“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
As modern Western Christians when we read the word “peace” in the Bible we build a fence around it. We shrink it down to size. We define it as “inner peace.” “Emotional peace.” “Spiritual peace.” “Peace of mind.” “Peace in my heart.”
Undoubtedly, Jesus gives us all of those things. But if that’s all we think of, we are limiting the biblical concept of peace in a way that is not warranted in Scripture and is not endorsed by Jesus.
In a world that is drunk on hatred and hostility, it is the kingdom of Jesus Christ that brings peace. Shalom. The prophets talked about it incessantly as a recurrent theme. Here’s just one familiar example.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Peace among hostile groups. Peace among the nations. World peace.
It’s the wish of dippy beauty queens. But it’s also the dream of the prophets.
They dare to dream with prophetic imagination that the world doesn’t have to always follow the same tired script of hatred and hostility. And all of them, from Isaiah to Malachi, dream of peace.
Because ever since Cain killed Abel the world has been a very unpeaceful place. So that human history is written in blood. It’s a story of when, where, and why blood was shed. And as a result, we long for the government that can establish real peace. That’s what the prophets speak of.
Now, when Jesus was born at the dawn of the first century there was a world ruler. Caesar Augustus. The emperor of the Roman Empire. And among his imperial titles were two that I want you to be aware of. “Prince of Peace” and “Bringer of World Peace.” These were common inscriptions upon the coins of the day. On the head of the coin would be a depiction of Caesar, and on the back there would be a common inscription as a title. It was formalized by the Senate.
Now here is the irony of this. There is a sense in which Caesar did bring peace. The early first century from around the time of the birth of Jesus up until the year 66 was actually a quite peaceful time, in the sense that there weren’t very many wars at all. It was a very stable, peaceful time.
But it came at a terrible cost. It was peace that was produced by the threat of violence. The Roman Empire would take over and subjugate a group of foreign people, taxing them and declaring, “If you dissent at all, we will nail you to a cross.” And they did it to thousands of people. In order to keep the peace.
The Roman Empire established and kept peace by the Roman cross. Selah.
Less than 12 hours before Jesus was nailed to one of those Roman crosses, he said this: “Peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
Now we’ve always heard that as private, personal peace. I’m not going to take that away from you. Yes, that’s included. But think of it in contrast with the Roman Empire, which is how it was intended. They claimed to provide peace, and they did it through the violence of their cross and the brutal crushing of all dissent.
And now Jesus says, in effect, “I give you peace, but not as the world gives peace.”
How did the Roman Empire give peace? By identifying others as enemies and fighting against them until they had no capacity to resist. And those who did try to resist, they would nail to a cross.
And Jesus takes that same instrument and turns it inside-out, and uses it to establish peace. So that the Apostle Paul would say that Jesus “reconciled all things to himself, in heaven and on earth, through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).
On the cross, Jesus takes all the hatred, all the violence, all the sin, all the brutality, and he absorbs it into himself. And instead of crying out for vengeance and praying for twelve legions of angels to avenge him and charging his disciples to avenge his blood, he prays, “Father, forgive them.”
So that hatred and vengeance and sin had found a place to die. They’re hurled at Jesus and Jesus absorbs and recycles them on the cross and what comes back is not vengeance, not hatred, not retribution, but love. And forgiveness.
And what were the first words out of his mouth after his resurrection? “Peace be with you.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”
You cannot bring peace around you if you do not have peace within you. Having received forgiveness, we become formed in forgiveness, and we go forth to become forgiving people. And we call people to become disciples of this Jesus practice and this Jesus way. Instead of getting even, instead of paying back, instead of raining down curses upon our enemies’ heads, we forgive them.
Peacemakers are bridge-builders. They seek to find common ground. They seek to bring warring factions together.
There’s a very interesting story in Joshua 5:
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” 14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence… (Joshua 5:13-14)
Joshua is getting ready to go to war with the Canaanites. It’s on the eve of battle. And suddenly there’s a man with a drawn sword standing in front of him. It’s the angel of the Lord. But he doesn’t necessarily recognize who it is immediately. But Joshua asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies? Whose side are you on? Are you on our side, or are you on the side of our enemies?
And what does the angel of the LORD say? “Neither.”
Wow. That’s a little bit astounding. That God is not on our side or even Israel’s side is something that is hinted at briefly in this passage but gets fully expanded once we read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and encounter Jesus.
It is because Jesus would not endorse the cherished “Us vs. Them” hostilities of his own time that got him in trouble (ex. Luke 4:14-30).
Here’s a paraphrased version of the 7th Beatitude:
“Blessed are the peaceful bridge-builders in a war-torn world, for they are God’s children working in the family business.”
Rather than perpetuating historic hostilities, when you are a peacemaker, Jesus says you are looking more like God.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45)
This is radical stuff. It was radical then. It’s radical today. There’s no getting around it. The first part is simple. He’s re-asserting the biblical test case that loving God is loving your neighbor.
But then Jesus takes it farther and he re-defines neighbor as enemy. So the biblical test case for love of God is love of neighbor. The biblical test case for love of neighbor is love of enemy.
Jesus says, “Look. I want you to love your enemies. Not hate them. Love them. And those who are doing bad things to you—I want you to pray for them. Because when you do that, you’re acting like your Father, who loves indiscriminately.”
Jesus calls us to love and bless our enemies because that’s what God is like. When we erase the lines of hostility and seek to bless everyone—friend or foe—that is when we are engaged in the family business.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they bear the resemblance of God.”
Peace is too important to be left to politicians. Politicians are people who gain their constituency by appealing to the “Us vs. Them” dynamic. And working from that paradigm, peace is almost always impossible.
That’s why there must be people who can transcend that and say, “We’re not going to play that game. We’re not going to take sides. We’re going to bless our enemies and tear down these walls of hostility.”
That’s the identifying mark of the children of God.
NOTE: This post is part of a blog series on the Beatitudes. Here are the links to the previous posts:
Beatitude #1: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Beatitude #2: Blessed are Those who Mourn
Beatitude #3: Blessed are the Meek
Beatitude #5: Blessed are the Merciful
Beatitude #6: Blessed are the Pure in Heart