Sermon preached at Our Savior Lutheran church for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost on February 20, 2011. Sermon text: Matthew 5:38-48
Has there ever been a subject talked about, sung about, thought about more than love? Love is something that every human being wants, that all people need, and that everyone always seems to be searching for more of. Probably the majority of movies and songs and television shows focus on love in some way. This past week was Valentine’s Day, a day devoted to love and the people who share it.
But at the same time, love seems to cause problems in this world. Love can lead to a broken heart. Love can be lost in this world. Much of the unhappiness, fighting, and even hatred in this world finds its origin in love — or the loss of love.
So what are we to do with love, where can we find pure, true love that will never let us down or leave us hurt? Only in Jesus. Only in God’s one and only Son who is the embodiment of God’s love for us. And it is his love that allows us to truly show love. We love because he first loved us. (1 Jn. 4:19)
So when Jesus tells us to love, and he tells us how to love, we expect it to sound a certain way. We expect him to tell us things that will make us stand up and cheer. We expect him to say things that people will want read at their weddings. We wait for things that will show up on the inside of a Valentine’s Day card.
But instead, in Jesus’ sermon on the Mount, we get some surprising — almost shocking — words about love from Jesus. They don’t fit with our expectations. They don’t fit with this world’s way of thinking about love; they didn’t when Jesus spoke these words nearly two thousand years ago, and they sure don’t today.
But in Jesus’ words of love, we see one thing clearly: his love for us. His words to us are less shocking when we see that his words showed exactly how he loved us. He didn’t think of himself; he thought of us. Because he loved us. And he wants us to do the same to others. That is true love, and it only comes from Jesus. So follow him. Reflect Jesus’ love.
Jesus’ words hit us hard from the very beginning of our text. You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matt. 5:38-39) Really, Jesus? Is that really what you want us to do?
In the Old Testament (Lev. 24:20) there were laws about the punishment that criminals should receive. If they hurt someone’s eye, then their eye should be hurt. If they knocked out someone’s tooth, their tooth should get knocked out, too. And this makes sense! This is what we want, isn’t it? When someone hurts us; we want them to get hurt, too. When someone wrongs us, we want that wrong put right back in their face.
But that’s not what Jesus wants from us. Don’t resist an evil person, he says. Turn the other cheek when you’re slapped on one of them. The point here is not that Jesus wants us to go around getting slapped. The point is we shouldn’t take revenge on someone else. We shouldn’t focus on hurting someone else, even when they have hurt us. That’s love.
Jesus went on with a similar thought. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matt. 5:40-42)
God has given us many blessings with our possessions. He’s given us things to enjoy and have in our lives. And usually, when we have something, we don’t like someone else to take it. It’s “mine;” no, you can’t have it! We hold onto our possessions so tightly. But Jesus here is telling us to give freely and lend freely to others. Yes, we have possessions that are ours, and maybe someone else doesn’t deserve them. But Jesus wants us to give freely anyway.
So many people today, especially in our country, take their rights very seriously. “I have a right” to do this or that. And that’s true! We do have rights, and what a blessing that we do! But love, Jesus says, sometimes means that we don’t make use of those rights. Sometimes we let someone take advantage of us. Not because they deserve it, but because we can do that for them. This is a tough lesson of Jesus that he is teaching here.
By the way, here you notice the origin of the phrase “go the extra mile.” You see, the Roman Empire had a law about their military. The law said that a Roman soldier could force anyone at any time to carry their equipment or anything they wanted for up to one mile. Obviously people who lived in Roman-occupied areas — people like the Jews in Jesus’ day — hated this law. They didn’t want to walk a mile for one of those Roman soldiers! Today I’m sure they’d call this an abuse of human-rights. But Jesus said, “Don’t worry about what your right is. Love them! Go the extra mile.”
Jesus effectively took the idea of what love is and turned it on its ear here in the Sermon on the Mount. And he went on to do it even more in the next verses. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5:43-44)
Love your neighbor. That’s something God had said, that he had commanded. But he never told people to hate their enemy. People added that on their own. But again, it makes sense. Of course you hate your enemy, right? When someone is against you, when someone hurts you, when someone doesn’t believe what you believe, then it makes sense you would hate that person.
It might make sense, but it’s not love. People may do awful things to you, they might hurt you, they might even kill you or people you love. But Jesus says, “Love them anyway. Pray for them. Pray that God would bless them in every way.”
This is another one of those things that we know is right because Jesus said it. We know it’s true. But living it out is about the hardest thing there is. When someone hurts you; you don’t want to love them back. When someone stabs you in the back, talks about you, says you’re no good, that you are a horrible person — you don’t want to love them back. But that’s love, Jesus says. That’s love, not to give someone what they deserve, but to show them unconditional love no matter what.
But how can we live that out? And how can we live out what Jesus said as he ended this section of his sermon? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 6:1) Be perfect! Not pretty good, not better than average, not almost perfect, not 99%, but be perfect. 100%. All the time.
Really, Jesus? That’s your answer? How can we live up to that? No one can! We could never be perfect! No one is! The only person that has ever been perfect was…
And there it is. There’s the answer. It’s Jesus. He’s the only one who was ever perfect. He’s the one who showed the perfect love. He turned the other cheek. As he was beaten and brought to the cross. As his hands and feet were nailed there. As he gave his life for your sins; he didn’t strike back. As the prophet Isaiah said, He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Is. 53:7)
Jesus wasn’t just preaching this stuff; he wasn’t just encouraging it. He lived it! He died it! He did it for you!
And you want to talk about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you? Jesus lived it! He died it! For you! When he was crucified, what was his prayer? Father, forgive them. (Lk. 23:34) Forgive them! Not because they deserved it. Because they didn’t. Neither did we.
But Jesus won us forgiveness anyway. The book of Romans put it best. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8) Jesus didn’t die for good people; he died for sinners. He died for you and me. He loved us.
That’s the love we want to show to others. Reflect Jesus’ love. There are plenty of people in this world, in your life, maybe even in this room who don’t deserve your love. There are plenty of times where you could demand your rights be upheld. But in love, give that love of Christ to them. Pray for them. Go the extra mile. Love, not because it’s deserved, but because love has already been given to you. Reflect Jesus’ love.
This won’t be easy for us, friends, but we have every reason to do it. Our reason is in Christ. In how he lived and died and loved for us. How he forgave us. How he rescued us from sin, death, and hell forever. Because he did that; reflect his love. Show that love to others. Let his light shine through you. Reflect Jesus’ love.