Sons of Your Father in Heaven: Sermon on the Mount, Part 4 (Matthew 5:38-48)

Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | February 23, 2014


Sermon Text: Matthew 5:38-48

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But 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. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give 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.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

  • In this final passage from the Sermon on the Mount, we’re faced with two serious dilemmas.
  • In Jesus’ final antitheses he compares the current mis-understanding of the law to the true meaning of the law, saying “you have heard it said,” “but I say to you.”
  • Here Jesus is revealed finally as the authoritative law-giver to his new covenant people.
  • But his extreme law of love appears impossible to fulfill.
  • He raises the bar higher than ever, demanding an extreme level of commitment and self-sacrifice from his followers.
  • He acknowledges that like himself, his disciples will experience abuse from the “takers,”and persecution from the “haters” of their world.
  • And that they should be prepared when it comes.
  • Prepared to respond in unusual ways, giving generously and loving lavishly, reflecting the character of God.
  • Jesus says,

Since your heavenly father is perfect, as a disciple in Jesus’ kingdom, you should give generously to the selfish taker and love lavishly the malicious hater, in order to become perfect like your gracious rewarder.

  • First, since you are a disciple in Jesus kingdom, you are to Give generously to the selfish “taker.
  • The first dilemma involves people who wrong you mostly out of their own selfishness.
  • They seek to take something from you, not because they hate you, but because they love themselves more than they love others.
  • They don’t care so much about you one way or another.
  • They are focused on themselves and what they can get out of you or anyone else.
  • There must be a lot of these in the world because Jesus gives us four examples.
  • Your first dilemma is what to do when you are tempted to seek revenge for what they’ve done to you.
  • When you desire to even the score yourself, instead of allowing the state to obtain justice, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
  • The first example is the person I call the “shaming slapper.” He’s a kind of bully.
  • He slaps you with the back of his hand in order to embarrass you, to dishonor you, to demonstrate his dominance over you.
  • He seeks to gain a sense of power for himself by taking power from you.
  • Jesus says a disciple’s standard response should be to refrain from striking back, because in the kingdom, godly strength is exhibited by self-restraint, even offering the other cheek.
  • Like Jesus did when at his trial he was repeatedly struck and spit on and his beard pulled out.
  • He trusted in the justice of God to vindicate him one day.
  • He didn’t need to defend himself. Neither do you.
  • Is there a bully in your life, at work or school or in your neighborhood?
  • When I was in junior high I seemed to attract them. Generally, I kept my head down, but two different bullies slapped me, so I slapped them back.
  • It didn’t work.
  • They slugged me with their fists and knocked me down. Should have learned the first time!
  • That raises the question, “Should we ever defend ourselves?”
  • Yes, Jesus did at times.
  • There were certain situations where it was appropriate.
  • So we too should be discerning about this.
  • But our normal response should be non-retaliation, offering the other cheek, trusting in God to defend us.
  • The second example is the person I call the “legal eagle.”
  • He’s taking you to court to get your shirt.
  • He’s using legal means to get something for himself.
  • He’s taking the shirt off your back.
  • Maybe you owe it to him, maybe you don’t.
  • How should you respond?
  • Though it may leave you with nothing to protect you from the elements, you should give him your coat trusting in God to provide for your needs.
  • In other words, you should settle up with him generously.
  • For example, if you owe a person some money and they threaten to send your account to a collection agency or to take you to court.
  • Set up payments quickly. Pay what you owe.
  • Give him a generous settlement fee if it’ll help.
  • Give him more than he requires.
  • Demonstrate the generosity and kindness of God who gives to us more than we deserve.
  • Not because it’ll necessarily cause him to become a believer.
  • Do it merely because generosity is part of your godly character as a disciple in Jesus’ kingdom.
  • The third example is the person I call the “impressing soldier.”
  • He’s allowed by his government to force you to carry his armor for a certain distance, so he does so, both taking advantage of you and humiliating you.
  • In Jesus’ day the Romans were already occupying Palestine.
  • They were clearly in charge.
  • Forcing a person to carry their armor was demeaning, a flaunting of their power and authority.
  • That’s what was involved when Simon of Cyrene was impressed to carry Jesus’ cross.
  • However, instead of refusing to render such a demeaning service to an oppressive regime, a disciple of Jesus is to go the extra mile, to accept the insult and volunteer for a double stint.
  • For example, when your boss requires you to work four hours overtime and threatens to fire you if you don’t, your response should be to volunteer for eight hours instead of four.
  • The fourth example is the person I call the “borrowing beggar.”
  • He regularly borrows money from you, telling you he’ll pay you back but never does.
  • A disciple’s response should normally be to give generously, expecting nothing in return, trusting in God to provide for your own needs.
