A Word of Grace – March 25, 2013

Posted by on March 25, 2013

Monday Grace

Dear Friends,

This is the eighth message in a series on Jesus’ statements called “the Beatitudes” that are found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-11; Luke 6:17-38). Some of you received last week’s message incorrectly numbered as the “sixth.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God (Matt 5:9).

What is a “peacemaker”?

A. An action thriller movie starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman as counter-terrorism experts seeking to thwart a nuclear plot to destroy New York city.

B. A classic Colt single-action six shot army revolver.

C. The current model of intercontinental ballistic missile used for the defense of the United States.

D. The announced “goal” of some contestants in the Miss America pageant.

E. A certified Christian mediator

F. A child of God.

All of the above are true which gives you some sense of the disparity of views about what it takes to make peace. Obviously, the world is biased toward the idea that “might makes right.”

Jesus wept because Jerusalem did not recognize “the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). What are “the things that make for peace”? — the recognition that God comes to us and for us (Luke 19:44).

It was the name and mission of Emmanuel to be “God with us” (Matt 1:23). “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8:31b).

Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is clear that when we take our needs and wants into our own hands, violence will be the eventual result. When Cain’s own initiative did not bring him what he wanted, he killed his brother Abel (Gen 4). Human and commercial ambitions for wealth and power end up exploiting and enslaving human lives and will end in great violence before Christ’s second coming (Rev 18).

The Apostle James blames human greed, envy and ambition for spiritual and temporal conflicts. The solution he offers is submission of our lives to God and giving up the insistence of our pride. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (Js 4:8).

Jesus explained that the greatest commandment is to love God with the entirety of one’s self and the second greatest commandment flowing out of the first is to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. As an illustration, he told the parable of “the Good Samaritan” that laid bare the peace-violating evils of classism, racism and religious bigotry and demonstrated that anyone who needs mercy is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).

John echoes Jesus and James in acknowledging the peace-making consequences of a focus on God. “Those who say, ‘I love God,’and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or a sister whom they have seen, cannot love a God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ and everyone who loves the parent loves the child” (1 John 4:20-5:1).

Religious practice will not generate this love and it is no substitute for it. The Temple of Solomon had fallen into disuse and disrepair. Josiah, the boy king of Judah, ordered a clean-up and restoration. In the rubbish, a workman found a scroll of the Book of Deuteronomy. Josiah ordered he ancient instructions of Moses to be read to all the people. The public reading of God’s word led to a revival of spiritual enthusiasm and attendance at temple services.

The prophet Jeremiah, who was never content with anything that was not God’s best, saw that the renewal movement was more appearance than substance. He stood in the doorway of the Temple and prophesied. Faithful temple attendance means nothing unless you have chosen to live with God in God’s way, he told the people. The fruit of true repentance will be a turning away from idolatry and justice and compassion in your actions (Jer 7).

The priests and religious leaders came in for a scathing rebuke from God through Jeremiah because “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly saying, “Peace, peace.” when there is no peace . . . We look for peace, but find no good, for a time of healing, but there is terror instead” (Jer 8:11, 15). Throwing a religious mantle over human stratagems and programs is not the obedience to God from the heart that is the result of an all-consuming love and which will result in an all-prevailing peace. This seems so obvious that it goes without saying, but why do we insist on this madness to our very day?

In a 32 year career as an attorney for churches and religious organizations, I have learned to abhor the pontifications of the antinomian, “peace-at-any-cost” practitioners of tolerance and political correctness who judge as intolerant any expressed conviction of faith and doctrine. I am equally disgusted with the self-righteous zealots who interpret a “Thus saith the Lord” as justifying the elimination of dissent by the character assassination of dissenters. Both of these camps would rather purge than persuade and both practice human sacrifice rather than rely upon the wide-open embrace of Jesus Christ. Both camps rely upon the relative anonymity of the internet for their ambushes.

Jesus says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone” (Matt 18:5). The point is to win the offender back to relationship through forgiveness. If that doesn’t work, you try it again with two or three witnesses. If that fails then the whole church makes the attempt. The whole context of Matthew 18 is the reconciliation of hearts to God and to each other through the surrender of our rights and acceptance of the sovereign grace of God as the ultimate rule of relationship.

The truth is that when we pray to the Lord for peace we cannot place conditions on how he provides it. The Prince of Peace does not ask us to surrender our minds and hearts to the authority of another human or institution and he does not give us authority to demand that people and institutions yield control to us. The Prince of Peace does require our unconditional surrender to him. Those who demand that others be the answer to their prayer for peace are looking in the wrong place. When it comes to peace with others the command of Scripture is a terse call to personal responsibility in extending mercy over judgment.
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Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:18–21).

Jesus calls us to the worship of God and especially in these last days (John 4:23-25; Phil 2:9-11; Rev 14:6-7). But there is one act that Jesus places above worship. “When you are offering your gift at the altar. if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23). A heart chained to the past by unforgiveness is not capable of the unreserved worship that the Lord seeks from us and he wants that barrier removed.

Paul recognized the premium that God placed on our peace with him and peace between those who know and follow his way and those who have no hope beyond their own strong-arm tactics. “Now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us” (Eph 2:13-14). The true peaceful solution is the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ call to peace-making is a call for us to give up our rebellion of willful pride and take the path of repentance home. In Jesus’ parable of “The Prodigal Son,” the prodigal took that path and found peace in the embrace of his father. The elder son in self-righteousness refused to come inside and end the division of the family (Luke 15:11-32). When Jesus said the blessing of the peacemakers is to be called “the children of God” he revealed the goal of peacemaking to be the enlargement of the family of God.

Peace is much more than the absence of conflict. Like the other conditions and actions referenced by Jesus in the Beatitudes — poverty, suffering, forbearance, hunger, mercy, and enduring persecution and attack for righteousness sake –  peacemaking has no intrinsic nobility. The goal and the empowerment of peace is the presence and reign of God.

In our eternal home with God, the things that disturb our peace the most like sin, death, mourning, crying and pain will be no more because God is with us forever (Rev 21:3-4). Those who wish to be peacemakers will make their way to God and “let the peace of Christ rule and reign in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Col 3:15).

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

Kent Hansard Word of Grace

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