“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

We live in a society of retaliation. If you harm me then I have a right to harm you equally. If you cause damage to my property, then I have a right to restitution. This is the law today handed down by our governing authorities and so it was in ancient Israel in the Old Testament times. Whatever harm one committed the judges were expected to authorize a law of retaliation. The law for personal injury was even handed even if there was no intent. “But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:23-25) The law was not just pointed at people who practiced evil but was a law that was committed to justice. Therefore, the penalty was not arbitrary and sometimes the punishment was more severe than the crime. “Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Deuteronomy 19:21)

This was the way that it was in the land of the Israelites of old and it is the way that we are today. It was this way when I was growing up back on the block. I belonged to a gang known as the “Hoodies of the Hood.” If someone caused harm to one of the hoodies, then the hood would retaliate and gain justice for the injured hoodie. I was only eight years old back then but the attitude is still the same today in our societies across the world. I am not opposed to it, as we are in this world, but I think Jesus was trying to prepare us with the right attitude for the world we are bond for. Like the Jewish people of His day we today have missed the spiritual applications of God’s Law. We are bound for a higher world of righteous living.

Jesus is teaching His listeners what true righteousness is. When John the Baptist was to baptize Jesus he did not feel worthy to do so. But Jesus told him to do so in order to fulfill all righteousness. “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15) When John the Baptist baptized Jesus it symbolized His commitment to die for our sins. It was a visible statement that Jesus was fully committed to fulfill the Divine plan of the Father and that His journey to the cross had begun. This act also proved to John that Jesus was the Messiah. The willingness of God the Son to humble Himself and be baptized by a man showed His passion to die on the cross for man’s sin. Thus, the full righteousness of God the Father’s plan of salvation would be completed.

By our study of the Sermon on the Mount we are learning the character of Jesus and therefore the character of God. The full meaning of righteousness does not only come from what God says but out of who God is.

God’s righteousness gives us the freedom to love and serve our neighbors in the world. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) The freedom of God’s righteousness is that we are not bound by the character, motives, or relationship of our neighbor. The righteousness of Jesus is rooted in His grace and love towards mankind which frees us to give regardless of weather we will be compensated equally.

We are not, as followers of Jesus, to oppose evil doers with violence. The people of His day and today cannot understand this principle and that is one reason they rejected Him. They were looking for a Messiah that would conquer the Roman Empire and establish Israel as the leading nation of the world. This was not the strategy of the Christ. The objective of Jesus was to overcome evil with good. To overcome humiliation by shaming those who were in power.

Our demand for restitution and vengeance is a restricting was for us to live by. If we base our actions on the actions of others are we lifting ourselves up or allowing ourselves to be pulled down? If we are wronged, then our thought process is consumed by how we can get even for the wrong done to us. This way of living can become an obsession. Today we see those who are so consumed with a desire for revenge that their passion for it defines their whole way of life. If we repay evil for evil, then it becomes a never ending cycle.

In this text we are given some examples of what righteous living looks like. It is in opposition to the world’s tit-for-tat attitude. In each of these examples we can see that the righteous person can act freely without having to react to what has occurred. We must remember that this Sermon on the Mount began with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) Being poor in spirit is where true righteous living begins. When we realize our spiritual poverty we know that our true identity does not come from our self but is found in God. Apart from God we can do nothing. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) If our identity is in God, then no one can take it from us for He is in our heart. Therefore we can act independently of the actions of others.

The first example is someone slapping us on the right cheek. In the day of Jesus a slap to the right cheek was a grievous insult. According to Jewish and Roman law a person who has committed this act towards another could be prosecuted for the offense. But here Jesus tells us to offer the other cheek to be slapped. When we offer the other cheek we are saying that they are not capable to insult us this way because we belong to God. If you want to slap God’s cheek I offer it to you for the day is coming when you will be held accountable. “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)

Another example is someone is suing you for your coat. They believe they have a right to excerpt power over you, to control you, and to abuse you. Jesus tells us to offer our cloak as well. We dispel their power by freely giving them more than they believe they can take. If they truly need our coat, then they must need the cloak as well. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:38)

In the time of Jesus a Roman soldier could force a person to carry his baggage for a mile. It was a demand that one could not refuse legally. No one likes to be forced to do something against their will. But the soldier can lord it over you because of his position and an army to back him up. Jesus tells us that a righteous person would carry the soldier’s baggage an extra mile. By doing so we show the soldier that he is not forcing us to do anything and that we are not affected by his force because we serve a higher authority. We do not always know the full plan of God or His purpose. We may not know the good work we do until we reach our home in heaven. Until then we must walk in faith that our God knows and makes all things work for good. “As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.” (Matthew 27:32)

And lastly we are told to be generous givers. We are not to refuse the one who begs or needs to borrow. We have the freedom to give because we know that worldly gold is not the source of our life or our security. The reward is that the riches of His glory are far greater than the wealth of the world and in that is our eternal security. “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

The Lord Jesus is the One who fulfills this righteousness. How Jesus moves towards us is not dependent on how we deal with Him. Jesus loves us and we learned that many years ago in Sunday school. His unmerited grace is sufficient for us in any situation and He is the faithful and true One. He is not motivated by our loveliness, goodness, and impressive good deeds. Jesus is not trying to get His fair share or seeing that we get what we deserve. Our own actions do not determine how He should feel towards us. Jesus lives in the freedom of knowing that His life is in complete identity with the Heavenly Father. Jesus is the Father’s grace and has nothing but love towards us. Would not the world be as Heaven if we all lived in the light of Jesus? “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, May 5, 2016

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