One of the biggest objections people have to Christianity is Christians. We don’t have a very good reputation. Some people say they like Jesus or they admire Jesus but they can’t stand His followers. Christians are commonly thought of as being judgmental and hypocritical and just plain nasty.
I googled “Why are Christians so nasty” and got 5,120,000 results! To be fair some of those led to pages asking why atheists were so nasty to Christians, etc. so they weren’t all about nasty Christians but, nevertheless, there is a widely held view that Christians are nasty.
I faced that this week. My old church in Gore got into the media because it revoked the membership of a woman in a de facto relationship. The reaction online has been shrill. The church (in general, not just that church although they took the brunt of it) was labelled hypocritical, judgemental, horrible, nasty, unchristian, out-of-touch, a joke, bigoted, interfering, and a few other words that I won’t repeat. People feel judged by the church. Why would they ever join an organisation that was going to judge them? They do not see the church as welcoming.
Therein lies a dilemma. On the one hand we might say that a church should uphold certain standards. If it didn’t and members lived how they liked then the church would be called hypocritical. On the other hand, it reinforces this impression that Christians are nasty and judgmental.
What do we do? Did my old church do the right thing or the wrong thing? When there is a tension between two opposites, how do we find the Christian balance?
We look to Jesus. From a Christian point of view, we would say Jesus got it right. And when non-Christians say that they like Jesus but not His followers, they think Jesus got it right too – even though they might have a distorted view of Jesus. What did Jesus do? How did Jesus relate? How did He relate to different groups? How did He balance grace and truth?
Even getting it right, Jesus wasn’t universally liked. Getting it right doesn’t mean all will be sweetness and light but if we can act like Jesus, at least we will be doing the right thing. 1 Peter says it is commendable to do the right thing and suffer for it. But there is no merit in acting badly and bringing reproach on the church. And sometimes people’s attitude to the church is because Christians have behaved badly and haven’t been Christ-like.
What did Jesus do? What did Jesus teach? The last four Beatitudes are about our relationships with others and they are very relevant. Blessed are the merciful. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful”, why is the church so often perceived as being judgemental. Jesus was known as a friend of sinners but His church is seen as condemning sinners.
Think of all the debate around the same-sex marriage issue. I have strong views about that but I have to ask myself what the Christ-like response is. That debate would be a prime example of Christians seeming self-righteous and judgmental. In the final debate in Parliament, a number of MPs referred to the bad behaviour of Christians. Blessed are the merciful.
Is being pure in heart about our relationships with other people or our relationship with God? Roger, last week talked about mixed motives for why we do things. I might have mixed motives for preaching this morning. I might be partly motivated by a desire to be liked or I might like the limelight or the influence. Purity of heart is about being utterly sincere and transparent, and that applies to both our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. Transparency is the opposite of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is about wearing a mask and pretending to be something I am not. Sincerity is about being open and without guile – without selfish, self-serving motives. Imagine if that is what the world saw.
Some of the online criticism of my old church this week was of hypocrisy, suggesting that the leaders were probably living dishonest, disreputable lives themselves while hiding behind a veneer, and accusing others. That criticism is unfounded as far as I know but again it is the perception, and given some of the things that happen in the church, to some extent, you can understand it. Imagine if, instead, people saw sincerity and openness rather than this suspicion that things are being hidden.
I find it interesting that the first two of these last four Beatitudes deal with judgmentalism and hypocrisy – the very things the church is most often accused of.
What about the next one? Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God. Was Jesus a peacemaker?
Maybe we immediately think of the examples that say “No”. He confronted people; He stirred people up; He overturned the tables; He spoke truth even when people were offended. He said that He hadn’t come to bring peace but a sword and that He would divide even family members. When it was a conflict between good and evil, Jesus never made peace with evil. Inevitably His coming divides people. Some will be for Him. Some will be against Him. And those who are for Him He asks to love Him above everything else, including family members. That requirement to make a choice and be either for God or against God, inevitably divides people.
