Justice, revenge, and enemies, oh my!
What we are NOT going to do today is trace our topics all the way through the OT like I have the others. I believe we have done that sufficiently to show you the importance of understanding the law in order to understand the statements Jesus was making.
We are also NOT going to hyper focus on any of the specific cases Jesus brings up. We have established that Jesus was NOT establishing a new set of laws or attempting to undo the original laws. He wanted to help people understand how they really out to live with each other if they are to honor God.
Instead, we are going to take the principles we have learned over the past 3 weeks and apply them to our passage to see how we should understand the last two of the six intensifications.
Matthew 5:38–42 CSB
38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said… let’s quickly verify that those are concepts from the Law & Prophets: ⚡⚡
Exodus 21:23–25 CSB
23 If there is an injury, then you must give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, bruise for bruise, wound for wound.
Leviticus 24:19–20 CSB
19 If any man inflicts a permanent injury on his neighbor, whatever he has done is to be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Whatever injury he inflicted on the person, the same is to be inflicted on him.
Yes, I think there is a good precedent for them hearing this message! Not only was this a teaching of Jewish law, but also of other laws of its day such as Babylonian laws. Laws of retribution are based on the belief that the punishment should fit the crime.
Retributive law was actually considered one of the most fair law systems. Though the Babylonians had different punishments based upon class of people, the Jews took a different approach - since all people are made in the image of God, the punishment is the same for rich or poor, social elite or social outcast. At least in theory.
JESUS was NOT saying that we should ignore justice! That would be to dismantle the Law. As usual, this law was expanded upon in the Old Testament to help us keep some perspective: ⚡
Deuteronomy 19:16–21 CSB
16 “If a malicious witness testifies against someone accusing him of a crime, 17 the two people in the dispute are to stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and judges in authority at that time. 18 The judges are to make a careful investigation, and if the witness turns out to be a liar who has falsely accused his brother, 19 you must do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from you. 20 Then everyone else will hear and be afraid, and they will never again do anything evil like this among you. 21 Do not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.
It shows that justice is certainly called for, and in this case, punishment is certainly acceptable. So what was the point Jesus was making? Why would he change things up?
When we approach this type of law we must realize that we are often most interested in justice or retribution from the perspective of the one who has been wronged. If I have been mistreated the other person should be mistreated back.
As his listeners were sitting on the hill, they must have immediately connected with the pronouncement of justice. I can only image the puzzled looks on their faces when Jesus went on to day, “But I tell you, don’t resist and evil doer.” What?! What does that even mean? What about MY RIGHTS as a victim? What about JUSTICE?
There is a difference between justice and revenge. There is a difference between a sentence and retaliation. The difference, as Jesus has been pointing out, is the heart.
The Gospel according to Matthew e. Retaliation, 5:38–42
“Do not resist the evil person” does not mean that we should let evil triumph throughout our communities. Jesus is referring to private retaliation, not to public order, and he is instructing his followers not to be intent on getting their own back when someone wrongs them. To be the victim of some form of evil does not give us the right to hit back.
Our society is fixated on the concepts of justice at present - though not all in agreement on what that looks like.
Imagine if one of our leaders today stood up and said, “If someone loots your store, unlock the back storage room so they can take some more.” Or, “If someone attacks your character publically, say nice things about them to everyone you talk to.” I cannot image what the reactions might be!
While we want to demand our rights - getting what we deserve and seeing that other people get what THEY deserve- this is NOT the intent of the law. ⚡
Proverbs 24:28–29 CSB
28 Don’t testify against your neighbor without cause.
Don’t deceive with your lips.
29 Don’t say, “I’ll do to him what he did to me;
I’ll repay the man for what he has done.”
It seems he gave us four examples as if he knew we would really struggle with this and look for ways to get around it.
The Slap - this was a public disgrace. According to the Mishnah (the oral tradition of the Jewish law), if someone slapped you with an open hand they were to be fined. Jesus said, if someone publically disgraces you, do not retaliate, brace for the next hit. It never says whether the slap was warranted.
