Blessed are the Peacemakers…

We are desperate for peace these days. We’ve come off a three month quarantine in which every news report sent shockwaves of COVID terror down our spines, only to be thrust headfirst into protests and riots and atrocities. We look to our political leaders, and all they do is blame each other. We look to entertainment to try to take our mind off of the chaos, only to find the same violence and godlessness of the headlines in our music, television, and movies.

We long for peace, at least the illusion of peace. We usually think that peace is simply the absence of conflict, and we’re okay with kicking the can of our social/moral/political/cultural brokenness down the road, as long as things settle down for now, and no harm comes to me or the ones I know and love.

Genuine peace – what in the Old Testament is called “Shalom” – means a wholeness of being, to be complete. We don’t have peace because we are broken, as individuals, as a society, as the human race. Sin has left us marred, damaged, corrupted, broken, and ultimately without peace. We search and search for anything to make us whole – pleasure, power, etc. – but as we can see if we open our eyes, the things of this world cannot give us the peace we are longing for.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9

We long for peace, and we remember that Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, describes the character of those who would follow after him. The Beatitudes, those signifiers of what it looks like to be truly blessed include things like being poor in spirit, mourning, humility, and yes, being peacemakers. These are not natural characteristics that we have to manifest in order to become followers of Christ, but are rather the “super-natural,” spiritual qualities that those who follow Christ will ultimately demonstrate because of the transforming work if the Holy Spirit in us.

So how do we make peace? Let me suggest two ways we don’t make genuine peace, then point us to how peace is actually made.

We do not make peace through aggression. I am grateful for our military, those who defend and keep the peace for our nation, serving at home and around the world. I appreciate those who have fought in War, putting themselves in harms way to defend our freedom and liberty. I honor those in law enforcement who keep our communities safe. But we must remember, these serve as keepers of the peace, they cannot make it. Peace cannot be achieved through the show of force. This is the deterrence of war, or even the enforcement of justice, but it is not peacemaking.

I’ve seen first hand where peace is imposed by military strength. When visiting 3rd world countries, you see UN Peacekeepers, or heavily armed state security, quelling violence through the presence of strength. But when the peacekeepers aren’t looking – there is murder, violence, and rioting. Peace is not made through fear, aggression, or threat of violence.

Neither is peace made through appeasement and compromise. “Go along to get along” has become the modus-operandi today. We would do anything to avoid conflict. We bend the rules to avoiding offending the rule-breakers, and then wonder why no one obeys the rules any more. We see someone caught in what we know to be a destructive series of choices, but we refuse to say anything because we don’t want to seem judgmental. We would rather watch someone die then tell them they they are killing themselves. Who am I to say anything?

Think of Neville Chamberlain, England’s prime minister during the rise of Hitler’s Germany. He went to Hitler and promised not to enter the war, declaring “peace in our time,” only to betray England’s allies and to later be betrayed and attacked themselves. Peace cannot be achieved through cowardice or moral-relativism.

If we want to be peacemakers, we must first consider how Christ secured peace for us. We are reminded throughout scripture that sin has created enmity between God and man, that there is a divide, a hostility between us that must be reconciled (Eph 2:1-5; Rom 1:18-25, 8:5-7; 1 John 2:15-17). And this is why Jesus came. God, in His love, sent Jesus His Son, to die in our place, to take the full weight of wrath and judgment, the penalty for our sins, upon Himself (Rom 5:8, 1 Peter 2:24, John 3:26). He died to take away the hostility between us and God, becoming the curse of our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (Gal 3:13, 2 cor 5:21). It is through Jesus’ sacrifice that we have peace; peace with God and with one another.

If we are to become peacemakers, we first do so by proclaiming the peace that Christ has made. There is no other mediator between God and man, no other name given among man by which to be saved (Acts 4:12). There is no other peace, no other hope (Rom 5:1). If we are to be peacemakers, we must become heralds of the peace of Christ. We make peace by proclaiming the grace and mercy of God in Jesus to those who do not know Him, those who have not known His peace.

