Jesus: peacemaker or instigator?
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” -Matthew 5:9
The above passage is taken from the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel. The quote is a strong contrast with the book, as a whole, because Jesus gets into so many conflicts in Matthew. In fact, five chapters later, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).
What’s going on here? These two statements seem to be in conflict with one another. The question you might ask (of course, not out loud in case someone should hear us), “Is Jesus a hypocrite?” Is He another Teddy Roosevelt to whom is attributed, “Talk softly and carry a big stick“? If the peacemaker is blessed, what of Jesus? Is He cursed?
Matthew hardly makes it easier for us. Jesus is shown, time after time, disturbing people. Nice people. Business people. Religious people. His neighbors as He was growing up. But why? Was He some political provocateur? Was He a religious fanatic? Was He a fringe lunatic bent on undermining local economies (think of the seafood restaurants He would put out of business if He kept multiplying fish and loaves!).
Matthew 8:28-34 records Jesus casting demons out of two men. They are sent into swine, leaping from a steep bank and heading into the sea. The locals are worried about their economy, and ask Jesus to leave.
Chapter 13:53-58 records Jesus visiting Nazareth, and “they took offense at Him” (vs. 57)
Chapters 12, 15, 16, 19, 21, 22, 23, 26 (The Plot to Kill Jesus, in my Bible), and 27 record conflicts with the religious leaders.
Why so many conflicts when Jesus is clearly here to bring peace? Why wasn’t He a better Beatitude -bearer? The answer can be found in two places.
First, Jesus Christ preached a righteousness that took no account of a person’s status. He spoke of things being hidden from the wise, but revealed to children (11:25). Even His actions, like casting out demons in men afflicted and without ability to free themselves pointed to the coming of God’s Kingdom and the power, authority and mercy of God in Christ.
Second, the people He was in conflict with were … invested. The business people were invested in their livestock (it was their living). The religious leaders were invested in their self-righteousness which came through the keeping of the Law and traditions.
The latter group could not even consider Jesus’ proposals because it would mean the loss of their status. It would mean that they had become renegades. They would lose their life. The rich young ruler in Matthew 19 understood this well; “he went away grieved”.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is Jesus, Himself. He is the good news that God has condescended to become a man, live the perfect life for us, die a perfect death, and suffer through persecution, hatred, and wrongful execution so that we might be given the whole Kingdom as heirs! He has ended God’s conflict with man by receiving the judgment of God in His body. He has justified us, sanctified us, and even calls us His brothers (and sisters)! And, that is still not the whole of the good news. He was resurrected. Death does not reign over us any more. Jesus is our peace!
But, persecution will be our present and future in this world. Even the most “Christian” people will call those who bear the fully free Gospel of Jesus Christ heretics and false teachers. They will war against anything that threatens their spiritual investment in themselves.
And, you and I are ‘investors’ too. We have invested in morality, thinking it is an acceptable sacrifice before God. We have invested in the belief that the hours of participation in the church will contribute to our goodness. We have invested in our theology believing it is the “right belief”, and judge all others to be wrong. We invest in our abilities, intelligence, strength, convictions, service and our feelings. But, these investments reject the cross.
Look through the gospels. Who are the ones who accepted Jesus? You will find that God’s mercy is for those who have no other choice. They are the ‘sinners’ of the New Testament. They have “bottomed out”. They need an intervention.
As Kretzmann wrote of Matthew 5:3, the poor in spirit: “He is speaking of the poor and miserable “in spirit,” those that shrink and cower with fear and dread, that are tremblingly alive to the wants and needs of their soul, that feel in their own heart, so far as spiritual riches are concerned, nothing but a great void, a despair of their own abilities” (http://kretzmannproject.org/)
And, unless we become sinners too, the intervention of the cross won’t do us any good.
But, Jesus has come to end our dependence upon our investments. He has come to kill the Old Adam and the Old Eve. He has come to rescue you and I from all of your sins and mine. He has come to rescue us from ourselves.
So, as Luther put it, “join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard- boiled sinners” (WPD, 106). Come to be forgiven again. Come to receive mercy. Come to receive eternal love and peace. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Come to Jesus who has invested everything … in you.
God’s mercy, grace and peace,