Henry Dunant looked out his window at the streets of Solferino, Italy in 1859. War gripped the town as Italians, Austrians, and French soldiers fought each other with violent hate. Not content with idleness, Dunant organize aid workers to attend to the soldiers who lay wounded and dying or already dead. He refused to identify whether a soldier was an ally or enemy, instead offering solace, comfort, and medical attention to any combatant in need. Later, Dunant recommended that all nations should agree to help the sick and wounded on the battlefield—with no regard for nation or cause. This led to the establishment of the Red Cross and the guiding principles of the Geneva Convention. For his work, Henry Dunant was a corecipient of the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 (nobelpeaceprize.org/laureates/1901).
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9). Peace was deeply woven into the tapestry of Israel. Melchizedek was the “king of Salem” and a priest of God (Gen 14:18). This is the first time a form of the Hebrew word shalom (peace) is used in the Bible. Later, when Moses returned to Egypt to deliver the Israelites, Jethro told him, “Go in peace” (Exo 4:18). Shalom became the normal greeting among the Israelites and was the common greeting of Jesus’ time, and likely comes from the priestly blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26).
Tragically, the history of Israel was stained with conflict and war. Yet throughout those times the people cried out for deliverance and a time of peace. So much so, that they sometimes ignored the strife and proclaimed peace (Jer. 6:14). Against this backdrop, Jesus blessed the peacemakers.
At first blush, we might assume Jesus is talking about those who bring peace to the world through treaties and talks. However, Jesus is not judging peace by the same criteria as the Nobel Peace Committee. This peace is deeper and more precious than a cessation of carnal hostilities. Sinclair Ferguson’s understanding of shalom may help to explain Jesus’ meaning, “It is a rich word, and conveys the idea of wholeness, health, well-being. It could almost be translated ‘salvation.’” (Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 38).
The Bible begins with peace in the Garden and ends with peace in eternity. Yet, in the intervening pages and years, human life is marred by conflict and pain arising from sin. Sin shattered the peace in the Garden. Sin will be absent in the eternal peace. As we live on earth, we seek peace with God by allowing him to deal with our sin, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19- 20). When we obey the gospel, we are justified and have “peace with God” (Rom 5:1), the God of peace (Rom 15:33; 16:20).
Thus, peacemakers are those who seek to be reconciled to God. We may never broker a peace deal or sign peace accords at Camp David, but we can have peace with God brokered by the blood of Christ. Peace with God will last longer and provide greater benefits than all the treaties ever signed. Additionally, once we have peace with God, we can continue being peacemakers through evangelism. We all share the responsibility to broker peace between God and other people. That means we live and speak in a way to leads others to Christ. Thus, making peace between them and God.
In doing this, Jesus says we will be “called sons of God.” Notice the heightening of the blessing from “see God” in verse 8, to “sons of God” in verse 9. Jesus told the Jewish leaders they were like their father the devil because their murderous intent reflected the works of the devil (John 8:39-47). In the same fashion, when we seek to alleviate the hostility and conflict caused by sin, we are reflecting the works of God (Phil 4:7-9; Rom 12:18). We are never more like our heavenly Father than when we evangelize the lost. In this, we are sons of God.