The Shirt - there were not frivolous law suits back in their day. Today everyone has to put notices on everything just to make sure they cannot be sued - such as the famous McDonald’s “caution - beverage is hot” law suit. That was not the case during the time of the sermon on the hill. If someone had a reason to sue you, it was probably legit. If they want your shirt, give them your coat as well. That doesn’t seem like much, but actually, coats were NOT allowed to be taken for more than the daytime and must be returned before night. So to give up something you had the right to keep is quite the statement! If someone takes you to court because you have wronged them, give them more than they deserve.
The March - Apparently it was common practice for Roman soldiers to force people to carry their gear for them for up to a mile. If anyone in authority over you (ie: commander, government, boss) forces you to do something unpleasant or hard - perhaps even unnecessary in your eyes - such as walk a mile - go two miles.Not just 10% more but 100% more. Be willing to go way beyond what is asked even if it seems unreasonable. [confession: this is probably the one I struggle with the most in this list!]
The Loan - if someone wants something from you, give it to them. What? Let people borrow your stuff. There are no qualifiers here such as, “if the person has proven himself trustworthy with his own possessions, let him borrow yours” or “loan to her as long as she gives a guarantee that she will pay it back”.
Four different scenarios - some seem just, some unjust. All of them may seem unreasonable!
If you were to live by this as a literal list you would be a doormat stepped on by every person in society. To follow these rules verbatim would leave every jesus-follower as poor, destitute, slaves to whatever authority exists. That is NOT what Jesus is commanding.
The reason for the law “eye for eye” was to PREVENT people from abusing others! If you know that a similar punishment awaits you, then the hope is that you will not act wickedly in the first place.
I believe what Jesus is trying to point out is that even if someone DOES act wickedly towards you, it does not give you licence to act in opposition to the law! You CAN seek justice, but even with that you must check your heart. God rewards those who model him in seeking justice but he cannot reward those that seek justice out of impure motives such as hatred, contempt, revenge or animosity.
Remember, Jesus was not presenting an all inclusive list of when you have to not retaliate. He was providing a sampling that was meant to shock his listeners into thinking about their current circumstances and the original meaning of the Law & Prophets.
Let’s continue to the next section:
Matthew 5:43–47 CSB
43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?
Love your neighbor is certainly found in the Law & Prophets:
Leviticus 19:17–18 CSB
17 “Do not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. 18 Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
However, the command to hate your enemy is not scriptural! If you have a bible that shows you OT quotes in bold, such as the CSB, you will notice that “hate your enemies” is not bold! They may have heard this from some other law codes of their day, or from the way the Romans treated those that were a threat to Rome?
Or, it may have come from a misrepresentation of passages like this one by the scribes and Pharisees:
Deuteronomy 23:3–6 CSB
3 No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the Lord’s assembly; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, may ever enter the Lord’s assembly. 4 This is because they did not meet you with food and water on the journey after you came out of Egypt, and because Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram-naharaim was hired to curse you. 5 Yet the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam, but he turned the curse into a blessing for you because the Lord your God loves you. 6 Never pursue their welfare or prosperity as long as you live.
There is a difference between not helping and hating. It is much like the difference between justice and revenge.
However, Jesus goes one step further and says there is a difference between not helping and loving! It is not enough to simply be passive and ignore those that hate you - you are to love them.
This idea of loving your enemies is very consistent with the Law & Prophets - just like the other topics we have studied in this series. Notice what what we read in the “30 words of the wise” - ⚡
Proverbs 24:17–18 (CSB)
17 Don’t gloat when your enemy falls, and don’t let your heart rejoice when he stumbles, 18 or the Lord will see, be displeased, and turn his wrath away from him.
Again, we are reminded that this is an issue of the heart - and a very hard one at that! I have been in this situation and I have wanted to rejoice over my enemy’s failings. But that would be a very unloving perspective, wouldn’t it?
If we truly loved our enemy we would treat them honorably. Check out Paul’s message to the church in Rome - that place that tortured their enemies and forced people to carry heavy loads:
Romans 12:17–21 CSB
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18 If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. 20 But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. 21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
Jesus not only says we are to love our enemies, he then commands us to pray for those that oppose and persecute us!
