God's Peace Corps
Matthew 5:9"Blessed are the peacemakers for they should be called sons of God." Matthew 5:9It’s dangerous to be a peacemaker. In 1993 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed a peace treaty with Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. When someone asked how he could sign a treaty with the people who had been the mortal enemies of Israel, he replied, “You don’t make peace with you friends, only with your enemies.” Many of his own countrymen sharply disagreed with his actions, and four months ago he was assassinated. Not by an Arab or a Palestinian. But an Israeli, an Orthodox Jew who thought by shooting Mr. Rabin in the back he was doing God’s work.We live in a world teetering close to the brink. Yesterday President Clinton declared a state of emergency so that US ships and planes could escort the flotilla from Miami as they journeyed to the spot just north of Havana where four Cuban-American pilots were shot down by Castro’s air force nine days ago. Meanwhile the Chinese threaten Taiwan, guerrilla warfare continues in Sri Lanka, sixty thousand NATO troops keep the peace in Bosnia, violence threatens to overthrow the government in Bangladesh, Saddam Hussein executes his sons-in-law in Iraq, fighting continues in Chechnya, the IRA sets off bombs in London, and in Israel Mr. Peres declares war on Hamas after the latest bombing in Tel Aviv. This morning I saw the following headline emblazoned across the front page of the Chicago Tribune “Perspectives” section: “Land of Holy Terror: In a Region Choked By Hatred, Can Peace Survive?”
Five Questions For GodA few years ago pollster George Gallup surveyed Americans on the top five questions they would most like to ask God. The list included the following question: “Will there ever be lasting world peace?”It’s a fitting question to ask as we near the end of the bloodiest century in world history. More people have died because of warfare than in any other century since the dawn of the human race. As President Eisenhower once said, we have become a race of intellectual giants and moral pygmies. Despite our great technological advances, we continue to devise more efficient means of killing each other.
Will there ever be world peace?Will there ever be world peace? Good question, and one which the Bible does indeed answer. In fact, the Bible is a book of peace. The word itself occurs over 400 times. When Jesus was born, the angels sang, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14). Jesus himself said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). The Apostle Paul said of Christ, “He himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14).But that’s only one side of the biblical story. “There is a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). There is no lasting peace in the world because a civil war rages in the heart of man. There is no national peace because there is no personal peace.Why did you lock your doors last night? In a perfect world, no one would ever lock anything.
A False Sense of SecurityIn October, 1983, Psychology Today posed this intriguing question, “If you could push a button and thereby eliminate any person with no repercussions to yourself, would you do it?” Sixty percent of those responding answered yes. One man posed an even better question, “If such a device were invented, would anyone live to tell about it?”In 1996 the world unquestionably is getting worse. Although the collapse of communism gave many people a false sense of security, we now see that war might break out at any moment in any corner of the globe. It could happen in Taiwan or Cuba or India or in any of a dozen spots in the Middle East. As the bomb blast in Oklahoma City showed, we in America were never as safe as we thought we were.
We live in a world baptized in greed and dedicated to treachery.Into this ugly world filled with violence and hate, Jesus sends us to be peacemakers. We aren’t given the choice of whether or not we would like to be peacemakers and we certainly aren’t given the choice of what kind of world we would like to live in. As bad as things may be, this is the only world we have and if we are going to be true to our Lord, we must be peacemakers.
I. Understanding the WordsIn order to understand this beatitude, it’s crucial that we know what these simple words really mean. Let’s begin with the word peace. To many people, the word signifies only the absence of war. But that is far from the biblical concept. Peace in the Bible is never confused with pacifism or a syrupy “peace at any price” mentality. Recently I read Andy Rooney’s recollection of his education at Colgate University in the years just preceding World War II. He recalled hearing one of his philosophy teacher argue strenuously that “any peace is better than any war.” Rooney said he bought into that line at first, but years later he discovered how false it was when he visited Buchenwald for the for the first time. Some things are worth fighting for. And against.But peace is also not the drug-induced tranquillity that comes from marijuana, cocaine, whiskey, a quick six-pack, or the proverbial second martini. That’s not peace, it’s simply a drug-induced stupor that allows you to temporarily check out of the world.
Shalom!Peace in the Bible is a broad term related to health, prosperity, harmony, and wholeness. When you use the Hebrew word “Shalom!” you are not meaning wishing someone the absence of war but the full presence peace and prosperity and all the blessings of God. The famous Aaronic benediction of Numbers 6:24-25 brings out this idea very clearly:The Lord bless you and keep you;The Lord make his face shine upon youAnd be gracious to you.The Lord turn his face toward youAnd give you peace.It’s important to remember that peace in the Bible is always based on justice and righteousness. Where justice prevails and righteousness rules, there you will also have peace. But without those two virtues, lasting peace is not possible.
