With this final part of an analysis of the Beatitudes, we are at the place in the picture of a growing spiritual life where “the rubber meets the road,” so to speak. This section deals with dedication, commitment, discipleship. Jesus tests the measure of our loyalty with these words: “…If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
This last section of the Beatitudes opens up with this one: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). It points the spiritual warrior into service, into that multitude of earth dwellers who are lost in sin and degradation and have no peace in themselves and in relation to others.
The beginning place for a real peacemaker is to have peace in himself and that can only come from having peace with God. Romans 5:1 tells how that can be obtained: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ….”
By declaring that the peacemakers shall be called sons of God, does this mean that real peacemakers are only sons of God, that is His servants? There is much talk of peace in the Middle East these days, and Nobel Peace Prizes have been given freely, seemingly on the basis of a hope for peace more than for its accomplishment.
The 2009 prize was awarded to President Barack Obama, yet the world was and remains in turmoil and there is no peace foreseen. In the world’s diplomatic jungles, where seeking God’s favor is not a notable action, could this declaration in Isaiah 48:22 be as descriptive of the situation as is necessary: “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”
The task of a peacemaker is to objectively bring two opposing factions together in harmony under mutually acceptable terms of agreement. In Philippians 3:20 Paul writes, “For our citizenship is in heaven….,” and in 2 Corinthians 5:20 he says, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” So here we are, in the world of earth dwellers, having been fully authenticated as peacemakers between God and man. Our message is clear:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thusmaking peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:13-18).
There may be other peacemakers, secular in nature, but this one is the kind in which God is truly interested, and to whom He gives His blessing.
Why Is There Persecution For Doing Good?
This eighth Beatitude highlights an issue that no doubt catches a new believer by surprise, should he be of the mind that people in his circle would be glad to see him become a better person. It reads like this: Blessedare those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
This Beatitude ends with the same phrase as does the first one—“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Why? In the first one, we are blessed because we realize our spiritual emptiness, and in this one, because we are filled with His righteousness. Both find their fulfillment in the reality of Colossians 2:9-10: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” And theirs is the kingdom of heaven!
Being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” is the common experience for anyone who “takes up his cross” and follows the Lord. The sower of seed may have encountered that very thing when “some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop” (Mark 4:5-7).
The sudden entry into a full-scale spiritual warfare by a new believer often is too abrupt and harsh for him, even as it has been in our American culture. However, it was not so simple as that in the early days of Christianity. One speaker once described it like your baptismal certificate in those days included an appointment to the arena of lions! That reality of deadly consequence is happening in certain cultures at this moment.
Peter writes of suffering for righteousness sake in 1 Peter 3:13-17:
“And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you areblessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
It is a strange but historical fact that the persecuted church is the growing church…in true spiritual depth and vitality.
The Price for Identifying With Jesus
It must be one thing to be known as a Christian—that gets you some persecution, but to be identified with Christ, well then, you have really crossed the line! This final Beatitude brings the focus solidly on the issue: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (Matthew 5:11).
One of my friends back in the 1960s observed that it seemed to be popular to be a Christian then, but there were few disciples. Now, however, the tide has turned and is turning. Classroom experiences of rejection of anything Christian are rampant. The drive to remove the Bible or any references to Christ from the public arena has made much progress here in “Christian” America under the guise of the “separation of church and state.”
Much of it has to do with the claim or claims relating the rights of those embracing an alternate sexual orientation. Yet, it seems to create a paradox where those who claim to have God’s favor on their choice of lifestyle, do not want any imposing references of Him in their daily lives.
In certain foreign lands identifying with Christ in the face of certain death is a common lot for believers. One Christian radio program reports that the underground church in China, now numbering 20 million, has launched a million of their fellowship with the gospel westward along the trade routes into Muslim countries. They claim they know what suffering for Christ is all about, even dying for Him. In another account, young people cross the border into North Korea with a backpack filled with Bibles and no other provisions, knowing that it is likely they will not survive beyond a few days because of their commitment to Christ.
And here in the west we fuss over the color of the church carpet, or the pastor’s sermons, or any other trivial matter that arouses our discomfort. When dependence on the Lord becomes vital to our survival, that relationship seems to take on new meaning. I once heard a message by Dr. Eugene Nida, then president of the American Bible Society, in which he outlined the levels of dependency on the Lord and it occurred to me how it matches the levels of classes of society. When basic needs of life—food, drink, clothing, shelter, security—are seen to be a direct provision of God, that relationship becomes one of great intimacy. No doubt the hunger for spiritual food runs high on the list, too.
However, as economic well-being factors in and needs seem to become clouded as to their source, that sense of dependency on God begins to fade. People, even believers, seeing something they fancy they should have (remember that lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life trio?), they just charge it on a credit card and take it home.
As the trend progresses, the issues at the church turn to such things as stained glass windows, more comfortable pews and similar things. Remember that sower in Mark 4? One of his castings landed among thorns, and “they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19).
Perhaps one of the most bewildering statements ever made by Jesus, that One who gave us a new commandment to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34), was that recorded in Matthew 10:34-36: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword, for I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemieswill be those of his own household.’”
This seemingly contradictory statement of the Lord Jesus makes real sense when laid down beside that first and great commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). God is the source of all life; if He is not in first place in our lives, then all else is teetering on complete shambles!
So we have this series of nine Blessed Attitudes that can be outlined under the headings of Salvation, Sanctification and Service, showing the play-out of a person’s spiritual life in submission and obedience to God. He ends it with this tag: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).
And He reminds us in John 16:33, “…In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”