Today we come to consider the seventh beatitude. Verse 9.
“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.”
God’s children work for peace. God’s children are ‘eirēnopoiós’ (literally, makers of peace). God’s children are peace loving. They are peaceable, they are pacifists.
Isaiah 9:6 says that Jesus, the son of God, is the Prince of Peace. “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
The NLT translates peacemakers as ‘those who work for peace’ to ensure we don’t miss an essential point. A peacemaker is not someone who sits around doing nothing but feeling peaceful feelings. This blessing is for those like Jesus who expend effort – even blood, sweat and tears – to bring peace in the world. It is not about living in peace, but about bringing peace among factions in conflict.
This is the time of year when we celebrate the arrival on earth of the prince of peace. The greatest peacemaker of them all, he is the one we seek to emulate. We remember that he didn’t arrive with an army, and he didn’t enter this world with a sword in his hand.
Jesus was born into troubled times. He came to set mankind free. But he was totally helpless when he arrived. He couldn’t even feed himself. He could neither walk nor talk.
And when he left this world, it was as a man helplessly nailed to a cross. He did nothing to defend himself. He did not die as a warrior, struck down in battle while fighting the forces of evil. He did not resist or complain as he was killed.
Jesus our Saviour is an enigma. He came as a weak baby. He died weak. And yet in doing that he defeated all the powers of evil. Jesus taught us that we can also be a child of God if we – like him – work for peace. And by his life, from birth to death, he showed us how to do that.
So we have to learn from the man whose birthday we are remembering today. We have to learn from him how to bring peace.
Jesus entire life was devoted to restoring right relationships between man and woman and God. This is what Paul is telling us in 2 Corinthians 19: ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”’
Jesus did not hide in the desert, but was a determined activist. So too we should not hide, we should also be active. We are called to work for peace by being active in every part of our lives to end hostility wherever we encounter it.
This work has to be done in marriages, in friendships, in business dealings. It has to be done by teaching people and giving them strategies for peace so that their marriages do not collapse in divorce. And we need to work to help parents with their children. To help children with their parents. Did you know most murders occur within families?
It will involve us in non-violent campaigns for peace. It will involve us in struggles against the trafficking of women and children. It will involve us in protecting the vulnerable, which may mean campaigning against euthanasia or abortion. We may need to stand up against the international arms trade, against multinational corporations, against the rape and pillage of natural resources, against modern slavery.
Work for peace needs to include all of the violence on our television sets, in our video games, in our books, in the movies, in the toy stores. Do we pucker our lips on horror at child soldiers and simper that violence is wrong, but then give our children plastic guns for Christmas or buy them violent video games. How can anyone be a peacemaker and at the same time play a computer game that no only condones but encourages violence. There are too many games to list here, and you probably know them better than me.
Work for peace includes peace for whales, forests, the ozone layer, and in fact the entire ecosystem. God looked at the chaos before creation and by his spirit he brought about harmony, peace and beauty. When we work for peace we are doing his work, and that is what makes us his children.
But one thing towers over and above all this. Already we have enough work making peace to keep each one of us fully occupied for more than one lifetime. There is such a lot for us all to do, and there is no time to waste. Christmas should remind us of how far we are from the ideals of God’s creation. There is, however, another thing; the greatest, biggest, most enormous task of making peace is to bring peace between man and God.
It is to bring to this tortured world in which we live, our world, peace with God.
Jesus has not given us any promise that it will be easy, and we have many examples of how hard it is.
Martin Luther King was assassinated for trying to bring peace between two races in one nation. Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Yitzak Rabin of Israel were both killed by an assassin’s bullet for trying to bring peace between two nations.
One of the great risks of peace making is that both the parties in the division may turn against the arbitrator. This is true when healing marriages, and it is true when healing political or religious splits. This is what happened to Jesus when the rival religious factions in Israel joined forces to murder him.
It happens today. Some people are like the Greeks and want clear cut truth, wise philosophy, and unambiguous dogma. Others are like the Jews who wanted power so that the forces of evil could be overthrown. Neither of them found the cross satisfactory. Jesus was an offence to them all, and still is.
We do not follow a master who wanted peace at any price. We cannot abandon the gospel for the sake of peace, nor should we abandon peace in defence of the truth. These are both errors. Peacemakers teach us how to find the better way.
When the conquistadors swept across South America in the 1500s they used swords to spread the gospel and terror. This is not what the Prince of Peace meant when he said that he had come to bring a sword. In Matthew 10:34, Jesus says, “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.”
This is a verse about how following Jesus and working for peace so often brings division. The gospel is divisive because of the ways in which people react to it. Like in the parable of the sower, we are different types of soil. In many nations, the moment a person accepts Jesus as Lord they are rejected by their family. Often they can be killed for this simple action, even by their parents.
We have been called by the one whose birth we celebrate to work for peace in a world of war, and we know this is a difficult and dangerous task. We work, and we give up our lives, to bring peace to others. We labour not for our own peace or our own success, but we sacrifice our lives as did Jesus to bring peace to others. And when our life is spent as his was, we shall have the honour to be called a child of God along with Jesus.
Peace making is not a soft option, but it is an inescapable part of our Lord Jesus Christ’s royal way of love. Let’s welcome Jesus to earth this week with a determination to continue the work he started of bringing peace between man and God.