Where justice prevails and righteousness rules, there you will also have peace.The word “make” in the term “peacemakers” comes from the Greek verb poieo. It’s a strong word that means “to do” or “to make.” Peace must be made. Peace never happens by chance. Someone has to drag the combatants to the table and give them a reason to put down their arms. Jesus never said, “Blessed are the peacewishers or the peacehopers or the peacedreamers.” But he did say, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Sons and HeirsThe word “called” means to be officially designated as holding a particular rank or office, as when you name a chairman or choose a captain or designate a spokesman. Jesus means that those who are peacemakers will be known and recognized as what they really are–the sons of God.You may at first glance assume that “sons of God” means the same as “children of God.” But the terms are not quite identical. “Sons of God” refers to a filial relationship in which the son formally takes the father’s name and become heir to the father’s fortune.Thus Jesus is saying that as his followers become known as peacemakers, they will be recognized as the sons of God who share his name and are heirs to his fortune.
Close to HomeWhat, then, is a peacemaker? Here’s a working definition: A peacemaker is someone who is actively working to reconcile men to God and to one another. He (or she) is a “minister of reconciliation” who has been given the “message of reconciliation” (see 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).Please note that peacemaking is a spiral that begins close to home. It starts in your closest and most intimate relationships–between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts–then it moves out to your extended family, your close friends at church, on the job, and in the classroom. Only then does peacemaking move out to more remote relationships.
II. Applying This TruthThis challenge touches so many areas. Think about the need for racial reconciliation. In America we tend to think of it entirely in black and white terms, but as you travel around the world, you discover that there are tensions everywhere. In India I found that people from one state don’t want to marry people from other states. You normally marry only within your own caste. The Hindus and Muslims distrust each other, which translates into tension between India and Pakistan.Then there is the need for marital and family reconciliation. Think how many divorced people attend our churches–wounded people, scarred by the pain of a broken marriage. Children rebel and then they run away because they can’t stand the fighting, the anger, the rejection, the pressure and the abuse.Think about the call for reconciliation in the workplace–between labor and management, between owners and workers, bosses and employees. What about the divisions inside the Christian church? There are so many different Protestant denominations that whole books are published just to list them all. Add to that the call for relational and generational reconciliation.Only then do you move out to the political arena, to national and international affairs.But the great need is to reconcile men and women to God. This is the heart of the gospel. It is the reason Jesus came to earth and it is why the church exists together. Other organizations exist to solve human problems but church exists to solve the greatest problem–the barrier that exists between God and man.Only the gospel can bridge that gap.
Say Yes ChicagoIn just a few weeks the Say Yes Chicago With Luis Palau campaign begins. All of you know that our church is fully committed to supporting this campaign. We’ve been on board from the very beginning. But I’m going to tell you something I’ve never mentioned before. Cliff Raad and I attended the very first organizational meeting at the Palmer House in downtown Chicago in May 1991. I remember hearing Kevin Palau ask if we were interested in seeing Luis Palau come to Chicago, then we saw a video by Luis in which he said he would come if we wanted him to. There were probably 40 or 50 of us at the first meeting. We all said, “Sure, this is a great idea.”But I confess I walked away from there with a sinking feeling. I didn’t believe it would ever happen. Ten years ago I was involved in a similar effort in Dallas. We were going to unite the whole city in a massive evangelistic effort. For over a year we met and prayed and discussed and pondered. Then it all just fizzled out. The great campaign never happened. Looking back, it’s obvious that the city of Dallas was simply too divided and we were too busy building our own kingdoms to put aside our own agendas and work together.As I thought about that, it seemed to me that Chicago was ten times more divided that Dallas. How could it ever work here?
Building Bridges and Tearing Down WallsBut a group of men and women began meeting and praying and one key couple just started driving into every neighborhood in this city, visiting pastors, building friendships, listening more than they talked, and slowly, oh so slowly, the walls of mistrust, doubt, hurt feelings, remembered slights, and doctrinal differences, denominational differences began to come down.I think my attitude began to change two years ago when I attended a meeting and heard some people–black and white–talk about the religious situation of the black community of Chicago. They talked about how different pastors didn’t want to work with other pastors, about the feelings of people on the southside for people on the west side, about their feelings of being patronized by suburban churches. But they said that God’s Holy Spirit had somehow broken through that and for the first time ever, the black churches were joining in a big way with the white churches to reach Chicago.Well, a few months later I ate lunch with a man who knows more about the Hispanic churches of Chicago than anyone else I know. You know what he talked about? How divided churches are in the Hispanic community. It has to do with what country you come from, what neighborhood you live in, what language you worship in, how long your group has been in America, and so on. But they are uniting in a big way to support Luis Palau.
