Turn with me in your Bible if you will to Matthew chapter 5, Matthew chapter 5. The wonderful, rich study of the Gospel of Matthew has become a joy to many of you, and I trust in God's great grace it will continue to be so as we look this morning and in weeks and months and perhaps years ahead to all that God has for us here.
To remind you, we are studying the greatest sermon of the New Testament, called the Sermon on the Mount preached by our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a sermon designed to show men that they fall short of the standard for entrance into God's kingdom. It is a sermon directly primarily at the Jewish audience on the hillside, most specifically to the Scribes and the Pharisees because they had concocted a human religion. They had invented a system of religion that was substandard, sort of a quasi-Biblical one based on human achievement, self-effort and dead works. And they believed in their hearts that because they kept these low standards, which they themselves had devised, that they therefore were just before God.
Now as Jesus confronts the society of his day and as he confronts the religion of his religion people, first he wants to knock the props out from under this system. Before they can be desperate enough to see the need of a Savior, they have to see the inadequacy of their system. And so Jesus basically in the Sermon on the Mount shows the difference between true religion and their system, between divine truth and human wisdom, between a substandard of human religion achievement and God's religion of divine accomplishment. Jesus then is destroying their confidence in their self-made Judaism and reasserting God's standard.
So really the Sermon on the Mount has first of all a negative intent, and that is to show people that they come short of God's standard. All you have to do basically is read the Beatitudes and you find in the Beatitudes a very obvious recognition of that. They start out with a person who is beggarly in spirit, who is mourning over sin, who is meek before God, who is hungering and thirsting for righteousness. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount begins in desperation. It begins with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. It begins with the knowledge that you don’t have the resources to attain God's standard. And then Jesus, moving into chapter 5, verse 21, begins to show the disparity between God's standard and the system of religion of his day, to show them that they are substandard and they need to have a Beatitude mentality. See, they were smug and sufficient and prideful and ego-centered and just expecting God to lock arm in arm with them at their own level and go walking into the kingdom. They had no contrition, no repentance, no sense of sinfulness, unworthiness, no mournfulness, and they then had to be broken you see to come to that place where they would have the heart of the one in the Beatitudes.
So Jesus then is endeavoring to destroy their system. He shows them the standard to begin with and then tells them they aren’t there, and he has a very significant way of doing it. All through chapter 5, verses 21 to the end of the chapter, verse 48, he compares their system with God's truth. And he uses a little code. It’s this: “You have heard it said, that’s your system, but I say unto you that’s God's.” And he says, “Yours is here, God's is here. You think it’s enough not to kill. God says don’t even get angry. You think it’s enough not to commit adultery. God says you shouldn’t even think it in your heart. You think it’s enough to do the paperwork when you get a divorce. God says you shouldn’t even get a divorce, except for fornication. You think it’s enough that you put an oath behind your word. God says everything you say ought to be true so you wouldn’t even need an oath.” And now in our verse, “You think that it’s enough to give equal vengeance. God says you shouldn’t be giving vengeance at all.” Verse 43, “You think it’s enough to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. God says love your enemy.”
You see, the whole point is that their system is substandard. And on the basis of a system that only deals with externals, that only deals with the outside and never deals with the heart attitude of anger or the heart attitude of hatred or the heart attitude of adultery or the heart attitude of love and forgiveness, that kind of a system is inadequate. And basically, people, the Sermon on the Mount is a sermon on sin; it’s a sermon on sin. It is to show us we’re sinners. And it isn’t only the Jews gathered at the feet of Jesus on the hillside in Galilee that got the message; we get it today too, don’t we? We who pride ourselves on the fact we’ve never killed anybody, but we have been angry in hate. We who pride ourselves on the fact that we have not committed adultery and yet the thought has been in our minds. We who pride ourselves on the fact that we keep our word when we keep an oath, and yet there are times when we’ve shaded the truth and lied. We who pride ourselves on the fact that we are very just and fair and yet we’ve been vengeful. We who pride ourselves on the fact that we have such love but yet our enemies don’t fall within the purview of that love so very often.
So you see what Jesus is trying to do is destroy their confidence in themselves and then force them to the fact that they desperately need a righteousness they can’t attain; therefore, they are in need of a Savior. But he can’t talk about the Savior element until he causes their system to be destroyed and leaves them desperate and grasping and hungering and thirsting for a righteousness they cannot attain.
Now as we come to the fifth of his illustrations in verse 38, let’s read it. The fifth of his illustration showing their system to be substandard. “You have heard that it been said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say unto you that you resist not evil but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” Now at first reading, it sounds like Jesus wants to make us all into sort of sanctimonious doormats. “You got to be kidding? Turn the other cheek? If he sues me for my shirt, I’m gonna give him my coat? If he wants me to go a mile, I’m gonna go two? And anybody who asks me or wants to borrow, I have to give it or lend it? I got my rights!”
