School dinner was being served. One boy had several minutes to wait as others were receiving their portions and in silence he contemplated the plate of fish and chips before him. When the chaplain stood and said grace, the boy was sure that he heard the chaplain pray, “We thank thee Heavenly Father for the piece of cod which passes all understanding.” Sadly many people have as little understanding of the meaning and the reality of peace of God – the peace which God gives, as that schoolboy had.
“Peace” became a catchword and a slogan for many in the nineteen sixties and “pacifism” seemed to claim the idea of peace as its own exclusive possession. Regrettably the Peace Camps and the Peace Marches of the Hippy generation almost discredited the idea of peace. Yet the Bible speaks about peace a remarkable 312 times. And we come this week to the Seventh Beatitude. In God’s Upside-Down Kingdom, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the Sons of God.”
When we think about Peace, we should keep in mind that peace has meaning on at least three levels.
1st Level of Peace – Peace between nations
Historians from Norway, England, Egypt, Germany, and India have come up with some startling information: Since 3600 B.C. the world has known only 292 years of peace! During this period there have been 14,400 wars, large and small, in which around 3.7 billion people have been killed. The value of the property destroyed would pay for a golden belt around the world 97.2 miles wide and 33 feet thick. Since 650 B.C. there have also been 1656 arms races, only 16 of which have not ended in war. The remainder ended in the economic collapse of the countries involved. Moreover, in excess of 8000 peace treaties were made–and broken. In the last 3 centuries there have been 300 wars on the continent of Europe alone.
Romans 14:19 Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
This is as relevant and important in the affairs of nations as it is between individuals. But the slogan “Peace at any price” is misguided – those who would compromise anything for a quiet life dare not do so. It was Oliver Cromwell who said, “If we would have peace without a worm in it we must lay foundations of justice and righteousness.” Peacemakers do not look for peace at any price. Sometimes passive resistance to evil will not suffice. In some countries at some times, and over some issues within our own nation, God’s peace, God’s righteousness and God’s justice demand action against injustice, corruption, immorality and indifference against violations of human rights. Love of neighbour calls us to overcome evil with good, by prophetic witness, by social and political action, and as a last resort by physical force. One of the arguments in favour of the UK staying in the European Union is the degree to which the EU has been a force for peace in Europe over the decades.
The world today needs peacemakers as much as ever. Bringing peace in Syria and Iraq. Peace in Eastern Europe, peace in the War on Terror, peace with justice between the exploiting global North and the oppressed and resentful global South. God calls Christians to play our part in being peacemakers between nations. By prayer, by prophetic witness, by political action. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
2nd Level of Peace – Peace between Neighbours
Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone
Each of us is called to live at peace with our neighbours. We cannot know peace with God if we are making war on our neighbours. But living at peace doesn’t make us peacemakers. The challenge to Christian people is to bring the peace of God to our own community. Even within North Springfield, our neighbours face all kinds of problems. Our neighbourhood needs peacemakers for broken hurting families with partners fighting, children at war with their parents, and neighbours not speaking to neighbours. North Springfield needs to discover the peace of God which passes all understanding, which sets people free from pain and anger and fear. And Christian people must follow Christ the Mediator and work to spread His peace.
In the 1960s Pope Paul VI said, “A love of reconciliation is not weakness or cowardice. It demands courage, nobility, generosity, sometimes heroism – an overcoming of oneself rather than of one’s adversary. At times it may even seem like dishonour. In reality it is the patient wise art of peace, of loving, of living with one’s fellows after the example of Christ, with a strength of heart and mind modelled on His.”
Being a peacemaker isn’t always easy or comfortable. When I think of peacemakers I think particularly of Terry Waite. In 1987 he was the Archbishop of the Church of England’s envoy sent to Lebanon to negotiate for the release of four hostages including the journalist John McCarthy. Terry Waite was himself kidnapped and held hostage for four years. It took a year living in my old college for Terry Waite to recover from his ordeals. Being a peacemaker isn’t easy. Standing in the middle of conflict, attempting to bring warring factions together. Yet God calls each one of us to be a peacemaker between neighbours. Mediators, reconcilers, sources of peace here in North Springfield. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
3rd Level of Peace – Peace with God
John 14:29 Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled – do not be afraid.