We are peacemakers when we living in peace with one another, forgiving and being forgiven. There is not one of us who has not sinned against his brother or sister, not one of us who is above reproach. There are no classes or groups of people who have been so victimized as to be beyond rebuke, nor so saintlike that repentance is not necessary. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). If we are to be peacemakers, we must begin by confessing our sin to God, then confessing our sin to one another, knowing that Christ has broken down every wall of hostility that divides us, making peace through His blood. Christ is our peace with God, and our peace with one another. Seek forgiveness, and be willing to forgive, just as God has forgiven you in Christ Jesus the Lord.

Finally, we remember that we become peacemakers through sacrifice. We are called, not to take up arms, but to take up our cross (Matt 16:24). We lay down our lives for the sake of following Christ, and in doing so, we find the peace we are longing for, and become peacemakers. We sacrifice, die to ourselves, not insisting on our rights or privileges, but caring for and seeing to the needs of those around us. These sacrifices are not meritorious, they do not bring about peace, but they do proclaim the peace that has been made in Jesus.

May we, through the grace of God in Jesus Christ, be known as peacemakers.

Wash Your Hands!

Wash your hands, you sinners!
(James 4:8)

The Sayler home has a sign hanging in the main-floor bathroom that says, “Wash your hands and say your prayers, because Jesus and germs are everywhere.”  It’s cute.  And now more than ever, a very timely reminder.

We’re well on into our 5th week of “social-distancing” due to the spread of the Coronavirus.  There are all sorts of community, state, and national efforts to help slow the spread of the infection, but one of the simplest and easiest things each one of us can do is wash our hands.  

I found this picture that shows the effectiveness of handwashing: 

hand washing

My boys and I also enjoyed watching this video on hand-washing:

In short, 20 seconds of hand-washing with warm soapy water is the best way to help prevent getting and spreading viral infections.  While you’re washing your hands, sing a song (Amazing Grace) or recite Scripture or catechism questions, which you can put on index cards and tape to your mirror.

But all of this begs the question, were people not washing their hands before this?  I’m reminded of my favorite quotes of R.C. Sproul, “What’s wrong with you people?”

The fact that we needed to be reminded to wash our hands is bad enough. Then there was a run on soap and hand sanitizer, so that you can hardly find it in stores today. This tells me that some of you weren’t washing your hands like you were supposed to.  What’s wrong with you people!

It has always bothered me that we have to have signs in the bathrooms of restaurants and stores that remind employees they are required to wash their hands. This should just be a given. But then I’ve watched in amazement as people come into a bathroom, do their business, then leave without even approaching the sink. They’re out touching the groceries – argh!

Sorry – Where was I? Oh yeah, hand-washing.

While the text above from James reminds us to wash our hands, we have to remember that’s not really what James is talking about. James wasn’t worried about the spread of a virus. Instead, he was pointing us to a deeper sickness that had infected the Church. James was addressing a worldliness that had crept into the Church, and still lurks in the heart of the church today.  In his letter he comments on an arrogant, selfish, and quarreling spirit that all stemmed from unchecked pride.  This is not what the Church is meant to be, and James unequivocally calls the Church out on it.

Sproul’s video that I shared early relates to this as well.  We tend think so little of the holiness of God that we think his punishment for sin too severe. We then think the peccadilloes that we harbor in our hearts are inconsequential and will be overlooked in the end. What’s wrong with the church if this is our attitude?

James is calling the church to repentance. “Draw near to God” – you’ve been distant from him because of your sin – “and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands” – they are covered in sin – “purify your hearts” – for your love for God has been mixed with worldliness.  

How do we come clean? There’s no amount of hand sanitizer or pumice soap that will clear the stain of your sin. James is pointing us to something else. “Humble yourselves before the Lord,” he says, meaning: repent. Confess your sins to Christ, come clean. Look to Jesus alone for your salvation, your hope, and your peace.  Be obedient to him, for He is your Lord. Let his grace cover you, but also humble you, so that you can love, forgive, and be forgiven.

James is calling us to wash our hands of the stain of sin, that we would live as the true Church of God in Jesus Christ. That is what the world needs now more than anything else: A Church that will live and proclaim the Gospel clearly. The worst part about this viral epidemic is not that so many people are dying (that is tragic enough indeed), but that they are dying in their sin, not knowing the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. May they come to know that grace through the witness of the Church today.

SDG