“The Disciple’s Character: Peacemaking” (Matthew 5:9 sermon)

In 1994, North Korea precipitated an international crisis, when they took the rods out of their nuclear reactors, which would allow them to create nuclear weapons. Many thought we might be on the brink of war. But Jimmy Carter, years after his own presidency, as a private citizen, flew to North Korea, met with the Korean leaders and helped broker a “peace” – in fact, one magazine article, published in 1997 called him: “The Peacemaker”! And in 2002, Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

But if you’ve seen the news recently, you might wonder if what Jimmy Carter did was really peacemaking! Here we are, over 20 years later, and North Korea and the nuclear crisis are STILL on the front burner in 2016! Now, surely it is a laudable thing to try to keep peace between people and nations, but this kind of thing is not what the Bible is talking about here in Matthew 5:9 – indeed, very few of us will ever have the opportunity to be that kind of peacemaker. The Bible is referring to an entirely different thing, which Jesus demonstrates for us, and which God wants to build into the character each of us. We find this quality in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

 

I. JESUS’ EXAMPLE OF PEACEMAKING

As we have repeatedly seen, ALL of these Beatitudes are the character qualities of Jesus Himself, which God wants to form in us. And as we look at this 7th Beatitude, we again find Jesus as the ultimate example of this quality. Ephesians 2:14-16 tells us:

“For He Himself IS our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity … thus making peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross …”.

It is interesting that the same basic Greek word for “peacemaker” from Matthew 5 is also used there in Ephesians 2. So it is saying that Jesus is the great Example of what it is to be the “peacemaker” that He wants us to be in Matthew 5:9. What do these verses teach us about what peacemaking really is:

A) Peacemaking reconciles God and man in Christ
By His death on the cross Jesus brought men and God together. This verse says He reconciled us all in His body “to God through the cross.” Every single one of us had become estranged from God because of our sin. As soon as we came to the age where we could make a choice to sin, we each did sin. And as Isaiah 59:2 says, our sins separated us from God. But God sent Jesus to die on the cross and pay for our sins, so that we could be forgiven, and reconciled, and have peace with God. He “reconciled us to God through the cross.” That means that whoever you are, if you will be willing to repent of your sins, and trust Jesus as your Savior, you can have peace with God today, if you will repent of your sin, and put your trust in what Jesus did on the cross for you.

A number of years ago, a man was working high on a scaffold and he fell to the ground, and was obviously severely injured. A doctor was rushed to him, and after examining him, he said, “Young man, I not going to lie to you, you are severely hurt; you had better make your peace with God”. The young man responded: “Sir, my peace with God was made 1900 years ago, when Jesus died on the cross for me.”

Do you have the confidence that that young man had, that you have peace with God through what Jesus did? If you do not, you can have it, today! Turn back from your rebellion against God; follow Jesus as your Lord & Savior, and you can know that you are at peace with God. That is why Jesus came: to make peace between you and God. THAT, the Bible says, is what real peacemaking is: it reconciles people with God.
But it also has another dimension:

B) Peacemaking reconciles people together as they each make peace with God.
Peacemaking is first and foremost peace with God. It is not negotiating peace with foreign countries like a Henry Kissinger or Jimmy Carter, which is what many people think of as a “peacemaker.” It is personal peace with God. BUT … when peace is made between individuals and God, it also makes peace between that person and other individuals who have also made peace with God.
Look back at Ephesians 2; it says He “made both groups into one”. He is speaking here of the Jews and the Gentiles (non-Jews). They had a great prejudice against each other, like a lot of ethnic groups do. But Paul said when Christ reconciled them to God through His death on the cross, it also brought them together. When YOU make peace with God, and someone else makes peace with God, it creates peace between the two of you also.

Some of you may be familiar with the illustration of the pyramid and how people get closer to each other as they get closer to the Lord. (You can see it on this simple diagram overhead) God is at the top point, you and others at the bottom sides. The closer you each get to God, the closer you will get to each other. When people are reconciled to God, they will ultimately be reconciled with each other too.

So, our greatest responsibility as Christian is NOT to try to make “peace treaties” between nations, or even individuals, who don’t know Christ. That kind of “peace” won’t last. (As an old Christian song says, “There will never be any peace until God is seated at the conference table”!) Instead, what God is calling us to do is to help individual people make peace with God through Christ. II Corinthians 5:18 says “God … reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”. He wants us to share with others how they can have the peace with God that we do. But as individual people each make peace with God, it WILL create peace between them and others too, as they both draw near to God. So the greatest peacemaking you can do for other people is to help make peace between them and God, which will ultimately bring them together. It is the only peacemaking that will last.

