Peace seems to be the thing the world craves the most, but has the least amount of. New York City, once again this week, is asking if there will ever be peace in this world. People living in Israel and Iraq and Syria—they’ve been looking for peace their entire lives. There are families looking for peace. Husbands and wives longing to return to the days when they first met each other—before the fighting began. Children longing for the day when mom and dad quit yelling at each other. Parents desperately wanting to have the relationship with their children that they once had. There are even churches looking for peace. Everyone wants peace, but there seems to be so little of it to go around.
You know, the Bible is filled with passages about peace. In fact, the word “peace” occurs nearly 300 times in the Bible. And many of those occurrences declare God’s desire for peace.
If you follow my statutes … I will grant peace in the land (Leviticus 26:6)
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24–26)
After God appeared to Gideon in the book of Judges, the Text says, "Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is Peace." (Judges 6:24)
The Lord blesses His people with peace. (Psalm 29:11)
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: "May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers." For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, "Peace be with you." (Psalm 122:6–8)And if this is not enough, think of the many times Jesus Himself spoke of peace:
Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. (Mark 5:34)
Peace be with you. (Luke 24:36)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. (John 14:27)
Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you.’ (John 20:21)And what about this one?
Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50)Here is my question, church: How is this possible? How can we both bring salt to the world AND be at peace with one another? Because to bring salt into the world means you bring something new, something different. Salt challenges the norm. How can you challenge the norm and have peace? This passage convicts me of something. I think we have a faulty view of peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict. Because here is the thing: It is impossible to bring salt into the world and avoid conflict. And Scripture bears witness to this fact as well. As much as the Bible speaks about peace, there sure is a lot of conflict in the Bible. Have you ever noticed that? And what’s more, God sure does seem to initiate a lot of that conflict. Have you ever noticed that? Think about the Old Testament prophets. Think about Jesus!
READ MATTHEW 10:34–39.
For someone who spoke so much about peace, Jesus sure does embrace a lot of conflict! So what is peace if it is not the absence of conflict? In order to understand what Jesus meant by peace, it is helpful to remember that Jesus was a Jew!
The Hebrew word of peace was shalom. This word has deep and rich meaning in the Jewish culture. It means wholeness. It means a world where things are as they should be. And church, that is what God has always wanted for us. God does not necessarily hope we will experience a conflict-free life. God hopes that we will live in a world where things are as they should be. Where justice wins over injustice. Where husbands and wives stay together. Where children grow up in homes with loving committed parents. Where leaders of the world’s nations can work out their conflicts at the table rather than the battlefield. That is what God has always wanted for us!
So, let’s come full circle: What does Jesus mean in this beatitude? Why does Jesus say, “Blessed are the peacemakers”? Why will peacemakers be called children of God? I think these words grew out of God’s understanding of just how difficult the life of a peacemaker can be. God knows that the life of a peacemaker is difficult life. Think of the people in our world who have dedicated their lives to bring “peace”—in the fullest sense of that word. I think of people like the biblical prophets. They were unpopular. They were ridiculed. Many of them were killed. And why? They were trying to help the world become what God always wanted it to be. They were working for peace.
I think of people like Nelson Mandela. He was imprisoned for 27 years. He also was trying to help the world become what God always wanted it to be. He spent his life working for peace. I think of people like: Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, and Mother Teresa. These people appear on just about every “most admired people” list ever created. Do you know what they have in common? They all are remembered and honored for the ways they brought peace to the world. And do you know what else? They all instigated conflict for the sake of peace.
In this room, we should all readily remember the quintessential example of this type of person. Jesus came to bring the ultimate peace to this world. And He did it through extreme conflict. Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his day to their face, in public, because they were barriers to peace. Jesus initiated conflict to bring about peace. You know what? I’m sure Jesus didn’t like conflict. I’m not sure anyone enjoys conflict. But Jesus modeled for us something really important. There are some things in this world worth conflict. And one of those things is peace, real peace— God’s justice in the world, setting things right, and partnering with God in creating a world of Shalom. There is a peace that only comes on the other side of conflict! And God has always longed for His world to experience that kind of peace.
Where is God calling us to bring peace? Are there places in this world (or your world) that need to experience God’s wholeness? As you look around, do you notice things that are not as they should be? Where is the injustice around us (around you)? Where are the oppressed? Where is the brokenness? A peacemaker is not someone who sees those things and walks away, hoping time will fix it, hoping someone else will fix it, hoping to avoid confrontation at all costs. A peacemaker is someone who stands when others sit. A peacemaker is someone who stands in the lineage of Jesus, and until Jesus returns. May we be a people who go forward with courage and wisdom and faithfulness and humility as peacemakers in a world that is searching for and desperately needs peace.