Blessed Peacemakers

Isaiah 9:6, 7

Grace and peace are always for you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

This time of year we love to hear the words of the prophet Isaiah, “A child will be born to us . . . His name will be called the Prince of Peace. Of his government and of his peace there will be no end.” We remember a sky full of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace . . .” (Luke 2:8-10) when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. We believe Jesus is the fulfillment of the Prince of Peace, and we know and believe He has called each of us, as His followers, to be a peacemaker. Still peace is something the world desperately needs.

We think about major wars through the centuries, the peace conferences, and the peace treaties signed. I think of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 marking the end of World War I or the Treaty of Paris in 1947 marking the end of World War II. I think of the treaties the United States government signed with the Native American Indian tribes. How many of those treaties have been broken? The answer, of course, is all of them. There is no peace, no lasting peace in our world.

The United Nations, founded in 1945, has this model: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . .  Still peace is elusive.

The Bible speaks of Cain murdering his brother Abel. It speaks of the sons of Abraham – Isaac born to Sarah (Jewish nation) and Ishmael born to Hagar, Sarah’s maid (Arab nation) – who are in conflict and enmity to this day.

We think of the Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers who hated him and sold him into slavery. Conflict is not just nation against nation; it’s also interpersonal relationships.

I remember a pair of brothers who were farmers – one retired, the other actively farming. The younger brother rented land from his retired brother. It had been a tough farming year, and so the younger brother asked the older brother for forbearance. Could he wait for his payment? But the older brother demanded the cash immediately. Consequently, the younger brother went out of business. For the rest of the older brother’s life, those two men, living in the same small town, never spoke to each other again.

We know the power of estranged relationships and conflict, but we also know, as followers of the Prince of Peace, God’s desire is for peace in our world. The biblical story begins in the paradise of the Garden of Eden, described as the garden of peace in Genesis. The scriptural narrative ends in the beautiful garden of peace described in Revelation, permeated with the glory of God’s presence. The Scriptures speak of God and peace in 400 references. The scriptural witness speaks of God’s initiative to restore and establish peace in every way. Like the Jewish greeting “shalom” we long for peace in our world, in our relationships, and in the inner soul of every person.

We might describe peace as the cessation of fighting, but I believe it’s more than the absence of conflict. Peace is the blessing of harmony with God, and, therefore, one another. It is coexistence in mutual respect, living in the presence of God’s Spirit in justice and love.

So, if we all long for peace, what are the threats and obstacles to peace? In the stream of consciousness, I might mention a whole number of threats: war, fighting, aggressive attacks, arrogant nationalism, racism, cultural insensitivity, religious conflict, greed, jealousy, exploitation, hatred, desire for revenge, grudges and bitterness, unbridled anger, unresolved wounds from a broken past, vicious tongues, hypercritical faultfinding, abuse, injustice, murder of the innocent, bullying, domination, brute force, the cycle of killing, revenge, retaliation, and conflict. It doesn’t stop; it goes on and on. No wonder God knew He would have to send His Son as Isaiah prophesied, This child will be called the Prince of Peace. And when Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, the angels sang glory to God, for peace had now come to live on earth, and God’s favor was released to all people.

In Luke 19 at the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem at the beginning of Passion Week. The crowd of people lay their cloaks before Jesus’ donkey and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the King!” and “Peace in heaven,” for the Prince of Peace was going to make peace between a holy God and a rebellious world. The price of peace by the Prince of Peace was the cross.

Imagine the scene at the cross with the mob screaming, “Crucify Him!”, the religious leaders mocking Him, the soldiers beating Him and spitting on Him, and the disciples running for their lives. Here was the price of peace. The rebellion of humanity against the God who was the source of life necessitated the death of the perfect Son of God. The human problem of fighting was so deep and pervasive, it could only be solved by God sacrificing His only Son. And so He did in love. Scripture tells us:

• “God was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to himself” (II Cor. 5:19.)
• “Jesus is our peace, for He has broken down the barrier of the dividing wall uniting us as one with God” (Eph. 2:19.)

