Blessed Are the Peacemakers
The making of peace is one of the most important motifs of all of Scripture. In fact, the whole drama of redemption involves the pursuit of peace in the midst of a war that spans the whole world and almost all of history since creation. In Genesis 3, we read of the fall of the human race; this is not only an isolated historical event but the beginning of a worldwide situation of hostility and estrangement. In the New Testament, the gospel is articulated in terms of reconciliation: God in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself, and we who believe in Him have been given a ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18–20).
There are certain necessary conditions for reconciliation to take place in any dispute. The first is estrangement, because without estrangement there is no need for reconciliation. Gospel reconciliation is the healing of a broken relationship.
I once gave a lecture at a college to a group called the Atheist Club. The club had invited me to give the case for the existence of God. I had been studying a sermon by Jonathan Edwards titled Men, Naturally God’s Enemy, where he talks about the hostility toward God that is found in the human heart since the fall. The Bible says that the flesh is at enmity with God—that we are, by nature, enemies of God (Rom. 8:7). The thrust of my lecture to these students was that the disposition of their hearts was one of hostility toward God. The problem was not that they didn’t know God or were indifferent toward Him; their problem was that they hated God. I told them I was willing to discuss proofs for God, evidences of the resurrection, and so on, but that in the end they were dealing not with an intellectual problem, but a moral one. It wasn’t for lack of evidence that they didn’t believe in God; it was because they didn’t want to. This reality is at the heart of the rupture between God and man.
Disputes and hostilities erupt in all kinds of human relationships. Husbands and wives who were once united in the holy bonds of matrimony sometimes become estranged. In the workplace, violent conflicts can arise between labor and management, resulting in strikes, acrimony, and dissension. One of the most powerfully felt needs in our culture is for whole relationships. Estrangement is not foreign to us. Often, these conflicts move us to see the need for mediation.
When labor negotiations break down, often an appeal is made for a mediator to try to lead the estranged parties into agreement. Marriage counselors and pastors often function as mediators between husbands and wives. A mediator is a go-between; he tries to speak to both sides in the dispute in order to bring them to unity so that the hostilities will stop, the breach will be healed, and reconciliation can take place. This is why the heart of the message of Christianity is a message of peace. The supreme peacemaker is Christ, because the supreme role occupied by Jesus in the New Testament is that of our Mediator. He mediates the estrangement between us and God. It’s not that we have estrangement because God has turned His back on the human race, but because the human race has turned its back to God. But God has not washed His hands of us; God the Father sent Christ to perform the work of mediation, to be our peacemaker.
The language of peace is used throughout the New Testament to describe this event of reconciliation. When Paul wrote to the Romans about God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness in justifying unjust people through the work of Christ, he wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Our ultimate peace has been secured for us by the supreme mediator, who Himself is the Son of God. Because of His mediatorial peacemaking, we are able to be adopted into the family of God. That’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Just as He is the Son of God and is the peacemaker, so those who are His, who imitate His office of peacemaking at an earthly level, will be called sons of God.
We can find several examples of peacemaking in the Bible. Joseph made peace with his brothers (Gen. 45), Jonathan interceded for David (1 Sam. 20), David sought to be reconciled to Saul (1 Sam. 24:8–15), and Paul confronted Peter over his hypocrisy in order to call him back to the gospel (Gal. 2:11–14).
Why are we not more involved in making peace? One of the main reasons we shrink from the task of being peacemakers is that it is a dangerous job. If you step in between two men in a fight, you might be the one who gets the next punch. And a peacemaker is a lightning rod; he tends to become the target of hostilities from both sides. If ever there was a thankless job given to a human being, it is peacemaking.
When Jesus pronounced His blessing upon peacemakers, He was pronouncing a benediction on people who work for authentic, genuine, godly peace—not for what Martin Luther called a carnal peace, a false peace. The false prophets of Israel boasted of their peacemaking skills; their favorite message was one of peace. The prophet Jeremiah, God’s spokesman for reconciliation, mediated the word of God to a wayward nation and called the people back to Him. The people would not listen because they didn’t like His prescription for peace with God. The false prophets would say, “God’s not angry, everything is OK. God loves you just as you are.” Jeremiah went to the people and said these prophets cry, “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14).
An authentic peace is hard to accomplish because it may require the call for repentance. That kind of peacemaking is very unpopular, and so it often meets stiff resistance. Jesus has to encourage us to be peacemakers because it may mean standing in harm’s way—though not to the degree that Jesus did. He took upon Himself the fullness of God’s wrath against man, as well as all the wrath man directs toward God; no human being has received greater hostility from the human race than Jesus did at Calvary. At the same time, He received the full measure of the wrath of His Father against sin. He took it from both sides. He did it in order to effect our peace.