C) Peacemaking involves personal cost
Notice this was true of Jesus: that Ephesians 2 passage says when He made peace, He did it “in His flesh.” Your peace with God was free to you — the Bible says salvation is “the gift of God” — but it was not cheap; it took the body of Jesus to be nailed to the cross as He bore our sins. It took the shedding of His blood. It took God’s punishment for our sins to be inflicted on Him as He hung on the cross. The peacemaking that Jesus did for us was costly.

We need to understand that as we “follow in His steps” and become peacemakers, seeking to lead others to God, that there is often a cost for us, too. We just passed the 60th anniversary of the death of Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, and two other Christians who flew to South America to introduce a native tribe there to Christ. But they weren’t received with “open arms.” The natives killed the four men when they landed in their plane. Eventually, as other missionaries came in their place, and explained the gospel to them, these natives came to know Jesus as their Savior. But it took Jim Elliott and the others being willing to pay the price to “break the ground” with their lives. The price for peacemaking for those people was very costly.

There are all kinds of costs like that involved in brining people to God. Several years ago, we sent our son David and another young man to Nepal on a mission trip for the summer, to some regions where the gospel had either never been or is very scarce. They went as “peacemakers” to share how those people could be reconciled with God through Christ — but it was very difficult. The guys slept on rooftops in remote villages; at one point there was no food, so they chased a chicken down to kill it; David got extremely sick, lost weight, and found out when he got home that he had gotten a parasite while he was there. All these things were the costs of peacemaking.

We need to be ready to make sacrifices to help make peace between others and God. Your sacrifice may or may not be your life. It may be giving your summer, like David & Cody did. It may be sacrificing the time it takes to build a relationship with someone so that you can have the opportunity to share the gospel with them. Maybe it will cost you going to a training seminar or discipleship class where you learn how to witness effectively. Maybe it will cost you the time of a night away to share with someone, when you are tired and “feel” like being at home instead. Maybe it will involve giving up your career, so that you can go into full-time missions or ministry where you will point people to the Lord. When you try to make peace between others and the Lord, it may cost you persecution or scorn by people who do not want to hear your witness. And it may even cost your life. But what we have to realize is that it cost Jesus dearly to make peace between you and God; and as you become “conformed to the image of Christ” as is God’s plan with these Beatitudes, you are going to find your character is being changed, and you will begin to imitate Him by being willing to pay the costs of peacemaking. (We’ll talk some more about those costs next week, as we look at the final Beatitude, on persecution.) But peacemaking is costly. The more like Christ we become, the more we will be willing to pay those costs.

D) Peacemaking is active, not passive
Some people may have the mistaken impression that if you are a “peacemaker” that you have that kind of “passive” personality that just doesn’t like conflict. My baby sister Hope is that way. She is just a kind, loving person, who doesn’t like conflict. At the dinner table a couple of years ago, my mom and I were arguing about the meaning of the poem where it says “Good fences make good neighbors.” My mom believed that was the literal meaning of the poem; I said No, the author was being sarcastic, and he didn’t mean it literally. (I had it from good authority; I saw that interpretation on the tv show “The West Wing”!) Mom & I went back and forth arguing about it, and finally my baby sister said, “I just think you’re BOTH right!” I just had to laugh. We can’t BOTH be right (I was right and she was wrong!) But that is just how Hope is; she just has that natural disposition that doesn’t like conflict.

But that is NOT what this Christlike character quality of peacemaking is. Being a peacemaker is not just about having a passive personality; it is an ACTIVE quality. The Greek word is “eirene-poeo” – MAKING peace, DOING peace. It is not just a “peaceful disposition”; it refers to a positive activity of bringing others to God. Jesus was active in His peacemaking: He left heaven, He went to the cross; He went out “to seek and to save those who are lost.” Making peace between God and men involves action.

So as we seek to imitate Jesus in this quality, we need to be active in our peacemaking. In other words, we are NOT to just sit around wishing that people would make peace with God. We need to be active, purposeful about seeking to MAKE peace between others and God. We should actively BRING them to make peace with Him.

When we were serving in Tulsa, our daughter Libby was in the kindergarten, I believe, in Sunday School, and there was a little boy in her class who said that he wanted to say something to me, but he was afraid to. She said, “You don’t need to be afraid; he is just my dad!” And she literally took that little boy by the hand, brought him into the worship center, where I was sitting on the front seat, getting ready for the service, and said, “Dad, this is Ben; he wanted to talk to you.”

