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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART SEVEN

PRESENTED ON 04-26-08

 

       Last week the head of the Roman Catholic Church visited the United States. Media crews followed Benedict XVI from the time his plane landed on American soul to the time he left American soil to return to Rome.  The national news networks broadcasted a speech by Benedict which President Bush described as "awesome."  At the United Nations, the pontiff addressed the issue of human rights.  Millions of viewers watched ornate ceremonies in two different baseball stadiums and in a New York City Cathedral.  The public witnessed Benedict entering a synagogue, participating in an interdenominational Christian dialogue, and praying at Ground Zero where the twin towers once stood.  At ground Zero the Pope did something probably every Pope has done along with most other religious leaders throughout history.   He prayed for peace. 

       For centuries religious and political leaders and the general public have prayed for peace.  Yet the history of human activity on planet earth is a history not of peace but of war and conflict of all kinds.  Read any world history and you will read a history characterized by accounts of conflict between nations, ethnic groups, racial groups and the daily conflict that goes on between individuals at all levels of human activity.  Just in the past 100 years we have had two world wars, conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, Yugoslavia, Angola, the Sudan, Rwanda, India and Pakistan, Tibet and China and of course Afghanistan and Iraq.

       It would appear that the millions of prayers that have been sent up to God for peace have been ignored – or have they?  Today we will continue in our series on the Sermon on the Mount and look at the seventh beatitude.

       Matthew 5:9: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

       Being a peace maker is held in such high regard that it is associated with being called a son of God.  Being a son of God implies being in totally unity and agreement with the will of God.  The scriptures reveal that Jesus, as the one and only directly begotten Son of God, is in total agreement and harmony with His Father.  It is that same agreement and harmony that we are to have with the Father. Just before the crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father that His disciples be one as He and the Father are one. 

       John 17:11: And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

       John 17:20-22: Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

       To be one with the Father and with Jesus Christ is to be of the same attitude and mind.  It is to share in the same will and purpose.  It is to have, manifest and express the same spirit as that of God.  It is to reflect the very character of the Father as seen through Christ.  In his various letters to first century churches, Apostle Paul often refers to God as a God of Peace. Over and over again Paul greets the churches to which he writes with “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  To the Thessalonian brethren Paul writes: And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; (1 Thessalonians 5:23).  The writer to the Hebrews said, "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant" (Hebrews 13:20).

       In a prophecy that is generally held to be pointed to the advent of Jesus the Christ, Isaiah writes: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end (Isaiah 9:6-7).

       Over and over again we see God and Jesus Christ referred to as the virtual champions of peace.  The Greek word for peace means tranquility, harmony, security and safety.   The God we serve is a God of tranquility, harmony, security and safety.  If God is a God of peace, then why is the history of His creation one of war and conflict?  Why is the history of mankind the very opposite of peace, the very reverse of tranquility, harmony, security and safety? 

       We know God is a God of peace.  He is also a God of freedom.  God gives us the freedom to choose. God doesn’t make our choices for us.  He doesn’t force us to choose peace.  We can choose war and conflict and by and large that is what mankind has done.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  Peace making implies choosing the way of peace. 

       In writing to the Romans, chapter 3, Apostle Paul gives a critique of the state of mankind and in that critique he makes the statement, “the way of peace they do not know." There is a way of peace.  God has revealed that way to us in the scriptures.  The way to peace is not a mystery.  It is found throughout the scriptures. 

       James 3:16-18:  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

       Here we see the way of peace contrasted with the way of conflict.  The way of conflict involves envy, strife, confusion and every evil work.  But the way of peace is associated with gentleness, mercy, impartiality, lack of hypocrisy and being easily entreated or, in other words, being approachable. 

       James said, "the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace." The making of peace is to express righteousness.  Righteousness is doing what is right and doing what is right is predicated on the law of love.  All the prayers for peace that have been uttered over the centuries have been answered.  They have been answered in God revealing the way to peace in His communication to man since creation.  The problem is that man has failed to listen to the voice of God. The problem is that man has failed to put into practice what God has clearly revealed as the way to peace.   People are constantly praying for peace and the way to peace has been there all alone virtually staring us in the face. 

       It’s like the old story about the man who was crying out to be saved from the flood waters surrounding his house.  He’s on top of the roof of his house with water rising to the rafters and he’s praying to God to save him from drowning.  A boat goes by and an offer of help is made but the man refuses and says God will save me.  A helicopter lets down a rope but the man refuses to latch on to the rope saying that God will save him. Finally the water reaches the top of the roof and the man drowns.  Were the man’s prayers answered?  Of course they were.  The problem is the man was looking for some kind of extraordinary supernatural act to save him from the water and failed to recognize what was readily available to him. 

       The way to peace has been available since creation.  Nowhere in scripture will you find instruction to pray for peace.  What you will find in abundance is instruction as to how to attain peace.  Religious and political leaders pray for peace and continue to practice behavior that leads to war.  You don’t find the way to peace by practicing the way to war.  The way to peace begins with each and every human becoming a committee of one in implementing the dynamics of behavior that produce peace.

       There’s a hymn written in 1955 which our choir use to sing entitled, “Let there be Peace.” 

 

Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on Earth,
the peace that was meant to be.

With God as our Father,
brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother,
in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me,
let this be the moment now.
With every step I take,
let this be my solemn vow,

To take each moment, and live each moment,
in peace, eternally.
Let there be Peace on Earth,
and let it begin with me.

