The Jesus Revolution
Part 4: Being peacemakers and persecuted
Do you like my shirt? It says, “This shirt is illegal in 53 countries. Restricted nations: 40. Hostile areas: 13.” Why is it illegal? The cross. It is hard for us to imagine that our Christian brothers and sisters in much of the world still face persecution or death for their faith. How do you feel about that? Do you feel badly for them? Jesus says that they are blessed! “Blessed are those who are persecuted for My sake.” What does that say about us? That’s part of what we’re going to talk about today, in part 4 of the Jesus Revolution.
In this series, The Jesus Revolution, we are working our way through Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7. In it, Jesus describes life in the Kingdom of God, what it looks like to follow Jesus and do God’s will. He starts by describing those who are blessed by God—we call them “the Beatitudes”. It’s a crazy upside-down description—not what you’d expect!
We would say a rich person is blessed; Jesus said the poor in spirit are blessed.
We would say a happy person is blessed; Jesus said those who mourn are blessed.
We would say a powerful person is blessed; Jesus said the meek are blessed.
And so it goes—just the opposite of what we would think. Today, we’ll look at the last two beatitudes—blessed are the peacemakers and the persecuted. Let’s take a closer look.
1. Being peacemakers.
Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
What is a peacemaker? I want to talk about peacemaking individually and socially.
First, socially. When we think of peace we think of either inner tranquility (“I am at peace”) or the absence of conflict (peace rather than war). The Hebrew term, shalom, refers to something bigger than either of those—it refers to “a state of well being for the whole community in every direction and in every relationship” (F. Dale Bruner). To make peace (shalom) is to bring justice and wellbeing to every member of the community.
In this sense, a peacemaker is someone who works for justice and the wellbeing of everyone in society. Every act of kindness, every good deed, every wrong that is righted contributes to the peace, the shalom, the wellbeing of the community. Let me give you an example of a peacemaker.
ILL: Many of you know that Life Center has a community partnership with Sheridan Elementary School, where 87% of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch. We train and send adults to mentor children. You give one hour a week to be a loving, positive, encouraging and caring adult for a child.
This week, I went to Sheridan to watch one of our mentors in action. Mitch Schaum spent an hour hanging out with his child, a fourth grade boy. They played some board games and talked. Mitch has been doing this—coming one hour a week—for over a year. What does Mitch do in that hour? Hang out, play games, talk and listen. Simple, but powerful. Mitch told me that he loves it and sees a difference in this child, and in himself.
I also was able to talk with Connie, who runs Life Center’s program; with the school counselor, M.L., and with the principal, Pete. They told me stories of the difference mentors have made in the lives of children at Sheridan: of a girl who was angry and aloof who has become happy and engaged; of a boy who lives with his great grandmother and his mentor is a father-figure. I asked Pete how many of the students could benefit from a mentor. “90%” he told me. There are 480 students at Sheridan—that means 430 of them need a mentor. We currently have about 15 mentors—we need 415 more! One hour a week, hanging out with a child.
You might wonder, “how is this peacemaking? How could something as simple as hanging out with a child, playing games, and listening be peacemaking?” When you listen to Mitch, Connie, M.L. or Pete talk about it, you realize that each mentor is making a significant contribution to the well-being of that child—and that contributes to the well-being of the whole community. It is an hour of shalom.
Every act of kindness, every good deed, every wrong that is righted contributes to the peace, the shalom, the wellbeing of the community. This is being a peacemaker—it’s what it means to follow Jesus, to be part of the Jesus Revolution.
Second, a peacemaker is a reconciler of individuals, someone who can turn enemies into friends.
ILL: During the Revolutionary War, there was a pastor named Peter Miller who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania and enjoyed the friendship and respect of George Washington. In that same town lived a man named Michael Widman, a troublemaker who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor, including spit in his face, trip him when he walked by and once even punched him. One day, Michael Widman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled fifty miles on foot to Valley Forge to plead for the life of the traitor.
“No Peter,” George Washington said. “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”
“My friend!” exclaimed the old preacher. “He’s the most bitter enemy I have; but I don’t believe he is guilty of treason.”
“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked fifty miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I’ll grant your pardon.” And he did.
Peter Miller took Michael Widman back home to Ephrata–no longer an enemy, but a friend.
