the way of peace found in Jesus

The way of peace they do not know;
there is no justice in their paths.

Isaiah 59:8a

And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else?

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him.

Romans 3:19b,21-22a; MSG

Justice and the peace that comes from that is often the emphasis we hear from younger Christians nowadays. And for many good reasons. For one thing, the gospel often proclaimed and taught in evangelical circles is mostly about our own relationship with God and with others. That is truth, and very needed, and certainly does not exclude teaching about what is just and right, true and good, merciful and bringing peace. But it’s not the entire truth or application of the gospel.

There does need to be an emphasis on justice in society, not just personal righteousness which supposedly brings the needed justice. There is a needed reckoning within the world system to judge and root out, yes, systemic evil. With reference to racial injustice, and many other evils in the world. So this instinct and passion within and active in the younger generations should be welcomed and appreciated.

What we have to be careful of is getting the cart before the horse. Justice in itself is not the point nor the goal, not for the Christian. Jesus and God’s good news of grace and the kingdom come in him is the proper focus. That brings the necessary judgment on evil to be replaced by what is truly the good, flourishing life for humans, for all humanity. 

The emphasis therefore needs to be on Jesus, on God in the human Jesus, the Spirit’s amen and work from that, and the difference that can make, yes, even in this world. In challenging all the injustice, and beginning to see the new world emerge among us. And we shouldn’t fail to mention that it is through nothing short of the blood of Jesus, his death, so that all evil was absorbed into that day on Jesus. So that evil is now dealt with in the truly Christian way through Jesus’s death on the cross. The new life through his resurrection, following.

Not to say that God isn’t at work through some ways in the world which though we would say ultimately is through Jesus and God’s work in him, is not actually linked to that. Indeed that may well be. But the unique way in Jesus in the love for one’s enemies and the way of the cross is at the forefront of what God’s justice looks like. It is tempered with mercy, and brings in the needed full salvation beginning even now. In our lives, but breaking into earthly principalities and powers, high places where this is not only known, but opposed. Even though that’s ongoing on this side of time. Not for the faint of heart, but part of our calling. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

I remember a church in our area which had a sign that said, “Wage Peace.” The church was of the Protestant liberal persuasion which tends to take strong public stands on what is called a progressive, liberal agenda. Then you have on the other hand churches which not only hold to just war theory, but who quite often back American efforts in war. On hindsight, I think we can clearly say that at best there are major problems in military action, and that indeed, war ought to be a last resort.

But was this what Jesus was talking about? While I don’t think Jesus would approve of much of the world’s military action, if indeed there could be any such approval at all, since all is laid bare behind the full scrutiny of the one with eyes like fire, and besides, what affiliation does the kingdom of God have with any nation state? No, Jesus was not referring to that. What he said was surely in a true sense a rebuke to much of that. Wouldn’t it be beneficial and good if the church once again required soldiers returning from war to engage in some kind of time of repentance, even penance, not to earn forgiveness, but to actually be saved from what war effort requires? I say this hesitantly and sadly, while at the same time admiring the service of those who serve honorably and self-sacrificially for their country. And I have no doubt that many do so with character, not wishing to inflict injury on others, but carrying out orders in the confidence that they are on principled grounds. And in a world where evil is often armed, isn’t there a need for police action? I say, clearly yes, as long as it’s restrained, and with the effort to minimize the loss of human life.

But again, back to Jesus and his words here. A peacemaker is someone who makes peace between those who are not peaceful, who often are enemies. Surely peacemaking is in terms of Jesus’s mission which is fulfilled in his death and resurrection. And both before that, and afterward, we find that Christians are to live in the way of Jesus, which means the way of the cross. To understand what Jesus’s words here mean in full, we of course need to go over the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, particularly Acts and the letters. We’re going to find that this peacemaking is always in terms set by Jesus. It is never on the world’s terms, like “might makes right.” And the kind of peace that Roman force enforced. Instead it comes in terms of changed lives, changed societies, indeed, changed priorities. Those alienated from each other, perhaps through past conflict or injustice are made one in Christ. Of course this comes through conversion. Think of Paul’s conversion in which a radical enemy of the faithful, becomes a friend in God.

But let’s not bypass the reality of what often comes between. Those who do the hard work of peacemaking, must themselves, obviously, be peacemakers. You can’t raise Cain, and bring the peace that Christ brings. It must be in the meekness, gentleness, and humility of the Lamb. And it will involve self-sacrifice, even the abnegation of self altogether. But the reward that brings will be well worth the effort. In life, as well as words said, particularly the word of the gospel.

