Blessing Those that Persecute

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Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 

(Rom 12:14)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Increasingly even in America, Christians find themselves the target of isolation, discrimination, persecution, and shootings. Few will forget the shooting of young, female, high school student in 1999 for professing faith in Jesus Christ, yet it happened again in 2015.⁠1 During 2015 alone, a woman was jailed for publicly espousing Biblical views on marriage (Ellis and Payne 2015); a church was the site of a mass shooting (Wikipedia 2015a); and Christians were publicly beheaded by Islamic extremists. From the cross, “Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Like the crucifixion, persecution reminds us of who we are, who we belong to, and what we are about.

Who We Are

Persecution links our identity to Christ, as Jesus reminds us: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:12) Persecution for righteousness sake validates our faith and places us in the company of prophets.

Who We Belong To

Like the prophets, we are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20) and undocumented aliens here on earth, as the Apostle Peter writes:

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet 2:10-12)

Honorable conduct and good deeds mark us as Christians so as the body of Christ people should see something different about us, especially in persecution (Isa 51:1).

What We Are About

Persecution is part of the mix of trials that we should expect to experience (Rom 8:34-39), as the Apostle Peter writes:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet 3:13-17)

Are we zealous for what is good? Do we suffer for righteousness sake? Persecution trains us to lean on Christ—the source of our goodness and righteousness— and not our own abilities, prejudices, and strength.

When Jesus teaches us about being salt, it is attached to a warning: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matt 5:13) If we lose touch with Christ, we are like an unplugged vacuum cleaner showing potential, but no power—trampling is a good analogy for the persecution of a church that has lost its way.

Footnotes

1 http://www.CassiereneBernall.org. Also: (Saslow, Kaplan, and Hoyt, 2015).

Blessing Those that Persecute

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Preface to a Life in Tension

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Rodney’s Prayer

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By Stephen W. HIemtra

Loving Father,

We give thanks for the life and death of Jesus who lived a humble life and bore our sins on the cross.

Help us to practice humbleness and hospitality with all people.

Help us to put on Christ’s righteousness and defend your honor, not ours.

Help us to pay our bills and our taxes, to turn the other cheek, to treat our enemies with love and respect, and to judge the actions, not the intensions, of those around us.

In all we do, help us to practice racial, ethnic, class, and gender equality.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, may conflict and bickering and gossip end with us.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Rodney’s Prayer

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Believer’s Prayer

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Christian Paradox

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He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, 

that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. 

By his wounds you have been healed. 

(1 Pet 2:24)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus teaches us to practice humility while pursuing righteousness even if we suffer shame, persecution, and death, as he did on the cross. Because death is the penalty for sin (Gen 3:3), Jesus’ righteous death on the cross allowed him to pay the penalty of our sin (1 Pet 2:24; 1 Cor 15:3) and his resurrection identified him as the son of God. This linking of sin to the penalty of death is critical to understanding Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man. Out of 189 verses in the Bible that use this term, 89 are found in Ezekiel, which refer to the prophet himself. The term in Hebrew literally means “son of Adam” (Ezek 2:1). In the more famous passage in Daniel 7:13, the Hebrew expression is the more familiar “son of man.”

Christ’s atoning death runs against our usual assumption that our debt for sin is, not against God, but against our neighbor. For example, discrimination, a form of persecution against our neighbor, results in tensions over racial, ethnic, class, and gender equality, as the Apostle Paul taught:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek [racial and ethnic equality], there is neither slave nor free [economic equality], there is no male and female [gender equality], for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27-28)

Being one in Christ means that we model our lives after both Christ’s humble life and death so that humility replaces pride, discrimination, and persecution in our own lives, as evidenced in our treatment of others.

Modeling humility, Jesus offers many alternatives to violence in dealing with persecution, including:

1. Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt 5:39)

2. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44).

3. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matt 5:41)

4. Judge not, that you be not judged. (Matt 7:1)

5. …render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Matt 22:21)

Refusing to defend oneself (one’s honor) could lead to perilous outcomes in a first century legal context because one was expected to offer one’s own defense, but it is absolutely necessary if persecution is to become a ministry opportunity, as we are told:

But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. (Luke 21:12–13)

We see this principle illustrated firsthand when Stephen refused to offer his own defense before the Sanhedrin and chose instead to defend Christ (Acts 7).

Stephen was the first among many Christian martyrs (Foxe 2001, 10), but other early Christians risked their lives in living testimony through service, as during a plague in Alexandria in the third century Christians refused to abandon the city and remained to care for the sick. A recent example of such fearless service was seen among Christian doctors working during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Less  so with the AIDS epidemic (Kinnaman and Lyons 2007, 110).

A life of fearless service is possible because in Christ’s resurrection life follows death—the origin of Christian paradox.

