The Peacemakers

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

In our sin-sick world, conflict seems to be ever-present. Some nations fight against other nations; plenty more maintain strained, tense, and tenuous relationships with each other. People of different clans, tribes, ethnicities, and other such groups of people nurse disagreements and conflicts with other, similar groups. Within extended families there always seem to be some relatives who cannot stand each other and who perpetually fight or remain at odds with each other. Even within immediate families, husbands, wives, and children have plenty over which to fight and maintain tensions and hostilities. For that matter, there is internal conflict between the spirit and the flesh (Galatians 5:17)!

The reality of conflict is sad enough; the promotion and fostering of conflict is even worse. And yet the sad reality is evident: conflict, tension, and difficulty generates interest, money, and power. If you can make a television show where different people are constantly in conflict with each other, you will have an easier time getting a strong viewership than if everyone in the story is at peace with one another. Politicians tend to get more people to vote for them if they can demonize the opposing candidate as “the other,” focusing on the differences and the negatives rather than the similarities and positives. The stronger the rivalry between different teams, groups of people, and the like, the stronger the passions, and thus the greater the interest. In the world, in almost every arena of life, “dividers” receive interest, power, money, and fame; “uniters” may receive lip service for their work, but will never generate the same interest, power, money, or fame as the “dividers.”

And so Jesus, as He continues to pronounce as blessed, fortunate, or happy those who are not normally recognized as such (or, for that matter, recognized at all), declares peacemakers blessed, for such shall be called “sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

When considering these Beatitudes, as they are often called, it is easy to gloss over the “rewards” which the fortunate ones will receive. They all seem to be some variant of the saved, members of the Kingdom, or those who will obtain the promises God has provided. Yet the “reward” of being called the “sons of God” has great significance: “sons of God,” in the Old Testament, refers most often to spiritual beings in God’s presence (cf. Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7). Jesus will later reckon those who obtain the resurrection of life as “sons of God” (Luke 20:36); it is for their revelation that the creation eagerly waits in Romans 8:19. “Sons of God” is a description indicating close association with both God the Father and Jesus the Son; to be called a “son of God” would be a great honor indeed.

So why do the peacemakers receive such a blessing? We can understand why through Galatians 3:26, in which Paul declares that all believers who seek to obey Christ are sons of God, through faith, in Jesus Christ. How is it possible that we could be sons of God by trusting in Jesus and through what Jesus accomplished? As Paul makes evident in Ephesians 2:11-18, Jesus allowed all of us to be reconciled both to God and to one another by becoming the ultimate Peacemaker: He killed the hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles by bearing the cross and in so doing eliminating the Law and its trappings that served to divide the Jews from the Gentiles, and brought both together in Him in one body.

Those who make peace, therefore, are as Jesus, seeking to kill hostility and reconcile man back together with God and with one another. One can see Jesus’ entire purpose and mission in terms of this reconciliation (cf. Romans 5:6-11): since God is Three in One and One in Three, maintaining relational unity, anything that serves to divide man from God and one another is accursed, but that which reconciles and restores man in relationship with his God and with one another glorifies God (cf. Isaiah 59:1-2, John 17:20-23, Galatians 5:17-24). Therefore, those who work to make peace between opposing parties reflects God and His will within Himself, for mankind, and with mankind. The great honor of being known as “sons of God” makes perfect sense: to make peace among people is to share in close association with the work of God.

This does not mean that peacemaking is easy; all of us have a tendency toward division, hostility, and tension toward others, and when we see different groups feuding with each other for whatever reason, we have a natural tendency to want to stay out of it and get far away. We also must make sure that we do not confuse peacemaking with meddling or being a busybody. We must also recognize the multitude of forces in the world that work against peace: many such forces unabashedly maintain the face of evil and hostility, perhaps even in almost demonic terms (cf. Ephesians 6:12), but plenty of conflict, tension, and division masquerade with “holy” and “pious” facades. The truth of God must never be compromised (Galatians 1:6-9); yet a significant aspect of God’s truth is His desire to reconcile all men to Himself and to one another (John 17:20-23, Romans 5:6-11), and the promotion and maintenance of strife, divisions, and sects are always inconsistent with God’s revealed truth, remaining works of the flesh (cf. Galatians 5:19-21).

