“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”
There are people who are always storm-centers of trouble and bitterness and strife. Wherever they are they are either involved in quarrels themselves or the cause of quarrels between others. They are trouble-makers. There are people like that in almost every society and every Church, and such people are doing the devil’s own work.
On the other hand—thank God—there are people in whose presence bitterness cannot live, people who bridge the gulfs, and heal the breaches, and sweeten the bitternesses. Such people are doing a godlike work, for it is the great purpose of God to bring peace between men and himself, and between man and man. The man who divides men is doing the devil’s work; the man who unites men is doing God’s work.
The “P” stands for Pursue—pursue resolutions.
That’s the first step in peacemaking. If you have a problem with somebody, you actively pursue resolutions. Look at these two passages from Matthew, you’ve seen them before, Matthew 5:23, the same Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “‘Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.'” Now notice, he says, you’re about to worship like we are today, but you think I may have done something, or maybe they misunderstood something. Anyway they may be mad at me. I don’t know, but if they are, I’m going to stop right now and going to go fix that and come back.
Now look at Matthew 18:15, later in the same book, Jesus said, “‘If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens, you have won your brother over.'” Now I want you to look at those two verses together because here’s the key. Here’s what Jesus said. He said, it doesn’t matter if you’re the offender or the offended. You take the initiative. Do you see that? Matthew 5 says, “If you think you offended somebody, GO! Matthew 18:15 says, “If you’ve been offended, GO! Jesus won’t just put it on one side. He tells both parties, it’s your job to work toward each other. He won’t lay it on just one person, he said, you go do it, you take the initiative. And people, peacemaking always take the initiative. You’ve got to take the first move.
You say, “Gary, why should I? He offended me. She hurt me. Why should I take the initiative?” Simple answer, Jesus did. He left heaven’s throne room and came down and put on the body of a peasant, and he lived 33 years and hung on a cross in the midst of all that ridicule. Why? So that he could make peace with us. I don’t care what somebody has done to you, Jesus lays upon your shoulders, as you and I seek to model his life, take the initiative, pursue resolution.
The “E” then stands for Empathize with others.
Empathize with their feelings, their needs, their perspective. Philippians 2:4 says, “Each one of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Now I’ve got a question for you. When you’re upset, who are you thinking about? That’s really pretty easy. When I’m upset, all I’m thinking about is me. When I’m upset, I’m thinking about my hurts, my needs, my feelings, I don’t care about you. Jesus said, “You reverse that.” When you’re in the middle of a conflict, look for the root, why is that other person hurting? Why is the other person upset? The answer is usually obvious, and frankly, the answer is usually understandable. And if I can ever get myself to empathize with others, resolution usually comes that quickly.
The “A” in peace stands for Attack the problem, not the person.
Attack the problem, not the person. You can’t focus on fixing the problem and fixing the blame at the same time, it just can’t be done. That’s why Solomon said in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stirs up anger.” Solomon says if you’re going to settle this thing, don’t attack the person, you engage your mind before you engage your mouth. You don’t get your point across by being cross. You attack the problem, not the person.
A similar verse in the New Testament in Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” That’s the earmark of a peacemaker. They’ll deal with the problem, but not at the expense of the other person. They look to build that other person up while they’re solving whatever it is that’s causing a problem with the peace.
The “C” in peace stands for Cooperate.
Cooperate, as much as possible, cooperate. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Paul says the hallmark of a Christian is the ability to get along with other people.
And then finally “E”, the last “e” in peace stands for Emphasize reconciliation.
Most of the time, we pursue, or we emphasize resolution over reconciliation. Now I realize just a moment ago, I told you pursue resolution, you just can’t leave a problem hanging out there. Well the point I’m making now is, sometimes you won’t come to an agreement on that issue. That’s just the nature of human beings. And unless it’s just a matter of life or death or the core of the central truth, you’ve got to understand that sometimes reconciliation is more important than resolution.
And I think for every one case where it’s life or death, there are 10,000 cases of conflict where the issue is superficial, it’s really minor in the grand scheme of things. And my point is, with those things, you can disagree, agreeably. You can even walk arm in arm without seeing eye to eye. The point is, you can have reconciliation without resolution to every problem.
Peacemakers and persecuted are God’s children—persecutors are the devil’s children Matthew 23:29-33
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’
31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
It was traditional for the Pharisees to build, improve, and embellish the tombs of the martyrs. But it was “their fathers” who killed the martyrs! Not their biological fathers, of course, but their “spiritual fathers”—the hypocrites of the past ages.
“Happiness Through Harassment”
“‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'” Wow! Jesus makes a statement there that is so shocking that he repeats it. 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.'”
One of the outstanding qualities of Jesus was his sheer honesty. He never left men in any doubt what would happen to them if they chose to follow him. he was clear that he had come “not to make life easy, but to make men great.”
