Friday, August 28, 2015

The Kingdom of Peace

Saul of Tarsus became a Christ-follower at a time when good without God was not good enough. Following Jesus was like swimming upstream, easier said than done. In becoming the Christian Apostle to the Gentiles, Saul entered a global demolition derby dominated by warfare for and against Rome, and racial strife of every demographic imaginable. Special-interests polluted the landscape and undermined individual and community interests at all levels.

As a new Christian, Paul was now a Christ-follower rather than the disciple of any particular religious system, Christian or otherwise. He sought to convert people to his new-found faith by inviting people to repent of their personal sins and confess the failures of their culture or religious system by accepting a new sovereignty under Jesus, God’s Messiah (Eph. 4:1, 7, 26).

Saul had admittedly terrorized people in the name of God before he was himself rescued from the tyranny of his Judaic legalism. Following his dramatic Damascus Road encounter however, Saul, as Paul, now viewed all of humanity through the eyes of the “God, who made the world and everything in it,” rather than “from a worldly point of view” (Acts 17:24 NKJV; 2 Corinthians 5:16, NIV, emphasis added).

His encounter with Jesus redefined his views on humanity, causing him to add a new dimension of the divine to his life. Transitioning from the inside out, Paul turned inside out and about face; he became a truly converted man. As such, Paul became a roving Ambassador for Jesus Christ.

Sensing a special commission from God, Paul committed the remainder of his life to proclaiming God’s eternal Kingdom of peace (2 Corinthians 5:16-21), and Paul spent his life taking his story where it had not been before. By the time of his death, his epitaph could easily have read, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

Typical of Paul, when he first introduced the message of Jesus into Athens with its Pantheon of gods and goddesses, he acknowledged their traditional beliefs and tailored his message accordingly. Only after establishing common ground with his audience did he share his new resurrection perspectives and reflect on how God lives, moves about, and resides, or has his being, in all of humanity (Acts 17).

Of course, the sophisticated Athenians rejected Paul’s resurrection message; they tossed it aside as a wild herring. However, rather than reacting and become defensive with his teaching, Paul intentionally elected to trust the Spirit of God to further guide them into the truth and sustain him as he moved on to Ephesus.

Avoiding debating cultural issues, Paul refused to vent ill will toward those who opposed him and moved on like a prophet of old, leaving them in God’s hands. Meanwhile, he leaned hard on the mediation of God’s Spirit, maintaining the good will of the people as much as possible.

When we view one another through our naturally human eyes, we tend to sort out and divide people according to our natural biases and our demographics of difference. Jesus, on the other hand, commissions his disciples to love in ways that unify differences, forgives the wrongs done to us, and reconciles the fractured relationships (Matthew 28:19-20).

While our Lord continually invites us to become peacemakers, we find ourselves confronting wars, rumors of wars, and struggling relationships.  And when we find that we have nothing else to give, he reminds us we can at least offer the stranger in our midst a cup of cold water in Jesus’ Name.

One June evening I encountered a black man at a church convention. Without stopping, he nodded and greeted me with “May the peace of God be with you, my brother” That word of “Shalom” from James Earl Massey prompted me to re-consider the words Jesus spoke to His disciples, when he said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27, NIV).

We were two men simply passing each other in a sea of people. We each carried our own cargo of freight. We reflected differing ethnicities. Each of us was part of a bigger world that could easily assimilate us into in its turbulence, terrorism, broken lives, fragile relationships, and social advocacy. What we shared, however, was that peace of which Jesus spoke when he instructed his disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled and … afraid.”
An early songwriter described this peace as an ode to joy that he could not otherwise express. It became a theme that fortified his life and remained “sweet to his memory.” Envisioning this “Kingdom of Peace” Barney Warren took pen in hand and announced,

               ‘Tis a kingdom of peace, it is reigning within,
                              It shall ever increase in my soul;
               We possess it right here when He saves from all sin,
                              And ‘twill last while the ages shall roll.1

               1 “The Kingdom of Peace” Barney E. Warren. Worship the Lord, Hymnal of the Church of God. Anderson, IN: Warner Press, Inc., 1989, p. 481.


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