You know our old nature naturally retaliates. You know that, don’t you? The other day I had occasion to play golf because a dear man who wanted to express his love gave me a set of golf clubs. He makes golf clubs and he made me a beautiful set with the sign of the fish. I thought this is terrific, you know ten strokes off your game, right? You got sanctified golf clubs, see. So I thought I got it made. I went out there and, boy, you know I took out that beautiful five iron with the sign of the fish and I said, “All right, Lord, it’s your club. Do something with it.” And swung that thing and long shot that has a tendency, I have to hook the ball a little bit and I hooked it in a guy’s backyard, which wouldn’t have been so bad except he was out there. And I heard this bellowing voice, “Nice shot,” and then an apathete that I will not repeat.
And so I walked down and I felt a little guilty. I hoped I hadn’t you know hit him while he was lying in his pool or something awful like that or gone through his patio window. As it turned out, there’s a little slope in his yard and it just hit the corner of his yard down by the fence where the fence meets and it was just down in the dirt area; they hadn’t even done anything to landscape that. It just hit the hill and rolled down. He came down and got the ball and he went back up the hill, and I said, “Perhaps I could have my ball back? Thank you.” He said, “I play golf too, buddy.” Put the ball in his pocket.
Well if I hadn’t been preaching this sermon, you see I was tremendously pressed at that point because I’d asked the Lord for some way to illustrate this message. And I said, “He wants a golf ball, I’ll hit him eight more you know.” That was my first reaction, see I’ll just T up and he can have all of them. And I began to think about it and I thought, “You know it’s kind of a sad thing you know that somebody wants to live life by alienating people. How much lovelier it would be for him to act graciously and extend love to somebody and be loved in return?” What a sad fellow, what a sad fellow. And I thought, “You know what I need to do is to find his address and send him a dozen of the same kind of balls because I know he liked that one so much.” But you know I had to override my natural instinct which was just to T off in his yard. You see that is an illustration of what Jesus is saying here. Jesus is saying, “The fact that your heart is prone to retaliation, to get even, is evidence enough that no system of human religion can deal with the heart of the human problem.” You see? You see you need a Savior. You need a righteousness beyond your own. Now that’s what he’s saying, and that’s the heart of the matter here.
Let me show you another illustration. You say, “You shouldn’t tell stories like that about yourself.” Well I just want you to know I’m like you are; just hopefully I deal with those things when I come 'cause Satan will tempt us that way. But I want to put myself in a good category. Turn to Acts 23. I want you to meet the apostle Paul; he had a similar problem. It wasn’t in such a recreational activity as golf but it was in a much more serious case that he confronted himself with the very same temptation for his sinful self to assert itself. In Acts 22, Paul has been made a prisoner, and he's being held by the Romans in the city of Jerusalem but the Romans haven’t got any idea why. All they know is that the Jews want him held. Now of course the Jews are very angry with Paul because of his message about Christ. It’s a very disconcerting thing to have somebody going all over your city preaching that the person you’ve crucified is none other than your Messiah and that there is a new day and the dawning of a new era and the church age and so forth and so on.
So they are just livid about Paul and they have managed to get him and he’s incarcerated, but this particular captain of the Roman army wanting to do his duty rightfully according to Roman justice knows that he cannot keep a prisoner without a charge. And so he seeks to find some indictment against Paul to justify his incarceration. Verse 30, “The next day this captain would have known the certainty for what reason he was accused by the Jews, so he loosed him from his bands,” or took his chains off, “commanded the chief priest and their council to appear and brought Paul down and set him before them.” So this captain brings Paul down and says, “Look, I can’t just hold this guy. You’re gonna have to have some charge against him,” and he gets the Sanhedrin together. And then we see what happened. “And Paul earnestly beholding the council,” and the term earnestly beholding means he really looked intently into their eyes, eyeball to eyeball. Now this is a familiar bunch to Paul because this is the Sanhedrin of which at one time he was a member. There are no doubts in my mind that this man knew these people. Some of these had been fellow students of Gamaliel. Some of them were fellow Pharisees, some of them fellow persecutors of the church. And here was Paul looking at them eyeball to eyeball with that honest unconscious look of integrity that lifts his head and looks them in the eye and says, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscious before God until this day. I don’t owe anything against myself. I don’t have anything to accuse myself about. I can look you in the eye and say there’s no charge that can be justly laid to my account. I’m innocent.”
