Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9
The true “sons of God” in this world – that is, the people who really represent God – are not the crusaders and the conquerors who use religious language to justify their behavior. The people who really represent God are the peacemakers.
In a world so horribly wrong in so many ways, it’s easy to be angry and feel right about it. But the Bible says, “The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Moral fervor can feel moral. But it is destructive. It does not accomplish what God wants to accomplish. Peacemaking does. The Bible says, “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18). The true children of God sow the seeds of peace in every relationship, as much as they can.
This Beatitude answers a common objection to the gospel – the objection that Christianity causes conflict. People point to the Crusades. They point to the religious wars of history. Human religion is violent. Think of the attacks of 9/11. When people think they have God on their side, they’ll do anything. So it’s not surprising that non-religious people wish that religious people would off-load their theological convictions. Then there wouldn’t be anything left to fight about. John Lennon invited us to imagine that kind of world:
Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try
No hell below us, above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for, no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
But we don’t have to imagine. We’ve already seen that kind of world. Secular societies are famous for their violence. Think of the French Revolution, the Soviet Union, Communist China, others. Human violence shows up everywhere – among religious people and irreligious people. And that is why Jesus came. He told us, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). This Beatitude invites all of us to give up the utopias we’re ready for fight for and receive from Jesus a new way of being human, with new relationships. This Beatitude is all about our relationships with one another. After all, we don’t make peace with God. He makes peace with us. But we show that we really are at peace with God by making peace with one another. The beauty of our relationships together proves that we really know God.
I think the Lord is speaking to us at Immanuel through his Beatitudes. Years from now, we’ll look back on the Beatitudes as a defining moment for us. I believe God wants to put his hand on this church for unusual blessing. But we must say yes to his Word – every one of us. If we will, he will amaze us with what he can do. I saw it in our care group last Sunday evening. The Lord is creating here at Immanuel an environment of healing in the gospel for many more people. And I see among us no pushback to his call. The Bible says, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the earth, that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely his” (2 Chronicles 16:9). Let’s stay completely his. His eyes will see it. And not only will he bless us with his peace, but the building we need – I think he’ll say, “A building? I’ll throw that in too.” These Beatitudes are not just a sermon series. They define our future.
Blessed are the peacemakers
Not the peacekeepers guarding the status quo, but the peacemakers creating shalom for others. Gospel + safety + time is how we describe it around here. Everyone needs good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross. That’s gospel. Everyone needs a non-accusing environment, to grow and change. That’s safety. Everyone needs space to rethink their lives in an unpressured way. That’s time. Gospel + safety + time is the real Jesus visiting our city today.
But we don’t become like that in our own strength. Peacemakers are peace-destroyers whom God loves. Every one of us has been a peace-destroyer, more than we know. With every word of gossip, a reputation dies. With every download of porn, cruelty toward women and girls is strengthened. With every complaint, some oxygen is sucked out of the person who has to listen to it. Some of us might think, “But I don’t do those things.” Hopefully not. But there are sins of omission as well as sins of commission. Just not building relationships of comfort and honesty and gentleness – not doing that is peace-depriving. We might have many ways of doing life that seem natural to us but in fact are forms of death, and even attacks on God himself. But God makes peace with destructive people.
The night Jesus was born, the angels of God came down as an army. But they did not proclaim war; they proclaimed “Peace on earth, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). Jesus did not come into this world with a burning sense of wrong; he came with love and forgiveness. We were the ones responsible for this mess. But the Bible says, God made peace with us by the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:20). That’s how important reconciliation is to God. The Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The Bible never says, “God is wrath.” We have to provoke him to wrath. We don’t have to provoke him to love. Love for the undeserving pours out of who God is. And who he is is where we get strength to love beyond our capacities, far beyond.
Jesus did not come to settle a score with us. He came to show us how to stop settling scores. We need it. There is nothing more relevant to our tense world of today. The gospel helps us see ourselves realistically:
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
Where does conflict come from? Not from God. It bubbles up out of our own primitive emotions. Down inside every one of us is a swampy jungle of dark feelings that pollute that inner environment, and it spills over into our relationships with others around.
To become peacemakers rather than troublemakers, this is what we need: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15). When the real Jesus comes into our hearts, what’s the impact? His peace enters in – not as one more desire among many conflicting desires but as the ruling passion of our hearts. The real Jesus demands that deep surrender. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” That is his claim, and that is his right. If we want a better world, let the peace of Christ rule and overrule in our hearts.
Jesus said, “My peace I leave with you…. Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:27). When he returns, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and a little child shall lead them. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:6-9). This is the grand story God is telling in this world. Our privilege as a church is to embody that future right now, ahead of time. We’re the model home in the new neighborhood God is going to build. He put us here, so that people can come in and see something of that future now and buy in while there’s still time.