That’s a peacemaker. A reconciler. Someone who turns enemies into friends. The opposite of a peacemaker is a troublemaker. Some people are always in conflict with someone. They are always in the middle of an argument, always involved in a dispute, always wrapped in tension with someone. What are you: a troublemaker or a peacemaker?
The greatest peacemaker of all time was Jesus Christ. He came to reconcile us to God, to change us from God’s enemies to God’s friends.
2 Corinthians 5:18 “God reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
God sent Jesus to make peace with us, to make us friends instead of enemies. Isn’t that an incredible thought: God wants to be your friend! And He has done everything that needs to be done to make that a reality. God wants you be your friend, and He wants you to help other people become His friends too—He gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
Jesus not only reconciled us to God, but he reconciled us to each other too. For example, when Jesus came, there was an unbridgeable gap between Jews and Gentiles. Each group despised and distrusted the other. They wouldn’t eat together, they wouldn’t do business together, and they actively sought to harm one another. But God loved both groups, and in Christ, he brought them together and made them one.
Ephesians 2:14-19 “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…His purpose was to create in himself one new person out of the two, thus making peace, and…to reconcile both of them to God through the cross…He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near…consequently you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s family.”
Jesus took these sworn enemies and made them friends; more than that, he made them family! Jesus made peace between you and God, and between you and others. He is our peace.
How can you make peace? Peacemaking is not easy; in fact, it can be very painful. Here are some practical ideas.
First, peacemakers must address the real issues. Please understand that peacemaking is not appeasement; it is not peace at any price. If you appease, you only postpone trouble, you don’t solve it. If you gloss over the hard issues, you just get temporary emotional relief, you don’t achieve healing and peace. Peacemaking is a difficult and painful process; it requires a great deal of courage and grit; it is not easy.
Do you want peace with God? Then you must face your sin and repent; there is no shortcut. If someone tells you “Don’t worry about it; God loves you and all is well”, that is appeasement; they aren’t dealing with the hard issues. The truth is that you have sinned, you have rebelled against God, and there will be no peace with God until you repent! Does God love you? Of course! That has never been the issue; God has never been the problem in your relationship; you have been!
ILL: It’s like the bumper sticker says, “If you feel far from God, guess who moved!”
Do you want peace with God? You must admit your problem and repent. You must address the real issue.
And if you want to make peace with people, you must address the real issues. Most dysfunctional families stay that way because they won’t pay the price for true peace. They would all rather live in denial of the problem, pretending that everything is ok. Better not to rock the boat. Alcoholics, drug abusers, those with violent tempers, sexual abusers—their families tend to look the other way and hope it will get better rather than risk an explosion by confronting the truth. Ask any therapist and he will tell you that the #1 reason people don’t get well is denial. They are unwilling to face the truth, to confront the problem head-on. And so they live with an artificial peace, a peace that is merely the absence of trouble rather than the presence of good.
For most of my life, I’ve never liked conflict and confrontation. But I’ve gotten more courageous about it because I’ve seen the poor results that come from sweeping things under the rug or pretending that they’re not there at all. Now when I must have a difficult conversation with someone, I try to say everything that needs to be said. I heard someone call this, “saying the last 5%”. He said that we talk around hard issues, and avoid saying the last 5%, the really hard stuff. I’m trying to say that last 5%, and then I ask people to do the same with me. “Are we ok? Is there anything you need to say to me?” If they say no, I ask them to call me if they think of it later.
If you want to really be at peace with people, you’ve got to address the real issues, say the last 5%, and have that difficult conversation. Otherwise, the bad stuff goes underground and stays subterranean. We smile on the outside, but inside we’re boiling, hurt or disappointed. There is no peace. First, you must address the real issues.
Second, peacemakers take the first step. Peacemakers take the first step to make things right. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus said that if you are worshipping God and remember that you have offended your brother, first go and be reconciled, then come back and finish worshipping. If you did something wrong, you initiate the process of peacemaking. That makes sense.
“But”, you say, “doesn’t that mean that when the other guy blows it, he ought to be the one to make the first move. I’ve been waiting for years for that jerk to call me and make it right, but he never has.” Jesus also says in Matthew 18:15-17 that if your brother sins against you, you go to him in private, just the two of you, and show him his fault. Don’t wait for him to come, you go. Either way, your fault or his fault, you initiate the peacemaking. You go. You make the first move. That’s what peacemakers do.
