Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

50. The Beatitudes - Blessed are the Peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)*

This Beatitude is perhaps the simplest and most clear-cut of all. Yet probably it is also the most misunderstood. To the modern mind peace is the absence of strife, and therefore a peacemaker is one who patches up a quarrel between two who disagree. In this sense, admittedly, peacemakers are all too rare a commodity in this fractious world. The fruits of their work are rarely seen.

But there is also a common yet specialised Bible use of the word “peace” in the sense of peace with God. It would be possible to fill more than one page with very obvious examples of this usage.

“The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Num.6:26) was the high-priestly pronouncement of reconciliation with God renewed in the accepted sacrifice of the Day of Atonement.

The Messiah is “The Prince of Peace”, not only because he eliminates strife from the world, but because it is he through whom fellowship with God is permanently established.

The sacrifice of the peace-offering was an expression of fellowship with God--the Old Testament counterpart of the Breaking of Bread. When men ate a peace offering together they had fellowship with one another because both had fellowship with God.

“In this place (the new temple) will I give peace”, foretold Haggai in words which still await fulfilment (2:9). And to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” is more than to plead for the end of its centuries of strife. It is a petition that God will be reconciled to His ancient people in His ancient city. This is the meaning of its name: The Lord will provide peace.

The Psalmist’s phrase: “righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (85:10) now carries more meaning than it could ever have from any other point of view.

The song of the angels celebrating first “peace on earth” and then “God’s good pleasure toward men” expresses essentially the idea of the peace-offering- a sacrifice offered to God, with heavenly fellowship established and continued as a joyful consequence.

The song of Zacharias anticipating the work of the Messiah as “guiding our feet into the way of peace” is appropriately linked with an allusion to “them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death” (Lk.1:79).

Peter summed up the gospel as “preaching peace (with God) by Jesus Christ” (Acts.lO:36). He could hardly have chosen a better phrase for the purpose.

And Paul similarly: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom.5:1). Hence also his invariable greeting at the beginning of his letters. “Grace and peace” combine to make the warmest possible wish of spiritual well-being: Forgiveness of sins, and the consequent life of reconciliation with God.

These examples are surely more than sufficient. It is one of the easiest and most satisfying pieces of Bible study available to the non-specialist reader, to use the concordance on this lovely word, noting how one passage after another unfolds a fuller and better meaning.

It follows, then, that the peace-maker is one whose work leads to renewal of fellowship, not between man and man, but between man and God. He is a preacher of the gospel. This beatitude re-states the joyous words of Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet’ of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace... that publisheth salvation” (52:7). The pronoun is singular, but when Paul appropriated these words to the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 10:15) he made it plural because since the Ascension the Lord has been working through his brethren in the ecclesia.

Evangelism through Benevolence?

Now and again the point of view is advanced that it is high time the Lord’s people replaced talk with action. Instead of preaching, preaching-mostly an unwanted message spoken into ears that cannot make sense of it-why not show the Christ-life in action? Go amongst people with a gracious overflow of kindliness and good works, and this benevolence will have its due effect. The Christ-life will incline men to listen to the Christ-message, and thus the gospel will prosper. So they say!

It is a futile procedure. Some of the churches attempted this approach when they lost their former conviction about the authority of Holy Scripture, and as a result they have lost ground more than ever. It is a truth which the “do-gooders” are slow to recognise, that the finest contribution one can make to the life of any of one’s fellows is to give him a contented mind, and this comes from a thorough conviction regarding the gospel, not from having a full belly or a better roof overhead or a doctor to hand out pills in time of sickness. In western countries the social reformers have provided these amenities, only to find their recipients more and more discontented as the material standard of living creeps steadily higher.

Called Sons of God

But to bring the gospel of Christ into a man’s life is to bring him incalculable blessedness here and now, as well as the reassuring prospect of the imminent kingdom of Christ. Therefore blessed indeed are the peacemakers today more than at any other time in the world’s history: “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shall thou be established” (Is. 54:12, 13).

The special happiness pronounced by Jesus upon the preachers of his gospel of reconciliation is that they shall be “called” - that is, openly known as - “the sons of God”. Not that this title is theirs exclusively. But they are known as sons of God by virtue of the message they carry. No man can truly impart the gospel of salvation without himself believing in it heart and soul. There is no greater strengthener of faith than personal activity in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. Thus witness for Christ not only brings peace into the lives of others, it also stamps the preacher of the message as one of Christ’s men, and - best of all -- it nurtures in him the deeper conviction and firmer faith which means justification before God.

  1. “Called the sons of God” may well be another example of the Bible idiom which means “they are the sons of God, this is their character and true status”; cp. ls. 9:6; 1 Jn. 3:1 (see RV); Num. 11:3, 34 etc. But they are specially so called by those who hear and welcome their message of peace.
  2. Heb. 12:14 is a fine passage very easily misunderstood. The idea is: ‘Follow peace (with God) along with all (your brethren in Christ), and sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord (cp. the pure in heart)’. The word “men” is not in the Greek text of this verse.
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