A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on February 10, 2019.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt. 10:34–39).
Of the Messiah, the Christ to come, Isaiah prophesied, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). As Isaiah said, so it happened: The Son of God given, a child born in Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace. Announcing the inauguration of Isaiah’s prophecy, the heavenly host worshipfully declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14).
As the Prince of Peace carried out His earthly ministry, He would preach, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). He promised, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace” (John 16:33a). He commanded, “be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50b), and by His Spirit He gives the fruit of peace (Gal. 5:22). Therefore, based on biblical evidence, may we deduce that Christians are promised earthly peace? May we claim these verses as surety of peace within our families, peace with our enemies, a peaceful earthly life? Did Jesus come to bring earthly peace?
There are some who argue that He did. Claiming Jesus as the social Peacemaker, some would consider earthly concerns equal with the eternal, or even greater. The miracles of Jesus are interpreted not as validation of the ministry of the heavenly but as care for the earthly. Containing a morsel of truth, the danger of this social gospel, as revealed in the previous century, is that when Jesus the Christ is replaced with Jesus the Caregiver, the eternal-life-giving gospel is diminished or even lost. So that we do not repeat in the present the same errors of the past, we must be faithful to the eternal Word of God, asking hard questions like: What did He who preached, promised, commanded, and gives peace say about peace?
The Prince of Peace said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Is Jesus confused? Has He missed His calling? Is Jesus contradicting Scripture, leaving us to believe that His Word is untrustworthy? Or, could it be that Jesus’ definition of peace and the world’s definition are different? Could it be that there is a distinction between earthly peace and heavenly peace?
How does the world define peace? Consider the family. We say, “Blood is thicker than water,” presuming that relational bonds supersede all others. Peace in the family may be enjoyed between the blood connection of parents and child, or by marriage, peace with the in-laws. Who doesn’t want earthly peace in the family at Thanksgiving dinner? In this sense, earthly peace may be understood as relational enjoyment without strife. Free of conflict and confusion, earthly peace is indeed a common grace blessing from God, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1Cor. 14:33a).
As Christians we are indeed to seek and pursue (1 Pet. 3:11), and even sow (James 3:18) earthly peace. Speaking of earthly peace, the Apostle Paul encouraged the Roman church, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18) a tall order given the context of Rome at that time. Likewise, the writer of Hebrews encouraged the church to “strive for peace with everyone” (Heb. 12:14), not just your family and friends…everyone. Earthly peace is good, and we should not only desire it but should actively encourage it, but it is not heavenly peace.
When Jesus says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” He is introducing a spiritual force that the world does not, cannot, understand. For those who know only earthly peace, Jesus’ words are not only harsh but also unwelcome. When only earthly peace is known or accepted, it can become an end itself. Claiming superiority (“why can’t we all just get along”), it supersedes all other claims upon our hearts and minds. To this earthly philosophy, Jesus brings a spiritual sword: the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. And, the peace He brings is not an earthly peace but a heavenly.
For Jesus to claim that He brings not peace but a sword pits Jesus’ definition of peace against the earthly. Earthly peace may be understood by every child of Adam, but heavenly peace “surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). Earthly peace may be the ceasing of warfare, but heavenly peace is enjoyed while wrestling against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Earthly peace may be the avoidance of strife in your family, but heavenly peace is enjoyed even when a son turns against his father, or daughter against mother, or daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. Even if your family turns against you like an enemy for the sake of Christ, the peace of Christ reigns in the Christian’s heart. If such peace sounds other-worldly, it’s because it is; it’s heavenly.
Evidence of this heavenly peace is witnessed in us when we love Jesus more than even our own family. Jesus defined family not by blood but by those who do the will of our heavenly Father (Matt. 12:50). Heavenly peace is also witnessed in us when we follow Jesus no matter the earthly circumstances. Foreshadowing His ultimate sacrifice for us, Jesus describes such devotion as taking up our cross and following Him. And, heavenly peace is witnessed in us when we live for eternity. Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Such an eternal perspective led C.S. Lewis to conclude, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.”
Because heavenly peace is so distinctly different from earthly peace, consider these five defining truths of heavenly peace. First, heavenly peace begins with God. Apart from God’s grace, you and I were not the children of God but His enemies (Rom. 8:7). No peace treaty on this earth could resolve this cosmic conflict apart from an act of God. Our greatest need is not world peace; it is God’s peace, a heavenly peace known only by God’s saving grace.
Second, heavenly peace was achieved for us by our Prince of Peace. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8); and “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Third, heavenly peace is not achieved by us but is received by faith. The sword of Christ pierces straight through to the heart of stone by the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit. Through spiritual heart surgery we are enabled to believe and receive heavenly peace by God’s grace through faith in Christ.
Fourth, heavenly peace is not circumstantial, because its source is the eternal God. Heavenly peace is described as “surpassing all understanding” (Phil 4:7), enabling the Christian to be joyful amidst trials (James 1:2), thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18), and rejoicing in suffering (Rom. 5:3). Such peace is unexplainable and known only in Christ. Fifth, heavenly peace is in Christ now and forever. The peace we have with God in Christ is not temporal but for eternity. For eternity we will cast our crowns at the feet of the Prince of Peace, who loved us and gave Himself for us (Eph. 5:2), securing for us a heavenly peace for eternity.
How certain can we be that this heavenly peace is ours forever? Such certainty is rooted in the sovereign grace of God who foreordained our salvation effectually calling us, justifying us, and one day glorifying us for eternity (Rom. 8:29-30). Such certainty is rooted in the fact that “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” graciously gives us all things in eternity. (Rom. 8:32). Such certainty is rooted in the promise “that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
As we rejoice in the certainty of this eternal peace, we do so with anticipation, for one day earthly peace and heavenly peace will be one and the same. When Christ returns, establishing His eternal kingdom in the new heavens and earth, the peace of Christ will not surpass all understanding, because it will be the only peace known and enjoyed. There will be no distinction between the heavenly and the earthly, because we will all enjoy peace with God and one another for eternity. Eternal peace will be the only peace, and we will enjoy what the heavenly host announced: The pleasure of God through the peace of Christ to the praise of His glory!