THE PEACE OF THE CROSS
By Pastor Glenn Pease
A traveler in the South found himself stranded in a small town on Saturday night. Wondering around, he noticed there were two Baptist churches. He couldn't understand it, so he asked someone why it was that such a small town would have two Baptist churches? The local man said, "They just couldn't agree. One of the churches believed that Pharaoh's daughter found Moses in the bull-rushes. The church claims, that's what she says. Man has always been a creature of strive, even there is nothing really to fight about. Horace, the ancient writer, refers to a controversy in his day as to whether goats hair should be called lana or wool, and he says of the contender, "He wrangles about goats wool, and donning his armor, fights for trifles." Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet writes of one, "Thou! Why thou wilt quarrel with a man that hath a hair more, or a hair less, in his beard than thou hast?
Thou wilt quarrel with a man for cracking nuts, having no other reason but because thou hast hazel eyes."
Thomas Jefferson, who associated with a great many men, spoke out of experience when he said, "An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which never yet existed." Even the 12 Apostles argued and disputed about who was going to be the greatest. It ought not to be surprising then that professor Quincy Wright in his book, A Study Of War, shows that in the 461 years from 1480 to 1941 various nations had this record: Great Britain 78 wars, France 71, Spain 64, Russia 61, Austria 52, Germany 23, China 11, Japan 9, and the U. S. 13, plus 110 wars with the Indians within the U. S. Certainly it is not necessary to labor the point that peacemakers are desperately needed. They are the rarest creatures ever to see the light of day on this planet of strife.
Nevertheless, peacemakers have had far more power than war makers. Practically all the peace treaties ever signed have been broken. They have been ineffective, but there is one peace that was established that is still in effect, and has been more powerful than all the wars of history combined. It is the peace of the Prince of Peace-the peace of the cross. The greatest conflict in history was and is the conflict between God and man. The consequences of this conflict were far more dreadful than all the horrors of human warfare. In fact, this was the source of human strife. Jesus became the peacemaker of all peacemakers by reconciling God and man. In Col 1:20-22 Paul writes of this reconciliation. "...Making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him..."
The peace of the cross is the only universal and everlasting peace ever established, and all through the centuries in every part of the world men have been able to say with the Apostle Paul, "Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." The peace of the cross not only reconciled men of faith with God, but it became the basis for peace on earth among men of good will which the angels sang of at the birth of the Prince of Peace. The cross has ended so much hostility that there is no way to measure its influence in history. It has broken down walls that all the bombs and bullets of all the wars ever fought could not dent, let alone demolish.
Paul writes of the great power in the peace of the cross in Eph. 2:13-14. "But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility." Jesus demolished every wall that separates men, and made peace possible for all men with God and each other, if they will come to the cross. Billy Graham wrote, "In regard to racial peace let me say that for true Christians there is no race problem! The ground is level at the cross and there are no second-rate citizens with God."
This is true in every other area of conflict also. The peace of the cross is powerful enough to solve any conflict if men will come to the cross. The peace of the cross is also proof that both sides in a conflict can be satisfied, and both can win if one is willing to pay the price of being a peacemaker. It doesn't cost anything to be a peace lover or a peace talker, but to be a peace maker calls for sacrifice. Jesus had to humble himself to the degrading level of dying like a criminal, but He did so, to be a peace maker. No conflict can ever end in a satisfying peace unless one of the contenders humbles himself. It Jesus had not done so, as the innocent party in the conflict between God and man, there would be eternal enmity with no solution. Jesus had to lose for us to win. The same principle operates in our society, and in our homes. A man wrote,
Because my wife and I are loathe
To let a quarrel last too long,
It's over just as soon as both
Of us admit that I am wrong.
This may be funny, but it is true. It may even be that the least guilty in a conflict has to pay the cost of peace, and humble himself. This is what the peace of the cross is all about. The innocent have a greater responsibility to be peace makers than the aggressors. With God and man there was no choice. It was up to God, or nothing could bring peace. It is true among men also. The aggressor and the man of strife is far less capable of bringing about peace than the meek and poor in spirit, for he is a victim of sin and is in bondage. The more free a man is because of victory over sin, the more responsible he is for being a peace maker.