  • However, you shouldn’t give so much that you can’t feed or provide for your own family.
  • They will come to resent you.
  • Beth has such a “friend” nearby that calls her from time to time.
  • She often doesn’t know if there’s a true need or not, but gives anyway trusting in God to watch over the situation.
  • The point is that though self-interest rules in the world, in the KOH self-interest does not rule.
  • Your legal rights and legitimate expectations give way to the interests of others.
  • To be like Christ, we must put their interests before ours.
  • However, there’s a second, more serious dilemma that disciples face.
  • Since you are a disciple in Jesus kingdom,
  • Second, you are to Love lavishly the malicious “hater.”
  • The second dilemma involves people who wrong you because they genuinely hate you.
  • They are not merely trying to gain something from you out of their selfishness.
  • They are malicious towards you.
  • They have it in for you personally.
  • They have become your enemy, your persecutor.
  • They want to destroy you or eliminate you.
  • And because they hate you in their heart, you are tempted to hate them right back, to “hate your enemy.”
  • Jesus was hated in his day.
  • As his notoriety and popularity arose among the people, both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman political leaders became his enemies because he was a threat to their power and authority.
  • Though they were enemies of one another, they joined forces against what they perceived to be a greater enemy.
  • Together they conspired against him, together they performed a mock trial to convict him, together they crucified him.
  • As Peter would later say on Pentecost, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Act 2:23
  • But as a disciple of Jesus, instead of merely loving your neighbors and hating your enemies you should love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
  • You are to seek their benefit, their good, their welfare, not just in your actions but also in your heart.
  • The key here is the meaning of “neighbor.”
  • In the OT it meant fellow members of the Israelite community.
  • But Jesus here defines it more broadly as he does also later in the parable of the good Samaritan.
  • The person who proves to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers was not the priest of his own religion, not his fellow Israelite, but a foreigner, a stranger, a Samaritan who shows him mercy. (Lk 10:25-37)
  • Likewise, God provides sun and rain to both the evil and the good, the just and the unjust.
  • Those who who find it in their hearts to love and pray for their enemies prove to be sons of your father in heaven.
  • You are becoming like him, exhibiting undiscriminating love both to those who love you and those who hate you.
  • Learning to live on a level above ordinary decent people, to draw your standards and character from God, not other people.
  • This same kind of character was demonstrated at the crucifixion of Jesus and at stoning of Stephen.
  • They both prayed for their murderers, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
  • Do you know who hates you?
  • Who would like to get rid of you or wish you would disappear?
  • It might be because of jealousy or resentment or disappointment.
  • It might be because you threaten them or their position or authority in some way.
  • It might be because you are changing something they don’t want changed or holding them back in some way.
  • Whatever the cause, love them and pray for them, from the heart.
  • Do them good. Bless them.
  • Finally, as a disciple in Jesus’ kingdom, you are to become perfect like our gracious “rewarder.”
  • The summary “therefore, you must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect, recalls Lev. 19.2, “you shall be holy for I am holy.”
  • God’s people in the OT were to reflect his character as subjects of his holy nation Israel.
  • Likewise, as subjects of his new covenant kingdom, we are to reflect his perfect character, not only by moral purity, but also spiritual maturity, a higher level of commitment.
  • You and I can never fully achieve perfection in this life, but Jesus has achieved it for us by his perfect life, death and resurrection.
  • And he urges us to continually aim higher and higher for the perfect character of God, that greater righteousness demanded in verse 20 of all those who enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Those who are evil and who seek their own welfare “have already received their earthly reward.”
  • But those who seek the welfare of others will receive instead a heavenly reward.
  • Not as a payment for good works, but as a spiritual inheritance purchased for them through the suffering of Christ.
  • To love and greet not only your brothers but also those who are strangers, refers not only to your words and actions, but also to an accepting attitude toward those who are different from you.
  • It’s a basic human instinct to “look out for your own,” to hang out with those who are like you.
  • But the life of a disciple is meant to be different, extra-ordinary, to seek a higher standard of love that transcends the natural and the familiar, that is inspired by the character of God.
  • Are you merely hanging out with those who are familiar to you, who are like you?
  • That’s what people in the world do.
  • Reach out, hang out with those who are unfamiliar, to those who are different from you.
  • A disciple lives by the law of love, behind written law to the mind and character of God.
  • Alfred Plummer sums it up well when he says, “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.” (in Stott, Sermon on the Mt. p. 122)


Categories: 2014, Epiphany, Matthew, Sermons, The Life and Ministry of Jesus

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