Monday, April 7, 2014

Blessed Peace (Matthew 5:9)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9, NASB95)

Peace is a huge subject in the Bible. It is the desire of most people’s hearts, and there is frequently no length that people would not go in order to obtain that peace. For many this peace is equated with calm, and with calm there is the picture of not making waves. The hard part of this, however, is that we live in a world where waves are part of the normal course of events.

This is particularly so when beliefs, values, preferences, or desires between individuals or groups of individuals clash. We are seeing this today as one traditional value position of this country upon another is challenged. This is not a new world condition. Jesus, Himself, knew the harsh response of those who were opposed to Him and the message He proclaimed. The apostles and early followers of Christ knew intense persecution as a result of their faith, many even were likely not outspoken but merely known to be followers of the Way.

This was the mission of a man named Saul, as we read in Acts “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1–2, NASB95)

But then something radical happened in Saul’s life. Acts 9 goes on to record, “As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.” (Acts 9:3-8) After arriving at Damascus God sent someone to tell Paul what was to be his new purpose … “But the Lord said to him [Ananias], “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”” (Acts 9:15–16, NASB95)

The gospel message has enemies. This is a reality. But God is able to change enemies’ hearts just as He did Paul’s. Paul wrote this about even the hatefulness of the Jews and the ultimate purpose of God in chapter 11 of Romans, where we read, “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:28–29, NASB95)

Knowing his own salvation and the power of God to change hearts, Paul wrote in the next chapter of Romans, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17–21, NASB95)

We cannot control both sides of the peace formula, but we do have control over our side. Even in disagreement there is a way to respond which is right before God. The same Paul who stood before religious and secular leaders to defend his faith and to proclaim the gospel of Christ, willingly suffering imprisonment as a consequence wrote, “so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” In this we see that the answer to peace is not found in compromising the message, but being compassionately wise in how we present it.

Paul’s ultimate purpose in presenting the good news of Jesus dying for our sins and being raised from the dead on the third day was not to make peace among men, but to bring people to peace with God. In Romans 5 we see the clear link between knowing the peace of God and receiving the forgiveness of sins.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Romans 5:1–11, NASB95)

It was this message that has compelled so many people over the history of the church to endure harsh treatment and even persecution. In this, knowing that they are at peace with God, they have even been strengthened to know the peace of God. Jesus said, as He was preparing His disciples for His leaving,

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27, NASB95)

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95)

The next beatitude has to do with persecution, and as we look at the issue of peace it is often difficult to separate it from the surrounding conflict. It is in this conflict that God has given us His Word for direction and His Spirit as a constant help and assurance.

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:14–17, NASB95)

Our God knows our troubled hearts. He knows our every struggle, and He knows the condition of every heart around us. He knows those hearts who have trusted and those who will trust. He is faithful to bring to Himself each and every one who is called, calling upon the name of His Son for salvation. Through Jesus we are made to be at peace with God. And He has made it such that we can know the peace of God in the midst of whatever struggle we might encounter in this life.

It is because we have seen the grace of God that we can know the peace of God. Grace and peace to each of you.

Beatitude facet number 7: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

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