What Libby did for her little friend that day was active; she took him by the hand and brought him to me. That is just the picture of what WE are supposed to do as peacemakers. People around us do not know God. And most of them do not know HOW to know God — and they are not going to find out from Oprah or Dr. Phil or what they see in the media. If they are going to be reconciled with God, it is going to be because people like you & me get out and actively lead them to make peace with God. We need to take people by the hand — sometimes literally like my daughter Libby did if we have to — and tell them about Christ; tell them how they can have peace with God. We need to be ACTIVE about it: first of all, active in prayer, as we lay the foundation for our witness in prayer — but then we need to take action, and be “peace/makers”, “peace/doers” – it is an active quality that every one of us as Christians should be participating in.

 

II. PEACEMAKING AND SPIRITUAL MATURITY

Now we have seen over the last weeks that each of these Beatitudes are character qualities of Christ, which God is working to build into your life. As you mature as a Christian, you will demonstrate each of these qualities. In fact, I think in a very real sense, the qualities build upon one another, culminating in this quality of peacemaking. Think about it: you have to have virtually all of the other qualities we have looked at in the previous weeks in order to be a peacemaker:
— you have to depend upon God;
— you must mourn over others’ spiritual condition,
— you have to see, feel compassion for people who are lost, which drives you to do something about it, and so on.
Virtually all of the qualities of the Beatitudes work together to make you a peacemaker like Christ.

Jesus was the Great Peacemaker, and when you are conformed to His image, YOU will be a peacemaker too. Because peacemaking was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, this quality of peacemaking is the ultimate mark of genuine spiritual maturity. Notice Jesus said “THEY shall be called the sons of God”. It is the peacemaker who is recognized as the one who is like Jesus: the person who is bringing people and God together, THAT is the one who is like Christ. The spiritually mature person is not the person who knows all the answers in Sunday School; the spiritually mature person is the one who helps others make peace with God through Jesus Christ. Do you want to know how much you are like Christ? How much do you witness and lead people to Jesus? That is the ultimate mark of Christlikeness.

This is something that we need to be reminded of: Genuine peacemaking is an expression of spiritual maturity of people who are becoming like Jesus. It is not just something we force ourselves to get out and “just do.” I think this has been one of our mistakes in the past: we Baptists have just focused on “doing the deed” of evangelism, without developing the mature believers to carry it out. We read statistics that only 2% of believers tell others about Jesus, and so our preachers and evangelists and denominational leaders have tried programs to get everyone fired up to “get out there and witness.” But it hasn’t worked. The problem is, as a people we are not like Christ in our HEARTS. As we saw last week, these Beatitudes are not just about “getting out and doing something”, but becoming like Christ in our hearts. Biblical peacemaking is not just “getting out there and witnessing” like a salesman, or as someone who just wants to get a “notch on their belt” — but really CARING enough about people from our hearts, so that we show them how they can be reconciled with God through Christ.

David Uth, who is now the pastor at FBC Orlando Florida, was pastoring in Louisiana several years ago when we were there. He said that his church was having a special emphasis on getting out into the community one time, and he was out visiting, and when he arrived at this particular man’s house, the man greeted him with a beer can in his hand, and the first thing he asked him was: “Is this just some church program, or do you really care?”

I think that’s a pretty good question! The real problem most Christians have with witnessing is not that we need another class on how to do it; or that we need to just make ourselves “get out there and just do it.” It is a heart problem:
— First of all we don’t love God from our hearts. Jesus said “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Listen: you talk about what you love. Man, a few weeks ago everyone around was talking about the Carolina Panthers football team! Why? Because that is what they are interested in. That is what they spend time watching and listening to. That is what they love. And people speak about that which they love. Folks, our problem is not that we don’t know how to witness — we witness about the Carolina Panthers, and the UNC Tar Heels, and the Duke Blue Devils, and every other sports team all the time. We know how to share about what we love. Our root problem is that we don’t love God enough that we naturally speak of Him like we do the other things that we really love.

— Second, our lack of witness is a heart problem because we don’t love people. Jesus LOVED people, and that is why He did what He did. “For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” He LOVED PEOPLE. That’s why He was a peacemaker. That’s why He stayed up late ministering to people who lined up at the door. That’s why took the time to talk with the outcast Woman at the Well. That’s why He was so patient with the Rich Young Ruler. He LOVED these people.
And the biggest problem that many of us have as Christians about witnessing is not that we don’t have enough education or will power. It is that we just don’t love people. If we were more like Jesus we would love people, and we would be peacemakers like Him, doing whatever it takes to bring people and God back together.

