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The Greatest Sermon Ever Told | The Jesus Way
October 29, 2023
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect
To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst
To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships
To participate in God’s mission to the world
Merciful Lord, grant to your faithful people pardon and peace, that we may be cleansed from all our sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Responsive Prayer—Psalm 145
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
There is no end to his greatness.
One generation shall praise your works to another
And shall declare your power.
All your works praise you, LORD,
And your faithful servants bless you.
They make known the glory of your kingdom,
And speak of your power.
My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD.
Let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.
Summary and Connection
This week’s discussion is based on Matthew 5:38-48. In verses 38-42, Jesus addresses the Old Testament commandment dealing with the principle of retributive justice (Deut. 21:22-25; Lev. 24:19; Deut. 19:21). This commandment was specifically given for the Judges of Israel, and it served a dual purpose: defining justice, and restraining revenge. Jesus’ concern was not against the validity of the law, rather he addressed the Pharisees’ false interpretation of the law. The Pharisees had extended the scope of the law of “just retribution” from the realm of the law courts to the realm of personal relationships. Their teaching had drastic implications as it justified personal revenge, further amplifying the cycle of evil. Jesus upholds the law by his true interpretation: by enacting the law of retributive justice, the law courts overcome evil by just punishment, thereby resisting the vengeful evil cycle. However, Christians are not called to ‘resist’ evil by seeking revenge, rather Christians are to overcome evil by good. Jesus offers four illustrations emphasizing the fact that by overcoming evil with good, Christians expose and condemn evil for what it is. In other words, when Christians show defiance by practicing non-retaliation, the violence used against them stands condemned in its failure to evoke counter-violence. It is vital for us to understand that Jesus does not command the Christians to be gullible, weak, or defenseless. Christians are not called to be like doormats—allowing people to walk all over. Rather, Jesus emphasizes a new way of life, or greater righteousness wherein often the right thing to do is to be wronged by another, and often the just thing to do is not to seek one’s own justice. Paul sums up this Christian virtue-ethic poignantly in 1 Cor. 6:7, “Why not rather be wronged?”
In verses 43-48, Jesus captures the central virtue of all of Christian moral teaching and vision—love. The Pharisees had narrowed the scope of the law of loving one’s neighbor by limiting it to only loving a fellow Jew. Furthermore, the Pharisees had taken a number of descriptive Old Testament texts and taught them as prescriptive, and in doing so, they made a blatant addition to the commandment: “Love your neighbors. Hate your enemies.” Jesus provides the right interpretation by calling his followers to be like their heavenly father who loves and cares for all people—the righteous and the unrighteous. There is no higher apex of virtue than this command that compels us to imitate God in our love for all, including our enemies. In verse 48 we see Jesus’ summarizing the ethics of the kingdom of God. By calling his followers to be ‘perfect’ like God, Jesus meant that Christians must be whole—consistent in their virtue, character, and integrity. According to Jesus, to be holy does not mean sinless perfection, but to move towards the Godward virtue of wholeness, or Christ-centeredness, both internally and externally. It is humanly impossible for us to vanquish evil by selfless love, and to truly love our enemies by seeking their highest good. However, we are enabled to love, and to endure evil as we rely on Jesus—the one who perfectly vanquished evil by his death on the cross, securing salvation for his enemies (Rom. 5:8).
1. Looking at the Bible
Observation: Read the passage privately. What does the text say? Who are the main characters in this story? What according to you is the theme of this passage?
- Look at verses 38-42: What is the purpose of Jesus teaching here? Does Jesus completely reject the principle of retributive justice?
- According to Jesus, how are we supposed to respond to someone who has wronged us? What does the principle of non-retaliation—“overcoming evil by good’’ involve? What does this exclude?
- What does Jesus mean by his statement: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”?
2. Looking at Jesus
At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.
- How does Jesus fulfill the law of non-retaliation, and the law of loving one’s enemies, in his life, death, and resurrection?
3. Looking at Our Hearts
The following are personal application questions based on the stages of growth in Christian faith.
- The principle of non-retaliation requires Christians to forbear revenge at a personal cost. In what areas of your life do you find this principle challenging: At home? At work? Or with friends? In New York rush hour traffic?
- Jesus not only commands his followers to refrain from seeking revenge, but also to return good for evil. In what areas of your life do you find returning good for evil challenging? How does the gospel help us to overcome evil by good?
- According to Jesus, while our enemies seek our harm (violence, jealousy, anger, hatred, gossip etc), we are called to seek their good. Are there any relationships in your life where love and prayer is the last thing you want to do for someone? How does the gospel help you in loving your enemies?