References

Foxe, John and Harold J. Chadwick. 2001. The New Foxes’ Book of Martyrs (Orig Pub 1563). Gainsville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

Kinnaman, David with Gabe Lyons. 2007. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Christian Paradox

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Preface to a Life in Tension

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Righteous Suffering

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Then the LORD said, 

I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt 

and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. 

I know their sufferings (Exod 3:7).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Jewish experience of God frequently arises in the context of suffering. Moses suffered living as a refugee in the desert and shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep far from his home and family in Egypt. Exiled from Egypt, shamed by his own inept leadership, and fearful of legal prosecution for murder, Moses found himself before a burning bush in the presence of God (Exod 3:1), who called him for a new assignment: Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt. (Exod 3:10) Egypt is in his heart and on his mind, but Moses does not jump at the idea of returning to Egypt because, having murdered an Egyptian, returning entailed obvious personal risk. Mitigating the risks are three important assurances that God gives to Moses which take the forms of His presence, His name, and His covenant (the Law).

Presence

The assurance of God’s presence is a blessing in the form of comfort, provision, and protection—things Moses lacked when he attempted to lead his people without God’s help. In revealing his presence to Moses, the uncertainty of the mission in Egypt is immediately reduced (Rom 8:31) and its success is assured: “But I will be with you” (Exod 3:12). God’s presence is further secured when God reveals his name, and, later, offers a covenant to Moses.

The Name

The assurance of knowing God’s name was no small deal in the ancient world. The ancients believed that knowing the name of a god gave one power over that god. When God gave Moses his name, he was, at a minimum, offering him a direct line of communication—personal prayer—with God.

 In Hebrew YHWH means “I will be who I will be” or “I am who I am” (Exod 3:14–15). The implication here is that God is: A REAL GOD (one that really exists) with REAL POWER (sovereign everywhere, not just the local neighborhood). Local gods were the norm in the ancient world, in part, because leaders wanted to lay claim to their territories and to seek their intervention (typically through sacrifices) in the spiritual world (e.g. Judg 11:30–40; 1 Kgs 12:26–29). God’s interventions on behalf of Moses were not unusual from an ancient perspective, but what was unusual was that God traveled with Moses out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

Covenant Law 

The covenant helped secure Moses’ experience of God presence because in the covenant God revealed his will to the people of Israel, something uncommon in the ancient world. Prayer is really difficult when one neither knows a god’s name nor what that god desires. God revealed to Moses that He was both a covenant maker and covenant keeper.

The covenant of Moses begins with a preamble: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exod 20:2). The preamble makes clear that God cares about the people of Israel enough to intervene on their behalf and the Law instructs them on how to live in peace and righteousness, making God’s presence concrete in daily life.

In the Books of the Prophets, no one suffers more than Job even though he is a righteous man: There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. (Job 1:1) Job is so righteous that even God brags about him to Satan: Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? (Job 1:8) To which Satan asks God’s permission to test him and God grants permission for Satan to take everything Job has away and to afflict him with horrible suffering (Job 1-2). In righteous suffering, Job feels a need to seek out and to rely on God, rather than his own resources, and, in his misery, to seek a savior: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25) Some believe that Moses used the story of Job’s righteous suffering to convince the people of Israel to leave slavery in Egypt, which would make the Book of Job the oldest book in the Bible (Geisler 2007, 189–195).

This redemption theme, of relying solely on God, is repeated in the story of Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When Daniel’s friends refuse to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol instead of the one true God, they are thrown into the fiery furnace, as we read:

And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? They answered and said to the king, True, O king. He answered and said, But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods. (Dan 3:23-25)

Righteous suffering not only leads us to rely on God, it gives testimony to God’s glory. Jesus later ties righteous suffering to eternal life: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 10:39)

References

Geisler, Norman L. 2007. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Righteous Suffering

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Preface to a Life in Tension

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Prayer for Righteousness

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

We give thanks for the many blessings that you have given us.

Among these gifts are your presence, your name, your covenantal grace, and our salvation in Jesus Christ.

May we continue to be blessed and bless others (Gen 12:1-3).

Sanctify us in your righteousness that we might be fit stewards of your grace.

And if our sanctification includes persecution, grant us the strength to bear it with dignity and grace.

And may we ever remain in your love and share it with others until we meet you again in glory.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prosecute Righteousness

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Believer’s Prayer

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Prosecute Righteousness

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Honored are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

For many Christians, persecution poses a perplexing question—“Why are good people persecuted?” (Graham 1955, 98)—to which the Book of James responds:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas 1:2–4)

The paradox of the suffering servant at the heart of the Christian worldview was first expressed by the Prophet Isaiah: “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isa 53:11) In effect, what James is saying is that persecution for righteousness’ sake both shapes us in sanctification and marks us as disciples of Christ, who was himself persecuted unto death.

