Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount - Vengeance

Hello everyone and welcome to the middle of the week!  I am looking forward to a weekend that includes Shady Maple Smorgasbord and a Gaither Vocal Band concert, but today I am looking forward to our study.  Today we are continuing in our study on the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is today's text.
You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.  Matthew 5:38-42 NKJV
I think that this passage gets lost in much of the church today.  We all love the idea of "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."  And I do not believe that Jesus is telling us to eschew any kind of earthly justice.  The fact is that there are crimes and crimes need to be dealt with for the better of society. The problem is that we tend to personalize the idea of justice to where it is no longer about justice but about vengeance.  That is what Jesus is saying here.  He is saying that we should avoid personal vendettas.  Justice is not our job, our job is to share the love of Jesus.  Our job is to live and preach the Gospel.  How is this a matter of letter vs. spirit of the law? The letter of the law demands and eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth and by the letter of the law we feel that if a man takes my "tooth" I have every right to take his.  The spirit of the law was that there were proscribed penalties for crimes committed, but those penalties were to be doled through a system of impartial justice and not of personal vengeance.  Upholding the spirit of the law means a recognition that vengeance is not our job.  God has given the authority for justice to our governments.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake.  Romans 13:1-5 NKJV
So now that we know that it is government's and not our role to repay crimes committed against us, let us look at how Jesus tells us to act to those who wrong us.

Jesus begins with "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also."  What Jesus is telling us here is not to retaliate.  This involves the denial of self and something impossible unless following the Lord.  For the worldly person (or even the worldly Christian), the idea of repaying in kind or even greater than in kind is the natural reaction.  If someone hits us, we feel we should hit them back.  We feel we have some right of retaliation.  This is not so for the child of God and has no place in our lives as Christians.  Jesus makes it absolutely clear that not only are we not to strike back, but even to allow more to be done to us.  If you feel some right to retaliate for a wrong done to you, that feeling is a temptation from the pit of Hell.  If you act on it, you are acting under the direction of Satan.  Remember our examples.  Jesus died on the cross and told God to forgive those who wrongly executed Him.  Stephen asked God to forgive those who stoned him.  Paul had just about everything in the world imaginable done to him yet we never hear of him retaliating for any of it.  Our church history is filled with the heroic tales of martyrs who willingly accepted torture and death for the sake of the cross.  The very idea of retaliation is an elevation of self and goes against  everything that grace stands for. 

Next Jesus tells us "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also."  This again goes to the very heart of selflessness.  If someone in the world or even in the church feels they need to sue you for something of yours, just let that person have it.  If it is that important to them, give it to them and give them more on top of it.  The idea here is to avoid conflict over material possessions.  Do you not have faith that God can provide for you despite the wrongs done to you?  I know it does not make sense.  I know we feel the urge to defend our stuff.  But if we are not to retaliate for crimes against our person, why should we take the time to defend our stuff?  Time is more precious than anything you can have so expending time in protecting it is time wasted.  God can repay what you lost and God will repay in His time the unjust desire for your possessions.  Furthermore, if you expect the effort in defending it, it is going to become that much more important to you.  Let your earthly junk go and look forward to your true treasures awaiting for you in Heaven. 

Jesus then goes on to say "And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two."  I believe some historical context is required here.  In those days, a Roman soldier could compel any Jew at any time to carry his stuff for a time.  It was demeaning to say the least that you had no choice under the law but to carry the stuff of someone else.  It was a form of slavery in that it was forced labor with penalties under law if you did not comply.  Such is the world we live in today.  Maybe we do not have Roman soldiers making us carry things and we have a Constitution in America that goes so far as to specifically forbid citizens from being forced to house soldiers, but we do have other things.  We have to show up for Jury Duty.  We have to pay our taxes.  We have to (at least in New Jersey) go through a time consuming and annoying process to renew our driver licenses.  There are many things that we simply have to do as part of being a citizen in this country.  Some things we strongly disagree with and some Christians get very caught up in fighting these things.  Jesus, though, says differently.  Now while we are not to follow commands to put us at odds with the law of God, anything else is pretty much up for grabs.  Jesus takes things to an extreme here in that if a Roman soldier compels you to carry his stuff for one mile, then go two.  In other words, offer to do more than what is required.  Again, this is a denial of self and something impossible to do unless filled with the Holy Spirit.  The world loves the letter of the law and strives to stretch that letter as far as it can go to get away with what they can in terms of their responsibilities.  The spirit of the law says to go even further than what is asked.  For example, the letter of the law tells us to show up for jury duty and we stretch every allowance there is in order to get out of it.  Jesus would tell us to not only show up, but volunteer to do so again. 

Finally Jesus says "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away."  In other words, Jesus is telling you to be generous.  Please note that there are no exceptions here.  He did not say to lend to those who have a good history of repaying.  He did not say to give to those who would appreciate it.  No, Jesus just told to lend and give to whomever asks.  Period.  The reason for that is because it is not about the other person or their hearts, but about our own.  If you lend and give, God will repay.  If they do not return the favor, pay pack, or even appreciate what you did that is on them and God will deal with it.  If you turn away someone who you can help, that is on you and God will hold you to account. 

Today's message is a celebration of the denial of self.  Our very nature gives us the drive to retaliate for wrongs done to us, to vigorously defend our stuff, to fight for our rights, and to be selective in terms of who we lend or give to.  Jesus takes all of that and throws it out.  It is the government's job to give justice not ours and personal vendettas have no place in the life of a child of God.  The world tells us to vigorously defend our stuff and I have even heard it celebrated among Christians when someone is killed when stealing things.  Again, that has no place in the life of a child of God.  If someone comes to take our stuff, help him carry it out because our treasure is in Heaven.  You can not share the grace of God through the barrel of a shotgun if someone is stealing your television.  Is their soul worth more than your widescreen?  Just imagine if Jesus felt that way.  The world tells us to stand up for our rights.  Jesus again tells us differently.  Think about it, did Daniel try to change the law that said he could not pray?  No, he prayed anyway.  Did Jesus cry afoul when he was wrongly accused?  We are to follow man's law so long as it does not oppose the law of God and if it does, we are to obey the law of God and accept whatever consequences come.  Some may say that makes me a coward who refuses to fight for freedom.  If following the example of my Lord makes me a coward in your eyes, so be it.  The world tells us to be smart with our things and our money and not give or lend to those who will not repay or appreciate.  Jesus tells us that none of that matters, but what matters is your generous heart to give to all who ask if you have the means.  That is the life of a Christian who has truly denied himself.  I know there is that desire to get what's due, whether from something you have unjustly endured, from something you have loaned to another, from something someone has sued you for, or something someone has made you done.  Understand, though, that you will be judged with the same measure you have judged others and if you ask for what's due to you, it is only fair that God will ask what is due from you.
So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."  John 8:7 NKJV

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