       Achieving peace is all about walking in harmony with ones brother.  In Hebrews 12:14 we read, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”  Paul told the Roman Christians, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).  As can be seen, facilitating peace takes effort.  God doesn’t just pour down peace upon us.  He expects us to put forth the effort and do the things that lead to peace.   

       Peace is a fruit of the Spirit. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”  Peace results from expressing the Spirit of God in our lives.  The Spirit of God is a spirit of peace.  The Spirit of god is the very character of God. It is a character that God wants to share with us and have manifested in our lives. It is character that produces righteous behavior and righteous behavior produces peace.

       God is a God of peace and because he is a God of peace he did what was necessary to facilitate peace between Himself and the human race.  Peace involves harmonious relations between individuals.  Sin create disharmony.  Sin created disharmony between man and his creator.  But the creator rectified that.  God facilitated reconciliation with mankind through the Christ event.  God reestablished peace with man by providing payment for sin through the death of Christ.  In so doing God established peace between Jews and Gentiles and between Jews, Gentiles and himself.

        Ephesians 2:13-16: But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 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, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

        Here we see peace associated with the bringing together of Jews and Gentiles and the facilitation of a relationship with the Father by one Spirit.  You will notice how establishing peace is the focus.  God is the ultimate peacemaker.  Part of making peace is to remove those things that divide.  The Old Covenant regulations divided Jews and Gentiles.  I am not talking about moral law.  Moral law has been extant from creation and was inserted into the Old Covenant as foundational to that Covenant.  But a great deal of religious and ceremonial law was added to the moral law which was intended to help facilitate adherence to the moral law. 

       Such adherence never materialized.  It didn’t materialize because the people did not internalize the moral law.  They did not make it part of their consciousness.  If Israel would have allowed the Old Covenant regulations to truly lead them to consistent moral behavior, they would have been an example to the rest of humanity and the course of history may have been quite different.  But this didn’t happen.  All the religious and ceremonial regulations ended up doing was to create hostility between Israel and the rest of the world. 

       Through the Christ event, God removed the hostility caused by these Old Covenant regulations and also removed the hostility between God and man caused by sin.  In so doing God established peace between Himself and man and established the way whereby peace can be attained between humans as well.  That way involves a very basic dynamic of behavior. It's called forgiveness.

        Lack of forgiveness is the major cause of failure to establish and maintain peace.  Human failure to forgive others of offenses is what is behind most human conflict.  Family problems, marital problems, problems between neighbors, problems among fellow employees, problems between nations remain unresolved largely because of an unwillingness to forgive.

       The scriptures teach Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. Dying for us removed the penalty we all incurred because of sin.  In removing the death penalty, Jesus facilitated peace between humanity and the Father.  There is a general misconception in Christianity that it is our repentance that facilities peace and reconciliation with the Father. This is a misconception.  If this were true, our salvation would depend on what we do and not on what Christ did.  Salvation is a gift of God and does not depend on our repentance.  Our repentance is a response to the salvation God has provided through the Christ event.  Our repentance is our acknowledgement and recognition of the gift of salvation.  Some teach that we choose to be reconciled and at peace with God.  Just the opposite is the case.  God has chosen to be reconciled and at peace with us and He has accomplished this all through Christ.  Paul wrote in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  

       Our response to such reconciliation and peace with God must be a willingness to respond to the grace of God by consistently being willing and eager to live by God’s law of love.  A willingness to forgive is the first step in facilitating the law of love. Forgiveness is what God did to facilitate reconciliation and peace with us. We need to do the same in relationship to our fellow man.  

       Having considered all that we have considered so far in our discussion of peace, what are we to make of Matthew 10:34-36:

       "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn "`a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'

       Here we have the prince of peace saying he did not come to bring peace to the earth.  Like with all scripture, and for that matter anything else we read or are told, things must be understood within their context.  Jesus Christ is all about peace.  God the Father is all about peace.  The scriptures are quite clear about that.  So what is Christ talking about?  The context defines what He is talking about. 

       Jesus brought a revolutionary message to the people of His day.  He said He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah to Israel.  He brought a message of personal conduct and love for neighbor that far outweighed anything they had heard before.  At the same time He didn’t meet the many expectations the people had as to the how the Messiah would come and what He would do.  Christ came preaching peace when many were looking for a leader that would go to war against the Romans.  Jesus went head to head with the religious leaders of his day over various elements of the Jewish religious system and their personal behavior. 

       The message Christ brought was provocative and controversial in an environment that featured political strife and religious turmoil.  This would naturally lead to conflict within families where family members would take opposing sides.  Disturbance of the peace was a natural outcome of the people’s response to the message Christ brought.

       The lesson for us is that we are not to seek peace at all costs.  Peace must be the goal but only within the framework of the will of God.  We are not to accommodate sin in order to maintain peace.  Remember what we read in Hebrews: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men.”  Make every effort.  This doesn’t mean peace can always be achieved.  Obviously Christ could not achieve peace with the religious leaders of his day as they had a firm commitment to destroy Christ as he was perceived as a threat to their status in the community that was the Jewish religious system.

       Jesus said “Blessed are the peace makers.”  It’s not always possible to make peace.  It still takes two to tango as the saying goes.  Being a peacemaker, however, should always be the goal.  It is always the goal of the Father and the Son.  If we are to be called the children of God, it must be our goal as well.  Prayers for peace are often offered to God with the idea that God should somehow enforce peace upon the world.   Praying for peace should really be praying for the willingness to implement the way to peace which is the law of love that produces peace.  The way to peace has been revealed.  Our responsibility as citizens of the earth is to take hold of that way and produce its fruits.  I will conclude with a Hebrew word for peace.  shalom

SERMON EIGHT