Jesus absorbed all the injustice and all the perpetration of evil, all the sinful rebellion of humanity – weakness, sickness, brokenness – into His own body so He might bring us into oneness with God. Because Jesus went to the cross and God raised Him from the dead, God says with open arms, I invite you to peace. “Justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

So as you listen today, I ask you now: Have you come to a point in your life where your intellectual knowledge of the historical figure of Jesus Christ – crucified and risen – has led you into a relational trust in the truth of who He is, and a trust in the person of Jesus Christ? Have you come to a point where you have invited the Spirit of the Prince of Peace to flood your life with grace and a new beginning? The moment our faith surrenders to this love of God, the moment we embrace the beautiful truth of new life in the name of Jesus by faith, Jesus’ Spirit calls us as the followers of the Prince of Peace to become peacemakers in the world.

I love how Ken Sande, in his book, “The Peacemaker,” says it. “We’re called to be agents of peace as people of the King. Peacemakers are people who breathe grace. Peacemakers draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ and then bring Christ’s love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom into the conflicts of daily life.”

As a pragmatic application for we who are called to be peacemakers, what are the steps we can take with the Spirit’s help to make peace? The first is to stop all behavior, which perpetuates the conflict and the fighting. Somehow, the cycle of violence has to cease.

Second, we need to affirm a mutual commitment to heal the relationship. Often when I visit with couples who are experiencing conflict in their marriage, we talk about the natural tendency in our humanness to want to win the battle we are fighting. The goal in the relationship, however, is not to have a winner and a loser, but to reconcile to live together in love. We need to affirm that mutual commitment to heal the relationship.

Third, we need to listen to understand. What’s at stake for the other person? Why does the problem cause them so much pain or difficulty in their spirit?

Fourth, speak the truth in love. Name all the issues. Get them out there so they can be dealt with and talked about.

Fifth, own your own part in the conflict. Stop blaming. Stop your emotional reactivity. Stop rationalizing your justification to continue punching back. Repent. Ask for God’s help. Change your mind and change your behavior so transformation can come.

Sixth, seek forgiveness and give forgiveness. Consciously choose to let go of the offense and no longer hold it against someone. Forgive.

Seventh, change your behavior and your communication patterns. This needs the help of Christ’s Spirit.

And lastly, with all your energy, seek to rebuild and restore the relationship. Seek to strengthen the relationship and live in the forgiving love of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. “As much is it lies within you, live at peace with all people” (Rom. 12:18).

Desmond Tutu was the Anglican Bishop from South Africa, who spent his life speaking against and working against apartheid, a policy of deep racial oppression and violence. In 1995 he was appointed by then president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, to work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In case after case, Desmond Tutu sat down to do the hard work of arbitrating peacemaking. He sat with perpetrators and victims at the same table; one to confess their crimes and ask forgiveness, the other one to name the tragedy, the pain, the offense, and offer the gift of forgiveness.

Here is what Tutu said about this process of working through case after case and doing the hard work of what is needed for peace. “If you want peace, don’t talk to your friends; talk to your enemies.”

Once we have understood the glorious gift of peace with God and reconciliation with the One who is the source of our life, in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace then invites us to be His peacemakers. Jesus said this:

• “Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
• “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they are called the sons and daughters of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Today we rejoice by faith that we are at peace with God, that the Prince of Peace has paid the price of peace so we might know and believe we belong to God. While we are at peace with God, we also can be at peace with one another. God calls you to the adventure of being His peacemaker. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg

Meet Your King

Luke 23:33-43

Today has been designated as Christ the King Sunday on the Church calendar. It’s a time to remember that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords over this world. It’s a day to hope and have confidence knowing that Jesus Christ holds the future over this world. As we watch kingdoms come and kingdoms go, Christ’s kingdom is forever, and He has the final say.

Luke 23 is a rather odd text to consider on this Christ the King celebration. It’s the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. This is a very ugly story at first glance. We see the cruelty of the cross as Jesus is nailed to it, as He is suffocating and going through great pain and agony for the sins of the world. We see the contempt of His enemies as they humiliate Jesus; the sarcasm, disrespect of the authorities who mocked Him; and the thieves hanging next to Him on their crosses. We see humanity at its worst in this picture.

Yet, in the midst of this ugliness, something remarkable takes place. We meet our King. We learn about Him and how He operates. We learn what kind of King He is.