That’s what God did! Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God didn’t wait for us to make it right—He made the first move. He came after us and He made the peace. Look again at that verse. When Jesus died on the cross, who was right and who was wrong? I was wrong, and He was right. But who died? He did. The One in the right made the first move; He sacrificed so that we could be friends. Aren’t you glad He made the first move? That’s what peacemakers do.
Do you have someone with whom you are on the outs? Is it your fault or his or hers? It doesn’t matter. You make the first move, take the first step. Peacemakers initiate.
Third, peacemakers own up. Most of the time, we bear some responsibility for the friction in our relationships. It takes two to tango. I don’t know of many conflicts that are entirely one person’s fault. Usually, there is plenty of blame to go around. Peacemakers own up for their behavior. They don’t take responsibility for everything (“It’s all my fault”), because that is another form of appeasement. But they take responsibility for what they’ve done. Peacemakers admit when they are wrong. I have noticed that when I confess my sin and ask for forgiveness, the other person usually seems to soften and confesses their sin too.
Why are peacemakers happy? The answer seems obvious! When are you happier, when you are at peace with others or when you are tense, uptight and at odds with others?
But there is another reason why peacemakers are happy. Jesus said, “for they will be called sons of God.” The Hebrew language was not rich in adjectives; so one of the ways they described people was by using the phrase “son of…” with a noun. For example, a son of encouragement was an encouraging person. A son of thunder was an exuberant person. And here, a son of God is a God-like person. When you are a peacemaker, you are like God, you are doing a God-like work.
And when you are like God, you’ll be happy, for you were created in His image, to be like Him. The more you are like Him, the more you will be what you were created to be, and the happier you’ll be.
The world desperately needs more peacemakers; will you be one? Will you start this week, in your home, on your job, at your school? Will you be the one to take the first step? Happy are the peacemakers!
2. Being persecuted because of righteousness.
Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Blessed are the persecuted! What an incredible thing to say! I appreciate the honesty of Jesus. He makes it clear that if we choose to follow Him, it won’t be easy. There will be opposition. But along with the opposition will be joy, the true happiness that comes from doing what God wants.
First of all, notice that Jesus says that you have to be persecuted for the right reasons: “Because of righteousness…because of Me.” There is no blessing when you are persecuted for being obnoxious! That is what happens to many Christians!
ILL: I was at a downtown restaurant with my wife a few years ago, and a group of zealous but tactless Christians stood outside the windows of the restaurant and screamed at all of us inside, “You gluttons. God will judge you and send you to hell. Repent of your sin!” People all around me were weeping and dropping to their knees, repenting left and right…nope. They were angry, and so was I! And I’m a Christian! If people get angry because we tell them the truth, so be it. But if they get angry because of the way we tell the truth, because we are harsh and unloving, or obnoxious and abrasive—or just plain stupid, that’s another story.
There is also no blessing when you are persecuted for being wrong. When you are wrong and suffer the consequences, that is not persecution, that’s justice!
ILL: When I was a high school pastor in Eugene, a friend and I had just finished a student meeting at Junction City High School. We pulled out of the parking lot and accelerated, and immediately saw blue lights flashing in the rear view mirror—and it wasn’t the blue light special at K-Mart. We stopped and the officer asked me if I knew how fast we were going. I guessed. I guessed wrong. He asked what we were doing at the high school—I guess we looked suspicious. I told him that we were youth pastors there to lead a Bible study. He asked me what the Bible said about obeying the law! I told him to suck rocks. No, I humbly acknowledged that the Bible says I should obey the law. He encouraged me to practice what I was preaching at the high school, as he wrote up a big fat…warning!
I wasn’t being persecuted for being a Christian; I was being prosecuted for speeding!
Don’t confuse the consequences for doing wrong with persecution for doing right.
1 Peter 4:14–16 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
There is no blessing for suffering for doing wrong; but there is a blessing is when you suffer for doing right; when you suffer because you are a Christian.
It is startling to realize that Jesus lists persecution as a characteristic of Christians along with humility and meekness and mercy and peacemaking. Jesus expects us to be persecuted. Persecution is par for the course for true believers! It always has been.
