Jesus on Retribution | Matthew 5.38-48 (Snoh)

March 23, 2014 Series: The King Has Come | Matthew

Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 5:38–5:48

INTRO|When People Hurt You
This text is difficult and this text is powerful. These 11 verses in Jesus’ sermon contain some of the purest expression of Christian character in all of the New Testament. Like most of Jesus’ commands they are very easy understand but they are very difficult to live. Jesus’ sermon is full of commands, and through them He reveals the deeper meaning of the law—what it means to relate God and people. He explains how we to relate to self, how we relate to the world, how we relate to the opposite sex, how we relate to our spouse, how we relate to promises we make, and now, how we relate to those who hurt us.

Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount are to be taken literally and seriously. But they are not for everyone. They are only for His disciples. The Sermon on the Mount is not a prescription for what we should do. It is a description of who we are in Christ. As pastor Martin Lloyd Jones wrote, “Our Lord’s primary concern here is what we are, rather than what we do. What we do is important, because it is indicative of what we are. [Jesus] illustrates that here and says, “If you are what you claim to be, this is how you will behave. So we must concentrate not so much upon the action as upon the spirit that leads to the action.”

A Christian has by definition become different. Through faith in the cross, a Christian is not simply reformed, He is transformed; He is not improved, he is reborn. A Christian is a new Creation, with a new heart, new desires, new perspectives, and a new hope. Even if we fail to obey Jesus’ commands to love perfectly, we are compelled to pursue love because the Spirit of Christ is living in us and through us. If you do not have that desire, your problem is not obeying the commands; it is believing the gospel.

We initiate reconciliation because Jesus pursued reconciliation with us. We surrender whatever good keeps us from purity, because Jesus sacrificed every good to make us pure. We keep our vows of love to others because Jesus kept His vow of love to us. Our sinful self-centered desires, our desire for rights, our desire for power, our desire for wealth, our desire for honor all died with Christ. And, with Christ, we have been raised to a life devoted to displaying God’s glory and greatness by how we live and love.

This desire does not make obedience easy. In fact, I’ve heard it said that life as non-Christian is much easier, we have one enemy—God. But when we become a Christian, we battle Satan, our flesh, and the world. And our commitment to uphold God’s honor is no more tested than when people hurt us. There is great temptation to sin when someone hurts us physically, emotionally, materially, or socially. All too often, in our pain, we will vilify what someone has done so that we can feel justified in our sinful response.

Law says a “hurt for hurt”
The Old Testament Law allowed for a response to evil: “And Eye for an Eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” This Jewish law, referred to as “Tit for Tat”, is often misunderstood. The law was to display God’s holiness so, by design, it protected both the victims and the perpetrators from sin. This command was both brutal and merciful; it restrained sin and punished sin; it controlled revenge and it upheld justice. The principle of the law is that: the punishment must fit the crime. Leviticus 24.19-20 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. It is rare that the law was carried out literally. Typically, the Jewish courts assessed damage. If a man injured another, he was liable on five counts—injury, pain, healing, loss of time, and indignity suffered (very modern). The Jews that Jesus is addressing are using the law to extort or excessively punish the guilty. They have wrongly applied the law, turning a negative command (do not do this) into a positive command (I can do this). Once again, in following the letter of the, the “righteous” Pharisees have done the very opposite of the Spirit of the Law and become unrighteous. I find it curious how we tend to embrace the spirit of the law when we sin, but we demand the letter of the law when others do (because we misunderstand the spirit of the law all-together).

Jesus says, “Do not hurt when hurt.”
Jesus says the “Spirit” of the law is that we are not to resist the one who is evil, meaning, we are not to retaliate, not to demand our rights, and not fight for what we want as our first response. A refusal to NOT resist evil is a decision to NOT trust in God’s goodness. It is hard not to hurt those who hurt you. When someone strikes me, I want to strike back. When someone insults me, I want to insult them. When someone steals from me, I want them to know what it feels like to be robbed. When someone forces me to do something I don’t want, I want to fight them not serve them. Jesus says when someone hits you, give him your other cheek (I only have two!). Jesus says that when someone steals from you, give him your cloak. Jesus says that when someone forces you to work (as Romans often did), give them more than they ask for. We are not to respond by paying back, getting even, or taking revenge. We are to be different. We are to be Christian. We do not act like this because it will win the person or help us, but because it honors God and Jesus commanded it. That is enough reason.