Here the Greek word for persecution means: “to harass someone, esp. because of beliefs, persecute” (BDAG 2059.2) and it often associated in the Old Testament with a military engagement vigorously pursued (e.g. Deut 11:4). The Greek word for righteousness means: “the quality or characteristic of upright behavior, uprightness,  righteousness.“ (Guelich 1982, 93) As we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we expect others to persecute us, as scripture reminds us (1 Pet 4:16).

The injustice of Jesus’ persecution is noted by one of the other men being crucified (also Isa 53) as Luke’s Gospel records:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And he said to him, Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)

Note that this story mentions both the idea of righteous persecution and the reward of heaven, as cited in the Eighth Beatitude.

Persecution (unto death) in the Old Testament begins with the story of Cain and Abel, where Cain kills Abel because God accepted Abel’s righteous sacrifice and rejected his own (Gen 4:3–9). Post-resurrection persecution in the New Testament begins with the stoning of Stephen who accused the Sanhedrin of false worship, persecution of the prophets, and murdering God’s Messiah (Acts 7:48–53). Persecution is likely also to be our fate, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom 8:35-37)

Persecution is often edited out of this passage in public readings, but it is fundamental to our life in Christ.

Jesus reminds us that a student is not better than his teacher—he was persecuted; we will be persecuted (Matt 10:24–25). But even in the midst of persecution, Jesus admonishes us to—“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44)—suggesting that persecution is an ministry opportunity.

References

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

BibleWorks. 2015. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.10>.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Prosecute Righteousness

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Preface to a Life in Tension

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Prayer for God’s Peace

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Holy and Gracious God,

In the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to separate ourselves from sexual immorality, impurities, sensuality, idolatry, and sorcery, fleeing from enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, divisions, and envy, refusing to engage in drunkenness and orgies.

Through the example of Jesus Christ, bid us to pursue the fruits of the spirit by practicing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:19–24).

Crucify the passions of the flesh that naturally grow in us.

May peace on your terms grow to become peace on our terms and may we share it with those around us.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Peace on God’s Terms

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Believer’s Prayer

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Peace on God’s Terms

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, 

goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; 

against such things there is no law. 

(Gal 5:22-23)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Receive shalom, extend shalom. Shalom starts with God; works in our hearts; and then is extended to others, just like other fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23). And just as the apple does not fall far from the tree, as we find our identity in Christ, his example plays out in our lives. “Honored are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matt 5:9)

The ancient church was modeled after the patrilineal family group, which implies that we all brothers and sisters with one, eternal father (Matt 23:9). Jesus himself alluded to this family model (Hellerman 2001).

Even for obedient children, moving from theory into practice is hard. Instead of peacemaking, we prefer a selfish form of peace—peace on our terms. Pax Romana was peace on Rome’s terms; Pax America is peace on Washington’s terms; shalom is peace on God’s terms. As a fruit of the Spirit, shalom is the one fruit of the spirit that needs to be enjoyed together with all the others, as the Apostle Paul observes:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:19–24)

To move from fleshly passion to inner peace, two movements are necessary: throwing off sin (becoming holy) and taking on godliness (imitating God), both through the Holy Spirit. Through confession of sin, (through the Holy Spirit) we move to throw off sin; through modeling ourselves on Christ, (through the Holy Spirit) we move to take on his righteousness. Both movements bring peace into our relationships in the family, community, church, work, and the world (Graham 1955, 92–95).

The peace of Christ, expressed in the Seventh Beatitude, moved me on August 4, 1972 to write the following statement to my draft board:

I cannot fight in a war because as a Christian my highest duty is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe that life is the sacred gift of God which is to be honored and respected by everyone. I believe that every person has a constructive contribution to make to humanity and that each person has the right to fulfill this destiny. I believe there is a beauty in all life and that we should use love, concern, and non-violent methods to solve our conflicts. I believe all people are of one indivisible whole and that each person’s life is important to the life of the whole. I must live in peace to uphold my faith.

On New Year’s Eve of that year, a peace agreement was signed, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War ended, and my draft number (13) was never called. Called or not, my life changed forever. My opposition to the war spilled into my family life and influenced later career decisions (Neyrey 1998, 184).

Decisions about the Vietnam War divided many families in the 1960s and 1970s, but opposition to the war did not lead to a lasting peace. Peace on God’s terms requires more than peace treaties and changes in governments. As Christians, we must seek peace within ourselves, with God, and with others on a daily basis. World peace may not be within our grasp, but like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) we can, at least, express the love of Christ to the needy person who crosses our path (Cloud and Townsend 1992, 38–39). 