First of all, we see He is a gracious and forgiving King as we hear Him respond to His mockers: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.” He had every right to curse them for what they were doing – killing the Son of God. Instead, Jesus asked God to give them pardon.

One of the thieves on the cross next to Jesus, however, saw something beyond the ugliness. He saw a King. He believed he was in the presence of a King and asked for mercy. We don’t know much about him, except that he had been a very bad man and deserved the punishment he was getting. Perhaps he had been a good boy, raised right but had gone bad, breaking his parents’ heart.

Now his life is over. Yet he had heard some things about this man hanging next to him. Perhaps he heard what He could do, or maybe he just noticed the peace of this King who did not curse back at His enemies who were being so cruel to Him, but asked for their pardon instead.

What we do know is something happened in this man’s heart as we hear him say to his fellow criminal who has then joined in on the mocking of Jesus. Lay off him. Don’t you fear God? We’re getting what we deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong!

What we hear in this statement, first of all, is repentance. Don’t you fear God? We’re getting what we deserve! He admits he has been going the wrong way and deserves what he is getting.

Then we hear his marvelous words of faith, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Someone listening in might have thought this was a strange thing to say, for it sounds like one who is observing someone rise to a higher office and is looking for benefits from this person. And that is what is happening! He sees Jesus entering His reign as King as He hung on the cross. He admits his need, and in faith asks for help from One who, on the outside, didn’t look very promising at all! His fellow criminal must have laughed and thought he was out of his mind when he asked Jesus, “Remember me.”

Listen to the King’s answer to this request of faith. Jesus responds with a promise: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

In this statement, we see the faith of Jesus in His heavenly Father. God will raise me and exalt me. But we also see the mercy and the grace of Jesus. The King grants clemency to the criminal. He welcomes someone who doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to the story of his life and what he deserves. This is a gracious King! This guy had made a total mess of his life. He wasted it! But Jesus didn’t turn him away. Instead He handed him a promise.

This is pure, unadulterated grace, and it is good news for you and me because that’s us on the cross! All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God with our lives. All of us deserve punishment for our sinfulness. But this King, who died on the cross to pay for our sins, receives sinners like you and me. As we turn to Him in repentance and faith, He does not turn us away, but gives us a promise: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He is a gracious, merciful King.

Those of us in the Christian faith know the end of the story. Jesus was raised from the dead. He ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father. He was vindicated. All kingly authority has been given to Jesus. So we can say Jesus is a powerful King with authority over this world. He’s the King of creation, as we sing in “Beautiful Savior.” He is the Lord over everything – even death.

Death can no longer hold the person who trusts in Christ the King. We will be with Him in Paradise, He promises. We can live without fear of death for it has no dominion over us. It cannot hold us. Death is but a gate through which we pass as believers to be with Jesus Christ.

This Jesus, our King, has the final say over this world. History is His story. Someday He will reappear, and there will be a judgment, a new heaven, and a new earth.

Christ the King Sunday is more than a simple slogan; it’s a message of defiance to the powers and lords of this world. It’s a word of hope and confidence to the fearful and the hopeless in this world.

Now let me ask you a question. It’s one thing to know and hear that Christ is King, but what are you doing with this King? What is a person to do with Jesus?

First of all, like the thief on the cross, turn to Him in repentance and faith in order that you may be rescued. I like what Alexander Maclaren, a great preacher of the gospel, said many years ago, “On Calvary there were two crucified with Jesus. One man was saved that no person need despair. But only one, that no one might presume.” Place your trust in Him and be saved.

Martin Luther gives us some insight as to what to do with this King in his Small Catechism. At the end of the second article of the Apostles Creed, he says, “All this Jesus has done so that I may be His own . . .” In other words, so that I might give myself over to His ownership and let Him take over my life, my whole life.

“. . . so that I might,” Martin Luther says, “live under Him in His kingdom.” In other words, get off my personal throne and put Jesus on the throne of my life giving Him authority over every area. That I might hand this kingdom I’ve been building for myself over to Him. It comes under new management. He’s the boss. I commit to doing life His way.

Martin Luther continues, “All this He has done that I might serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” Meaning I obey Him, I stand up for Him, and I tell others of what He has done for them at the cross and the tomb, that they might also be rescued.

