By Ryan Bell

 

Introduction/Story

Who are the children of God?

Who will inherit the kingdom of God?

These are the questions that are heavy on the minds of the Jewish people at the time Jesus begins his public ministry. There was a great debate between the various parties of the Jewish people about how God's kingdom would finally be restored to Israel.

For the Pharisees, outward, ritual purity was the way to please God and facilitate God's reign. For the Essenes, separation and isolation from the world was the way to usher in God's kingdom. For the Saducees, practical accommodations needed to be made and so strategic partnership with the Roman Empire would be necessary to accomplish God's ultimate ends. Finally, for the Zealots, violent revolution was the only way. Through military might the pagan empire would be cut down and God would reign, at last, in Jerusalem.

So, when Jesus began his public ministry with the words, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near," he had everyone's attention. Whose side would he take? Each of these Ďspecial interest groups' wanted to claim this powerful teacher for themselves, but one by one, Jesus revealed that the kingdom of God did not conform to any of their ideas.

As the Pharisees quickly found out, Jesus would not conform to their ritual practices. Contrary to the Saducees, Jesus would make no accommodation to Herod. Jesus habit of eating and drinking with sinners would not have pleased the Essenes. And Jesus practice of non-violence and teaching about peacemakers would not have set well with the Zealots.

 

Blessed are the peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Like all the beatitudes, and indeed Jesus whole teaching about the kingdom of God, this saying, "blessed are the peacemakers," is deeply counterintuitive. Mostly likely directed at the Zealots, this teaching flew directly in the face of their most cherished idea – that the way to be a child of God, the way to secure your place in the kingdom of God as a loyal and faithful son – was the take up the sword and smite the pagan dogs who dare to set their kingdom above God's.

Jesus instead says, those who are called "the children of God" are the peacemakers. Like so many of Jesus' other teachings, this is 180 degrees opposite from conventional wisdom. How is anything going to get done in this world without a sword? Peacemaking is weak, powerless – or so it seems.

However, Jesus' teaching is not novel. Jesus is simply picking up one of the most significant strands of Hebrew teaching and bringing it into the present with a new twist. Isaiah paints this divine vision perhaps more clearly that any other Old Testament writer.

 

Proclaiming Peace

Throughout Isaiah we see that God envisions peace, or shalom, not just for Israel, but also for his entire creation.

Isaiah begins with a vision of the nations coming to Zion, the mountain of the Lord, where the Lord will settle their disputes so that they can "beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

"Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Isa 2:4).

Isaiah then pictures a day when God's people, who have been walking in darkness, will see a great light. A child will be born who will be known, among many other titles, as the "Prince of Peace." "Of the increase of his government and peace," Isaiah prophecies, "there will be no end" (Isa 9:2-7).

In chapter 54, Isaiah describes the "covenant of peace" which will never be removed, and in one of the most beautiful passages in all of Isaiah, God's people are described as messengers of this covenant of peace.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isa 52:7)

It is this remarkable and compelling vision of the peaceful reign of God over all the nations that Isaiah holds up as the purpose for which Israel exists.

 

He Is Our Peace

When the "Prince of Peace" is born in Bethlehem of Judea, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, Israel has languished for centuries waiting for the fulfillment of the prophecy. Many have lost hope. Others, as we have seen above, have developed strategies to bring in God's kingdom by force or cunning.

In the story of Jesus' birth, Luke has the angels singing, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14, TNIV), reminding us of the messengers (the Greek word for angel is literally, messenger) of Isaiah 52, who bring good news, proclaim peace and announce God's reign. The gospel writers want us to know that we are witnessing the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy.

Later New Testament writers highlight these connections. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility" (Eph 2:14).

Jesus, himself, is the peace of God, come to mediate between the nations and create a lasting peace, which will know no end.

When Jesus enters upon his public ministry by saying, "The kingdom of heaven has come near," he creates quite a stir. His description of the kingdom is remarkably similar to that of Isaiah and the other prophets.

This is why Jesus is able to say that peacemakers – those carrying a message of good news, saying "Your God reigns!" – will be known as the children of God.

 

Practice of peacemaking today

As the church continually reevaluates and reconsiders its role in God's plan, this Beatitude, or blessing, of Jesus must not be taken lightly. It would be incorrect to see peacemaking as a minor part God's plan to restore creation. What I have tried to show in this very brief overview is that God's shalom is perhaps the central theme of God's creation restoring work; the central metaphor throughout scripture for the complete wholeness of creation, which God is restoring.