To be clear, “turning the other cheek” is not a call to passively endure injustice forever. On the contrary, it’s a commitment to never REACT rashly with sin, and decision to ACT intentionally without it. Turning cheeks, giving cloaks, and walking extra miles in response to hurt does not mean there is never consequence or punishment for that person. It does mean, however, that any action we take will be one that that is less devoted to preserving my rights or defending my reputation because you are more concerned with honoring God’s name and trusting in His justice. Jesus knows what it means to be hurt by enemies and friends. Jesus was hurt. He was called a troublemaker, a drunk, a glutton, a freak, a criminal, a heretic, a loser, a liar, a faker, a sinner, even demon-possessed. Jesus was betrayed by friends, mocked by family, falsely accused, illegally tried, brutally beaten, and tragically murdered. But Jesus did not come or live to defend His honor, or even my honor, but God’s honor. 1Peter 2.21-23 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

That is the life to which we are called and empowered to live in Christ. Not the life of self-perseveration, self-defense, or self-sensitivity, but such a life of self-denial. We only protest evil when it is a matter other than personal interest, namely, when it is a matter of God’s honor and not our own—the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak? What is the heart behind what I am about to say, write, post, tweet, or do? Is it to win? Is it to hurt? Is it to defend? It is to punish? Is it to change? Is it to love? What will my response declare about God? Is it about God at all?

We only hurt ourselves

Whether we actively attack or passively resent, our motivation is usually NOT upholding God’s glory, justice, or truth. We typically want our enemy to hurt worse than we were hurt. We aim to relieve our pain by seeing our enemy in worse pain than we are. When they suffer, in the way we think they should, in a way we can see and feel, then we think we wrongly believe we will feel certain satisfaction as if they are paying off their debt. Unfortunately, when we take vengeance into our own hands, even if there is a momentary satisfaction, we only hurt ourselves. As Tim Keller writes: [When you take vengeance] You may become harder and colder, more self-pitying, and therefore more self-absorbed. If the wrongdoer was a person of wealth or authority you may instinctively dislike and resist that sort of person for the rest of your life. If it was a person of the opposite sex or another race you might become permanently cynical and prejudiced against whole classes of people. In addition, the perpetrator and his friends and family often feel they have the right to respond to your payback in kind. Cycles of reaction and retaliation can go on for years. Evil has been done to you— yes. But when you try to get payment through revenge the evil does not disappear. Instead it spreads, and it spreads most tragically of all into you and your own character. In other words, we become less like Christ and more like the one who hurt us.

Jesus does not only tell us what NOT to do when someone hurts us, but what TO do. We must not misunderstand “Turn the other cheek” for do nothing ever. We are not to be indifferent towards injustice. But we must pursue justice in love. Jesus commands us to love and pray for those who hurt us. Again, it is hard enough to not hate them…but now I must love them? How is this even possible?

First, we must forgive
First, we must forgive our enemy. Your willingness to forgive is dependent upon your understanding of how much Christ has forgiven you. When a sinful woman washed and anointed Jesus feet, everyone was horrified that Jesus would allow it. Luke 7.47 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Forgiveness is the only thing that makes love, even tough love, possible. You can be “right” in calling for justice but wrong in calling for it without love. Before we respond, the first thing we must do is forgive those who have hurt us. Forgiveness doesn't mean that your enemy is getting off the hook without any further action. Forgiveness ensures whatever action you take next, is motivated out of love. What does forgiveness mean?

1. Forgiveness means forsaking the desire for personal vengeance.

2. Forgiveness means surrendering the need to have them pay for what they did.

3. Forgiveness means suffering from the loss of happiness we imagine we’ll get from their suffering.

4. Forgiveness means accepting that you will not recover everything that this person’s sin has cost you.

5. Forgiveness means refusing to live like an angry victim forever, governed by this hurt.

6. Forgiveness means living the crucifixion, letting the ‘self’ die daily along with bitterness and cynicism.

7. Forgiveness means living the resurrection, finding your hope and joy daily in your restoration and not necessarily in there’s.

