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Sermon on the Mount

Blessings - III

Matthew  5:9-12

Lesson audio

Peacemaking — Expensive Hobby

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

 

Peace-with Whom?

It is a fact: most of us are up for a good fight. When the human species finally begins to consider peace as a desirable thing, is usually in the context of peace with somebody. We don't normally think of ourselves as wanting peace with everybody; we just want peace with the guy who's beating us up now. But the Christian lifestyle is that of a peacemaker and that of a peaceful man. Therefore, we should consider with who we should be at peace at all times.

·         Most importantly, we should be at peace with God. This is the foundation on which all other Christian peace is built. Like beauty, peace proceeds from within. It is therefore not possible to be at peace with anything outside yourself if you are not at peace with God within. You understand this by observation; have you ever seen a man who just couldn't avoid an argument, a fight, a brawl? If you know the man, you know that there is no peace within — and therefore there is no peace outside, either.

·         Almost as important is peace within the church. Surprisingly, this necessary for the salvation of others. It is a fact that the world knows that we are Christians by the way we love one another.[1] This is one of the great ways in which it is seen that being a Christian is a desirable thing. People who are unimpressed by apologetics are sometimes stunned by the way we love each other.

·         In the outer circle there is peace with the world. In general, it is not given to the Christian to be a bickering man. We must sometimes disagree, but even this can be done peacefully — if you practice it.

The source of peace, simply, is Christ:

Ephesians 2:11-17 NIV  Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)— (12)  remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  (13)  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  (14)  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,  (15)  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,  (16)  and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  (17)  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.

 

The source of war is the sinfulness of man; the solution to war in all its forms is the grace of Jesus Christ.

Prerequisites

As we have been taking the Beatitudes rather slowly, we sometimes forget that they are all connected. The previous three Beatitudes are the prerequisites of peacemaking.

·         Righteousness — if your hands are dirty it is difficult for the world to see you as a peacemaker. Rather, they see you as one who has a hidden agenda and not to be trusted. Let your righteousness shine before men, if for no other reason than this will help you to make peace.

·         Mercy — would you like the supreme example? Robert E Lee said that he surrendered as much to the mercy of Abraham Lincoln as he did to Grant's armies. This is why he considered the assassination of Lincoln to be such a great blow to the South. Even the prodigal son knew he would be welcomed home.

·         Purity — especially if you are trying to mediate a dispute, purity is essential. That both parties understand that you have no hidden agenda, just the desire for peace, is essential to their trust of you.

Peacemaking — an Example

Let me give you a great example of peacemaking. Her name is Abigail; you can find the story in First Samuel chapter 25. Put briefly, Abigail corrects her husband's churlish behavior by acting behind his back. She forestalls David taking bloody vengeance by doing what her husband should've done in the first place. May I point out three aspects of this?

·         She was swift to act. So many of us are willing to make peace, but only after we fret for a few weeks. She understood the urgency of the situation, and knew that it was only going to get worse as time passed — so she acted immediately.

·         She knew that her husband was in the wrong; so therefore she was penitent on his behalf — both in word and in deed. There are two things that are important here; the first, of course, is penitence. If you are wrong, admit it and make amends. But notice that she does this on behalf of her husband (who disagrees). Sometimes you have to be the penitent for someone else. Peacemaking is an expensive hobby.

·         When she puts the matter to David, she does so in terms of David and his relationship with God. She does not plead her own case, much less that of her husband. It reminds me of my mother, who often began her arguments with the phrase, "if you consider yourself a Christian…" Peace begins with your relationship with God.

Persecution for Righteousness

Matthew 5:10 NIV  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

Reaction to Righteousness

Consider what I call the "cockroach principle." When you turn the lights on, the cockroaches scatter. Spiritually, righteousness is light – and the cockroaches don't like it. Usually they scatter, but sometimes they fight back. We need to examine the reactions that the people of the world have to righteousness.

One the oldest examples concerns Cain and Abel. Put shortly, Cain kills his brother because his own sacrifices were not acceptable God, but Abel's were. He didn't like the competition, so he got rid of it. He was a little surprised when God was upset with him about it; we seem to think that our self interest is sufficient as justification for practically any sin. From the Christian perspective, it's a warning. Just being confronted with righteousness — not an in your face righteousness, but just day-to-day righteousness — people have a tendency to strike out and destroy. You need to watch this.

More commonly today, however is the art of intimidation. We live in what purports to be a civilized society; putting a bullet in your neighbor's head tends to involve the police department and great deal of legal bother. So if you keep that righteous person shut up by intimidation, you get the same effect without the bullets. Most Christians understand this very well. If you are the only Christian at your workplace, expect to be ridiculed for your faith and criticized as "holier than thou."

A more recent development — at least in our society – is that of the fake martyr. This is the poor, courageous homosexual who knows that every Christian is just waiting around the corner with a lead pipe to beat him or her to a pulp. Of course, they go on righteously and in a self-deprecating manner point out that courage. After all, with all those villainous Christians out there, a lesbian just can't be too careful. You can see this in the newspapers pretty much every day; a homosexual who speaks out against Christianity is called "bold"; a Christian who replies is called "bigoted."

A Good Thing?

It would be extremely convenient of Christ not to have brought this subject up. Most of us don't like the idea of being persecuted; most of us don't like the idea that it's going to happen to us whether we like it or not. And practically all of us start with the impression that there is no real benefit to it. That makes it surprising when Christ starts his words with, "blessed." So what possible benefits are there to being persecuted for the sake of righteousness?