Well that absolutely infuriated Ananias who was the high priest. And by the way, Ananias was a wretched individual. This was a different Ananias than the one Paul had met earlier in his life. And Ananias was a vile man. Ananias had literally stolen the tithes that belonged to the common order of priests to pat his own coffers. Ananias had committed immoralities. Ananias had committed assassinations of people who were in his way. Ananias was a vile prostitution of everything representative in the priestly office. And if anything came his way in terms of punishment, it was justly deserved. “Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.” When Paul said what he said about a clear conscious, Ananias said to one of his henchman, he used the verb tuptō, which means to give a violent blow in the fist. He said, “Punch that guy in the mouth.” And so one of the soldiers you know no doubt let Paul have it in the mouth. Now Ananias, as I said, is a vile man, and the system is an evil system and they have violated Paul’s rights. He has done nothing. This is ridiculous, the whole thing.
And what was Paul’s reaction? Verse 3, “Then said Paul unto him, ‘God smite, you, you whited wall.’” Now wait a minute, Paul, I think you just lost it. When he said, “God smite you,” if you want to put that in the vernacular, he said, “God damn you, you whited wall.” A whited wall was simply a representation of hypocrisy. A wall was a big mud pile; that’s all, just mud, some bricks and some mud, ugly brown dirt. To make it look good, they would cover it with whitewash. And when you called somebody a whited wall as Jesus did in Matthew 23 when he spoke to the same group, you’re saying, “You look good on the outside, but inside you’re dirty.” He says, “God in effect damn you, you hypocrite.” You see that was his flesh. That was his normal response before he came to Christ. That was the instinct of the sin principle, but it wasn’t right. It wasn’t right. It couldn’t have been right. The people were shocked in verse 4. And they stood by and they said, “Rivelest thou God's high priest? What are you doing? You’re reviling God's high priest.” I was amazed too to read that they didn’t get so excited when Ananias had somebody punched him in the mouth even though he hadn’t done anything. Was it all right for the high priest to slug somebody in the mouth or have one of his henchman do it but not all right for the man to retaliate? Double standard, right?
You know what the law said? The tradition of the Rabbi said this, and it’s a very simple tradition but very straightforward. It says, “He who strikes the cheek of an Israelite strikes as it were the glory of God.” He strikes the Holy One. Well Paul responded by this, verse 5: “I knew not brethren that he was the high priest.” Maybe he didn’t have on his high priest uniform or maybe he was hidden behind somewhere and Paul had never seen him in the crowd that was there. Paul says, “I didn’t know that. If I would’ve known he was the high priest, I wouldn’t have done it, for it is written thou shall not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.” Exodus 22 says that. Exodus 22 says that you’re not to do that, verse 28. And Paul says, “I was wrong,” and he condemned himself by the Scriptures. Now I like the response, don’t you? I like the fact that he admitted he was wrong and he even brought the Scripture in to condemn himself. He apologized. Well what’s interesting to me is everything he said was true, that guy was a whited wall, and God would bring judgment on him. And this day, except for the grace of God unbeknownst to us, he’s in an eternal hell; God did smite him. But that is not the way we are to respond in personal relationships.
Compare to that John 18. And in John chapter 18 the Lord Jesus is in a very similar situation before a very similar tribunal. Listen to these two verses, John 18:22 and 23. “And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, ‘Answerest thou the high priest so?’” And this guy just punched Jesus the same way that Paul was punched. What did Jesus say? Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil. But if I have spoken well, why do you smite me?” What a different spirit, huh? Completely different. He says, “If I’ve done evil and I deserve this, then tell me. if I have not done evil, why did you do that?” You know what he was doing? He was the forcing the man to think of his deeds before he did them; he wasn’t thinking of himself. He was saying in effect to them, “You want to be sure that you have reason to do what you do and that that is valid. There’s no retaliation.”
You see Peter said when Jesus was reviled, 1 Peter 2:23, “When he was reviled, he reviled not again.” He never reacted that way. Paul and Jesus are different. Jesus didn’t sin, Paul did. Now what about you and me? How do we react to those kind of situations? Are we like Jesus? Do we say, “You should think about those things before you do them. If I deserve them, fine. If not, why did you do that?” Or do we lash back? Let’s find out how we are to respond. Back to Matthew chapter 5.
Now remember last time we told you that there are three elements in all of these six contrasts that Jesus gives. First of all, the Principle of Mosaic Law. And the Principle of Mosaic Law is given in verse 38: “You have heard that it hath been said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” It was their traditional teaching but it did come from the Mosaic Law. It is recorded in Exodus 21, Leviticus 24, and Deuteronomy 19; that statement is biblical. Three times in the Old Testament it says, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But keep in mind, this was a stipulation for the law courts. This was for the legal system, not a mandate for personal vengeance in human relationships. It’s so important that we understand that. This is not an issue of personal vendetta. It is to take revenge and vindication out of personal action. That’s why God designed law courts and judges and rulers and why he gave us laws like this laws called anciently lextalionis, tit for tat, which simply means equal punishment for the crime. The punishment never exceeds the crime, that’s what it’s saying. It is to control justice so justice is fair and equal. And this simple law, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, beloved is the foundation principle of all human justice. All human justice is based upon the fact that the punishment must never exceed the crime. It also is a law given by God to restrain vengeance, to take vengeance out of human relationships and put it within dually-constituted authority so that it can be dealt with properly.
