robert Murray McCheyne: Lord, make me as holy as it is possible for a pardoned sinner to be. When it comes to peace-making, you could pray, “Let me bring peace as far as is possible in this fallen world.”
Why peacemakers are called sons of God
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
God has peace in Himself. In the Bible, He is called: “The God of peace” (Hebrews 13:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Romans 15:33).
We spoke last time about gazing on the glory of God. Do that with me for a moment as we think about His peace.
God has peace in Himself. Think of the complexity of the Trinity and all God is. There is no tension between Father, Son, and Spirit. The persons of the Trinity are one in purpose, one in love. God is the God of peace.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is described as “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). When He came into the world, the angels said “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace! Goodwill towards men!”
The Bible says that Christ is our peace. All our peace is going to come from Him and through Him. He came into the world to make peace, and He did it by shedding His blood on the cross.
“For in Him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20)
The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Peace” (Matthew 3:16). When Jesus was baptized, Matthew tells us that the Spirit of God descended on Him like a dove. Everyone knows that the dove is the symbol of peace.
The greatest revelation of the glory of God ever to be made in this world was at the cross where His love and His justice meet. Why are His love and His justice meeting there? Because He’s making peace.
God’s glory is revealed most fully in His making peace through the cross, and when you make peace, you display His likeness. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” When you make peace, you reflect the likeness of God. People see a reflection of His glory. Think about how God makes peace, and what it’s going to take for you to do this hard work.
God’s way of making peace:
Don’t stand on your rights
Christ was in the form of God. But He did not grasp what was His by right. He left heaven. He stepped down. He came into the world for us. Why? To make peace. You will not make peace by standing on your rights.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones says: If God stood upon His rights and dignity, upon His person, every one of us… would be consigned to hell and absolute perdition.
We live in a world of rights, where people often say, “It’s my right.” It may be your right, and there may be times when it is appropriate to insist on your rights, but what is the best way to make peace?
Every time you think about your rights, remind yourself, “If God stood on His rights, I would be in hell forever and so would everyone else.” You don’t make peace by standing on your rights.
Move toward the trouble
But don’t move toward all trouble. Some people are drawn to trouble. They look for fights because they want to get involved. People like that are obviously not Christians.
Our calling is to act as peacemakers, and where you can be a peacemaker, you will move toward the trouble. That is what God did in the incarnation.
A wise person once gave counsel on dealing with situations of conflict: “Always move towards the barking dog.” That’s never my inclination. If a dog is barking, that’s the last thing we want to do. Our instinct is to back off. When the world was barking at God, he did not back off. He moved towards us. He came to us, and what did that lead to? The shedding of His blood on the cross.
Making peace does not mean avoiding conflict. Peacemakers often cause trouble in pursuing peace. I believe that is what Jesus was referring to when He said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:24). When the peacemaker came there was an outpouring of violence against Him. People took sides over Him.
Christ came to make peace between men and God. He moved towards the trouble, but when He came the trouble flared. That will often be the experience of a peacemaker. Peace-making is not for the faint-hearted for it takes immense courage. It is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. For Jesus it meant laying down His life.
Love before you are loved in return
“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Amazing! Could you do that? Could you love and keep loving where love is not returned? Of course not, unless the Spirit of Jesus were to actually live in you.
Here’s a prayer that you could make your own:
Let us pray:
Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred let me bring your love, where there is injury, your pardon, Lord, and where there’s doubt true faith in you. O Master grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love with all my soul. Make me a channel of your peace. In the Your Name we pray my Lord, Amen.