Peacemaking has always been a hard thing to do and a tough path to take; there are always plenty of forces that work against it. But the path of peacemaking is the path of Christ; to reconcile mankind with God and with one another is the essence of God’s purpose in Christ. Let us work to promote and advance peace, ever thankful for Jesus’ peacemaking that allows us to be sons of God, reconciled back with the Father!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Thorny Soil

“And others fell upon the thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked them…And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful” (Matthew 13:7, 22).

“I’m too busy.”

If there were a universally agreed upon anthem for our modern world, this would surely be it. It seems that everyone is always too busy. There is always too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. How many times have we made or heard pleas for there to be more than 24 hours in a day, or for time to stop for a moment so we can get “caught up”?

Part of our difficulty involves the unprecedented number of people and things that compete for our time. Employers are demanding more hours and work out of employees. Depending on our phase of life, our parents, children, and/or spouses place demands on our time. There is the ever-present computer with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, e-mail, games, and a thousand other ways of spending time. Not to be outdone, television and movies and other forms of entertainment also beckon. Beyond all of these are sports activities, book reading, indoor and outdoor maintenance, and all sorts of other activities. Little wonder, then, that we never have any time!

Many of the purveyors of entertainment and other forms of distraction are quite aware of how busy we are, and so they work diligently to gain our attention. Forms of entertainment become more sophisticated and designed to draw you in and keep you watching or playing. News programs and politicians often use various scare tactics to attract your attention and support for their cause. All of these tactics are very seductive and very hard to resist!

While the quantity of distractions and forms of entertainment today might be unprecedented, the root problem is not. As Jesus presents the parable of the sower, He describes the third type of soil as the “thorny soil.” The thorny soil is full of thorn-bushes and other weeds. In such ground, the sower’s seed cannot take root and grow, for it is out-muscled by the weeds.

Notice that the problem here is not the soil quality in and of itself, as it was with the “road” soil and the “rocky” soil. The soil is not the problem– the competitors for that particular patch of soil are the problem! If the competitors– the thorns– were removed, the seed would grow and multiply.

Jesus goes on to say that the thorny soil represents those people who hear the Word of God and believe it, but the cares of this world, the desire for riches, and various lusts and pleasures choke out the Word, and it becomes unfruitful (Matthew 13:22, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14).

We see this often when we present the Word of God to others. As statistics show, the majority of Americans believe in God, Jesus, and even His resurrection. Therefore, they know that God exists. They know that Jesus exists and that He is Lord. Many such people know that they should probably be assembling with Christians somewhere and should be serving the Lord more faithfully.

And then there is the “but.” They know they should follow God, but there is not enough time. They should assemble with Christians, but they have to work, or Sunday morning is their only time to rest and relax or spend time with family, or it is the time for a given sporting event or other form of entertainment. They know that they should devote themselves to God, but there is always something in the way– money, entertainment, sports, even family and friends.

Jesus’ image of the thorns is very apt, for it gets to the heart of the problem. As said previously, the problem is not with the soil but with the competition for the soil. The difference, then, between “thorny” soil and “good” soil is not the soil itself but the cultivation thereof. The invasion of the “thorns” is an ever-present danger, and great care must be taken to cultivate the ground to clear away the thorns so as to allow the seed to grow and multiply.

This speaks to the need for priorities. No one can assume that time will automatically be made for God and spiritual things. As with all things, we must make time. Left on our own we will succumb to the temptation to play around more on the Internet, watch another TV show, or do a thousand other things. We must decide to make God the priority– to make His Kingdom and His righteousness the most important thing in our life (Matthew 6:33).