To be a peacemaker then is not to score points and win. We especially need to hear that in this day and age when winning is considered everything, nothing else mattering. No, we take the way of Jesus, and determine from the outset that one of our fundamental goals is peacemaking. A hard task for sure. But more than possible through the Prince of Peace, Jesus, and his sacrificial death for the world, as we walk on the same path, with that same good news, the gospel of peace. Peace with God and with each other. Good news meant even for our enemies. Through the Cross. This is part of what should characterize us, our lives and action. In and through Jesus.

for Memorial Day

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Romans 13

Today we remember those who laid down their lives in service to our nation. We honor their sacrifice. And we pray for those who continue to serve, as well as for all who put their lives at risk for the protection of others. And for the nations of the world: for peace, especially in those places where conflict continues and evil is very near. And we look forward to the coming of the Prince of Peace.

counting the cost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14

This Memorial Day we remember those who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way, and those who suffer, or have paid the ultimate price in service to their country. Most of the time those in that service can’t escape the possibility of danger and death.

Our Lord calls anyone who would follow him to count the cost. What might be exacted is nothing less than life itself. In the case of our Lord, the call is for complete, total devotion to the end. There are no ands, ifs, or buts, no strings attached. We either follow completely, or we don’t really follow at all. At times I feel like I’m in that gray area in which I am struggling over this or that matter. It’s not like I’m purposefully no longer following. But taken up with imagined or even real troubles, I am struggling to come to terms with the matter, which for me will always mean getting back to going on in the Lord with others, come what may.

To count the cost is to come to terms with the truth which requires the commitment that because Jesus is the Lord and King, “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” we follow him no matter what, even when we have to struggle to do so. Which for me means more or less a struggle most of the time.

Jesus wants us to count the cost so that we will learn to keep following no matter what. And with the realization that at the end all will be joy and peace for ever in his Presence, in God’s salvation of the world in and through him.

Advent and the path of peace

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1:68-79

After the priest Zechariah’s mouth was opened at the birth of his son, John (the Baptist), he uttered a remarkable prophecy concering God’s promise to his people. The horn of salvation spoken of is no other than the Lord himself, Jesus, the son of David, the son of God (in a ruling sense). And this is all anticipated beginning in the ministry to come of his own son, John, who would prepare the way for the Lord and the salvation he would bring.

The end of the prophecy speaks of the result of this in the lives of God’s people: “to guide our feet into the path of peace.” The peace referred to here is in terms of shalom, meaning much more than the absence of war, but a state or condition of flourishing. It is a peace not imposed by the sword such as was known at that time under Rome. But it’s a peace that both transcends such, and is ultimately to take over all things completely, forever.

But in the prophecy and in the context of the rest of the New Testament, that peace is for God’s people in the present life. And it is “the way” (NRSV) or “the path of peace” (NIV). Again, it is much more than the absence of conflict and war. Though to say it is that is revolutionary enough in this world. And to refuse to participate in such is an important beginning. Jesus’ teaching and life certainly exemplify that.

The path of peace involves the way of the cross in this life: loving our enemies, doing good to them and praying for them. Blessing those who curse us. Forgiving those who persecute us, or worse (note Stephen’s witness and prayer when he was martyred). It is a peace which seeks to lift others into a communion and life of peace. And of course that peace is solely in King Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who is our peace. In and through him we find this peace, which is not just about our own relationship to God, but from that, our relationship to others, even to our enemies. So that what we’re about is bringing all others into that same way or path of peace. As we endeavor day after day to live that out. Confessing our sins along the way, when we don’t. But continuing on and growing in that in our churches, families, at work, in our neighborhoods, and across the world. As we continue to pray for God’s kingdom to come, and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, which we know is beginnning now, and will be completely fulfilled in and through King Jesus.

a Memorial Day prayer

Today we honor those who have served and serve in the military. And we remember those who have laid down their lives in doing so.

Prince of Peace, grant your peace to us and let us be people of peace. We thank you for those who put their own lives at risk to maintain civil order and peace. And especially for those who have lost their lives in doing so. Bless those who are serving and the memory of those who have served. And may the kingdom of your Father come by the peace you made through your blood shed on the cross. Amen.