References

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Hellerman, Joseph H. 2001. The Ancient Church as Family. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Peace on God’s Terms

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Preface to a Life in Tension

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Prayer for Shalom

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Great Physician, Prince of Peace, Lord of the Sabbath, 

Where can we find shalom but with you? Holy Spirit grant us your peace. As our bodies are at war within us . . . We want to be filled with your peace, but impatiently fill our stomachs beyond need, imprudently pop pills for the slightest ailments, and tirelessly talk about religion without making room for you in our busy schedules. Heal our hearts, bodies, and minds; grant us your peace.

Where can we find shalom but with you? Gentle Father grant us your peace. As we neglect our fellowship with you . . . We want to be faithful worshipers, servants, and ministers. We serve you but we focus more on getting our own way, unfaithfully constructing idols of things great and small, hoping in total foolishness to bribe and control you. Forgive our sin; look beyond our transgressions; pardon our iniquity.

Where can we find shalom but with you? Jesus grant us your peace. As our relationships are in tatters…We want to be faithful children, parents, and spouses—not demanding more from others than from ourselves. Heal our families and relationships; grant us your peace.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Shalom

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Believer’s Prayer

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Trinity of Peace

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Peace be with you. 

As the Father has sent me, 

even so I am sending you. 

(John 20:21)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When we focus solely on peace as reconciliation among feuding folks—relief of the tension with our brothers and sisters, we miss the significance of God’s peace—shalom—breaking out throughout scripture. Remember that shalom means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002). It also implies healing, restoration, reconciliation, and salvation—not just hello and goodbye (as it is often used in Hebrew), but a return to Eden. Shalom implies inner peace, peace with God, and peace between brothers and sisters—a trinity of peace.

If this Trinitarian interpretation of peace seems far-fetched, remember that the Beatitudes and Jesus’ call sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:14–21) start with the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Isa 61:1–3)

Notice the inner peace referenced with the phrase: “bind up the brokenhearted”; notice the peace with God referenced with the phrase: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me”; notice the peace with brothers and sisters referenced with the phrase: “to proclaim liberty to the captives”. In effect, God himself has initiated a trinity of peace—inner peace, peace with God, and peace among brothers and sisters—which broke out with the coming of Christ, as Isaiah prophesied and to which we will now turn.

Inner Peace

What could bring peace more quickly than physical and mental healing, as Jesus’ miracles attest? Jesus’ first miracle after leaving Nazareth occurs in the synagogue in Capernaum, Peter’s home town, where Jesus drives out a demon out of a man (Luke 4:31-38). After that man was healed, demon deliverance ministry becomes a common occurrence (Luke 4:41).

Jesus’ healing transformed a person so dramatically that it was obvious just looking at them, as we witness with the healing of the man with the unclean spirit in the Gerasenes: “And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.” (Mark 5:15) The healed man immediately becomes an evangelist (Mark 5:20), much like the woman at the well (John 4:28–30), because the presence of God—the shalom of God—is news that we cannot keep to ourselves.

Peace with God

Many people today take peace with God for granted, as if sin and the wrath of God were suddenly of no consequence. However, the Bible reminds us that Jerusalem was destroyed first by the Babylonians and later by the Romans for the sin of refusing, ignoring, and killing the prophets (Matt 23:34-47); events provoked by sin and God’s response to it.

This problem of sin persists. In the Old Testament, prophets reminded the people of their obligations under the Mosaic covenant—in other words, their sin. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ atones for our sin with his death on the cross, as Paul writes:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:3-5)

Of first importance, Christ’s atoning sacrifice makes peace with God possible. If we claim to have no sin (or deny its importance) and refuse to acknowledge Christ’s atoning sacrifice, then our sin and guilt remain. If unrepentant sin led to the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem, then why would God spare unrepentant and sinful people in Corinth or, for that matter, in Washington or New York?

Sin still matters and the unrepentant still must face judgment before a wrathful God, but: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God provided for our salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross which brings us to peace with Him.

Peace with Others 

We normally think of peace in terms of reconciliation, in part, because peace on earth is so hard to obtain. The Apostle Paul admonishes: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom 12:18) Here Paul is focusing on interpersonal conflict, not the more generous shalom of Christ that we see, for example, in Jesus’ first miracle where he rescues the wedding of an impoverished couple of newlyweds from social embarrassment:

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, Fill the jars with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast. So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now. (John 2:6-10)

Notice that Jesus’ miracle has both a quantitative and a qualitative dimension. Quantitatively, we are talking about a lot of wine—six times twenty is one hundred and twenty gallons of wine. Qualitatively, the master of ceremonies, whose role is to monitor hospitality standards,  is surprised by the wine’s quality. Quantitatively and qualitatively, Jesus’ generosity enabled this young couple to avoid social embarrassment and to live at peace within their community.

As in the wedding at Cana, Jesus delivers so much more peace than we expect or deserve.

References

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

Trinity of Peace

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Obituary_HFH

 

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