Divided We FallWhen I thought about all of that, it made me feel better because things aren’t any better in the suburbs. It’s hard enough to get the evangelical churches of Oak Park to work together for a once-a-year praise service. We don’t do anything together on a continuing basis. And we do nothing at all with the churches of Berwyn and Cicero, not to speak of Elmwood Park, Maywood, Westchester, or any other suburbs.When you come to the bottom line, you realize that division in the church is not really a racial or ethnic issue. Those are just outward manifestations of the inward problem. We all like to build our own kingdom and do our own thing and go our own way. It’s been that way ever since the Garden of Eden.So here we are, on the verge of this campaign and we see that 1600 churches have come together in a great Rainbow Coalition of Bible-believing Christians to evangelize this city. For the first time ever, you have Korean churches, Chinese churches, Malaysian churches, Filipino churches, Indian churches, Japanese churches, Ukrainian churches, Romanian churches, Arab churches, Greek evangelical churches, and Brazilian churches, all joining together for the work of the Lord.You have Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, Brethren, Mennonites, independents, Charismatics, and believers from almost every other group you can think of joining in this campaign.
Mightier Than My MisgivingsI have said all that so I could say this. Only God could have done something like this in Chicago. This is not the work of man because no organization could have produced such a broad-based coalition. This is the hand of the Lord stirring up his church to unite together in prayer and energetic action to bring the gospel to this area.I am happy to say that all my initial doubts have proved groundless. It’s wonderful to discover that God is greater than your fears and mightier than your misgivings. I truly believe that if we are indeed on the verge of a sweeping revival in this area (and I pray that it might be so), it will happen not because of Luis Palau or because of the thousands of volunteers, but because the body of Christ has come together in Chicago as never before in our history.We are doing at last what Jesus told us to do 2000 years ago.
Are You a Peace Breaker?
Are you bringing people together or pulling them apart?That leads me to ask a simple question: Are you bringing people together or pulling them apart? When I was in India, I heard Dr. Bell describe the challenge of living on a mission compound. The whole complex is about three or four city blocks and I would suppose that at any given time about 150 people live there. In such close quarters, it doesn’t take much to disturb the peace. Dr. Bell mentioned one woman–the wife of a national worker–whom she described with a term I’ve never heard before. She said the woman was a “peace breaker.” That’s the opposite of a peacemaker. She breaks the peace by talking too much. She gossips and chatters and offers her opinion about everyone and everything and gets people all stirred up.Could such a thing be said about you? In your personal relationships, are you a peacemaker or a peace breaker?
III. Facing the ProblemWe need to face the challenge of this beatitude. Peacemaking is not an easy business. It is costly … time-consuming … painful … and emotionally exhausting. Those who do it will often be misunderstood.And sometimes it won’t work at all. When Paul wrote to Romans, he exhorted them to “live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). But he added the all-important phrase, “If it is possible.” Sometimes it isn’t possible. There are those cantankerous types who just go through life picking fights with everyone they meet. You can’t always live at peace with people like that. In such cases, just make sure that no one can blame you when the shooting starts!In 1781 Ben Franklin wrote to John Adams, “‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ is , I suppose, for another world. In this world they are frequently cursed.” Unfortunately, that’s true.
IV. Receiving the RewardI am happy to tell you, however, that there is a reward for being a peacemaker. They will be called the “Sons of God.” Remember, this is a bestowed title that indicates a special family relationship. You will be recognized as a son or daughter of the Living God!Perhaps an illustration will help. I grew up in a small town in Alabama where my father was a much-beloved surgeon. I was one of the four Pritchard boys–Andy, Alan, Ray, Ronnie. Everyone knew our father and whenever I went downtown, people often referred to me as “Dr. Pritchard’s son.” Even today–22 years after my father died–when I go back to that small town, when I see people I haven’t seen for a quarter-century, people still comment how much I look and act like my father. And, yes, they even refer to me as “Dr. Pritchard’s son"–a title that now pleases me greatly.But now I am a man and I have three sons–Joshua, Mark, Nicholas. If you know them, you know that they each look and act a bit like me. Even though each one is unique, they bear my image in their very nature. That used to bother me a bit until I realized that it’s their problem, not mine!They are my sons, called by my name, just as I am my father’s son and to this day, those who knew him still call me by his name.
Peacemakers Remind People of GodThat’s the promise of this beatitude. You will be called–named–recognized–designated as a true son of God.When you make peace, you become like the God of Peace!!!! Peacemakers bear a family resemblance that even the people of the world can see.