John Chrysostom said, "If the peace makers are they who do not contend one with another, but reconcile those that are at strife, they are rightly called sons of God, seeing that this was the chief employment of the Only Begotten Son, to reconcile things separated, to give peace to things at war." We can hardly claim to be followers of the Prince of Peace if we are not striving to become peace makers.
Therefore, we want to look at some things that will characterize us if we are fulfilling this most important role in a world of strife. The first thing will take an entire message it is so important, and it is-
We have diplomats all over the world whose job it is to promote our country and prevent hostility. They have to be men or women who can foresee conflict and head it off. Abraham had this quality, and saw that his men and Lot's men were headed for a clash, so he said to Lot, "Let there be no strife between me and thee," and he very diplomatically suggested he move elsewhere, and he gave him the best choice. A man less wise would have said, if you can't keep your men in line Lot, my men will run you off the land. Then the battle would begin.
Diplomacy has been defined as the art of saying, "nice doggy," until you find a rock. There is truth to this, but it is also true that one may want to say, "nice doggy" until the dog likes you, and becomes, in fact, a nice and friendly dog. That is being a peace maker. The peace maker uses all of the other attitudes of the beatitudes to gain peace. Because he is poor in spirit and humble he does not fight in pride, but is willing to sacrifice and even suffer if the advancement of others extends the kingdom of God. Because they are comforted in their mourning, they seek to be a comfort to others who mourn, and strive to bring peace into strife-filled lives. In meekness they do not feel the need to dominate or destroy opposition, but rather, to build up and unite. They hunger and thirst for what is right, and not for their brothers blood, and in mercy they even forgive the injustice and folly of others to bring about the peace of reconciliation.
The peace maker will not always succeed in making peace, but he will always be a success, for in being a peace maker he is being what God wants him to be. Paul says in Rom. 12:18, "As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." Many times we ignore the clear teaching of the Bible, and feel obligated to be God's protector; so we stir up strife over all kinds of issues. We need to pray with Alexander Pope:
Let not this weak, unknowing hand
Presume thy bolts to throw,
And deal damnation around the land
On each I judge thy foe.
Your response to pressure can deeply influence another. A wife in Michigan came to Christ before her husband. He resisted the Gospel, but one day he dropped his tool box in the living room and tools spilled out. Before her conversion he knew his wife would have raised the roof. Now she was undisturbed, and she helped him pick up the tools. That did it; it was the turning point. Her peace made him want to know the Lord of peace, and he too opened his life to Christ. She became a peace maker by receiving into her own life the peace of Christ.
Many are the records of history that show Christians trying to serve the Lord with a zeal without knowledge. Diplomacy is the art of making peace before the war even begins. It is preventative rather than curative, if possible. A peace maker is quick to confess his own faults and blunders before someone else does. He is one who is aware of the power of humility. Even non-believers have proven the peace making power of humility. Voltaire visited England in 1727 when feelings ran high against the French. Angry crowds gathered around him and shouted, "Kill him, hang the Frenchman!" Voltaire aware that his skin was at stake stood on the curb stone and cried out, "Englishmen! You want to kill me because I am a Frenchman. Am I not already punished enough in not being an Englishman?" The crowd applauded and escorted him home in safety. An angry word meant possible death, and a certain beating. Diplomacy, or tact, we might call it, disarmed them, and he became the victor through peace.
Diplomacy can be clever tricks and deceit, but it can also be just honest humble kindness. Jesus employed it constantly in His patient teaching of His quarreling disciples. Paul used it over and over again to keep peace in the churches. We live in a day when men have lost patience with the methods of diplomacy. The claim is that no one is listening, and everybody is indifferent, and so you just have to smash everything to pieces to get attention. George Bernard Shaw said, "The only way to say anything effectively now a days is to say it in an irritating way." The peace maker is out, for he is weak and ineffective. The man of the hour is the man who gets attention at any price, but this is old stuff, and when he goes out of style again it will be the peace maker who will still be called the son of God. He will be laboring to undo the damage done by the war maker. Wherever there is any form of conflict the peace maker is the most relevant person on the scene.
To say that the church has no place in the race conflict, war, politics, and strife of all kinds, is to fly in the face of Christ who says the Christian who is in these spheres of life with the right attitude with the peace maker is among the happiest persons on earth. You cannot be a peace maker if you are not in the middle of strife, and happiness is being part of the answer instead of part of the problem. Every conflict is an opportunity for the peace maker to serve the cause of God in human history. All who labor to increase the positive relationship of men to God, and to each other, are peace makers. The effective peace maker, however, is diplomatic and tactful.