·         I hate to tell you this, but suffering is a part of this world. You are going to suffer. But your heavenly father knows that you can only handle so much suffering. He has also provided you the choice in why you will suffer. If you decide to be a bank robber, you're going to suffer with prison. Do you not see that it is better to suffer for being righteous than for being wicked? You do have some choice about it; choose wisely. Suffering is a form of practice in the Christian life. Practice is painful — make it count.

·         Suffering perfects you, in the biblical sense.[2] Remember that the word "perfect" doesn't mean that you are sinless; rather, it means that you are polished and suited for a particular task.

·         Finally, there is the promise of reward. Yours is the kingdom of heaven — or, to put it in a sports metaphor, you made the team!

Courage-the Foundation of Virtue

Most of us shy away from the talk of persecution because we don't think we have the courage to face it. We look at the great martyrs of the church, we admire them, but we don't think we have what they had inside. Perhaps we are wrong:

2 Timothy 1:7 NIV  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

 

I would point out to you that our reactions are based on the courage we think we have. Christ tells us to react on the basis of the spirit he will give us. It is a spirit of power; so there is the sense that we actually can do the job. We can face the persecution; the courage will be there. But it is also a spirit of love. That means that we must bear that love even to those who are persecuting us. We cannot react in hatred, but we must remember that those were persecuting us were designed to be children of God just as we are. The war is not over when you have defeated the enemy in battle; the war is over when you have made your enemy your friend. To do this we shall require self-discipline — and he will give us that too.

We might take our motto of the Royal Navy: fear God and dread naught. For if you fear God, what else can you possibly fear?

Persecuted for the Name

Matthew 5:11-12 NASB  "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  (12)  "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

What the World Will Do

It sometimes comes as a great surprise to new Christians to find that the world will attack you and persecute you just because you have the name "Christian." You don't have to do anything; all you have to do is bear the label. Here's what you should expect:

·         They are going to insult you. If you haven't heard, "they are all hypocrites", you just haven't been listening. The world has a way of doing this so that sounds like it's behind your back — but they want to make sure you're listening. You're also going to get, "wild eyed right wing fundamentalists." There are several variations on this. Remember, you don't have to do anything to deserve this; all you have to do is be a real Christian.

·         They're going to persecute you. This sounds a little difficult in modern America, but persecution is a little more subtle than it was in the early Roman Empire. It is most common on the job. People who are real Christians suddenly find themselves "not to be trusted." It's a curious thing. If you're the person who walks into the room and all the obscenity stops, those who just stop talking the one we get you back. This applies even if you didn't say anything about the obscenities — and usually, you don't have to. There may be a reason you're getting all the dirt job is.

·         Most commonly, however, you will be the recipient of false accusations. Often enough these will be whispered behind your back, taken as fact by the management, and dealt with severely — leaving you to wonder what on earth you did wrong. Expect it. (This, by the way, is a good reason not to believe the rumors you hear about your fellow Christians at work. Judge not.)

Sharing the suffering of Christ

The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church. We often forget that the word "martyr" originates in the Greek word for same, which means "witness." So when you suffer for the name of Christ, even to the point of bloodshed, you are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Most of us are not "great men." But does not mean we cannot imitate such a man. Most of us are small people; if you're going to be great, it's going to be in a small way. But we should not neglect the chance to be great in that small way. For the Christian, this means sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

Think about it: most of us are not smart enough to become great theologians; most of us are not disciplined enough to become great Saints; most of us are just us. But there is one thing we can do which we have in common with those who are great: we can suffer nobly. Suffering is something that comes to you, not something that you create — at least, if you have your sanity. But when it comes we have a choice about our reaction to it. We can whine and complain, or if we are suffering for the name of Christ we can accept it, thank God for it, and endure it as Christ would endure it.

He knows that you need to be rewarded for that. Here's what he promises you:

Romans 8:16-17 NASB  The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,  (17)  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.

 

2 Timothy 2:12 KJV  If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:

 

He promises glory and dominion; heady stuff.

Reward

The problem most Christians have with this is that the reward seems to be one which is entirely heavenly. It could hardly be otherwise, if you think about it. If suffering for the name of Christ caused you to suddenly glow-in-the-dark, so that everyone would know what a great Christian you are, can you imagine the effects? But he does understand that you need reward; he also understands that you need the acknowledgment of suffering. Let me point out two passages to you.

1 Peter 4:14 NASB  If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

 

You should at least have the sense that suffering for the name of Christ means that you are on the team. Those who have played any kind of competitive sport understand this. The practices are often grueling and painful. It's like the Marines say: "pain is weakness leaving the body." It's more than that for the Christian. Suffering for the name means that you have made the team, the only team that counts eternally.

This will be more apparent when our Lord returns.

Matthew 16:27 NASB  "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.

 

God is just; he is fair. When people ask me why I believe that Christ will return and judge the living and the dead, I usually answer something like this. "Do you believe that Adolf Hitler got what he deserved?" Most people don't think he did. "Do you believe that God is righteous and just?" Most people do. So the choice comes down to either God is not just, or God is not powerful enough to straighten out Adolf Hitler as he deserves, or God isn't finished yet. Christ explicitly tells us that God isn't finished yet — but the day is coming when he will bring justice. In that day your suffering for righteousness sake, for the name of Christ, for the kingdom of God will be rewarded as only God can reward. Hope is still a virtue.



[1] John 13:35

[2] James 1:2-4

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