What Martin Luther is saying in summary is, All this He has done so He might have dominion over our whole life.

Control. We wrestle with giving over control to anybody. We sometimes wonder out of distrust if we can trust a person.

A few years ago, Jan Hettinga put out a wonderful little book called “Follow Me.” In response to our doubts about whether we can trust Him or not, he says, “First of all, look at the cross. It’s as if this God the Son, with arms pinned by nails to a wooden cross piece, is saying, ‘Look at me! I am the great ego you fear! This is the self that occupies the throne of the universe.

“‘I understand your paranoia. You’re full of fear and resentment. I know you don’t trust authority. Every authority on earth is imperfect. In their self-centeredness, your parents abuse their authority, teachers take advantage of their position, your government leaders manipulate you, and demand blind loyalty. Even religious leaders leaders use and abuse your trust. I understand why your defenses are up. You’re suspicious and cynical about anyone in authority, especially about ultimate authority.

“‘I know you think God must be the supreme egotist. It makes sense to you to judge Him by yourself. You’ve naturally assumed He’s a selfish being in the universe. But here I am, nailed to your cross. Can you see who I am now? This is what I’m really like. I’m showing you that I am humble and meek, lowly of heart. I’m self-giving and self-sacrificing in nature. I have your best interests at heart. I will not take advantage of you because I’m stronger or smarter than you are. In fact, I’m letting you take advantage of my deliberate vulnerability.’ That’s what He is crying to us as we behold Him on the cross.”

Jesus says to us, Come. Meet me at the place where I humbled Myself, where I submitted Myself to you and all your hostility. Meet Me at the cross. If you cannot accept the fact that I am the leader you can trust, if you will not humble yourself to My humility and submit to My submission, then there is no hope for us ever to be reunited. He is the leader, the King you can trust.

My dear friends, Jesus Christ is King. May His kingdom come and take over your life this day. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Distinct in My Love

Matthew 5:43-48

A man who had just reached his 100th birthday was being interviewed by a reporter.

“I am a hundred years old,” said the centenarian, “and I don’t have an enemy in a world!”

“That’s wonderful,” said the reporter. “You must be very proud.”

“Yes,” said the man. “My last enemy died about a year ago!”

Enemies. It’s likely that each of us will have a few of them during our pilgrimage on earth. Personality conflicts, clashing of egos, wills, philosophies, or goals can oftentimes put us at odds – sometimes viciously – with other people who become our enemies. So what is to be our attitude, as citizens of God’s kingdom, toward our enemies?

During Jesus’ time, the people were being taught a simple statement: Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. However, Jesus challenged this statement in our reading.

First of all, He took it on because you’d be hard pressed to find a commandment in the Bible telling us to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. It’s not found in the Old Testament, but it is what was being taught, perhaps because it seems like common sense. We are born with the instinct to restrict the scope of our love to people who love us and to be indifferent or hate those outside that circle who behave as an enemy and show hostility toward us.

We see this mindset in the question posed to Jesus by a scribe when he asked, So who is my neighbor that I am to love as myself? The teacher of the law wanted to know where to draw the line on love. This is why Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans. The Samaritan in this story loved his enemy – the Jew – in a lavish and generous way. Shocking!

Jesus seems to be saying in this parable and in this part of the Sermon on the Mount, When it comes to love, citizens of the kingdom of God – Jesus’ followers – who have received God’s grace in their life should not draw a line on love. “You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”

Jesus was not being blind or casual. He was not playing down the hostility of an enemy. He knew some people really are enemies, and He knew from personal experience how cruel, malicious, and vicious enemies can be. They live to persecute you, bring you down and make you more miserable. They make your life difficult as they hold you in contempt. Jesus is being quite clear here. He says, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”

What does He mean by the word love? We use the word love in so many ways in our English language. We talk about how we love ice cream, and we love our wife. Is it the same thing? We talk about loving the Chicago Cubs these days, and we love our children. Is it the same thing? No.

The New Testament has different words for love that you should know about. One word is Eros, which is kind of a physical attraction type of love. Jesus doesn’t seem to be talking that way. There is Philia, a friendship type of love from which we get the word Philadelphia, city of brotherly love. There is Storge, which is family affection type of love.