When the Bible says that “Christ himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14), do you realize how bold that is? All we need to be happily one together is Christ alone. The Bible says, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). The Bible says that in Christ alone the dividing wall of hostility is broken down (Ephesians 2:14-15). This new community God is creating is too sacred to allow selfish feelings to get in the way. We are a living foretaste of the shalom that will eventually renew the world. We wouldn’t dare disrupt that. We only want to open it up to more and more people.
For example, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m an old white guy. Well, maybe not that old. I’ve just been young longer than you have. But let me admit that some hip hop – I don’t quite get it. But I love it, if it’s given over to Jesus. I used to think this way: “What pleases me is what pleases me.” Pretty obvious, no? Then the gospel started changing me. I’m learning to think a new way: “What pleases you is what pleases me.” And hip hop pleases many of you. Therefore, it pleases me. That’s how the gospel enlarges my heart. And there is no limit to how adaptable we all can be for the Lord’s sake. For example, Immanuel Church is not a white church to which our African-American members graciously adjust. Immanuel Church is a Jesus-centered church to which we all adjust. And we’re figuring out how that works, because God wants us to surprise our city with an environment of strong rejoicing in one another. Then our city can see what the real Jesus can do with the power of his love. And many people will want it for themselves too.
The gospel sets us free from our natural narrowness. The gospel helps us relax. We can breathe again. We can live again. We can love again. And we can spread the joy of it to others. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for to Immanuel Church to become known as the meekest, most merciful, most peaceable, most welcoming, most forgiving, most heart-melting place in town, because Jesus is here? That’s a reputation worthy of the name Christian. “They shall be called the sons of God.” Don Carson explained how powerful the gospel is:
I suspect one of the reasons why there are so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love other Christians is because this is not an easy thing to do. Most people have their own little circle of “in” people, their own list of compatible people, their friends. Ideally, however, the church is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, or anything of the sort. Christians come together because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.
“Blessed are the peacemakers.” Here’s what it can look like. Sitting here in the front pew is a dignified, matronly grandmother, and next to her is a teenager with purple hair and a ring in his ear, and next to him is the Hispanic chairperson of some local political organization, and next to her is a middle-aged man in a suit and tie, and next to him is a blue collar worker, and next to him is a med student from Vanderbilt, and so forth – every one a sinner loved by Jesus and loving every other. Immanuel, Nashville needs to see what the real Jesus can do. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It’s costly. But I know we’re available to the Lord to serve him in this way.
For they shall be called sons of God
Jesus is using a Hebrew idiom here. The Old Testament speaks of “a son of strength,” meaning a strong man (1 Samuel 14:52). It speaks of “sons of wickedness,” meaning wicked people (2 Samuel 3:34). So, “sons of God” are God-like people. To make peace is to be like God. And people like that are obvious. There is something of God about them. Everyone can see it. Most people will appreciate it. A few will resent it. But to make peace rather than win, because we trust and obey God, is how we make God’s presence felt in a tense relationship. Here is how every one of us can step into the flow of his peace.
One, let’s renounce all our self-centered demandingness. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. So much is on the line! Here is the new way the Lord wants us to think:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Francis of Assisi taught us to pray that way centuries ago. It still works. It’s how God sets us apart as his true sons and daughters in the world today. Let other people claim that God is on their side. Let’s you and I just obey God. Then it will be obvious that the Lord is here. And people will see how good the real Jesus is.
Two, here is where we find the strength to die to ourselves and put him first. Let God love you. He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). Bring your bitterest anger, your most hateful resentment – bring it all to him. Admit it. Stop suppressing it. Confess it to God. Tell him everything. Pour your heart out. He will make you an instrument of his peace. Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenth-century preacher, explained what Jesus meant when said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden” (Matthew 11:28-29):
“Come to me,” Jesus says, “for however much you have offended in the past, I am meek and easily entreated. I am ready to forgive, to forget and cast behind my back all your provocations. My heart is full of tenderness and compassion for you. I will be mindful of your weaknesses and forgetful of your transgressions. And I will not be so grieved by your rebellions as to throw you out, if you come to me. Not only do I forget the past, but I am ready to bear with you still, though you should still offend me, though you should still be ungrateful, though you should treat me as I ought not to be treated and give unkindness for my love. I will endure it all. Come to me, though you cannot hope that your future character will be perfect; I will help you to struggle into holiness, and I will be patient with your failures. If you come to me, I am prepared to forgive you seventy times seven—yes, as often as you shall err, so often will I restore you. If you take my yoke, I will not be angry if sometimes it seems heavy to you. If you learn of me, I will not be annoyed if you prove a dull student. I am meek at heart, ready to forgive the past, and willing to bear with you in the present and the future.”
We come to Jesus, as we are, with our troubled hearts, and he loves us and heals us so that it just isn’t possible for our anger to hold out. His peace is too real. Come to Christ, unburden your heart, and he will make you a peacemaker in a world at war.