ILL: William Barclay writes:
All the world knows of the Christians who were flung to the lions or burned at the stake; but these were kindly deaths. Nero wrapped the Christians in pitch and set them on fire, and used them as living torches to light his gardens. He sewed them in the skins of wild animals and set his hunting dogs upon them to tear them to death. They were tortured on the rack; they were scraped with pincers; molten lead was poured hissing upon them; red hot brass plates were affixed to the most tender parts of their bodies; eyes were torn out; parts of their bodies were cut off and roasted before their eyes; their hands and feet were burned while cold water was poured over them to lengthen the agony. These things are not pleasant to think about, but these are the things a man had to be prepared for, if he took his stand with Christ.
The problem is that we tend to think of persecution as something that happened in ancient history—it’s what Nero did to the first century Christians, but not what happens today. Christian Solidarity International reports that more Christians were murdered for their faith in the 20th century than in all other centuries combined. More than 150,000 Christians are martyred every year and nearly two-thirds of the world’s population lives in countries where Christians are persecuted. This shirt is illegal in 53 nations! Persecution is not a thing of the past! If you want to find out more about it, check out these websites:
Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
And in Philippians 1:29 he says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.”
And in 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 he tells the Thessalonians that he sent Timothy to encourage them “so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way.”
Even Jesus said in John 15:18-20, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
Why would being persecuted be characteristic of Christians? Two reasons:
First, Christians are persecuted because of our message. The Christian message confronts people with their sin, and that makes people angry.
John 3:19-20 “Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
People hate to have their sin exposed. It is no fun facing the ugly truth about yourself, but it is absolutely necessary if you are ever going to get better! The Christian message is good news: it gives the only answer for our problem. But you only enjoy the answer when you first admit there’s a problem, and it’s precisely there that so many people get defensive and angry.
The Christian message is not only confrontive, but it is exclusive, and that really ticks people off.
John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.”
That is a very offensive message to a pluralistic society like ours that wants to believe there are lots of ways to God, that all religions are just different roads to the same destination. We believe that there are not lots of ways to God, there is only one way, and that is Jesus Christ. That is the Christian message; it is confrontive and exclusive—so Christians are persecuted for their message.
Second, Christians are persecuted because people don’t like what is different. This is a sad truth about our human nature: we don’t like what is different from us. That is the basis of racism; it is the basis of religious wars; it is the basis of intergenerational conflicts. We don’t like what is different.
If you are a Christian, you are different than the world around you. You worship a different God, you live by different values, you work for different goals, you see things from a different perspective, you model a different character and behavior. To the degree that you are truly Christian, truly different, you will be opposed by others. Persecution is simply the clash between two irreconcilable value systems. If you refuse to compromise, you will be opposed by people who do. When you begin to make a difference, when your life begins to impact others, you will be opposed by others, because people don’t like what is different.
Some of you are thinking, “Wait a minute; we don’t get that much persecution in America these days; what does that mean?” Two things:
First, our nation values religious freedom. And I’m very grateful for our freedom. We are very fortunate to live in a free country where we can practice our faith without fear of reprisal or harm. We are a nation in which 90% of the people claim to believe in God in one form or another, and in which most people value the right to believe what you want, and a corresponding tolerance of other people’s views. But that doesn’t mean there is no persecution here. Here, persecution comes from individuals who are hostile to our faith, rather than from the government or police, and it’s more subtle. Here, Christians are marginalized rather than shot. Here, Christians are frozen out of promotions rather than frozen or beaten to death. Here, Christians are dismissed as religious fanatics rather than deported to prison camps.
The second reason for lighter persecution is a sad one. Second, it could be that we don’t get a lot of flak because we aren’t that different. It could be that we’re tolerated more because we have compromised our faith, and we’re just like everybody else.
ILL: Pollster George Gallup found that there was “very little difference in the behavior of the unchurched and churched on a wide range of items including lying, cheating and stealing.”
Could that be the reason that we aren’t persecuted? If you aren’t different, you won’t be opposed.
Have you taken any flak lately for being a follower of Christ? If not, it might be time for a gut-check. It might be time to ask some tough questions about the quality of your faith. Are you living out the first 7 beatitudes? Are you becoming more and more like Jesus? Are you different?
Jesus is calling us to a radical Christian lifestyle. This is a call to be so utterly committed to God and His purposes that it inspires opposition. This is a call to get off the fence and live a new life that will make people love God or hate you! Let God transform you, your values and your life. Then live the kind of life that will make people love God or hate you! Blessed are the persecuted!