If we want to be peacemakers we must first receive for ourselves that peace which passes all understanding, that peace of God which Christ alone gives us – which is peace WITH God.
God’s peace is not just the end of war, absence of conflict. God’s peace is not just negative, an absence of something, but very positive:- calm, tranquillity, serenity, harmony, reconciliation. The Hebrew word for Peace is shalom and it embraces wholeness, completeness, soundness, well-being. All very positive conditions – the peace of God which passes all understanding.
Peace with God was Billy Graham’s great slogan and the title of his first best-selling book: And that is the peace we all need most of all. More than peace between nations. More than peace between neighbours. Each one of us needs to be at peace with God.
Isaiah 48:22 AND Isaiah 57:21 `There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.”
There’s no peace for the wicked. That is absolutely true. Selfishness, rebellion, greed, pride, disobedience, all the things which the Bible calls sin are ENEMIES of God’s true peace. Only God can set us free from these things and let us experience His peace, His love, His joy – and God does this through His Son, Jesus Christ.
The peacemaker’s task is to change enemies into friends. And this is what Jesus offers us as a free gift – to change us from God’s enemies into God’s friends as we follow Him – peace with God.
GOOD NEWS BIBLE: 2 Corinthians 5: 17Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. 18All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19Our message is that God was making the whole human race his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends.
20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! 21Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God.
OUR PEACE COMES FROM WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US
It was Christ’s death on the cross which dealt with the barrier of sin between human beings and the Holy and righteous God.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
If we are to be peacemakers we must first receive God’s gift of peace for ourselves. And we receive that peace by having faith in God.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 5:1
And what is faith? When John Paton was translating the Bible for a South Seas island tribe, he discovered that they had no word for trust or faith. One day a native who had been running hard came into the missionary’s house, flopped himself in a large chair and said, “It’s good to rest my whole weight on this chair.”
“That’s it,” said Paton. “I’ll translate faith as ‘resting one’s whole weight on God.'”
We receive God’s peace as we put our trust in Jesus Christ and rest our whole weight on what Christ accomplished on the cross dying in our place for our sins.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
High up in the Andes Mountains on the border between Argentina and Chile there is a giant statue of Jesus Christ in the rock. It was built after the end of the war between those two countries and it bears this inscription. “As long as these mountains stand, peace continues between Chile and Argentina – founded on the Lord Jesus Christ”.
Jesus Christ is the true Peacemaker – the only source of peace between man and God, that peace which passes all understanding. And those of us who seek to be peacemakers must follow in His steps. “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God”.
I say again, being a peacemaker will not be easy. It will sometimes cost more than most of us would want to pay. Let me tell you the story of Telemachus. Telemachus was a monk who lived in the 4th century in a cloistered monastery. He felt God saying to him, “Go to Rome.” Obedient to the voice of God Telemachus put his possessions in a sack and set out for Rome. When he arrived in the city, people were crowding the streets. He asked why there was so much excitement and he was told that this was the day of the games, the day of the circus when the gladiators would be fighting and killing each other in the coliseum,. Telemachus thought to himself, “Four centuries after Christ and they are still killing each other, for enjoyment?” He came to the coliseum and heard the gladiators saying, “Hail to Caesar, we die for Caesar” and Telemachus thought, “this isn’t right.” He jumped over the railing and went out into the middle of the field, got between two gladiators, held up his hands and said “In the name of Christ, stop!”
The crowd protested and began to shout, “Run him through, Run him through.” A gladiator came over and hit Telemachus in the stomach with the back of his sword. It sent him sprawling in the sand. He got up and ran back and again said, “In the name of Christ, stop!” The crowd continued shouting, “Run him through.” One gladiator came over and plunged his sword through the little monk’s stomach and he fell into the sand, which began to turn crimson with his blood. One last time he gasped out, “In the name of Christ stop.”
A hush came over the 80,000 people in the coliseum. Soon one man stood and left, then another and more, and within minutes all 80,000 had emptied out of the arena. History tells us that was the last-known gladiatorial contest in the history of Rome.“Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God”.