When you make peace, you become like the God of Peace.We desperately need more peacemakers today. There is so much war, misunderstanding, bitterness, double-crossing, anger, slander, lying, hatred, and bloodshed. On every hand are ruined marriages, broken friendships, shattered relationships, broken promises, and so much heartache.Think of what we see every day: Estranged children, husbands and wives in divorce court, neighbors who won’t speak to each other, commuters who get mad on the freeway, bosses who don’t trust their workers and workers who cheat their bosses,.
Why We Lock Our DoorsSo much has gone wrong with the world: Ethnic groups at war, nations in arms, treaties broken before the ink is dry, people who shoot first and ask questions later, so many armies, so many bombs, so much killing, so much murder.That’s why we fear to walk the streets at night alone. We curse our neighbors, lock our doors, close our curtains, load our guns, and wonder why we are fearful and uptight!Not much peace in the world today. Everything breaks apart, beginning on the inside where our hearts are sadly divided.Into that world we are called to go as peacemakers! Reconciling … intervening … uniting … listening … umpiring … resolving … mediating … doing what we can to end the violence, stop the bloodshed, bind up the wounded and bring God’s Shalom, his gracious peace. We are to begin in our most intimate affairs and then spiral out to the whole wide world.
Be a Bridge Builder For God!A few months ago I read Warren Wiersbe's delightful autobiography called Be Myself. If you know Dr. Wiersbe, you can hear his voice on every page. In the book, he says that he has always chosen one central image to describe his ministry. He is a bridge builder. That’s another word for peacemaker. Bridging the gaps in order to bring people together in the name of Jesus Christ.So rare is this kind of person in this kind of world that when people see a peacemaker, they say, “There goes a Son of God.” And God smiles from heaven and says, “That’s one of my boys.”
You Can Do Something!Our problem tends to be at the level of motivation. We know that peace is hard to make and even harder to keep. It’s usually easier to walk away from a problem. Why get involved in someone else’s difficulty? Or we try and are rebuffed or even attacked and criticized for our efforts. So we tend to despair and give up even before we get started.But everyone can do something.You’ve a telephone. Make a call.You’ve got paper. Write a letter.You’ve got a kitchen. Make a meal.You’ve got a billfold. Give some Money.You’ve got two hands. Put them to work for others.You’ve got two feet. Go see a friend in pain.You’ve got two ears. Listen to the cries of the wounded.You’ve got two eyes. Lift them up to see the world as God sees it.You’ve got two lips. Preach the gospel of peace. Perhaps you’ve heard this little poem:I am only one man, but I am one.I cannot do everything, but I can do something.What I can do, I ought to do.And what I ought to do, by the grace of God,I will do. Only God knows how much he can accomplish through us. All he asks is that we surrender our little contribution to him and then watch what he can do with it.
The Greatest PeacemakerJesus was the greatest peacemaker of all time … and they crucified him. He was called Prince of Peace, yet he hung on a Roman cross. He preached the Gospel of Peace and died in an act of cruel violence.Peacemaking is expensive. It cost God his only Son!
A Few Good Men and A Few Good WomenOur Lord is on a recruiting mission this morning. He’s looking for a few volunteers to join God’s Peace Corps. He’s looking for a few good men and a few good women who will spread God’s peace all over the world.There is so much war, so much strife, so much pain in the world. That’s means there is plenty of work for you to do. Every tiny step receives God’s blessing!How do you get involved in the world? Be a peacemaker!What will you be called? A son of God!
A Rope From a ScarecrowSome seven hundred years ago a remarkable man was born. Although he was the son of an Italian cloth merchant and destined to be a knight, he forsook the path of wealth and fame, choosing instead to wear a ragged cloak tied with a rope borrowed from a scarecrow. He spent his days preaching and giving to others. He chose to live in utter poverty.History records that he was a noble, kind, humble, Christlike man–one of the greatest Christians who ever lived. We know him today as St. Francis of Assisi. Centuries after his death, someone translated one of his prayers into English. It was later set to music. Many of you know these words by heart.“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peaceWhere there is hatred, let me sow loveWhere there is injury, pardon,Where there is doubt, faithWhere there is despair, hopeWhere there is darkness, lightWhere there is sadness, joy“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seekTo be consoled as to consoleTo be understood as to understandTo be loved as to love“For it is in giving that we receiveIt is in pardoning that we are pardonedIt is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”
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Topics in this messageCurrent sermon series:
Beatitudes (Matthew 5)
» SEE SERMONS IN THIS SERIES
The Making of a Disciple Matthew 5:1-3
Happy are the Sad Matthew 5:4
The Right Stuff Matthew 5:5
Full Stomachs and Empty Hearts Matthew 5:6
What We Saw In India Matthew 5:7
The Tragedy of Double Vision Matthew 5:8
God's Peace Corps Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the Square Pegs Matthew 5:10-12
The Salt and Light Brigade Matthew 5:13-16» Index for this sermon series