But the word used here is Agape, which is sacrificial love. It is an act of the will to show goodwill toward a person. It’s not a feeling, but a decision, a commitment to help them be all they can be. The early Christians adopted agape to describe God’s love for us through His Son, Jesus Christ when He went to the cross and died for our sins. Jesus used it when He talked about the love we are to have for one another. “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Agape is an attitude that says I will do what is best for the other person, whether I am dealing with a friend or a foe. I will deal with my enemy as if I like them. I will decide to act for their highest good. This is what Jesus was talking about in this case. With this kind of love, you decide, you act, and – miracle of miracles – sometimes as a result you even start to feel love.

Jesus says one of the best ways to love your enemies is to pray for them. The ultimate act of love is to bring your enemy to the throne of grace and ask God to bless them. Ask for God’s will to be done in their life and upon their life that they would come to know and follow Him. Personally I have found it difficult to go into the presence of God and pray like this, then come out bearing hostility toward a person I don’t like.

I remember when my son was playing baseball during his early years of life. He had a coach who I just really considered to be like an enemy. He was not being fair to my kid! He seemed to ignore him and was not very kind to him. I seethed inside toward this individual. So I began to pray for him. You know what happened? My attitude toward that coach changed. I began to see him in a more loving way and understand him.

You might be wondering what the disciples of Jesus are wondering as He told them this. Why should I love these kinds of people when they hate me? Jesus’ answer is, “So that you may be sons and daughters of your Father in heaven.” We already are sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ. But when we love like this, Jesus is telling us we are being a chip off the old block, the spiting image of our heavenly Father.

Last September I made a trip home back to Montana, and I was given an invitation to preach at my old home congregation. I hadn’t been there for many years. A number of people came up to me afterward and said, “You look just like your dad. You even laugh like him.”

I once heard a story about a father who had to go away from his young family for three or four days on a business trip. He was anxious that his wife should be properly looked after in his absence, and so he had a word with his oldest son, who was nine years old at the time. “When I’m away, I want you to think about what I normally do around the house, and you do it for me.” He had in mind, of course, clearing up the kitchen, washing dishes, putting out the garbage, and other similar tasks.

On his return, he asked his wife what the son had done. “Well,” she said, “it was very strange. Straight after breakfast, he made himself another cup of coffee, went into the living room, put on some loud music, and read the newspaper for half an hour!” The father was left wondering whether his son had obeyed him a bit too accurately.

Jesus is talking about a heavenly Father. With that kind of (Agape) love, Jesus says, you bear a family resemblance to your heavenly Father. Like parent, like child. You are a part of the family. It brings your heavenly Father glory in a world filled with so much hatred and vengeance. Stand out and shine in a mysterious way as people scratch their heads and wonder, How can he do this? And why? Jesus is saying, Be like your Father.

Then He goes on to describe how His Father in heaven hands out His love, comparing it to the way in which the world hands out love. Notice how God’s love and grace are without favoritism. He shows it to both friend and enemy. “God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” His goodness comes indiscriminately to those who love Him and His enemies alike. This is God’s essential being. He is a God of unconditional love, and He is very generous in His love.

Jesus describes the world’s love. Look at those whom you consider to be the lowlifes of society. They love those who are like them and give verbal blessings to those who greet them. Everybody can do that. It’s self-serving. Self-interest is involved.

But my followers, kingdom of God citizens, listen! You are different; you are distinct. Your ways are to be above the norm. Their love ceiling is your floor. Do more than just love those who love you; start where they stop. Love the unlovable.

Then Jesus says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” These words have stumped so many Christians over the years since Jesus said them. What does He really mean? No one can be sinlessly perfect. Perhaps He meant something else.

In the next chapter when Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer, He tells His disciples to ask for forgiveness for the rest of their lives. The word used for perfect here is related to maturity and growth, goals and targets, function for your calling. It’s similar to describing a good baseball player as the perfect player for that team. It doesn’t mean this individual never strikes out or drops the ball, but that he is well rounded and knows the game well. He functions well doing his job for the team.

Christ’s dream for us is that we would grow up into full stature as a woman or man of God and reach the high goal of a richer, deeper sharing in the life of our heavenly Father shown us in Jesus as love.

