Who dwells in God’s presence?
He who has a clean hands and a pure heart. He who learns God’s ways and walks in His paths. He who no longer trains for war. He who ceases to do evil. He who seeks justice. He who does no harm to his neighbor. He who speaks truth in his heart. He who works righteousness and restorative justice. He who despises the gain of oppression. He who does not slander with his mouth. He who stops his ears from the hearing of bloodshed. He who shuts his eyes from expecting evil. He who gazes upon the beauty of God. He who does these things shall never be moved, whether in life or in death.
All of these truths come from the following places, Isaiah 1:16-17, 2:2-4, 33:14-17, Psalm 15, Psalm 24:3-6, yet even more so they come from the heart of God.
What is amazing about some of the words above is that they were penned by David in the Psalms. They were written by a man after God’s own heart who was not quite perfect. This should give hope to everyone about the reality of God’s love and patience with us while we learn truth, yet we can learn from the consequences of some of David’s beliefs. David was not allowed to build a house for the Lord because he had shed much blood and was a man of war (1 Chronicles 21:21).
This context is of utmost importance to understand. We can learn from the Scriptures about the progressive sequence of God’s nature and heart being revealed as mankind moves towards understanding who God really is and what He desires of us. We finally get to see the perfect picture in His son Jesus who had no blood on His hands but shed His own blood for His enemies and friends alike. Jesus was fulfilling Isaiah 2:2-4 about being the One who would teach people the ways of God that will eventually lead to nations no longer training for war. He would reveal to the world the love and ways of God.
In Isaiah 2 the specific wording of Jesus comes out as one teaching people to beat their swords (weapons of war) into tools like plowshares. What are tools for plowing used for? They are used for breaking up the soil so that seeds of life can be planted in the earth. Jesus was demonstrating this by His own teaching that would break up the soil of the earth that had been founded on violence and war (ever since Cain killed Abel) and He would even plant the seed of His own life to prove to the world that violence and war could not produce peace but that only the love of God for people could produce a crop of peace that only knows increase (Matthew 13:8, Isiah 9:7). This is also why in the context of the verse in Matthew I just quoted Jesus was using agricultural parables to help people understand God’s ways that make for peace and He continually called for people to beat their swords into tools that would help grow the fruit of life and peace in the earth.
We further see this truth when Peter uses a sword to cut off a soldier’s ear who tried to arrest Jesus. Jesus strongly rebukes Peter to put away the sword and uses the famous line, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. (Matt 26:42) It is clear Jesus was teaching His followers that there was a better way. The Apostle Paul would later speak of “love” as being the better way as he himself laid down the sword to follow Jesus. Jesus is clearly teaching a brand new way of understanding God and what His Kingdom is like by the King who is known as the Prince of Peace. A King who heals people’s ears instead of using violence to make them deaf to the ways of God.
All this is extremely important for us Jesus followers to wrestle with. In my nation of America I see people who are surrounded by violence and bloodshed. All you have to do is turn on your TV or a young child’s video game. We live in a nation that has gone to wars that have proved fruitless and has even caused retaliation from those of other nations we have directly harmed. Just like David, our nation tends to marry God and war.
Some people are sensitive to this issue because they have fought in the military or been to war. Thank you. Thank you that we can actually be sensitive to something that has been so desensitized by our culture of violence found from its continual highlights on the evening news, to our children’s video games or to the latest box office smash hit about war. And yes, I sincerely thank you for fighting for our country. Thank you for doing what you felt was necessary to protect our loved ones. Thank you for doing what you knew to do. That cannot be stated enough. So many people who serve in the military are genuinely good people, so let’s not lose self-control and think that people who want peace without violence do not honor or love people who serve in wars. And yet it remains for our nation and the nations of the world, “Father forgive us for we know not what we do.”
The point in all of this for me is to take Jesus’ teaching seriously. I can’t just throw it out because today Christians in America are in conflict. We are in conflict because just like the Roman Nation of Jesus time, we boast the strongest military in the world. In case you have misunderstood the context in which Jesus’ original teaching took place, remember that Rome was the superpower of the world at that time. Yet… they were the ones who helped kill the Prince of Peace by their system of justice. They helped kill the One who came preaching peace to those who were near and to those who were far off. Jesus was a threat to their power system that centered on violence as the means of stabilizing peace. So we see here that Jesus’ ideas got him killed. How radical is that? Why would a man preaching peace and love all while healing people be persecuted and killed? You should see by now we have some more ploughing to do. We will learn more when we to beat our swords into plowshares to repair the earth.
So with that I say to those who are near and to those that are far off, come let us reason together. Let us lay aside our anger and our hate and our bitterness and let us think about the ways that make for peace. Let us work together to see the entire world cease its use of violence and destruction. Let us learn to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves because if we only love those who love us, we cannot be a part of the ways that make for peace and we have no reward from God (Matt 5:43-48). Let us serve a King like Jesus, who rules through Peace and of the increase of His government there is no end. It is His heart to see His government of Peace work its way through the nations of the world until the words of Isaiah come to pass:
“Violence will not be heard again in your land, Nor devastation or destruction within your borders; But you will call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.” (Isaiah 60:18)
One day it will be fully on earth as it is in Heaven because unlike David, who could not build God’s house because of bloodshed and war, we will be like the *Son of David. The Son who raised up Peacemakers that eventually proved that the way of love was stronger than death. No violence will be heard in the land because of the supernatural crop of increase that came when we learned to beat our swords into the tools that transformed the earth instead of destroying it.
Who will ascend to this place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.
*Both Jesus and Solomon were known as David’s sons. Solomon means Peaceful and Jesus was the Prince of Peace.