4. Looking at Our World
- How might this passage give you hope and confidence to practice non-retaliation and selfless love in a society that promotes cancel culture, and condones personal retributive justice?
God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.
View Study Guide Notes
Question 1a. Refer summary and connection for answer. Jesus does not reject the principle of retributive justice; however, he limits the scope of retributive justice to the courts of law, thereby prohibiting seeking revenge in the realm of personal relationships.
Question 1b. Jesus’ illustrations vividly capture different life situations involving unjust suffering and loss. Our natural tendency is to resist suffering and loss by seeking peace, demanding justice, or by establishing justice by seeking revenge. Jesus challenges our tendency by his teaching. As Christians we are called to overcome evil by seeking and doing good. If we seek personal revenge, we add to the cycle of evil, and act in contradiction to our calling as the salt and light Christians. This is the opposite of human flourishing. Jesus’ illustrations emphasize the fact that by overcoming evil with good, Christians expose and condemn evil for what it is. In other words, when Christians show defiance by practicing non-violence, the violence against them stands condemned in its failure to evoke counter-violence. We are to forebear revenge by exercising self-control, notwithstanding the personal cost. According to Jesus, this is the very essence of human flourishing. Jonathan Pennington makes an insightful observation: “The place of flourishing is unexpectedly and ironically, the place of poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst, mercifulness, purity of heart, peacemaking, and suffering for righteousness sake. Jesus’ teachings are a call to a way of being in the world that teaches us to look inward and become a different kind of people. It is a new vision of virtue.”
It is vital for us to understand the importance of using wisdom in our interpretation and response to injustice. One commentator calls it “localized wisdom.” Jesus here offers a vision of virtue, of how to flourish as Christians in the world, displaying greater righteousness. However, the working out of this in the individual’s life is inevitably localized. This is wisdom. Jesus does not command the Christians to be gullible, weak, or defenseless. Christians are not to be like doormats—allowing people to walk all over. Furthermore, in some cases, our love for others compels us to act courageously in confronting evil with truth and justice. For instance, when it comes to protecting his own child from being abused by someone, a Christian is called to take action and not to turn the other cheek.
Question 1c. Remember the theme of Jesus’ teaching in verses 21-48—the need for greater righteousness. Jesus brilliantly summarizes the ethics of the kingdom of God in verse 48. The word ‘perfect’ is translated as teleios in Greek. According to Pennington, “to say that followers of Jesus must be teleios as God is teleios is to say that they must be whole or virtuous—singular in who they are—not one thing on the outside but another on the inside.” In other words, Jesus does not call for moral perfection but for wholehearted orientation and lifelong devotion toward God. Jesus’ words serve as a clarion call for his followers to live a Christ-centered life, marked by a way of being in the world that accords with God’s nature. This is the epitome of human flourishing. This is the gracious invitation of the gospel, and as songwriter Sara Groves puts it, “This is grace—an invitation to be beautiful.” It is humanly impossible for us to be perfect like God, or to vanquish evil by selfless love, and to truly love our enemies by seeking their highest good. However, we are enabled to be like our heavenly father, to love, and to endure evil, as we rely on Jesus—the one who perfectly vanquished evil by his death on the cross, securing salvation for his enemies (Rom. 5:8).
Question 2: Matthew presents Jesus as the supreme model of the virtue presented in 5:38-48. We can see Jesus fulfill the four illustrations of non-retaliation he teaches in verses 39-42. Jesus did not resist the evil done against him, Jesus offered his garment of righteousness in exchange for our garment of sin, Jesus did not seek his own vengeance, but faithfully entrusted himself to the father (1 Pet. 2:21-23). In Isaiah 50:4-9, Jesus is presented as the suffering servant who offered his cheek to be slapped. In Isaiah 53:5 we read, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law of non-retaliation on the cross, vanquishing evil and triumphing over sin and death in his resurrection. Bonhoeffer says, “the cross is the only power in the world which proves that suffering love can avenge and vanquish evil.”
On the cross Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law of loving one’s enemies by seeking their highest good—salvation. In Romans 5:8 we read that God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Jesus died for us. On the cross Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of his persecutors. The cross of Jesus Christ symbolizes the central virtue of all Christian moral teaching and vision—love. We are enabled to love our enemies, and to patiently endure evil as we rely on Jesus—the one who perfectly vanquished evil by his death on the cross, securing salvation for his enemies.
Question 3: These are personal application questions.
Question 4: This is a personal application question.