Now listen, human relationships and law courts are two distinct categories, and there are two distinct things in each one. For example, we do not want courts to act as human relationships act, and we do not want human relationships to act like courts. For example, if a person commits a crime, we do not want the court to say, “Oh, listen, I’m so sorry that you did this and I want to be gracious and merciful. You’re forgiven, forget it. Just go out and remember that if you do it again we’ll forgive you again, and if you do it again we’ll forgive you again 70 times 7. We’ll just keep forgiving you.” Now wait a minute, we would have absolute holocaust. We don’t want a court to act like a human relationship. We’re not looking for mercy in a court; we’re looking for justice to preserve society. But nor do we want a human relationship to act like a court. If your wife, for example, did something that offends you, you don’t bend over and say, “All right, you gave me one, you give me.” No, no, no, we don’t want lextalionis at home.
If somebody wrongs you, your neighbor borrows something of yours and breaks it, you don’t go over and say, “All right, what do you want me to break?” You don’t operate a relationship like that. We must keep a distinction between the law court and the area of human relationships. In the law court, justice operates on an eye and a tooth for a tooth basis. In human relationships, love and forgiveness operates. In one, you’re dealing with crime. In another, you’re dealing with a human relationship, and those are kept distinct.
Now where the Jews missed the point is they took lextalionis out of the law courts and they put it into their personal lives, and this is the way they operated in their relationships, with vendettas and vindications and revenges and vengeance. That’s not the way God intended it. So we saw in our last study, first of all, the Principle of Mosaic Law and then the perversion of Jewish tradition. They had taken this thing and turned it into a cherished spirit of vengeance, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. “Boy, you can’t do that to me. You can’t step on my rights. You can’t take my rights away or I’ll react back to you,” see.
Now let’s see how Jesus approaches it in verse 39. “But I say unto you, this is the new instruction. This is my truth, my principle. But I say unto you that ye resist not evil.” Now, beloved, that verse has been so misinterpreted. “Resist not evil,” well that’s it, absolute passivism. Just go ahead, walk all over me, abuse me, use me, steal all I own. No, no, no. “Go ahead sin, we don’t care. We’re not gonna resist evil. We’re just gonna realize that evil is evil is evil, and it’s gonna do its thing.” No, no, that isn’t what he’s saying. And people who take that approach really miss the whole point. The Bible talks about resisting some evil, for example other Scriptures like James 4:7, “Resist the devil,” right? 1 Peter 5:9, “Resist the devil.” We must resist evil when it comes in a Satanic form. I don’t say, “Oh, here comes the devil again. Well, devil, go ahead and whatever.” No, resist the devil. Resist evil. When Peter sinned in Galatians chapter 2, Paul didn’t say, “Oh well, there goes Peter. Poor fellow, sins got him.” Paul said, “Peter, you’re out of line and cut it out,” and he withstood him to the face. In 1 Corinthians 5, “If you find somebody in your congregation is committing fornication, put him out of the church.” In 1 Timothy 5, “If you find an elder that is sinning, rebuke him before everybody that everybody would know he’s a sinner and put him out if he doesn’t respond.”
In Matthew chapter 18, “If somebody sinned, go to him about his sin. If he doesn’t hear you, take two or three witnesses. And if he doesn’t hear them, tell it to the church. And if he still doesn’t hear, put him out of the church.” We are to deal with sin personally. We are to deal with sin in relationships. We are to deal with sin in the church, and we are also to resist crime. “The powers that be are ordained of God,” Romans 13 says. And the government is given to us to protect the good and punish the evil. And if we don’t uphold that, then we don’t uphold a God-given institution. If we don’t deal with the government properly, if we don’t say, “I will uphold the standards of the government,” then we’re denying a God-ordained institution. If I see a crime, I ought to report it to the police. If I know where a criminal is, I must tell the police, not aid in a bet crime within a society, because government and the agents of government are ministers of God who bear not the sword in vein but serve the Lord. So we do resist evil in a government by our laws, in a church by our purity, in a relationship by confronting people.