Second, we must love
Genuine forgiveness ensures that your response will be loving and motivated out of a love for God. This is not easy. This is not the kind of love that is natural or even desirable. This is AGAPE love, which means to love the undeserving, despite disappointment and even rejection. We don’t fall into AGAPE love. Agape love has more to do with obligation or duty than it does with inclination or desire. In other words, we don’t love because we love this person (even if you say you do), we love because we know the love of God and that controls our love. 2Corinthians 5.14-15 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. We do not LIVE for ourselves or LOVE for ourselves—we live and love for Jesus Christ.

If follows that we don’t live or love for this other person either. But having forgiven, we can see clearly to determine how I should love this person, in this situation, in order to best live for God. There is no formula or one-size fits solution for every situation. We may Love by serving. Love by enduring. Love by blessing. Love by reconciling. We may also Love by confronting. Love by admonishing. Love by withholding. Love by punishing. Love by disciplining. The bottom line is that the goal of our love is not rooted in trying to get something for ourselves, but in the pursuit of doing two things: 1) Give the most honor God 2 ) Help the one who hurt you give the most honor to God (through repentance).

Third, we must pray.
And if your actions to love have no effect, Jesus says still have something to do. You can pray. It is hard to pray for those who hurt you. On the cross Jesus prayed to God that He would forgive those who hated him, betrayed him, falsely accused Him, tried him, abandoned Him, and tortured Him. He could pray that, not because he had an affection for His enemies, but because had a deep love for God and a hope for repentance. If you do not forgive, you will pray for punishment not repentance; and instead of grieving their sin you’re celebrate their future suffering. When was the last time you prayed for your enemies—that person that hurt you or those you love? Ask God to help you pray for them.

In conclusion, can we agree that people hurt people? Can we agree that we hurt people? Sometimes we are the victim, and sometime we are the perpetrators. People hurt people physically, emotionally, and materially, psychologically; and sometimes, we hurt them. Jesus ends with calling us to be perfect. We’ll never do that in this life. The Greek idea of perfection is functional, meaning, a thing is perfect when it has realized the purpose for which it was designed and made (Barclay). We cannot control how others hurt us but, in Christ, we can do what sounds impossible and love as God has designed us to. How will we know if we responding to those who hurt us like Christ? As a filter for your respond, use the Beatitudes:

1. Who am I to respond? Am I poor in Spirit? Am I conscious of the weakness of my flesh? Am I humbled by my own sin? Am I less of a sinner than the one who hurt me?

2. What am I feeling? Am I mourning over this sin? Does this sin grieve me, not only because it hurts me, but because it hurts them, and because it grieves God?

3. What am I doing? Am I meek? Am I gentle or demanding? Am I trying to force repentance?

4. What am I hoping? Am I hungering for the righteousness of Christ or my own vindication? Are we more concerned with His honor, my honor, or the dishonor of this individual?

5. What am I asking? Am I merciful? Are my expectations and demands merciful or unrealistic? Am I asking for an impossible level of restitution?

6. What am I thinking? Am I pure in heart? In the quietness of my spirit, what is my true heart motivation? Do I want to win? Do I want to hurt? Do I want to prove? Do I want to love?

7. What am I willing to do? Are we willing and ready to make peace, even if everything you expect is not achieved? Not saying that all should be forgotten, but is peace more important than punishment.

This is not simply about being nice or taking the high road. It’s about being Christian. End sermon with return to how started, this isn't about being nice. It's about being Christian. A Christian has by definition different. Through faith in the cross, a Christian is not simply reformed, He is transformed; He is not improved, he is reborn. A Christian is a new Creation, with a new heart, new desires, new perspectives, and a new hope.
COMMUNION reminds us that God has done something in History to change us; more than that, it is the sign that God is still acting, through Jesus, to change us.