The messengers of God's shalom – those described in Isaiah 52:7 – are God's precious co-laborers. Look again at this prophetic text.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isa 52:7)

What is the English word for "those who bring good news?" Evangelist. An evangelist is one who proclaims the evangel, or good news.

And what is the content of the good news that these evangelists are proclaiming? Peace. Shalom. Salvation from all her enemies. The reign of God!

So, peacemaking – announcing and enacting peace in our world – is evangelism. It is bearing the good news to a world awash in violence, war, poverty, disease and every other injustice. The good news of God's kingdom envisioned by the prophets (Isaiah most notably), incarnate in the person of Jesus and taught by him in passages like the Beatitudes, is a good news of God's shalom gaining the upper hand in the world.

But how does God's peace gain the upper hand in the world? And what is the role of peacemaking in all this?

 

Jesus' way of achieving this peace is not the world's way. In Jesus day, the Pax Romana – Peace of Rome – was widely heralded as the salvation of mankind. The Roman Empire proclaimed peace for the entire world. But it was a peace that came at the end of a sword. It was peace achieved by violence. The Pax Romana turned out to be an illusion, because peace cannot ultimately be achieved through violence.

Jesus taught a different way. The peace of God's reign would come on a cross – from the greatest display of self-giving love. On the cross Jesus put into practice the teaching of his Sermon: love your enemies, do good to those who spitefully use you and persecute you, turn the other cheek, etc.

Rome's way was peace through violence, or peace through victory. Jesus way is peace through justice. The two are radically different. Rome's way says that peace will finally come when all foes are vanquished and the way you accomplish this is through military might. Jesus eschewed this kind of violence and militarism. Jesus taught that peace would finally come when righteousness, or justice, was the order of the day.

******

What does all this means for the church today? When the church reads this beatitude today, what is it that we hear?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

First, it means that the gospel is, fundamentally, a gospel of peace. The gospel is pacifist, by its very nature. The good news of God's at-hand kingdom eschews all forms of violence to achieve its ends. This includes all forms of manipulation we might be tempted to use to achieve "gospel ends." Taking our cues from Jesus example, we cannot proclaim peace, violently. We cannot ensnare people in freedom. We cannot deceive people into the truth. The methods we use must be congruent with our message.

Secondly, the message of peace that we proclaim is more than words. Peace is something we are called to enact, as well. This is why the language of "peacemaking" is more helpful than pacifism, which implies passivity. There is nothing passive about the peacemaking that Jesus calls us to in the gospel. This means that as the church is considering it's role as witnesses to God's kingdom, we must recognize that our role goes beyond talking about God and his plans for the world. We must act in harmony with God's plans. We must do what we anticipate in God's future. If we, along with Isaiah, picture a future where nations beat their swords into plowshares, then the church must put its conviction to work and start beating on swords now.

Thirdly, being peacemakers in God's kingdom today means speaking and acting for justice for the poor, the outcast, and the war-torn. It means speaking out again an unjust war and actively working to bring that war to an end. It means speaking truth to power and holding power to account for the righteousness that God envisions. In short, being peacemakers in God's kingdom means being radically committed to overcoming evil with good.

 

What has faith to do with politics?

I want to share two brief stories from our congregation's ministry that illustrate the way we are coming to understand our role as peacemakers.

 

In March our church held a Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, in which we prayed, read scripture, sang, told stories and shared experience of working for peace in our world. We lamented the injustice of the current Iraq War. Then, we took candles and went out on the street, and we marched with our candles, prayed and sang some more, as a public witness for peace. It was a very small thing, but it was putting our faith into action. Did it change the world? No. Did anyone notice? Very few. But in God's kingdom – God's economy, all these actions matter. Remember the mustard seed?

In June our church participated in several events that culminated in a Town Hall meeting with our elected city officials in which we insisted that they pay attention to the housing crisis in Los Angeles that is squeezing the lower and middle income families. We stood with over 1,000 residents of our town and spoke our truth to power. They listened and made commitments. We did that for the thousands and thousands of families who are being mistreated by their landlords and unjustly evicted from their apartments. We did that for those who cannot afford to live in the community where they have grown up all their lives.

Many have asked why we do these things – why our ministry is like this. We do these and many other things in our church and our community because we believe we are called to be those messengers with beautiful feet, who proclaim peace – God's peace – to our world. It is our evangelism – our witness – to the world that God way is a better way and God wants people to experience life and freedom now, as well as some day in the future, in the world made new.