It is hard for us to realize what the first Christians had to suffer. Every department of their life was disrupted.
Christianity often came to send, not peace, but a sword which divided families in two. It was literally true that a man might have to love Christ more than he loved father or mother, wife, or brother or sister. Christianity often involved in those days a choice between a man’s nearest and dearest and Jesus Christ.
Still further, the penalties which a Christian had to suffer were terrible beyond description. 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 alight, 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 tenderest 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.
We may well ask why the Romans persecuted the Christians. It seems an extraordinary thing that anyone living a Christian life should seem a fit victim for persecution and death. There were two reasons.
When a man has to suffer something for his faith, that is the way to the closest possible companionship with Christ.
There remains only one question to ask—why is this persecution so inevitable? It is inevitable because the Church, when it really is the Church, is bound to be the conscience of the nation and the conscience of society. Where there is good the Church must praise; where there is evil the Church must condemn—and inevitably men will try to silence the troublesome voice of conscience. It is not the duty of the individual Christian habitually to find fault, to criticize, to condemn, but it may well be that his every action is a silent condemnation of the unchristian lives of others, and he will not escape their hatred.
It is not likely that death awaits us because of our loyalty to the Christian faith. But insult awaits the man who insists on Christian honor. Mockery awaits the man who practices Christian love and Christian forgiveness. Actual persecution may well await the Christian in industry who insists on doing an honest days’ work. Christ still needs his witnesses; he needs those who are prepared, not so much to die for him, as to live for him. The Christian struggle and the Christian glory still exist.
Look at verse 10 in Matthew 5. “‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'” Wow! Jesus makes a statement there that is so shocking that he repeats it. Look at verse 11, “‘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.'”
I find this last beatitude tremendously interesting for a number of reasons. Number one, Jesus gives more space to it than any other. Number two, this is the only one that he personalizes. He doesn’t make this generic, “‘Blessed are they,'” “‘Blessed is he.'” Look what he says, “‘Blessed are you when men persecute you,'” “‘Blessed are you when men insult you.'” And this one is fascinating because in the other seven, Jesus addresses the character of the Christian, but in this one he addresses the character of the world and how it will treat the Christian life that is characterized by the seven beatitudes we’ve studied up until this point.
What Jesus basically says is, happy and healthy are those who can handle rejection. Happy and healthy are those who can withstand any attacks on their faith. Now in a few moments, we’re going to look at how you respond to persecution, how you respond to harassment in our world. But first let’s consider the reality of persecution.
Notice Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men insult you and when they persecute you. He doesn’t say, if, he says, when. It’s a given. It’s a reality. Folks, as this world gets more and more secular, it is becoming more and more hostile to Christianity. Would you agree with that? Yes, I see it, we all see it. But you say, “Gary, we’re not being persecuted, I mean not like Paul and Peter and James, not like those folks in Hebrews 11.” When you get to the end of Hebrews 11, it said some of them were beaten, some were stoned, some were even sawed into. That’s not happening to us. You’re right, even in the secular nature of our current culture, we are not, in this country, suffering overt persecution. What you may not know is that hundreds of people worldwide are dying for the cause of Christ, especially in radical Muslim countries. But worldwide, people are dying for the name of Christ.
But this beatitude is not just about physical martyrdom. Look at verse 11 again, read it carefully, “‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.'” Do you see there, Jesus specifies three things that the world loves to do to Christians in any generation.
The first one is they just love to insult us. People try to dishonor, to discredit you, you know say derogatory things about you. Second, they like to persecute us. Now that means mistreatment. And that mistreatment may be physical, it may be psychological, it may be emotional, it may be social isolation. And then the third thing, if the insulting doesn’t work, and the mistreatment doesn’t work, then the last option is, they’ll tell lies. They’ll just make up stuff about us. You know the world loves to find fault with Christians. Let me ask you a question, if a preacher in this town were to run off with some woman in parts unknown, or an elder were to embezzle $10,000 out of the church treasury; do you think that would make the paper if reporters find out about it? You could bet your life it would make the papers. If a bartender down the street did either of those two things, would it be in the paper? No.
The world loves to find fault with Christians. And if you walk with integrity, and if you walk blamelessly, they’ll just make stuff up. That’s what they did with Jesus. Do you realize they called Jesus a glutton and a drunk? Remember? They called him an illegitimate son. The rumor on the street was he was an illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. LIES! But they made those things up to persecute Him.
