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Beatitudes, Part 3

by Tim O'Hearn

The number three has many traditional overtones. Some say, even though it is not borne out by scripture, that three is a perfect number representing God. Jude explained most things in his book by using three examples. Mozart and Rossini, in their operas, often ended an aria with a triple repetition cadence. Although this is the third part of an analysis of the beatitudes, there is no significance to dividing them into three. Considering the standard length of articles in Minutes With Messiah, it was necessary to divide these admonitions to help others into three parts.

Having looked at the most of the passage in Matthew 5 known as the beatitudes, it is now time to look at the last two or three of these blessings. Two or three because some people consider verses 10-12 as one unit, even though Jesus twice uses the word blessed.

Peacemakers

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt 5:9)

We live in a world of conflict. Often history is taught as a series of wars. The twentieth century, for instance, could be characterized by the Boer War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War,We are not called upon to be peacekeepers but peace makers. the Cold War, the Gulf War, and others, like the Six Day War. But the conflicts in this world are not always between nations. There are conflicts at work, in school, (regrettably) in families. Ever since Cain killed Abel, it seems that mankind has been in conflict. We even have conflicts within our own selves.

I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (Rom 7:21-23)

If we find it so hard to find peace within ourselves, how much worse is it when others add to the conflict? It seems that peace should be an ideal for which all men strive. Unfortunately it is not so. Some people delight in causing division and strife. Christians, however, should not be among those.

Jesus pronounced a blessing on the peacemakers. As a friend of mine recently pointed out, “creating peace and keeping peace are polar opposites.” We are not called upon to be peacekeepers but peace makers. What is the difference?

Keeping the peace is a passive thing. One can be a peacekeeper by just keeping your mouth shut. It may be a blessing to keep from saying or doing something that would lead to conflict, but almost anybody can do that. Furthermore, keeping peace is often selfish. You don’t say what you would like to because you know the other person will respond in kind. You don’t want the argument, so you hold your comments in. Nevertheless, you still would like to say something. It becomes a passive-aggressive situation where all you are concerned with is how failure to keep peace will affect you.

A peace maker, on the other hand, seeks out ways to bring about peace in a conflicting world. He or she is not content to sit back and fail to add to the conflict. The desire is to prevent or reduce conflicts that do not have a personal affect. A peacekeeper sees the potential for conflict, and merely fails to add to it; a peace maker sees the same potential, and acts to defuse it.

Perhaps some practical examples might show the difference. Children fight. My brothers and I would be picking at each other from the time we got out of bed. To prevent this, my mother served us breakfast in bed (usually a bowl of cereal). This was keeping the peace. The potential for conflict remained; it was just delayed for a few minutes. In those circumstances, peacekeeping might have been sufficient. A peace maker might have brought us all to the table, and when conflict started taken action to show how everyone would be better off on a daily basis if we chose not to fight.

On a more spiritual level, a peacekeeper sees sin in another person’s life. That sin may not affect the observer, but he sees how it is affecting the one observed. The person may be unhappy because of the consequences of the sin. He may even be putting his own life in danger. The peacekeeper says that the other person has the right to choose his own path. Rather than possibly being looked upon as a “Bible thumper” he will choose not to say or do anything about the sin. The peacemaker sees how the sin is affecting the sinner, or the potential to affect the sinner in this life or the next. In a loving, gentle way he confronts the sinner, and offers a solution. He teaches about forgiveness and that God can and will forgive any sin. He shows that it is possible to live a happier, more productive life in Christ. It may be that the other person will respond harshly, will not even be a peacekeeper. It may be the other person will merely listen and not respond in order to keep peace. Or it may be that the other person will find peace through Christ. Regardless of the reaction of the sinner, the one person has acted to create peace. If there is conflict, it is not his doing. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18) As much as it is in your power, live peaceably.

Those who make peace will be called the children of God. By whom? In many cases, by those between whom they made peace. Those who take an active role in creating peace in a chaotic world will be recognized as different, as God’s children. In a world of conflict, most people appreciate those that make that world a little nicer place to live.

Being persecuted

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matt 5:10-12)

Some have said that the Ten Commandments are all about actions except the last (coveting) which is about thought. In the same way, the beatitudes are generally active attributes except this last one, which is primarily passive. One rarely chooses to seek persecution, and those that do are considered to have a mental disease. This beatitude about being persecuted does not say to seek it out. It does, however, say that if persecution comes because of Christ, we are to be considered blessed.

Peter apparently listened when Jesus said this. Years later he expressed the same thought.

Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. (1 Pet 4:15-16)

Persecution will come. The world has three choices about how to react to the gospel. The ideal choice is belief. The majority choice is indifference. The other choice is to be so pierced by the truth of the gospel, yet so unwilling to obey, that one lashes out at that which they don’t want to accept to be true. Many preachers have pointed out that Peter’s sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2) and Stephen’s sermon (Acts 7) were essentially the same. Both audiences were cut to the heart (Acts 2:47; 7:54), but their reactions were opposites. The first asked what to do to be saved; the second stoned the preacher.

If persecution does come for righteousness’ sake, for Jesus’ sake, how does that benefit others? The contention throughout these three articles has been that the beatitudes are about doing good for others. How does being persecuted fit into this?

Jesus specifies the personal benefit—a reward in heaven. He even specifies that such a reward will come because the persecuted are following in the footsteps of those who have previously been persecuted. After all, the old saying is, “they kill prophets.” This personal benefit bears some comfort, because we don’t like being persecuted in this life. To some, even the promise of reward after this life is a comfort.

But, again, how does my being persecuted help others? Paul understood the benefits, because he more than most was reviled and persecuted. “And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Php 1:14) He goes on to say that some preached out of selfish motives, hoping to increase Paul’s suffering. “Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or inOne rarely chooses to seek persecution, and those that do are considered to have a mental disease. truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” (verse 18)

Throughout Christian history, those who bore up under torture and persecution have been held in high regard. Eusebius has several chapters about those who were burned, flayed alive, and suffocated by hanging them over a fire made of green twigs. Fox was not the first, then, to write a “Book of Martyrs.” The reason we read of those who suffered persecution at the hands of the Romans, the Jews, the Muslims, and others, is that we want to be encouraged by their courage. If they can keep their faith under such circumstances, maybe we can keep ours under less obvious persecutions. Furthermore, the argument has frequently been made that the gospel must be true because the primary witnesses to the gospel were willing to die for what they believed. Our faith is enhanced by their willingness to undergo death rather than say that what they taught was a lie. Who, after all, would do that, knowing that it was a lie?

The word martyr is a Greek word meaning a witness. It is a legal term for one who testifies in court to what they saw. The writer of Hebrews listed, in chapter 11, many people that (s)he considered martyrs. In fact, the first verse of what we call chapter 12 refers to them as “so great a cloud of witnesses [martyrs].” The point was that we should be willing to run to the death because we have seen, and are being seen, by all those who were persecuted before us. This includes the one who spoke the beatitudes.