Do you know it is hard to hate people when you are praying for them? Crazy thing! You might start praying for God to call down fire from heaven on them and then God starts to change your heart or the spirit starts convicting you and soon you realize that the prayer needs to change to, “God help me love that person the way you love them”.
I have been in the persecuted camp before - in the church body! And each week I had people sitting in seats, taking notes not to learn the scriptures, but to find something they could use to have me removed as pastor. They met in private and even made plans - contacting our association in an effort to have me removed. And each week as I preached I had to ask God to teach me how to love those people the way He does. Some weeks I was better at it than others...
Don’t just love those that are like you (socially, economically, ethnically, politically) love those that are different and perhaps even opposed to your beliefs - those that do NOT love you is how Jesus puts it. Love those in the church family - even if they are not easy to love. Love those outside your church family - even if they oppose you.
While it is tempting, and perhaps very natural for us to predominately love people who love us, that is not what we are called to do. We are called to love those that are not easy to love - and some of the hardest once to love are those that oppose us.
The goal is that we will be “children of your Father in heaven”. That is the point, isn’t it? The Law and Prophets point us to God. As we live in obedience to the laws, and we live rightly, we point people to the God of those laws - the one who values each person because he made each one. We are to love others the way God loves others.
However, the command to love our neighbors is given the suffix “as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). If we were to apply that principal in a pro-active way, instead of a defensive way such as legalism and court cases, it would sound and look like this: ⚡
Matthew 7:12 CSB
12 Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
When I demand my rights, protect my stuff and defend my honor I am focused on one thing: me. True love focuses on others. To fulfill the Law and the Prophets means to think of others more highly than you think of yourself Jesus’ way is much harder for sure! ⚡
Philippians 2:3–4 CSB
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.
What does it really look like to put others ahead of ourselves?
I can imagine that some that are listening today are struggling with these teachings. Perhaps you feel like you deserve justice? Perhaps you feel like your cause is one that God should avenge? Perhaps you are so hurt you cannot imagine finding a way to love?
Regardless of the pain, the hurt, oppression, rejection, abuse you have faced I can assure you that you have not faced more than Jesus did. Jesus set the example for us and you can read it if you keep going in Philippians: ⚡
Philippians 2:5–8 (CSB)
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.
Jesus modeled love by leaving heaven, becoming human, and dying on a cross for you and me. As Jesus-followers we are to model Jesus, and he not only told us what that looks like, he set the example with his very life:
Jesus said, “if someone slaps you, turn the other cheek” He did not retaliate when he was slapped and spit upon. John 19:3 “And they kept coming up to him and saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” and were slapping his face.”
Jesus said, “if someone wants to take away your shirt, give him your coat also”. Though he was put on trial falsely, he gave his clothes away - they were gambled off by soldiers: John 19:23-24 “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, a part for each soldier. They also took the tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it, to see who gets it.” This happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled that says: They divided my clothes among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing. This is what the soldiers did.”
Jesus said, “if you are forced to walk a mile, walk two.” He walked the road from the trial to the place of the skull after being whipped. It was Simon the Cyrene who ended up being forced by the soldiers to walk with Jesus and carry the cross.
Jesus said, “love your enemies” and he did so by dying for them on the cross. Romans 5:10 “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”
Jesus said, “pray for those who persecute you”. He did this while in agony, on the cross: Luke 23:34 “Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided his clothes and cast lots.”
Jesus did not demand justice - though given the opportunity to defend himself. He did not seek revenge on his enemies. Jesus lived and dies according to the law - loving the Father with all his life and loving us, even when we were enemies.
The response of those who crucified Jesus, after seeing him live this way, was for them to declare, “truly this man was the son of God”. Image the response of others in our culture if we chose to live in such a selfless way. It is what Jesus calls us to - 2 times in the book of Matthew: ⚡
Matthew 10:38 CSB
38 And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Matthew 16:24 CSB
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
We are not giving up our lives so that we can be praised for our great sacrifice, but so that others may see God’s image in us and want to know Him. How awesome would it be to hear people say, “truly you are a child of God”.
This is exactly the way Jesus ends this section of teaching: ⚡
Matthew 5:48 CSB
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
If you are going to please your Father in heaven, love people on this earth the way He does.