And I think too we have to remember that Jesus resisted evil. In John 2, he made a whip and cleaned the temple, and in Mark 11 he did it again. He didn’t just get doormated by everybody, and I think too that there’s a certain sense of God-given self-preservation. If somebody comes to do something to me, it’s very normal for me to protect myself and my family or my interests and people I love. I mean even Proverbs 22:3 says, “A prudent man foresees the evil and hides himself.” I mean it’s just obvious that there’s gonna be self-preservation. That isn’t what he’s saying. He’s not trying to make us into just people who lie down flat and let everything happen. You say, “Well what does he mean resist not evil?” Well you understand it from this standpoint. Look, resist means to set against, to set against, anthistēmi. And the evil here is tō ponērō, and apparently it has to do with one who opposes you or one who wrongs you. And what he’s saying is don’t set yourself against one who wrongs you. In other words, don’t start a feud. Don’t start a vengeance thing. Don’t get some revenge going, that’s all he’s saying. He’s not talking about categorical evil and letting it overrun your life. He’s saying, “The one who wrongs you is not to be resisted or opposed.” Don’t fight somebody who violates your rights.
This isn’t anything that’s isolated to the Sermon on the Mount; this is a general principle in Scripture. Look at Romans chapter 12, verse 17. You can just listen as I read. It says, “Recompense to no man evil for evil.” Don’t pay back anybody evil for evil. If somebody does something to you, don’t do back to them. Just do this, live as much as is possible peaceably with all men. Be a peacemaker, not a troublemaker. And then I love this: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves but rather give place to wrath.” You say, “Give place to wrath and vengeance. Where is its place? Where do I put it?” Right here. It is written, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord.” You just take it and give it to the Lord. Don’t be vengeful, give it to the Lord. “Well what about my enemy? What do I do with this guy?” Well if he’s hungry, feed him. If he’s thirsty, give him a drink. What do you mean? Well in so doing you’ll heap coals of fire upon his head.
What does that mean? Like the little Irish lady who had a drunken husband, and she went to the pastor and said, “I’ve given up. I’ve done everything to correct his life. I have chased him around with a frying pan,” and she went on and on. And he said, “Oh, my dear lady, have you thought about heaping coals of fire on his head?” She said, “My dear, pastor, I’ve thought of some awful things but never that.” She didn’t get the point. Heaping coals of fire on the head is simply turning back hate with love that brings shame. It’s very embarrassing, you see. People get lit up bright red when you return their hate with love. That’s what he’s saying. Overcome evil with what? Good. That’s a tremendous truth.
Now Jesus picks out four little cameo illustrations out of life, and I want you to see these; they’re really insightful. And he picks out four basic human rights: Dignity, security, liberty, and property. And by the way, if we had time, we’d go into the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees those things to us. We have the right to dignity. We have the right to security, the right to liberty, and the right to own property. Now those are four basic human rights. Okay, let’s look at the first one, dignity. We say in our society, “That’s right. I have the right to be honored as a human being. I’m a human being. I should be dignified. I should be respected. I should be treated with kindness. I am a person made in the image of God and I should be dealt with so.” And we hear people say that today, “I’m a human being, I won’t be treated like that. I have my rights. I have some dignity. You can’t demean me. you can’t dishonor me. I’m a human being.” That’s right, you are made in the image of God and you do have a right to some dignity, but you know what, you’re not always get it. Do you know that? Sometime you’re gonna be treated like you’re some kind of animal or some kind of worm or something. People are gonna treat you in a terrible way. They may treat you that way in a gas station line, or they may treat you that way in a restaurant, or your family may treat you that way. Sometimes the people closest to you treat you in a way, and you say, “What did I do to deserve this? Don’t they realize that I’m made in the image of God? I have some rights to dignity. I shouldn’t be so demeaned and dishonored.”
But what does Jesus say about that? Verse 39: “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Oh, this is really just pregnant with meaning. Listen to this. The Jews said that the most demeaning, contemptuous act was to slap someone in the face. I mean to have a fight you know was to treat somebody as an equal, but to just oomph, see, that’s demeaning. And the Jews said this, “The most demeaning, doubly-contemptuous, arrogant man is to slap you with the back of his hand.” See, you’re not even worthy of a shot, you just oomph, disdain, see. Epictetus, right, and he was a Roman slave said, “A slave would rather be thrashed with a whip than slapped with the back of his master’s hand.” It was just demeaning.
And it’s most interesting to look at verse 39, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek.” Why do you think Jesus used that? Because a right hand will always smack somebody on the right cheek when it uses the back of its hand, see. The right cheek being slapped would mean he was hit, granted that most people are right-handed like that. In other words, when your dignity is taken away, when you are disdained, when you are dishonored, when you are demeaned, when you are arrogantly humiliated, let him do it again before you ever retaliate. That’s what it means. It doesn’t mean turn the other cheek. If that’s all it meant, two cheeks and you just grind him to a pulp. You know that’s not the idea. People mix – they say, “Well hit me on the right cheek, turn the left cheek. Boy, now you’re gonna get it.” That isn’t the idea.