One can’t help but notice Jesus loved this way in His ministry for the kingdom of God. He loved all kinds of people – friend and foe alike – just like His Father, which makes this statement to Philip in John’s Gospel, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” all the more understandable for us. Jesus displays the character of our heavenly Father. Observe how He treated His enemies in opposition. He treated them with love. See Him praying for the people of Jerusalem before He went to the cross when He went up to the Mount of Olives. He knows what’s coming; He’s praying for them.

Notice how He prays for the welfare of His executioners and taunters as He hung dying on the cross for the sins of the world: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” See that “While we were still enemies,” as Paul says, “Christ died for us that we might be reconciled to God” (Romans 5:8). Sacrificial love went all the way to the cross.

You might be thinking this sounds a little bit impossible, and you’re right. On one level it is impossible – on your own. But Christ’s teaching is not just good advice, it’s Good News. Jesus did all these things at the cross, and He opened a new way of being human that all who have faith in Him and follow Him can discover it in their own lives.

I really appreciate these helpful words from biblical scholar and theologian N. T. Wright. “The Sermon on the Mount isn’t just about us. If it was, we might admire it as a fine bit of idealism, but then we’d return to our normal lives. It’s about Jesus himself. This was the blueprint for his own life. He asks nothing of his followers that he hasn’t faced himself. And, within his own life, we can already sense a theme that will grow larger and larger until we can’t miss it.

“If this is the way to show what God is really like, and if this is the pattern that Jesus himself followed exactly, Matthew is inviting us to draw the conclusion: we see the Emmanuel in Jesus, the God-with-us person. The Sermon on the Mount isn’t just about how to behave. It’s about discovering the living God in the loving – and dying – Jesus, and learning to reflect that love ourselves into the world that needs it so desperately.”

So when you think, I can’t love like that on my own power, you are absolutely right! However, in a living relationship with Jesus Christ, you can move in that direction as you place your trust in what He has done for you on the cross. The empty tomb paid for your sins so you might have a new, eternal kind of life with God. As you surrender yourself to His leadership in your life, live with Him in the Gospel, follow Him, study and do His word, His Spirit works in you, helping you grow in your ability to love generously and unconditionally. You see, His plan for the rest of your life with Him, His dream for you, is to work in you, shape you, and mold you into a person who loves others like He did – all the way to heaven.

I came across a wonderful story by Max Lucado who tells about his friend named Daniel, who had been swindled by his own brother. Daniel vowed that if he saw his brother again, he’d break his neck. A few months later Daniel became a Christian, but even so he couldn’t forgive his brother. He hated him!

One day, the inevitable encounter took place on a busy street, and this is how Daniel described what happened, “I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I felt my fist clench and my face get hot. My initial impulse was to grab him around the throat and choke the life out of him. But as I looked into his face, my anger began to melt. As I saw him, I saw the image of my father. I saw my father’s eyes; I saw my father’s look. I saw my father’s expression. And as I saw my father and his face, my enemy once again became my brother.” That brother found himself wrapped in those big arms of Daniel’s, but it was a hug. Those two brothers stood in the middle of a river of people and wept.

Daniel’s words bear repeating. When I saw the image of my father in his face, my enemy became my brother. This is what Jesus is talking about in today’s text. If you want to be more loving in your relationships with friends or with difficult people, you can. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, change is possible for the citizens of the kingdom of God. It’s there for the asking.

Like the hymn says,

“Breathe on me breath of God;
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what thou dost love,
and do what thou wouldst do.”

And He will. Amen.

Pastor

Distinct in My Reaction

Bible Reference: Matthew 5:38-42

Getting hurt is an unavoidable part of life. After all, we live in a broken world. Some of these hurts come from difficult circumstances, but some of the worst hurts come from people who strike out at us with their words or their actions. For instance, a child going to grade school who is picked on by a bully. Or a youth going to high school who has rumors and untrue things said about them, and their reputation is wrecked. Or an adult who suffers deep disappointment when someone they love breaks their trust.

How do you deal with a person who has hurt you? This is a tough question facing every follower of Jesus who wants to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ, which are quite different from what our human emotions or culture tells us to do.