That is true so let’s state it, get that out of our systems and then look at the other side of the coin. There will always be conflict between good and evil but what about within the good? Should there be conflict amongst God’s people? Well, no. Think of the stress Jesus put on unity. It was the major theme of His prayer for the disciples and the church on the night of the Last Supper. He said that people would know we are His disciples by our love.
In fact, it goes beyond just love for one another. Jesus commanded we love our enemies and that we live at peace with everyone (if possible.)
Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Then that passage talks about not taking revenge, feeding your enemies, etc.
Hebrews 12:14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone…
When it says “make every effort” it means this is to be a priority. It doesn’t allow us to put in a little bit of effort and then excuse ourselves, or try once and then do no more. Make every effort.
Note that Jesus pronounced this blessing on peacemakers. Peacekeepers go into a situation where there is peace and they keep it. Peacemakers go into situations where there isn’t peace and they bring people together. Peacemakers reconcile divided people. Which is harder – peacekeeping or peacemaking?
Notice also that it is not a blessing on the peaceloving. Some people who will never ruffle any feathers because they like peace. They won’t step in to help in a tense situation because they hate tension. Many of us are like that. As one author I read said, they might rightly be called trouble-makers because they do nothing and allow situations that could have been nipped in the bud, to deteriorate. Peacemakers, on the other hand, are concerned to bring about peace. Peacemakers want to see people reconciled.
Peacemaking is costly. It was costly for Jesus. It will be costly for us. There might be the pain of having to eat humble pie and ask for forgiveness. There might be the pain of that request being rejected. There might be the pain of seeking to bring two people together and risking being rejected by both of them. But there will also be successes. This is Kingdom work. God will be involved.
So, was Jesus a peacemaker?
He died to make peace. He died to reconcile us to God. Romans 5:1 says we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Not only did He reconcile us to God; He reconciled us to one another. The great example in the New Testament is the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles.
Read Ephesians 2:11-18.
It is not an overstatement to say that Jesus’ whole ministry was about peace – about restoring relationships – the relationships that had been ruptured at the Fall. Peace is mentioned 88 times in the New Testament and it is mentioned in every book of the New Testament. The most common greeting in Paul’s letters is “grace and peace”. Peace is a key characteristic of God’s Kingdom.
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He gives inner peace. The peace of God that is beyond our understand and that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. He gives peace between people; reconciliation, unity, community, love. He gives peace with God.
Look at the world. Do people have inner peace? Are people at peace with themselves? The only way to real inner peace is Jesus. Are people at peace with one another? The only real peace is found in Jesus. Are people at peace with God – forgiven children who know and love their Father? Reconciliation with God is found only in Jesus.
So, if we are to be peacemakers, we must bring Jesus to people. Listen to what Paul says about God’s reconciling mission and then about us being Christ’s ambassadors and also having a ministry of reconciliation.
Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2
Paul talked there primarily about evangelism – reconciling people to God, but we also have a ministry of reconciling people, starting with ourselves and others. Do we need to go to someone and seek reconciliation? Are there some other people who are at war where Jesus is asking us to bring them together? Are there people you know who are not at peace with themselves?
Jesus promises a blessing on peacemakers. They shall be called children of God. Because God is a God of reconciliation and peace, people of reconciliation and peace will be seen to bear the family likeness. People will say “They are just like their Father – children of God.”
Or looking at it another way, remember how Barnabas was called “the son of encouragement” because he was a great encourager and Jesus called James and John “sons of thunder” presumably because they were volatile, angry men – the types of men who would want to call down God’s judgement on a Samaritan town that did not welcome Jesus? To call someone “a son of” some characteristic meant that he was strongly marked by that characteristic. So to call someone a son of God, would mean he was a godly, God-like man.
Wouldn’t it be great if the church was known for its mercy and tenderness, its sincerity and openness, and its Godlike ministry of bringing people together in peace?
The Beatitudes say, “This is what Christ-likeness is like. This is what God’s Kingdom is like. These are the characteristics.” We are called to look at these things and say, “That’s what I want to be like.” God makes us new creations. The old has gone; the new has come. Plus God gives us the Holy Spirit to transform us and make us what we cannot be without His help but what we can be with His help.
And, He promises blessedness for those who are merciful, pure hearted and peacemakers.