We must hasten to add that not all of these “thorns” are inherently evil. In fact, there are many “good” things with which we can fill our time– our family, our friends, employment, helping others, etc.– but even these “good” things can distract us from the ultimate good– God and His Kingdom. We must first serve Christ– and then reflect Christ to our family, at work, and in other realms of life (Ephesians 5:22-6:9). God must be first and foremost.

There have always been and will always be a lot of people who know that God exists and and that they need to do better at following after Him but remain distracted by money, cares of the world, and various pleasures. They have just as much potential for good in promoting God’s purposes as those who are the “good” soil if only they would clear out the weeds and focus on the Word of God. The thorns, however, are an ever-present danger. If we are not careful, even if we begin as good soil, we can allow the thorns to move in, becoming distracted with worldly cares and concerns, and prove to be unfruitful in the end.

Too many people, upon looking back at their lives, realize just how much time was wasted on what ultimately proved to be vain and futile. Some are fortunate enough to have come to repentance before the end, and simply lament all the time that they could have done great things for God but were too busy with themselves and the cares of this world. Sadly, for too many, this realization will come too late, with bitter tears and lamentation, as they hear of their doom (Matthew 7:21-23). It is never too late to clear out the thorns and to cultivate the good seed– let us all remove the distractions of the world and make God and His righteousness the ultimate priority in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Futility of Idols

And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the sojourners of Gilead, said unto Ahab, “As YHWH, the God of Israel, liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1).

Here we have the moment that James describes in James 5:16-18: Elijah, prophet of God but still a man with a nature like ours, prayed to God, and it did not rain for three and a half years. such is a powerful demonstration of the effectiveness of prayer, proving that God can do amazing things when His people devote themselves to prayer and righteousness.

Yet there certainly is a dark side to this prayer– Elijah has just consigned the land and its people to drought for three and a half years. A drought means no rain, and when there is no rain, crops fail. When crops fail, there is no food. When there is no food, people starve, suffer, and die.

We might feel inclined, through the lens of “modern sensibilities,” to think of this as utterly merciless, cruel, barbaric, and inhuman. What kind of prophet is Elijah to consign his people to famine and death? What kind of God would withhold rain and thus lead His people to starvation and death? Or, in less judgmental terms, why is it that Elijah prays for it to not rain as opposed to praying for some other demonstration? Why does God punish Israel with a lack of rain as opposed to some other calamity or difficulty?

In order to make some sense of this we must understand what is going on at the time. Elijah has been called by God– whose personal name is YHWH or “Yahweh”– because Ahab king of Israel is exceedingly wicked (1 Kings 16:30). He and his wife Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, have rejected YHWH in favor of Baal, Asherah, and the Canaanite gods (1 Kings 16:31-33). Israel followed along in this apostasy.

Baal, in the Canaanite belief system, was a storm god and a fertility god. Baal was believed to provide the storms that led to crop growth and thus fertility. Baal is in a contest against Mot, the god of death; when Baal wins, there is fertility; when Mot wins, there is famine and death. Much of the belief system of the Canaanites surrounded the idea of fertility, both in crops and in child-bearing.

We should not imagine that God or Elijah really want the people to suffer for suffering’s sake. Instead, a powerful lesson is being taught: the gods of the world are emptiness and nothing. During the drought, no doubt, Ahab and Jezebel constantly sacrificed to Baal and plead for mercy from him, along with many of the Israelites. During the contest on Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal plead with Baal, even cutting themselves in the process (1 Kings 18:26-29). Yet, as the Kings author says, “there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded” (1 Kings 18:29). Baal was not there– because there was no Baal.

Afterward YHWH demonstrated His existence powerfully with fire from heaven and a return of the rains (1 Kings 18:30-46). The lesson was evident: YHWH was God, not Baal. YHWH is responsible for the rains and fertility, not Baal.

This was not the first time YHWH had made such a demonstration; the plagues upon Egypt in Exodus 8-12 are also demonstrations that YHWH, and not the gods of the Egyptians, is really in control. It’s a demonstration with which it is hard to argue: if you believe that Ra is the sun god, but at the command of YHWH the sun turns to darkness, and your pleas to Ra change nothing, then it is clear at least that YHWH is stronger than Ra if Ra even exists. It is only when idols are dethroned that people really reflect on the power of the One True God.

We should not think that we are much different today. Granted, we do not have many people going to temples and bowing down to statues of perceived divinities as was prevalent in Biblical times. But that does not mean that we have solved the challenge of idolatry– far from it (1 John 5:21)! Our idols are just more abstract. And we still need powerful demonstrations of their ultimate inefficiency and inefficacy.

For generations money has been an idol (Matthew 6:24, Ephesians 5:5). It is easy for people to trust in their material goods– their stuff, their bank accounts, their investments, and even their government’s entitlement programs. And yet what was powerfully demonstrated during our great recession? Wealth is uncertain, and cannot be trusted (1 Timothy 6:17)! Government is proven to be uncertain and ultimately not entirely trustworthy; stuff also cannot bring satisfaction. Health, status, prestige, relationships, fame, the Internet, science, you name it– all of them are really subject to the One True God, and in and of themselves, cannot save, and cannot be entirely trusted. Unfortunately, all too often, we only perceive this after they have been rendered ineffective and inefficacious in our lives. It is only in crisis do we learn that we need to rely upon God and not the gods of the world.

If we want to avoid needless suffering we would do well to learn from Israel’s example and trust in the One True God and not the gods of this world. God always has a way of demonstrating His power and authority over every false god, and we would do well to trust in Him and not suffer His chastisement!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Problem of Wealth

And Jesus said unto his disciples, “Verily I say unto you, It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
And when the disciples heard it, they were astonished exceedingly, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
And Jesus looking upon them said to them, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:23-26).

One hotly contested aspect of Jesus’ teachings involves His words toward those who are rich in material wealth. Some have taken Jesus’ words and made them a call for a more level playing field. Others take the opposite approach and attempt to minimize these teachings and try to find some way to glorify wealth. Many have the same question as the disciples. Some wonder how just it is for Jesus to come down so harshly on the rich.

Jesus’ words were not designed to overthrow the concept of money or wealth. Nor is it an absolutely true statement that all rich people are going to be condemned (1 Timothy 6:9-10, 17-19). Yet Jesus’ words do strike at the heart of the problems with wealth.

These words are spoken immediately after the “rich young ruler” departs from Jesus sorrowfully. This young man wanted to inherit eternal life and even had great respect for the Law (Matthew 19:16-20). Nevertheless, when asked to give up all his wealth and to follow Jesus, he walked away (Matthew 19:21-22).

What would lead this young man to make such a fateful decision? Jesus perceived that he trusted his wealth more than God. His material wealth kept him from the Kingdom of God.

We must greatly respect Jesus’ statement that it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven without turning it into an absolute. Wealth casts a strong spell upon people. Wealth provides the illusion of stability and contentment: if we have much stored up, we end up entrusting our future to our wealth and not so much on God. Wealth rarely comes without great effort expended to obtain it, and for those who desire great wealth, what they have is rarely enough (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Covetousness, selfishness, arrogance, and idolatry often mark those who have wealth.

Who do we trust? We have learned the lesson that riches are uncertain (1 Timothy 6:17), but that has not stopped many from continuing to press on after wealth. Yet there is no true stability there. Salvation can never be found in riches, no matter how vast (Matthew 16:26). We must trust in God, the One who is able to accomplish what is impossible for mankind.

How do we know whom we trust? Put yourself in the shoes of that rich young ruler. If Jesus asked you personally to sell all that you have, give to the poor, obtain treasure in Heaven, and follow after Him, would you be willing to do so? Or would you also go away sorrowfully? We all know the answer that we should give, but would that be the answer we would give?

Let us not put our trust in the uncertain material wealth of the world that causes anxiety for so many. Instead, let us trust in the Lord of Heaven and Earth, and obtain the peace that comes from Him (Matthew 6:33-34, Matthew 28:18, Philippians 4:4-7)!

Ethan R. Longhenry