Some have said that the church shouldn't get involved in politics. While I agree that partisan politics have no place in the church, we cannot escape the call of Jesus to affect our world for his kingdom. This is what it means to be peacemakers – to announce to the world, "Our God reigns!" and to enact God's peace in tangible ways in the neighborhoods where he has planted us.

 

 

_____________________

 

 

 

Ryan Bell is the Senior Pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hollywood, California. He and his wife and two daughters live two miles from the church are learning to be peacemakers in their local context.  He maintains an active blog at http://www.ryanjbell.net

 

 


Reference here to John Dominic Crossan, God & Empire.

 
 

22 Comments

  1. Jason Williams says:

    Wow! I am preparing to go to Mass and I have just received a homily unlike I have heard in a long time. Your history of Jesus and how He did not choose "human" ways to bring peace and did not do what was "expected" of Him from his fellow Jews really made me stop and think. I am impressed by what you and your church are doing to bring peace. However, I might comment that bringing peace is a daily evangelism. It is one thing to take a day and stand up for something. It is another to work everyday for causes for peace. As you said, we are to peacemakers in all things. Have you established a program to help those discolated families or are you waiting for politicians to do something. Don't hold your breadth to wait for others to make changes. We are Jesus' desciples and we have committed to WORK for justice and peace, not just walk and talk it. Good luck on your mission. Even though I am not of your faith, I am impressed by your depth. Thank you.

  2. Jason Williams says:

    Wow! I am preparing to go to Mass and I have just received a homily unlike I have heard in a long time. Your history of Jesus and how He did not choose "human" ways to bring peace and did not do what was "expected" of Him from his fellow Jews really made me stop and think. I am impressed by what you and your church are doing to bring peace. However, I might comment that bringing peace is a daily evangelism. It is one thing to take a day and stand up for something. It is another to work everyday for causes for peace. As you said, we are to peacemakers in all things. Have you established a program to help those discolated families or are you waiting for politicians to do something. Don't hold your breadth to wait for others to make changes. We are Jesus' desciples and we have committed to WORK for justice and peace, not just walk and talk it. Good luck on your mission. Even though I am not of your faith, I am impressed by your depth. Thank you.

  3. Ryan Bell says:

    Thank you for your excellent comment, Jason. You are absolutely right about enacting peace every day in large and small ways. If I were writing this again I would heed your advice and include some examples of how we are attempting to witness to God's reign of peace and justice in ordinary, "mustard seed" kinds of ways. Thanks for your encouragement! Shalom

  4. Ryan Bell says:

    Thank you for your excellent comment, Jason. You are absolutely right about enacting peace every day in large and small ways. If I were writing this again I would heed your advice and include some examples of how we are attempting to witness to God's reign of peace and justice in ordinary, "mustard seed" kinds of ways. Thanks for your encouragement! Shalom

  5. I always appreciate how you ground your witness/works/actions in the example of Christ. Growing up Adventist for the last twenty-some years, I heard, "Be Like Christ," or "Walk in His Footsteps," "Do Unto Others. . ." from pastors and teachers, but it always seemed nebulous and ill-defined. The best that they could do to firm it up was some sort of personal politeness morality. What I dig about the message above is that you make it real by grounding our public witness of Christ in our larger world, beyond the church, in our public life as members of all communities, family, church, civic, globe.

    This adds the necessary elements of responsibility and action to the usual rhetoric of having a relationship with Christ. Or as I like to say: a relationship through Christ to all creation. Thus, looking to the Creator of All provides me with the ethical model with which to live and care.

    Note to Michael, kudos on a great new site!

  6. I always appreciate how you ground your witness/works/actions in the example of Christ. Growing up Adventist for the last twenty-some years, I heard, "Be Like Christ," or "Walk in His Footsteps," "Do Unto Others. . ." from pastors and teachers, but it always seemed nebulous and ill-defined. The best that they could do to firm it up was some sort of personal politeness morality. What I dig about the message above is that you make it real by grounding our public witness of Christ in our larger world, beyond the church, in our public life as members of all communities, family, church, civic, globe.

    This adds the necessary elements of responsibility and action to the usual rhetoric of having a relationship with Christ. Or as I like to say: a relationship through Christ to all creation. Thus, looking to the Creator of All provides me with the ethical model with which to live and care.