You see it’s the non-retaliating, non-vengeful, forgiving, loving spirit. And you don’t have enough cheeks to carry on the illustration. The point that he’s saying is this: When you are demeaned and dishonored and your dignity is tread upon, don’t retaliate; let it happen again. People always say, “Well in John 18, boy, that soldier smacked Jesus on the cheek and he didn’t turn the other cheek.” You missed the point. You know what he said? He said, “If I’ve done some evil, tell me what it is. If I haven’t, why did you do that?” And then he turned his cheek plenty of times because from then on they just plucked it. Isaiah 50, verse 6, he said, “I gave myself to the smiters and to those that plucked my beard and I gave myself to those that spit all over me.” Don’t tell me he didn’t turn the other cheek. They spit all over him. They rammed a crown of thorns on his head. They pulled his beard out. They mocked him. They beat him. They whipped him. They spit all over him. That’s the attitude, and then he comes to the cross and hanging there suspended while all of his organs are being suffocated he says, “Father,” – what? – “forgive them for they know not what they do.”
What Jesus is saying is this: “When someone treats you in a way that is less than you deserve, when someone takes the right to dignity that you have, don’t retaliate. Be slapped again before you would ever think to retaliate. Take as much as they want to give but don’t retaliate.” If you’re worried about your dignity, beloved, someday you’re gonna be a Son of God in the image of Jesus Christ and you’re gonna stay that way forever, and God's gonna pour out all the goodness of his great grace on you forever and ever and ever. So if you’re worried about your dignity, just hang on, you’ll get it. Don’t fight for it here, because if you do, you’re gonna disavow the fact that you’re a Son of God and that you’re related to Jesus Christ, because you won’t be acting in a way consistent with them.
There’s a second illustration that I think is so very graphic, and that is regard to our security, to our security. Spurgeon said, “Sometimes we have to be the anvil while bad men are the hammers.” And that’s true. Sometimes people are gonna take advantage of us, and look at verse 40: “If any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” Now you say, “Wait a minute, I got a guy trying to sue me. I’m gonna get him.” No, no. Jesus says, “Let him sue you and then give to him.” What is he saying here? I believe the idea here is not to just hang around while – if people found out that Christians believed this wrongly, they’d start suing us all over the place and take everything we had. And we’d just say, “Well you like my house? Here’s my car, right? Take anything.” That isn’t the idea. The idea is that there’s apparently some justification for this person’s suit. He is suing you for your coat.
Now the coat is a word in the Greek that means the tunic. It’s the undergarment, the normal cloak that you wore on the inside like a shirt only it was a full-length thing 'cause they didn’t wear trousers or pants as men do today. Women and men wore just an undergarment, long. And maybe a poor man would only have three or four of those, some people only one of them. And what the idea is here is that you’ve done something and you’re being sued at court, and there’s a place for that; courts have to decide certain disputes. And so what happens is you don’t have anything to pay except that thing that you’re wearing; I mean you’re down to nothing. He’s gonna get your shirt, proverbially, right? And when he gets your shirt, just to show how magnanimous your heart is and just to show how sorry you are that you ever did anything to cause his trouble, give him your coat too.
Now to a Jew this would be absolutely devastating. They’d immediately jump up out of their seats and say, “Wait a minute. We know what the Bible says in Exodus 22, 26, and 27. It says the Jewish law allows a tunic,” which is the word for the cloak, “an outside tunic to only be given as a pledge,” but it had to be returned by nightfall because it was the blanket they slept on. “And you have a right to security. You can’t strip me naked and leave me out to the elements!” And it can get cold in Jerusalem; don’t forget it’s a mile high. And you know you say, “Well I’m supposed to give my last security? This is all I’ve got. The world is my cloak.” And they would wear it in the day to keep them warm and they would cuddle in it at night to keep them warm. It was their blanket and their coat, and that’s why Exodus 22 says, “You can take everything a man’s got but his coat. You can only take it as a pledge and then you have to give it back at night.”
But Jesus is saying, “Look, if somebody has come to court and you have to give him your shirt, don’t be grudging. Don’t be angry. Don’t be bitter. Don’t be retaliating. Show him you’re really sorry that it’s ever happened. Show him you’re so magnanimous that all you’ve got left to keep you warm, your last little bit of security is your cloak, but you’re willing to give him that too.” Now that’ll shock him. That’ll show him the love of Christ. That’ll show them what it means in verse 44 to love your enemies and bless them that curse you and do good to them that hate you and pray for them that despitefully use you. If somebody has the nerve and the gall to sue you and take everything you’ve got, and maybe he has some reason for it, just to show how your heart is right toward him, give him more than he even asked for, more than he asked for. People can’t handle that. You know they just don’t know how to handle that kind of thing. And you’ll show them, verse 45, “that you are the sons of your Father.”
Listen, can I add another side to this, people? Don’t be in a hurry to sue everybody. In the first place, 1 Corinthians says, “You have no right to sue another believe at all.” And just in general, I had a news reporter say to me recently, “You know I met this certain man who’s a minister over here in this area and he’s on radio and television. He is without a doubt the most litigious man I ever met.” That means prone to litigation. She said, “I’ve never met a man anywhere who was so in a hurry to sue everybody for everything he could get.” What kind of a testimony is that? Well what kind of a testimony is that? “I’ve got my rights! I’m gonna sue!” Listen, “Better to be defrauded,” says the apostle Paul. “Better to be sure that you’re the son of your Father and you’re absolutely forgiving.” The assumption here is that the Christian is only involved in a suit as a victim and that there’s a reason why he’s being sued and he’s supposed to give his shirt. The assumption here isn’t that you’re gonna sue somebody! There may be times when the court will have to make a judgment in certain things, I understand that. But our heart attitude should not be one that goes around seeking to get everything we can get out of everybody.
There’s a third area. Not only dignity and security but liberty. We have a right to freedom. We have a right to be free. God has made us independent. We all have our own brains. We all have our own feet, our own hands, our own eyes and ears and we can go and do and say. We have liberty; God's given us that. We have the right to speak, to hear, to see, to move about, to accomplish things. God's even made us so unique and individual that no two of us is alike; we’re like snowflakes. And we have an amazing liberty to be free, and God I think intended that, to express all that we are in his creation. But you know it’s gonna be so in the world that people are gonna step on your freedom, did you know that? A lot of times in my life, I’ll say, “Oh boy.” I’ll say to Patricia, “Honey, just we have some time,” and all of a sudden something comes into my life. So and so happened, this happened. You got to go here, you got to go there. And you say, “Oh, man, am I gonna give up my whole life for everybody else? I got my rights. I got to have some liberty.” Jesus speaks to that in verse 41, “Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile go with him,” – what? – “two.” Now this is interesting. We think in America we invented the Pony Express, but we didn’t.
We did not invent the Pony Express. I hate to tell you this, but the Persians did; it’s another idea we stole. The Persians had a great idea. They marked off their whole county and they had a very sophisticated postal system. They had little weigh stations one day’s journey apart all over the area of Persia; it was a big empire in those days. And men would ride horseback from dawn ‘til sunset, or basically that, one day’s journey and they would stop to refresh horses and provisions for then they’d go to the next lag and the next lag.
Well during the time that that was developing, the term came to be used aggaros, and an aggaros was the one who was the courier, the Persian courier moving along in that kind of a path. The Romans also picked up the same term and they used it to refer to couriers. Now what was interesting was that in the Persian system if something happened to the guy carrying the mail, if he was ill or if he was injured or something, he could conscript a citizen just along the wayside and force him on the horse to finish the day’s journey. So the aggaros became the courier who was conscripted. And by the time you get the word down into the Greek in the New Testament, it has to do with somebody conscripted by an official for some public duty.
Classic illustration, Jesus taking his cross to Golgotha to be crucified can no longer carry his cross. And so immediately the Romans find a man, Simon of Cyrene. They solicit him, he comes out and he has to carry the cross. He becomes an aggaros; he is compelled to do that by the government. Now that would be interesting if it was in our society that way, wouldn’t it? You’re driving down the road and you got a very important deal, you you’re getting there, and all of a sudden those lights start flashing in the police car and he pulls you over. And he says, “Sir, I don't know what your plans are but I’ve got this little package for you to take to Sacramento today.” “What? Sacramento. This is a gas shortage. I’ve got things to do. I can’t go.” “Yes, sir, you’ll be going to Sacramento immediately.” That’s the way it was in Persia. I don’t suppose people walked on those postal routes very often. That’s the way it was in the Roman times because they had to face the fact that they could be conscripted as Simon was.
But there was apparently a little rule that they had, at least in Jesus’ time, and that was this: That when a Roman soldier, and they did this commonly, asked a citizen to carry his pack he could never ask any one citizen to carry it more than one mile or the equivalent. And Jesus is saying, “When somebody infringes on your liberty and says, ‘Would you carry my pack one mile,’ and he happens to be a hated Roman and you’re a Jew and he happens to be going somewhere you couldn’t care less about, the opposite direction as you, and you’re carrying literally the weapons of warfare against your people and this is your avowed enemy and he asks you to go one mile,” Jesus says, “go two, go two.” You say, “Well that’s a little hard to do.” That’s right, but that’s the Spirit of your Father who is in heaven. If God only went the first mile with us, we’d be in real trouble, right? But he’s carried our burden far beyond that.
Don’t be concerned with your liberty any more than you’re concerned with your security or your dignity. God will give you the freedom of the sons of God. God will give you the security of his home in heaven forever. God will give you the dignity of the image of Jesus Christ. Don’t chase the things here that destroy the testimony that God wants you to bear.
There’s a final illustration, and that’s property. You know the last thing we hang onto is what we own, right? Somebody said to me yesterday, “I’ve got everything I own paid for, paid for.” Isn’t that great, now if somebody wants it you can give it and you won’t have any bills. What! Somebody says, “I need a car, can I borrow your car?” And what happens? You have a conversation with your wife and it goes like this: “He wants to borrow the car.” “Oh no, we just polished the car. The kids mud all over their feet. They get those sticky hands everywhere. I’ve seen the guy hit the curb a dozen times, we’ll have to have it aligned.” You know and you go through that whole deal. We’re possessive about things. What does Jesus say about your property? Verse 42: “Give to him that asks thee.” You say, “Well there’s got to be some more adjectives in that verse. What do you mean give to him that asks you?” Yes, right. If somebody asks, and I think it implies a real need. I don’t think you ought to help beggars along because you just make beggars out of them. Little kids in Israel and other parts of the world have learned they can make a better living begging because they play on the sympathy of people than they can working, so you should be aware of that.
But when there’s somebody who has a need and they ask, you ought to give it to them. There’s not even asking what for; it’s just your heart. God is saying, “This is the kind of heart you ought to have, and if you don’t see this in you, then it’s a great evidence that your system of religion isn’t making it.” See? “Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away.” When somebody wants to borrow what you have, let him have it. You have here the principle of self-sacrificing generosity. God, help us to be generous.
Deuteronomy 15:7 says, “If there be among you a poor man within your gates, don’t harden your heart or shut your hand from your poor brother. But open your hand wide and lend him sufficient for his need in that which he lacks.” When you give to him, give him all that he needs, not tokenism; don’t buy off your conscience. Be generous. Now Jesus isn’t prohibiting justice; justice belongs in the courts. But in human relations, he wants us to be forgiving and loving. And if our rights are stolen, the right of dignity or the right of security or the right of liberty or the right of property, we don’t retaliate; we just commit it all to the Lord and we act in love.
There’s a key to this you know. George Muller had it. He said this: “There was a day when I died, utterly died to George Muller and his opinions, his preferences, his tastes and his will. I died to the world, it’s approval and its censure. I died to the approval or blame of even my brethren and friends. And since I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.” That’s really the key. It’s a biblical spirit, isn’t it? It’s the spirit of Abraham who rushed to rescue Lot who had so cheated Abraham. It’s the spirit of Joseph who generously forgave his brothers and tearfully loved him, brothers who had sold him to slavery. It’s the spirit of David who after being chased all over by an evil, angry Saul to slaughter him, spares his life on two occasions. It’s the spirit of Stephen who lying and crushed beneath the bloody stones asks that the sin of stoning him not be laid to the charge of those who did it. It’s the spirit of Paul after his conversion who writes of love and forgiveness in Romans and Corinthians. It’s the Spirit of Jesus who says, “Father, forgive them.”
Atony, according to Roman history, wanted Cicero dead. He wanted him dead because Cicero was his political enemy. So he said to his men, “Go kill Cicero, I want his head.” Cicero was the golden mouth orator who had some power because of his great ability to speak. Off went the soldiers and they returned not long after with the head of Cicero. In glee, Antony took the head to his wife Fovea and said, “Look, we have at last the head of our enemy.” The biographers say that she took the head and placed it in her lap and stared into its face and laughed. She pulled its head out, ran a dagger through the tongue, turned it and had it thus nailed to the door of the very place where he had so many times given great speeches. Oh, the ugliness of revenge. We can’t imagine anybody doing that, and yet the smallest taint of that within our hearts is the same ugliness that God sees in a deed that heinous. It should be said of us, as Tennyson said of Archbishop Cranmer. He said of him this: “To do him wrong was to beget a kindness from him, for his heart was rich of such fine mold that if you sewed therein the seed of hate it always blossomed love.”
Let’s pray together. Father, instead of fighting for our rights, may we live for what is right before you. The spirit of humility, gentleness, forgiveness, and love to those who are set against us, that we may truly be the sons of our Father, that people may see in us the wondrous forgiving love of Jesus Christ. It grieves our heart, Lord, to know that so often we preach a Christ of forgiveness, a God of forgiveness, and then we live unforgiving lives which must literally destroy the validity of our testimony. May we, as Paul said to Titus, “adorn the doctrine of God.” May our living may match our message that people will see in us that forgiving Christ, see in us that forgiving God, as we, even though the rights of dignity, security, liberty, and property be taken away, may we never retaliate with less than love, bringing to them a certain amount of shame that they may know that they’re missing a dimension of life that we possess and in so knowing seek the only one who can give it, our Lord Jesus Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.
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