If it feels like our world is full of conflict, instability, and war, you’re correct. In fact, of 163 countries in the world surveyed by the Institute for Economics and Peace, only 11 are not currently engaged in conflict. We live in a world that is basically defined by conflict and violence. But world conflict doesn’t start with someone waking up one day and choosing to head to war. Before there are bombs, there are bullets, and before there are bullets, there are knives. Before there are knives, there are fists, and before there are fists, there are words. Before there are words, there is the condition of our heart. Violence has a flow to it that keeps getting bigger and bigger, and it all starts in our hearts.
As we look at the world and see all this violence and conflict, it can feel overwhelming. If you’re like me, you may sit wondering, What can I do about this? Anything? Should I just sit on the sidelines and pray? But there is something that we can do because the road to peace starts with me and you. The road to a world restored begins with each of us in our own way waging peace. Before we can wage peace out in the world, we need to wage peace in our hearts and in our personal relationships.
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Early on in Jesus' ministry, he was traveling from town to town, teaching and healing. Word began to spread about him—some true stories and some false ones. In response, Jesus set the record straight. He pulled a whole crowd of people together and laid it all out there, giving what we know as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). He wanted to tell everyone what he’s about and about this new reality, this new kingdom, he’s making available. He began by flipping the idea of blessing on its head. In Jesus' day, they had a very specific idea of what it meant to be blessed. If you were successful, if you had your health, if you had some wealth, if you knew where your next meal was coming from, if you had some sense of prestige in the community, you were considered blessed—you had obviously received God’s favor. They had a very concrete understanding of who was in, who was out, who qualifies as acceptable, and they stuck to it. In fact, it looked a lot like what our society today holds up as success.
Their world—like ours—was jam-packed with conflict: between nations, between religious groups, between, friends, between neighbors, within clans and tribes. If you won, if you overcame, if you overpowered, if you were left standing at the end of the day, you were considered blessed because God had shown you favor. In other words, blessed are the winners.
But Jesus shows up with a completely different message that flips everything on its head. He says it’s not blessed are the winners, it's blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for God to make things right. Taking it even further, in verse 9, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
I can imagine that sounded completely pathetic to the people in Jesus’ day, and it probably sounds pretty pathetic to us, too. Think about it: Who is celebrated in our culture? Who do we talk about? Who are the magazine articles about? The winners: people who overcome, prevail, and win the fights.
Do we really believe blessed are the peacemakers? And what does it actually mean to be a peacemaker? Key to this word peace is the word shalom. Shalom was core to Jewish identity of that day, and basically it’s the idea of completeness, of fullness. It means all relationships working in right and proper order, everything as God had made it and intended it to be, the fullest expression of everything being right with the world. So peace, or shalom, as Jesus meant it, is not the absence of conflict. It's actually human flourishing at its fullest. The world is broken, and Jesus has called us to put it back together, to put the pieces back together for his glory, to make peace in our world.