One common reaction toward those who have hurt us is to apply the law of tit for tat. If you hit me, I’ll hit you back. You gossip about me; I gossip back about you. You insult me, I’ll one-up you by insulting you, too. Maybe you’ve heard the children’s rhyme, “Tit-for-tat; butter for fat. You kill my dog, I kill your cat.” This reaction has been called the eye-for-an-eye law. It came from the Code of Hammurabi about 2300 B.C., which taught this law as the correct way to deal with a person who has committed evil.

The same teaching is found in the Old Testament in Exodus and Leviticus. In one instance, Moses, speaking on God’s behalf, says to the people of Israel, “If any harm follows when two people are going after one another then, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Ex. 21:24-25). These words seem to be rather harsh at first hearing. However, this teaching has an element of mercy for the punishment is no more than the equivalent of the injury inflicted on a person. You can’t do any more to that person in the punishment.

The people were not given this law to be used in a vigilante sort of way. This was a civil law for the judges of Moses’ community to follow according to the context of this command. It was a means of maintaining law and order in a fallen world. These laws were never intended to be employed in personal relationships to get revenge. However, It appears this rule was being practiced and even encouraged by the religious establishment during the time of Jesus. It was being used for the purpose of personal revenge.

In our passage for today, Jesus is responding to it. He introduces the citizens of His kingdom to another way of treating the person who has hurt us. It is the “Jesus Way”. Hear His words: “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth,’ but I say to you, Do not resist an evil doer. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

I consider these words to be some of the most difficult in the New Testament to interpret and live by. They come off as impractical to me. If we followed Jesus’ counsel, people would take advantage of us. How can a Christian person accept an appointment to be a judge in a court of law if he didn’t punish the person who had hurt another individual?

It’s important for us to understand that, since God has instituted the government to maintain order, it must include punishment, for punishment deters crime and the breaking of the law. Jesus is not disputing this. In fact, our Lord taught us to be faithful citizens of the state and uphold the civil laws. The Apostle Paul does this as well in his letter to the Romans, and the Apostle Peter, who walked with Jesus, talks about the same thing in one of his letters in the New Testament.

Regarding this particular admonition from Jesus to be generously merciful to the offender, it is important to remember that Jesus is speaking to Christians about their personal relationships. He is telling us not to counter evil with evil, but with good; counter hatred with love. The Christian should not react to the person who has hurt him with retaliation and revenge, but with mercy and love. These situations are not meant to be taken as wooden rules to be followed. They are simply illustrations of what the principle of non-retaliation would look like in our relationships if we applied them.

This is difficult for us to understand and put to work, I admit. Here is an explanation I found a few years ago that has been helpful for me in understanding these words of Jesus.

Retaliation happens when I put myself in the center of life. If you hurt me, I’ll hurt you. But mercy takes self out of the center and puts the other person on the throne. Now the offended person no longer reasons, What is right for me, the one who has been hurt, must be done. Rather, he says, What is good for the person who hurt me, is more important. If we deal with our brother or sister in mercy and love, we then ask some important questions:
• Why did he hurt me?
• What’s his story?
• What is his background?
We are not to condone what He has done to me, but to better understand him and perhaps see his needs.

Jesus tells us to always be anxious to help this person get back to God. This is to be our heart, our attitude as citizens of God’s kingdom. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 12:9, “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” So we leave things like revenge and judgment in the hands of God. It is not for us to desire or seek or carry out personal revenge.

I know sometimes the most merciful thing to do for another person who has hurt you is to resist in order to bring the offender to their senses for their own good. I’m reminded of Paul, for instance, resisting Peter over his poor treatment of non-Jews in the book of Acts. He was a real headache for Paul’s ministry. So Paul got in his face about it and told him to back down.

This was not retaliation. It was not done for the sake of the one who was hurt, but for the sake of the offender. It was actually an act of love. The bottom line of this is love of the other, not my pride or my rights. Love.

Jesus modeled nonretaliation. The Old Testament book of Isaiah says, “I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from shame and spitting” (50:6). In the event of His arrest and crucifixion, first the Jewish police spat upon Him and struck Him in the face. Then the Roman soldiers followed suit. They crowned Him with thorns, mocked Him with clothing in imperial purple and jeered at Him, “Hail! King of the Jews!” and hit Him in the head. Jesus, with the infinite dignity and strength of self-control and love, held His peace. He refused to retaliate.