There are some people in this world who set themselves up for emotional martyrdom by being irritating, stubborn, loud, nosy, no wonder they’re put down. They’re just obnoxious. Jesus did not say, “Happy are those who are persecuted for being a jerk.” That’s not the beatitudes. Neither did he make the promise to those who are harassed for self-righteousness. Now let’s face it. I think over life, all of us have run into the guy or to the gal who come off as some kind of Holy Joe, and very smug, and when they talk to you, they give you that condescending look and they’re offensive in sharing their faith. I mean they’re first words are turn or burn, you know. And they look at it like, I’ve got all the answers about the Bible, and you’re an idiot. You don’t know anything. God DOES NOT commend that kind of faith. People like that will go out into the world and they’ll come back spurned and they’ll say something like, “Oh, I’m being persecuted for my faith.” No, you’re being persecuted for being a Pharisee. And even Jesus persecuted Pharisees. Self-righteousness is not commended here. No, that’s not what Jesus is talking about.
In this last beatitude, our Lord is talking about the right reason for being harassed….it’s for being like Him. He said, “Blessed are you if you’re persecuted because of following me.” Look at John 15:20, our Lord said, “‘No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.'” There is a right reason for being harassed, and the bottom line is for being like Jesus.
I’m sure you’ve noticed as I have that our world tends to be merciless on Christians, particularly the media. Constantly putting down, attacking, making fun of, when is the last time you’ve seen a Christian portrayed positively in a television drama, or a television sitcom? Frankly, if they had their way, it’s almost like Christianity does not exist. Everybody spends all their time in a bar or some other place. But remember, the world crucified Jesus, and it would still do it to Him today.
Our sin-conquered world is uncomfortable around goodness. And if you and I are really going to be the light of the world, you will, and I mean now without any self-righteousness, without any obnoxiousness, if you’re the light of the world, you will reveal darkness in other people’s lives. And when bright light pierces darkness, in that darkness there is a natural re-coil. That’s just the way it is.
I hope by now you have discovered this basic law of life, surely you have. The more positive you are, the more negative people will hate you. Have you learned that? The more positive you are, the more negative people will hate you.
2 Timothy 3:12, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” circle the word “will”. See it, if you’re a team and you want to be persecuted, just humbly say if there are a group of kids at school and all of a sudden one of them starts talking about sex and starts bragging about some things he or she may or may not have done, just humbly say, “I’m a Christian, and and I’ll tell you I’m just committed to being a virgin until I’m married.” You just say that and see what happens. Or in business, if there is a group around the coffee pot talking about what they are going to go out and do that night and they want you to come along. And you’re not smart-alecky about it, you say, “No, you guys know about my faith, and I just don’t think that would please the Lord.” What kind of snide remarks do you think are going to come as you walk away?
Number one is this, remember the source.
Remember the source of the persecution. Look at Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world…” Folks, the enemy is who? The enemy is the devil, right? Now when somebody comes up and persecutes me at school or at work or on the street or in daily life, when they persecute me, they’re not the enemy, they’re just a pawn. They’re just people like you and me, the difference is, they have been deceived by Satan. And they’re just tools in the hands of the devil, he’s the enemy.
Let me ask you a question here, those of you who are parents out there. If I wanted to hurt you, how could I most hurt you? That’s a terrible question, but just imagine that. I know I could do some things directly to you, but if I were as low and conniving and despicable as a human being could be, the way that I could hurt you the most is to hurt your kids, isn’t that right? I’ve had people try to persecute me and most of the time it’s no big deal. But if they get on the kids, and all of a sudden we turn into wolverines, don’t we? Listen, the devil cannot get at God, so he does what in his mind is the next best thing, he attacks His (God’s) children. Revelation 12:10 says, “Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He is the enemy.” Remember that when you are persecuted.
The second thing you do is refuse to retaliate.
Remember, the person doing the persecuting, they’re just a tool of Satan. I don’t need to retaliate, it would just intensify it. Look at Romans 12, two verses there, beginning at verse 19, Paul says, “Do not take revenge my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘it is mine to avenge; I will repay says the Lord.'” And then drop down two verses later to verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Jesus said in Matthew 5, you turn the other cheek when you are insulted. You don’t retaliate. Now the natural state is to do what? “Hey, I’m going to get even. I’m going to get that guy back.” God says, “Wrong!” God says you never get ahead by trying to get even. You never get ahead by trying to get even. And besides, if you try to retaliate, if you try to get revenge, all you do is end up playing into the persecutor’s hands.
Look at Matthew 5:44. Here’s what Jesus said, “‘But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'” Have you got somebody giving you a hard time, harassing you, you don’t yell back at them, you don’t slap them, you don’t manipulate them, you just go home and pray for them. Now is that easy? No. Is that unusual? Yes. Is that what Jesus said do? Yes. Hear me, if you do it, you’ll find happiness. If you try to get even, you let them control you by their persecution, you will get more and more and more miserable. But if you can pray for them, you’ll start loving them. And there is not a thing that they can do to you to keep you in misery.
And now the third principle, and this is the one people really stumble over, they don’t understand—Rejoice over it. Rejoice over it.
