On Peacemaking and Self-Defense

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By Larry Short

Thank you to everyone for the kind words and gracious support of Jason Comerford and me as we co-taught on Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” last Sunday.

I always feel, after preaching, like way more needed to be said about a specific passage than I actually had time and space to say. And I think I felt this more acutely last Sunday morning than I ever have before.

21-beheaded-by-ISIS

Last year ISIS beheaded 21 Ethiopian Christian martyrs on a beach in Libya.

After the sermon a friend challenged my assertion that “peacemaking sometimes involves the use of force.” Now, I believe this is fundamentally true. Dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was an incredibly violent act, but it brought a forceful end to a war that most historians believe would have dragged on for several more years, costing hundreds of thousands more Allied and possibly millions of Japanese lives in the process.

Jesus, the Ultimate Peacemaker, paid the ultimate price for peace between us and God. And that price was a violent death on the cross. The cost of true peace is sometimes very high.

At the very end of our time together, Sebastian asked what Jesus meant by His statement, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have come not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Is this a justification for violence? Are Christians to wage crusades in order to propagate an enforced peace throughout the world? If the answer to this question is “Yes,” then how are we any different from        fundamentalist Muslims who believe that sharia and the caliphate must be ushered in by acts of terrorist violence?

I think the answer to these difficult questions lies in the cross and the example of Christ as He approached it. We must understand that the cross was an incredibly violent and ultimately unjust act: sinful man crucifying an innocent and sinless God.

After He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, seeing that Peter had pulled out a sword and was seeking violently to defend His Lord, Jesus instructed: “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)

Jesus said He had the power to call down at least “twelve legions” of angels … and in terms of the Roman Army, a legion was at least 6,000 soldiers, and often more. So 12 legions of angels would be at least 72,000 angels.

The question is, how powerful is one angel? One clue can be found in Isaiah 37:36.

Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!

You heard that right—one angel singlehandedly defeated 185,000 soldiers in one night. Doing a little math, therefore, shows you that 72,000 angels should be able to successfully take on an army of at least 13.33 billion soldiers!

No doubt this gave Christ a comfortable margin of error if He did indeed choose to fight that small handful of Roman soldiers rather than submit to the cross.

And I think that’s the whole point. Even though He had the power to defend Himself, Jesus willingly accepted the violence of the cross, both “for the joy set before Him” and because it was the will of His Father. True peacemaking is willing to pay the price!

Peacemakers don’t go out and take up a sword in order to forcefully institute some sort of kingdom of God on earth. Instead of taking up a sword, they take up a cross. They lay down their lives.

Armed with knives and guns, a group of ISIS terrorists marched a group of 21 Ethiopian Christian men out onto a beach in Libya in early 2015. They forced them to their knees, then beheaded them.

Who were the peacemakers in this scenario? Jesus told Peter, “Those who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Those 21 Christian martyrs entrusted their lives to Jesus.

I have a close friend, the husband of a coworker at World Vision, who was kidnapped by Communist rebels in Ethiopia when he was a young man in a Christian high school there. He and 89 other Christian students were lined up along a ditch, their hands tied behind their backs. Terrorists pointed machine guns at them and ordered them to recant their faith in Jesus. “Deny the name of Christ, and live,” they were told.

Eighty-one of the students recanted. My friend was one of nine who refused to do so.

Thank God it was a false threat. These young people were beaten and tortured, but not killed. Later, the government of Ethiopia, at the urging of the leadership of that Christian school, found and rescued alive those 90 students. Today my friend is an evangelist who preaches Christ to crowds in the tens of thousands in his homeland of Ethiopia. In obedience to the gospel, he was willing to lay down his life for the name of Christ, and Jesus chose to give it back to him to use as He saw fit.

Blessed are the peacemakers. My friend is one of the most blessed people I know.

How about us? Jesus may give us the power, the capacity, to defend ourselves against evil. Will we use it? Or will we choose to “take up our cross” and trust Him instead? That’s what true peacemakers do.

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I Want Results!

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By Jeff Foerster

Pursuing relational peace isn’t primarily about the results … or is it?

As Martin spoke on Sunday of peace-makers and their less desirable cousins, the “-breakers” and “-fakers,” I began to contemplate the idea of pursuing “results.” This concept is one I have been familiar with over recent years. I have attempted to hang constructed, idealistic expectations on the walls of my life like pictures and even built a few frames for the ones I was sure would stay.

The problem with working for results, is that results are uncertain. Goals are necessary. Goals are great. They make happy planners and provide a target to aim toward. They are much like puppies, however, providing initial happiness until the realization of their not yet being house-broken seeps in. They might not ruin the Oriental rug in the hallway on the first day, but it’s unrealistic to think every furnishing will remain intact.

The same thing takes place if we pursue “peace-making” with a required, predetermined outcome. The idealistic expectation is constructed and effort is put forth, yet with a selfish attitude that will almost surely dismantle any realistic chance of success. This attitude demands one result be achieved, leaving little room for God to work in the midst of flawed people.

It’s common to want difficult circumstances to evaporate and pleasantness to saturate our lives. This is not God’s greatest desire for you; it is that you and your spouse, children, family, friends, and even enemies, be transformed in greater and greater depth into the image of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and through this that God receive glory.

Should you pursue results? Well, yes, pursue peace because our God is a God of peace. In this pursuit, understand the results are nothing less than your own (and others’) transformation. And the power of this transformation does not rest in your effort alone, but is subject to the timing and the will of Almighty God.

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Eagles’ Wings and Other Things

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By Tom Chase

On Sunday, we heard about and processed things that rob us of our peace. We live in a world that is constantly telling us the opposite of what God’s truth claims. Like in the video we watched on Sunday, so many things are calling, so many things telling us we don’t measure up. These things and more create roadblocks that can prevent us from hearing and interacting with the One who will tell us the truth. If we listen too long, all these voices simply beat us down and diminish our worth, saying we have no value, there is nothing special about us, etc.

I am reminded of a truth which is made evident in the person of God. He is the Eternally Existent One, the Three in One — the Trinity. I was told long ago that all theology makes a difference in our lives, but I find that sometimes the effect is hard to see. But here is how this theological truth has impacted me.

When God chose to make the world and to make each of us individuals, He did not make us because He needed us or because it fulfilled something lacking in Him. No, that is not the case. He exists in three Persons, whole and complete, fully satisfied within his own being with perfect community and harmony. So why did God make us, then? It is because God wanted us. Can you believe it? God wanted me and God wanted you! None of us are here by accident. Isn’t that truly amazing?

When I stop and contemplate this truth, I feel a lift in my spirit. Isaiah 40:31 tells us that

“…those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

That light-stepping feeling in me increases when I see God for who He is. Much of Isaiah 40 describes just how great and awesome and majestic this God who wanted you and me really is:

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.”

Isaiah 40:28

Someone infinitely significant wants us!

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,” are the beginning words of Isaiah 40. That’s His desire for you. So let us run to the One who not only loves us, but wants us as well. In Him we find our significance and peace from all the other messages we hear constantly in our world. If you are looking for a treat, why not read Isaiah chapter 40 and bask in His glory!

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