Well, good morning friends. It is just a pleasure to make our fellowship face to face. It is lovely to be with you. And I love that I get to speak on this verse this morning: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). How appropriate. So here we are together: different in how we speak (sorry about that), we have cultural differences, I’m here over 4,000 miles from home, but here, I feel at home. Because, while yesterday morning I left my earthly family, back home in England, I come here and I sense myself surrounded by brothers and sisters. With the same passions, the same concerns, the same loves. And I’ve found, while I haven’t been able to be over in the US at all, Jeff and I have kept up a bit of a correspondence, chatting over Zoom, even through the technology, we have both enjoyed and sensed a brotherhood together. And this is more than being members of some worldwide club where we have similar interests together—this is family. And I sense that. Usually, you and I, we’re on different continents, about the same big things, but when we get to be face to face, we feel the warm affection of greeting each other as family. An incredible trans-Atlantic family. The tower of Babel in Genesis, the peoples of the Earth were scattered and divided. Here, right now, Babel is being undone. And what we’re going to see this morning is how.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).
In Matthew 5, Jesus sits down on the mountain and he speaks his seventh Beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). They should be called sons of God because they are like chips off the old block. Peacemakers are like God, who is “The Lord of peace and fellowship” (2 Thess. 3:16). Think about it: the living, triune God—Father, Son and Spirit—has dwelt in peace-filled fellowship for eternity. The Father has enjoyed peace with his son through the Spirit, and enjoyed it so much, he wanted to share it, and that’s why he created. That’s why creation exists. Because the Father so enjoys the peace of fellowship with his son. He wanted there to be many sons. For his son to be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And then, when God had created, he created man in his own image. In the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. Loving peace and fellowship, this God made a man and a woman, a husband and a wife. He creates a family. He makes people designed for fellowship with one another. As the Father, Son, and Spirit have always known fellowship with each other, so we in the image of God, we are made for peace and fellowship.
Now, of course, we don’t tend to value fellowship. At least, we don’t tend to value fellowship as much as getting our own way. When there’s a choice to be had, fellowship or get my own way, I choose get my own way. And so the story of the Bible turns very quickly from Genesis 1 to Genesis 3, where peace is thrown away. Adam and Eve turn in on themselves, in self-love. They not only turn away from the Lord, but they turn away from each other. Not only did their relationship with the Lord break down, their relationship with each other broke down. Ashamed of their open nakedness, they hide before each other, they cover themselves with fig leaves. They begin to cast blame at each other. And before long, Cain is killing Abel, Lamech is dreaming of vengeance, and the world is filled with lovelessness, malice, and fighting. But the God of peace doesn’t give up. And so the Father sends his son. And he sends his son first, that we might have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace, between God and man. And what a peace. God comes to be with us. It’s not that God merely accepts us from a distance, thinking, yes, yes I’ll have them as my people, but, “yuck.” He comes to be with us! He sends his Spirit to be in us. And, as a promise of his ultimate intent, the Father raises a man, the first fruits and promise, guarantee for all his children, he takes this one man, Jesus Christ, and he raises him to sit at his right hand, on the throne of heaven, so that now, in Christ, a human sits next to God in perfect peace. Peace, between God and man.
But second, the Father sends the son, not only that we might have peace with God but also to reconcile us with each other. In order that one day this fractured world might be a world of harmonious peace. If you want to turn to Ephesians 2 from verse 15, you see the Father’s purpose. Ephesians 2:15, Paul writes, “The son’s purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, that is, Jew and Gentile, thus making peace. And in this one body, to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death the hostility. He came and preached peace to you who are far away—you Gentiles—and you who are near—Jews—for through him we both have access to the Father through one Spirit.” So the son reconciles, and the Spirit wins. Male, and female, black and white, Jew and Gentile—all to the same uniting love of God, which spills over into a heartfelt love for one another as brothers and sisters. He unites us to the son, so that from all our different tribes of enmity, from all the different places that we’ve come from, we’re drawn together, given one spirit, and together we cry one cry, “Abba,” as brothers and sisters of our one Father. For the new humanity of Christ is a family, the spreading family of the father.