This Suffering Servant calls His disciples – you and me – to be visible participants in the cross. Peter put it this way: “Christ suffered for you leaving you an example that you should follow his steps. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten, but he trusted to him who judges justly” (I Peter 2:21-23). Jesus does not call us to weakness, but to be strong – strong with self-control and love that overcomes our need for retaliation and revenge.

I don’t know anybody who has expressed Christ’s teachings in more relevant modern terms than Dr. Martin Luther King, the great fighter for civil rights in our country. There can be no doubt of the unjust sufferings Dr. King endured. At his funeral, Dr. Benjamin Mays listed them as he spoke of his friend. “If any man knew the meaning of the word suffering, King knew. House bombed; living day by day for 13 years under constant threats of death; maliciously accused of being a Communist; falsely accused of being insincere; stabbed by a member of his own race; slugged in a hotel lobby; jailed 30 times; occasionally deeply hurt because his friends betrayed him – and yet this man had no bitterness in his heart, no rancor in his soul, no revenge in his mind. And he went up and down the length and breadth of this world preaching nonviolence and the redemptive power of love.”

This is what Jesus is talking about in these words from the Sermon on the Mount.

Where in the world do I get strength to react with mercy to the evildoer when they are doing evil to me? After all, I’m only a human being. This seems very costly, and it’s not natural. I was brought up thinking about taking care of my self and my protection.

As I pointed out earlier, this kind of mercy and love can flow from our hearts only when we live in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, when we place our trust in Him and all He has done for us at the cross – paying for our sins through His sacrificial death. As we surrender our lives to His care and devote ourselves to following Him, we are given a new birth. The regenerating Holy Spirit of God resides within us, empowers us, and helps us strive to do Christ’s work in our lives. As we live in a close relationship with Jesus in His Word, we learn from Him. He disciples us. As we see Him praying – “Father, forgive them; They don’t know what they are doing” – for the crowds who were mocking and cursing at the foot of the cross, we ask ourselves How in the world could He do that?

As we think about His teachings in the Gospels, we remember that Jesus sees something in everybody. In the faces of those who were mocking Him, He saw persons created in God’s image, loved by God. Beneath the hardened shell of the individual who is hurting you, you can begin to see what that person could be if he or she were connected to Jesus Christ.

As we live with Jesus in His Word, He teaches us of God’s generosity and all He’s done for us. The One who would not withhold His own Son, will He not also give us all things. Jesus teaches us that God will take care of us. We belong to Him forever, so trust Him. He will take care of us.

As we read through the Gospels and live with Him each day, Jesus teaches us the power of daily prayer and asking God for power, grace, and faith to guide us in our relationships with people who sometimes want to hurt us. Remember your purpose as a citizen of God’s kingdom when you’re wondering how you can do this. Remember your purpose, which is to ultimately lead others to Jesus. The purpose for such merciful action is to win the person who attacked you for Jesus Christ and restore that broken relationship. Retaliation and revenge will not accomplish this. Only mercy and love can break down a hateful spirit. Citizens of God’s kingdom will actually cause utter amazement by following the way of Jesus in response to insults, unjust accusation, or being taken advantage of.

I came across a commentary on Matthew’s Gospel by Dr. Michael Green. He is an evangelist and a well-known research person at the University of Oxford. He writes, “When the wronged party shows generosity to the one who has committed the wrong, it is immensely powerful.

“I was speaking about this once to a black Christian leader in South Africa, and I asked how he responded on the many occasions he had been humiliated and pushed around by whites. He replied along these lines, ‘When I have been unjustly forced into some menial action, I complete it, and then and ask my ‘boss’ if there is anything else he would like me to do to help him. This totally takes the wind out of his sails. He can hardly believe any wronged party would respond like that.’”

Consider this: If Jesus had cursed the people who were cursing Him at the cross, they would’ve been delighted to see Him die. But because He prayed for them, some went home asking the question, Is He who He said He was? Even a hardened Roman soldier said, “Truly, this is the Son of God.”

Remember your purpose under Christ. These are challenging words that Jesus has for us today. May God give each of us the grace and the faith to apply these words of Jesus in our personal relationships. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer