Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

In my last post I began to lay out some of the broader implications of Jesus’ life and death. He came to bring peace, not only between God and people, but also among people. Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave to restore peace to a broken world. Wherever there is conflict, whether inside individual hearts, or within families, or among brothers and sisters in church, or between different ethnic groups, or even between warring nations, Christ “wages peace” as his disciples wield the paradoxical power of the cross. This power is paradoxical because victory comes through the embodied proclamation of Christ’s own powerlessness.

It would be a great error to think of the social dimensions of peace as simply whitewashing social evil in a grand attempt to “make nice.” It’s all too easy for us to confuse peacemaking with “nice-making.” This was also true in Jesus’ own day. Some Jews believed that, if he were the Messiah, Jesus would usher in a season of painless prosperity. To these mistaken folk Jesus said,

Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I have come to bring strife and division! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against – or the other way around. There will be a division between father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (Luke 12:52-53).

Does this passage contradict everything else we have read about the peacemaking work of Christ? No, because it must be interpreted in its unique context. Jesus is speaking in Luke 12 to those who expected a superficial peace, a peace that was really no peace at all because it failed to deal with the true cause of human brokenness. Many of the Jews in the first-century equated peace with the expulsion of the Romans. “Get rid of foreign rule and we’ll have peace,” they thought. But Jesus came to bring an unanticipated kind of peace. His peace would address the root cause of human suffering. His peace would be offered to people who were not Jews, even to the hated Romans.

Arch-Titus-Rome-5.jpgAs Jesus pursued his peculiar peacemaking mission, he engendered plenty of strife. His failure to fulfill Jewish expectations led to his being rejected by his own people, while his insistence on the presence of God’s reign brought about his crucifixion at Roman hands. It would have been so much easier for Jesus if he had simply joined the Zealots, who fomented violence against Rome, or the Sadducees, who tolerated partnership with the Romans, or the Pharisees, who by the time of Jesus focused on personal piety instead of social reformation. But Jesus was unwilling to settle for a peace that was no peace. He resolutely pursued the all-encompassing peace that comes only when sin is abolished and God’s rule is reestablished on the earth. (Photo: The Zealot desire for “peace” apart from Roman rule ultimately led to the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome, a sad fact of history that is memorialized on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum.)

Jesus’ statement about strife and division should warn us not to equate the absence of conflict with true peace. There are families, for example, which appear to be peaceful only because the head of the household is a tyrant who uses emotional and sometimes physical violence to institute order. Churches sometimes pride themselves on avoiding conflict, but they do so only because the pastor has learned to silence open discussion through his authoritarian leadership. And there are nations that are not at war, but in which wholistic peace cannot be found.

When we look for peace, we must keep before us the concept we find throughout Scripture. True peace will always include right-relationships, just treatment of all persons, wholeness in all dimensions of life, and divine blessing to boot. Sometimes the path to true peace must pass through strife and division before it arrives at its destination.

What does all of this mean for you personally? It means that, no matter how much you enjoy peace with God and within your own heart, you must also pursue the corporate aspects of shalom. In a nutshell, you must be a peacemaker. I’ll turn to this in my next post.


This post is part of a series: Seeking the Peace of Christ: Peacemaking and Christianity. You can read or link to the series by clicking on the series title.

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