    Note to Michael, kudos on a great new site!

  7. Kris L says:

    What a wonderful article! Your points about Christianity and pacifism/non-violence are well-taken. It seems that the church would do well to look back into our own history. Take a look at some of the early Church Fathers: Origen, Tertullian, Lactantius etc. They clearly advocated positions of non-violence because with Christ the old economy and "kingdom" of violence ended with God's coming as Christ into the world.

  8. Kris L says:

    What a wonderful article! Your points about Christianity and pacifism/non-violence are well-taken. It seems that the church would do well to look back into our own history. Take a look at some of the early Church Fathers: Origen, Tertullian, Lactantius etc. They clearly advocated positions of non-violence because with Christ the old economy and "kingdom" of violence ended with God's coming as Christ into the world.

  9. M. Accardi says:

    Although your points about peacemaking and religion are valid, there is in my mind still in America the importance for keeping church and state separate.

  10. M. Accardi says:

    Although your points about peacemaking and religion are valid, there is in my mind still in America the importance for keeping church and state separate.

  11. Olathe says:

    This world is a place of suffering, duhkhalayam asasvatam (BhagavadGita.8.15).

    There can not be peace in the material world. Rebellious souls come here for selfish reasons. And billions of souls with billions of material desires does NOT equate with peace. So it's a foolish endeavor. Rather, we need to each become God conscious as much as possible. What others do is beyond our control. Let them fight. What matters is that YOU become God conscious.

    World of Peace, Love and Harmony?

    http://www.krishna.org/sudarsana/a015.html

  12. Olathe says:

    This world is a place of suffering, duhkhalayam asasvatam (BhagavadGita.8.15).

    There can not be peace in the material world. Rebellious souls come here for selfish reasons. And billions of souls with billions of material desires does NOT equate with peace. So it's a foolish endeavor. Rather, we need to each become God conscious as much as possible. What others do is beyond our control. Let them fight. What matters is that YOU become God conscious.

    World of Peace, Love and Harmony?

    http://www.krishna.org/sudarsana/a015.html

  13. viva says:

    It is so refreshing and encouraging to hear someone espouse peace instead of war, for a change. I get so tired of hearing warmongering and fear-provoking invective coming from world leaders. Thank you for an uplifting article.

  14. viva says:

    It is so refreshing and encouraging to hear someone espouse peace instead of war, for a change. I get so tired of hearing warmongering and fear-provoking invective coming from world leaders. Thank you for an uplifting article.

  15. MLB says:

    I agree that the church should become involved in good governance, but disagree that the church should be involved in politics. Good governance involves social justice and principles based on morality.

  16. MLB says:

    I agree that the church should become involved in good governance, but disagree that the church should be involved in politics. Good governance involves social justice and principles based on morality.

  17. Kevin James says:

    Excellent article, Pastor Bell. You have struck the right balance in the whole church-state debate. We are not to become involved in partisan politics (not identifying with any party), yet being a witness to the public sphere by making your voice seen and heard in behalf of the disadvandaged and in regards to injustice. May every church seek the real power: the power of God in righteous witnessing, and avoid the worldly model of peacemaking, which is really nothing but a bigger evil overcoming evil. May using evil to make good be anathama to all of God's children.

  18. Kevin James says:

    Excellent article, Pastor Bell. You have struck the right balance in the whole church-state debate. We are not to become involved in partisan politics (not identifying with any party), yet being a witness to the public sphere by making your voice seen and heard in behalf of the disadvandaged and in regards to injustice. May every church seek the real power: the power of God in righteous witnessing, and avoid the worldly model of peacemaking, which is really nothing but a bigger evil overcoming evil. May using evil to make good be anathama to all of God's children.

  19. Of course, no one wants the church "involved in politics." On this issue, it's really key to define carefully how one converts their faith and values into a public witness.

  20. Of course, no one wants the church "involved in politics." On this issue, it's really key to define carefully how one converts their faith and values into a public witness.

  21. Vinita Sahai says:

    Jason, well written,I am neither of that religion nor from any of the countries practising it,but the feelings and problems are the same everywhere.even in our country,India,we want peace lovers and peace makers,who should behave like children of god.

  22. Vinita Sahai says:

    Jason, well written,I am neither of that religion nor from any of the countries practising it,but the feelings and problems are the same everywhere.even in our country,India,we want peace lovers and peace makers,who should behave like children of god.

 
 
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