For example, he listens to both sides of an issue. No one can be an effective peace maker who does not understand the positions of both parties in conflict. Jesus is the only mediator between God and man because He is the only person in existence who understands both God and man, for He is both God and man. In the incarnation He infiltrated our ranks and lived our life, and learned of all our needs and weaknesses first hand. You have to try and see from an opponents view point if you are to seek peace.
Augustine, the great Christian leader of the 4th century, said of his mother Monica, "She showed herself such a peace maker, that hearing on both sides most bitter things, ....she would disclose ought of the one with the other, but what might tend to their reconcilement." Pascal, the great French philosopher and theologian said, "When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides." That gem of wisdom will help you be a peace maker in many situation, but it takes effort and much work, for being a peace maker is at least as hard as being a war maker.
Alexander Maclaren, the famous Baptist expositor said, "Any fool can stick a Lucifer match into a hay stack and make a blaze. It is easy to promote strife. There is a malicious love of it in us all, and ill-natured gossip has a great deal to do in bringing it about. But it takes something more to put the fire out than it did to light it, and there is no nobler office for Christians than to seek to damp down all these devil's flames of envy and jealousy and mutual animosity."
Because peace is harder to come by than war, the peace maker needs the wisdom to be constantly open to new ideas. James put it this way in James 3:17-18. "But the wisdom from above is first pure and then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." He had incorporated most all of the beatitudes into a single portrait of the peace maker.
One of the things stressed that fits our subject of diplomacy is the fact that he is open to reason. He does not shut off new ideas. Lincoln was a great leader because he was open. He said, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew." A person who thinks what was effective once will always be effective will find himself failing to be effective. Effective men are those most aware of their own ineffectiveness, and need for constant openness to new truth.
Benjamin Franklin on Monday Sept. 17, 1787, at the Convention in which the Constitution was to be adopted, rose and said, "Mr. President, I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise." It is attitude like this that make men great peace makers. We can thank God for the peace makers of the past who have given us the foundation we have as a nation. Without their openness and diplomacy we could have the same kind of chaos in government that exists in many parts of the world.
To maintain this foundation, and to build on it, however, there is great need for every Christian in America to recognize their obligation to be a peace maker in all the areas of strife that threaten to erode that foundation. The secret diplomatic weapon of those who follow the Prince of Peace, and who seek to extend His kingdom and the peace of the cross, is the weapon of loving your enemy. Only those who are aware that it was while they were enemies of God that Christ died for them can use this weapon effectively. They alone know that no one can be as offensive to them as they were to God, and so they can, by the grace of God, forgive even their enemy, and like Christ sacrifice for the sake of their enemy.
The result of this diplomatic maneuver of loving your enemy leads to stories like the one told by Bishop Leslie Newbiggin in South India. In one of the villages the Christians were led by an extraordinary man carrying a stainless steel baton. At his sign with the baton they knelt, and at another sign they rose. His name was Sundaram. At the start of the II World War he was preaching the Gospel in Burma and was captured by the Japanese army. He was taken to a guard-post where he was thrown in a corner. A Japanese officer came in; went to the table where his belongings lay, and picked up his Tamil Bible. He recognized what it was and held up his hand and traced on his palm the sign of the cross, and looked questioningly at Sundaram. He knew no Japanese, but he knew the officer was asking if he was a Christian and he nodded that he was. The officer walked across the room and stood in front of him and stretched his arms out in the form of the cross; then cut his bands, gave his things back, and pointed to the door. As he went out the officer handed him as a token his officer's staff. That was the stainless steel baton with which Sundaram directed his congregation.
Here were two men who knew not a word of each others language; two men from nations which were at war; two men between which their stretched a golf which was humanly speaking beyond bridging, but Jesus bridged that golf, and he stands ready to work through all of us to bridge any and every golf that divides men through the peace of the cross. The only basis for harmony among nations is the peace of the cross. It is the only basis for peace between races. It is the only basis on which all strife and hate can be eliminated and replaced by love. If you have come to the cross and have found peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ, then you are the most responsible people in the world for being peace makers. It is the happiest and most fruitful work in the world. Pray that the Holy Spirit will keep you constantly conscious that it is your duty and privilege in this world of strife to promote the peace of the cross.