If peacemaking is the ultimate quality of spiritual maturity, defining how much you are like Christ, what does this indicate about your spiritual maturity? When is the last time you led someone to Jesus as Savior? The results are not up to you, but when is the last time you even TOLD someone about Jesus? Again, it’s not that you just “go out and do it” – if you are not doing witnessing, it should be the “warning light” in your spiritual life that you are just not much like Christ. This should drive many us back to our knees – back to the 1st Beatitude – to humble ourselves before God and say, “Lord, forgive me for my lack of love for You, that I am not telling others about You. Forgive me for how little I am like Jesus. Forgive me for my lack of love for people, that I am not sharing You with them. Build Your character into my life, and make me more like Jesus: a peacemaker, who brings people to God.”

 

III. PEACEMAKING AND YOUR SITUATION

We have seen all through this study that God uses our circumstances to further His purposes in making us like Christ. It is especially true with this quality of peacemaking. MANY of the situations God places us in are for the purpose of using us as peacemakers, to lead people to be reconciled with Him through Christ. The problem is, we are often so busy worrying about our circumstances that we don’t notice the opportunities He is giving us.

In Acts 16, Paul & Silas had been thrown into prison for preaching the gospel, and they were singing at midnight, and the Bible says: “the prisoners were listening”, and the earthquake came, and the jailer asked that famous question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” and Paul & Silas told him (:31) “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved …”. That jailer and his whole family were saved; peace was made between them and God. But what I want you remember here is that Paul did not sit in that prison bemoaning his circumstances; he looked for opportunities to share Christ while he was there. He saw his circumstances as an opportunity for peacemaking.

We need to have that same perspective. God is going to bring some situations in your life that are opportunities for you to be a peacemaker, and share Christ with someone who would not have had the opportunity otherwise.

I have a friend in ministry (he is actually from North Carolina; he grew up in Statesville) who has had some really severe medical situations. In fact, a couple of years ago, he had a rare double transplant: both heart and kidney at one time. He has been in the hospital literally dozens of times over the years. But one of the things I admire about Jack is that he always sees his hospital stays as opportunities to share the gospel. He prays with his doctors and nurses, he takes advantage of all kinds of opportunities to share his hope in Christ. He was our missions minister when we served together in Lake Charles, but I think some of his best “mission trips” were actually when he went to the hospital! His hospital was like Paul’s “prison” – a place he doesn’t necessarily want to be, but where God has put him to be a peacemaker to be a witness to people about Jesus.

You may have some circumstances in your life today that are like Paul’s prison, or Jack’s hospital – a place you don’t want to be – but God has put you there, so that you can be a witness for Christ. You can’t be a witness if all you are doing is whining, and focusing on your problems. In whatever situation you find yourself, pray about God’s purposes for your circumstances. We have repeatedly talked about Romans 8:28, how God is causing all things to work together for good – and we have seen that the “good” He is working is to make you like Christ. It may be that in your circumstances right now, God is trying to build a dependence on Him (poverty in spirit), or He may want you to mourn over your sin; or perhaps He wants to teach you to trust in Him and do what is good (meekness). OR it may be that He has put you where you are, just like He put Paul in that prison, to give you an opportunity to be a peacemaker – a witness for Christ through your circumstances.

Would you ask yourself: What is my “prison” – what is the uncomfortable place where God has allowed me to be right now, so that I can be a peacemaker and witness to someone there? God’s ultimate purpose is for you to become like Jesus in your character. And He was a peacemaker. He gave His life to bring men and God back together. And the more like Jesus we are becoming, the more of a peacemaker we will be.
INVITATION:
— Many of us need to respond to God today by saying, God forgive me for not loving You like I should, so that I am not just talking about You all the time. Or God, forgive me for not loving people like Jesus does. Some of us just need to admit: I am just not much like Jesus. Lord, forgive me — and use Your word, and my circumstances to make me more like You: a peacemaker, who leads people to Jesus.

— Perhaps there is some specific person on your heart today that God has given you a burden for, and you would just humble yourself before God and pray for their soul this morning. The Apostle Paul had that kind of burden for some people in Romans 10: he said, “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” Some of us need to respond the same way today, and get serious about praying for some people on our hearts to be saved — this altar is open for you to pray for them, or to bring any other needs on your heart to the Lord.

— Or maybe today YOU are the one who needs peace with God. Your sins have separated you from God, and you are ready to turn back to Him, and be saved. That’s why Jesus came: to die on the cross, and pay for your sins, so that you could come back to God through Him. I’d love to visit with you about that, or get you to one of our counselors who pray with you, and help you make peace with God this morning.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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