Remember who the real enemy is, refuse to retaliate, and now rejoice over it. Say what? Rejoice over the persecution? You say, Gary, isn’t that being a masochist? You know saying, “Hurt me, hurt me, come on please, hurt me.” No, Jesus is not saying, rejoice in the pain, but he says, when people put you down for your faith, not for being obnoxious or haughty, but if people put you down for being like Jesus, don’t complain, celebrate.
Number one, I can rejoice over persecution because when I’m harassed for my faith, it means the Spirit of Christ can be seen in my life.
When I’m harassed for my faith, IT MEANS THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST CAN BE SEEN IN MY LIFE. If it couldn’t be, nobody would be hassling us. Look at I Peter 4:14, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
Do you see what Peter said? He said when people put you down for being a Christian, it just means they see Jesus in you. It means that God’s Spirit is bearing its fruit in your life. It means the light of Christ is shining brightly enough in you that people are noticing. It means that you’re not a Lady Clairol Christian. Do you know what a Lady Clairol Christian is? You know, “Only God knows for sure.”
That’s funny, but I want to tell you the truth, we need more persecuted Christians. That’s a bold statement, but we need a lot more persecuted Christians. And we need fewer secret agent Christians and believers. We need audio/visual Christians that you can see and you can hear. We need show and tell Christians. They show it in the way they live and they tell it in their talk. And it takes both. If you don’t show it, you’re a hypocrite. If you don’t tell it, you’re not an ambassador.
One of the cop-outs I hear all the time is, “Well, my life is my witness to other people.” Have you ever thought about how arrogant a statement that is? I never say a word about Jesus, but my life is a testimony to people about Christ. You know that is saying that you’re so good that people just come in your presence and bow down and say, “I repent. I repent because here is somebody so Christ-like.” Has anybody ever done that in your life? Maybe your life is not quite the witness you think it is. Maybe we need to show and to tell. Even Jesus had to tell them, didn’t he? Even Jesus had to tell them! Speak a good word for Jesus. If I am persecuted and harassed, it shows that I’m walking the talk, and the Spirit of God is on me.
The second reason I can rejoice when I’m persecuted is I’m in good company.
Look at Matthew 5:12, our original beatitude paragraph. Jesus said, “‘Rejoice and be glad, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'” Hebrews 11 is that great chapter of faith, the stories of the heroes and the heroines who went on before us. And you know one of the things that I read about Able, Noah, and Moses, and David, and Joshua, and all those listed, there was not a one of them who did not suffer for their faith. And the verse that follows that chapter, Hebrews 12:1, Paul says, “Since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders…and run the race with perseverance…”
I don’t know how you like to picture that, but everytime I see one of those big white cumulus clouds, I like to pretend that’s my cloud of witnesses. I like to pretend that Moses and Abraham and Joseph are sitting on top of that cloud, and they’re looking down at me, and they’re cheering me on. They’re saying, “Come on, Gary, come on buddy, you can make it through life. You can be faithful, we did.”
Listen to Acts 5:41, it says, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” If I am persecuted, it’s a badge of honor. Again, not for self-righteousness, not for obnoxiousness, counted WORTHY to follow the footsteps of my Lord. He suffered for me.
And the third reason I have for rejoicing even in persecution is: It’s only temporary.
It’s only temporary. In II Corinthians 4:17, Paul said, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Would you agree with me when I say that nobody I ever knew anything about was persecuted like Paul. The man was beaten and beaten, he was stoned two different times. He was imprisoned we know of four times, he was shipwrecked, he was maligned, he was finally beheaded. But he rejoiced through all that because he kept an eternal perspective. In fact, he was the one who wrote these words, he said, “Our light and momentary troubles…” Think about that. This guy has been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and shipwrecked, he says, “…light and momentary…” If his were light and momentary, what are ours, ridiculous and ludicrous? I mean what would we call ours?
I love the story of the fellow who was asked what his favorite verse in the Bible was, and he looked back and he said, “And it came to pass…” Somebody says, “What do you mean? Why is that your favorite verse?” He said, “Because anytime I get harassed, anytime I have a difficult time, I know it didn’t come to stay, it came to pass.” And it does, it always passes. Rejoice, not over the hurt, not over the embarrassment, but because it confirms your moving toward your goal of being like Jesus.
Remember my reward. Our beatitude Matthew 5:12 says, “‘Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.'” I circled the word, “great”, not little, not average, but great is your reward in heaven. Did you know that Scripture teaches that there are degrees of reward in heaven? It does, you really can’t deny it, all the way through. You say, “Gary, do you understand all that?” No, I really don’t. I’ll have to get there before I really understand it. But we’re told right here that there are special honors, special glory for those who experience persecution. Great is your reward if you are persecuted for my sake.