Jesus could not have been clearer about his desire as a peacemaker. On the night before he was crucified, in his high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prays for you. And if you’ve never read that before, you should go and read that prayer later today. Jesus overtly prays for you to his father. And here’s his prayer. He prays to his father, “that all of them may be one, Father, that they may be one as we are one, that they may be brought to complete unity.” This is what he prays in his high priestly prayer. It’s important, it is his “high priestly prayer” where he prays for unity. Because Psalm 133 says this, and I want you to hear, how Psalm 133 puts two ideas together which don’t obviously belong together. Psalm 133— “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity. It is like precious oil, poured on the head, running down on Aaron’s beard, running down his robes.” What? What’s that got to do with brothers living together in unity? Everything. Because the Psalm is referring to Aaron’s ordination ceremony as high priest. When Aaron was ordained as high priest, what happened was sacred anointing oil would run down onto his body. Just so, Christ, of whom Aaron was a picture (Christ means the anointed one), Christ was anointed, not with oil, but what the oil depicted, with the Spirit, at his baptism, then just as the oil ran down from Aaron’s head to his body, so the spirit runs down from our head, Christ, to his body, the church. And the Spirit, the one true oil, through whom the Father had enjoyed that peace with his son, the Spirit would now flow down on believers, that we may be one as the Father and the Son are one. One with the Lord, one with each other, the Spirit bringing brothers and sisters together in unity.
Now, all this only makes sense because of the sort of God we have, because God is the triune God, because the Son in John 17 could be praying to his Father. All this talk of unity just doesn’t make sense if God is a single person. A single person God would love the idea of one-ness; he is after all, one. But it’s a different sort of one-ness than what Jesus has in mind. One-ness for a single person God is sameness. Think of it. Imagine a single person God. He’s been all on his own, solitary, for all eternity. He’s never enjoyed being with anyone, for eternity. So fellowship, harmony, valuing other people and their differences, just doesn’t compute for him. Think of how it works out for Allah, the most famous single-person God of world religions. Under Allah’s influence, the once diverse cultures of Nigeria, Iran, Indonesia, are made deliberately, increasingly, the same. Allah likes one-ness, meaning, sameness, identicality. And so Islam presents one way of life for all Muslims, for all nations, cultures. One way of praying, one way of marrying, one way of relating, one way, many scholars say, of eating, one way of dressing, whatever your culture. But, if that’s what one-ness means for Allah, one-ness for the Triune God means unity, not sameness. As the Father is one with his Son, but yet is not the same person as his Son, so Jesus prays that believers may be one, but he doesn’t pray that they all be the same. Created male and female, and with many other good created differences. We come together valuing the way the triune God has made us all unique.
Which is why Paul could have a vision of the Triune God, and say to the church that there are different kind of gifts, but one Spirit. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. So it is not just that the Father, Son, and Spirit call us into fellowship with themselves. They share their heavenly harmony on Earth so that people of different genders, cultures, ethnicities, interests, gifts, might come together in peace and love, and that one day, many tongues, with one heart, will cry, “Salvation belongs to our God, and to the lamb on the throne.” That is what the family of God, by its very existence, bringing together us in our differences, and yet united in our love for our Lord and for each other, that’s what the family of God makes known to the world. The God of harmony is the hope for world peace, the only hope for world peace. That he can, and he will, unite enemies, rivals, strangers, into one loving family in his Fatherly care. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be like this God.”
Well, OK. But how? How can we bring about peace? What is God’s key to opening the door to peace? We actually saw it when I read Ephesians 2 to you. Here’s the answer: Jesus created in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in his one body reconciled both of them to God—do you remember the next line? “Reconciled them to God through the cross.” The cross, the symbol of Christianity, the very heart of the gospel, is God’s key to peace. So Jesus said in John 12:32, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth on the cross, will draw all people to myself.” For a people alienated from God, to find themselves drawn to a God they’ve never dreamed of. Alienated from God–they thought God was a monstrous tyrant in heaven. Not interesting, they merely had to appease him. But they couldn’t love him. At the cross, they see an entirely different God. A God of love and compassion, who dies so that they could live. And they see: if that’s who God is, then they’re drawn to him, and drawn together to him. Friends, there is no peace without the cross. There is no peace with God, and no peace on Earth. Only when he is lifted up. You see, I could preach all day—I’m not going to, don’t worry—I could preach all day on the importance of unity and peace, and nothing would happen. Because no call for unity, no matter how stirring, can actually achieve unity. So we could go away, I could preach for hours on the importance of unity, we’ll all go, yes, good idea, and it’ll all fizzle away. Because some deeper work is needed in us for unity to be achieved. And what is that? Our devilish pride must be dealt with before our devilish discord disappears. Friends, humility is the only soil in which unity will grow. Only when Christ is more precious to us than our reputations, will we give up our petty rivalries and personal agendas. Only when his glory eclipses all else in our eyes will we live for him and not for another purpose. The peace and unity we so desperately need will be, friends, the fruit of a fresh humbling before the glory of Christ. It is only the gospel, the good news of Christ our saviour, that creates true peace. The gospel creates peace, and the gospel defines peace.
Can I do something ambitious for you? Can I give you the book of Romans in 90 seconds? I know you guys can do it. You’re here for in-depth Bible probing, let’s do it, 90 seconds for the book of Romans. Romans 1-11, Paul says, here’s the gospel, and it goes like this. Paul says, Romans 1-4, he says here is the redemption of the son. The Son’s once for all redemption of lost sinners, justified, declared righteous because of his kindness alone, not because of anything they’ve done. Romans 5-8, he goes on to talk about the Spirit’s work of regeneration, of how he gives new birth to the spiritually dead, of how he gives new life to sinners, and brings them to walk in the freedom of the Spirit. The redemption of the son, the regeneration of the Spirit, Romans 9-11, he brings them to the Revelation of the Father. For Romans 9-11 is basically a defence of Paul’s statement, “it is not as though the word of God has failed.” There’s the gospel. It’s a Biblical gospel, it’s an apostolic gospel, about the Father’s word, it’s the gospel made known in Scripture; it’s a Christ-centered gospel about the Son’s redemption, and it’s a spirit-filled gospel about the Spirit’s work in our hearts. There’s the gospel, Romans 1-11. But then—Romans 12—Paul appeals to the Romans to live as people of the gospel. And he calls them, amid their differences, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” So Paul recognizes, you’ve got a common gospel –Romans 1-11—but they’re going to be a number of things you disagree on. Romans 13-14, we see them—you’re going to disagree on what you’re allowed to eat and drink, whether some days are more special than others. Some of those things could be important, some less important. You will have disagreements. But he asks them, don’t judge or grieve each other over those sorts of matters.
Now what’s striking is the difference to Galatians 1. Paul sees the Galatians turning to another gospel, and he says, if I or even an angel from heaven should preach to you another gospel, if anyone should do that, let them be accursed. But in Romans it’s not the gospel which is the cause for disagreement among Christians. You see then for Paul, the gospel is not a matter on which we can cheerfully diverge. The gospel is what unifies us. But the people of the gospel, while never leaving the gospel, can exercise graciousness with each other over other matters which we can disagree. In fact, Romans ends on these words. Paul writes, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles.” Watch out for them. Because Paul is setting out Romans to say, this is what it means to be people of the gospel, rather than people of a sect, a club, a cabal, a party. Romans shows us what it looks like to pursue what makes for peace. We see that the peace that Paul desires does not mean agreement on everything. Nor is it unity at any price. It is certainly not unity at the cost of gospel clarity. Peace is striving side by side together for the gospel. It is faithfulness, loving faithfulness, together. In Romans, Paul shows how in the church we can see an end to all the tribalism that splinters the people of God, that elevates other issues to the importance of the gospel. We can see an end to that. And we can see an end to the treachery that gives up the essential truths of the gospel. In Romans Paul shows us true peace—neither splintered and tribal, nor giving up the gospel, but standing together. And isn’t that, dear friends, the desire of every healthy believer? To see the people of the gospel united in their stand for the gospel. Because the gospel of Jesus Christ our saviour, crucified for us, is the only hope for peace with God, and for peace on Earth. My dear brothers and sisters—to be peacemakers, be people of the gospel. Before all else. Because peace will only be achieved by the working of the gospel, when the son of man is lifted up, drawing people together to himself. Brothers, sisters. When Jesus is magnified, when Jesus is more glorious to us, when he is marvelous to us, then our selfish ambitions and our viciousness will melt away, and will be drawn together, into a shared adoration. In our fractured, torn world, he, lifted up, is the hope of peace. Let’s pray together.
O Father, as the Greeks said in John 12, “We want to see Jesus”. May he be lifted up in our sight to be more glorious than anything else, so that we live for him and nothing else. So that we are one in spirit. Make us, we pray, people of the gospel of the good news of the cross, and so may we work together, across the world, to bring peace with you, and peace on earth. Blessed be your name forever. In Jesus’ sweet and strong name we pray it, Amen.