Love Your Enemies
Passage: Matthew 5:38–5:48
Grab your Bibles and turn to Matthew chapter 5. We've been walking through this series, looking at the Sermon on the Mount, and the last 3 or 4 weeks or so, we've been walking through probably some of the most challenging and deeply convicting passages of scripture that you could look at.
Remember we saw in Matthew 5 verse 20, that Jesus is basically telling his disciples that our righteousness should exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. So in other words, our righteousness should not be merely outward, just kind of keeping the letters of the law, but missing the spirit of the law. And so Jesus lays out, as we've been walking through, six examples of how our righteousness should go beneath just surface level.
Each one of the examples we've looked at, and the ones we're going to look at today, He essentially says, "You've heard it said, but I say to you . . ." and remember, we've been saying every week, it's not that He's saying that the Old Testament was wrong, and now I'm gonna tell you something different. He's actually saying, your interpretation, or how you've heard the religious leaders interpreting the Old Testament teaching, was wrong.
So He's coming to correct their interpretation of the Old Testament commands. And so today, we're going to look at the last two of these six examples that He's been walking through. I would say, first of all, that these two have got to be some of the hardest teachings for us to live out, but I would also say probably that these two are the ones that are the most uniquely Christian. By that I mean, when we live out these two we're going to look at this morning, I think we shine out Christ more than any other of His teachings. I mean, this IS what makes Jesus separate different from any other religion, what we're gonna look at today.
So we're looking at the attitude today of perfect love that Christ calls us to show towards the one who is evil, and towards our enemies. John Stott says it this way: "Nowhere is the challenge of the Sermon on the Mount greater than in these passages (that we're going to read today.) Nowhere is the distinctness of the Christian counter-culture more obvious. And nowhere is our need of the power of the Holy Spirit more compelling."
And so let's look at the first one, which is essentially, "Do not retaliate." Let's read it in Matthew 5, verse 38:
"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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you."
So again, this first command, which is number 5 of the 6 we've been walking through, is "Do not retaliate." So he starts, again, as He's done with each one of these: All right, here's what you heard, and He quotes the Old Testament here exactly. "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." It's three different passages: Exodus 21, Leviticus 24, and then specifically Deuteronomy 19:21.
You've heard it said, "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." This is what's referred to as the Law of Retaliation. Now, what was the purpose of this Old Testament command? Well, it really did two things. It restricted retaliation, and it really ultimately gave retaliation, assigned it to the government. And so first let's look at the way it was meant to restrict.
So it says, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. It's another way of saying, the punishment must fit the crime. So the heart behind that Old Testament command is not, Hey, if somebody takes out your eye, then you are encouraged or even commanded to take out their eye. It's not commending retaliation as much it's trying to restrict a cycle of never-ending violence, and saying essentially, look, if someone takes out your eye, don't go and kill them. Don't say, "I'm gonna do worse." So it was meant to restrict, to define justice and restrain vengeance.
And also, it assigned vengeance and really exacting punishment, ultimately, to the government. Especially Deuteronomy 19, verses 17 through 21, it's actually addressing the judges of Israel, more than it's addressing the individual. So justice is a matter for the courts to decide. Individuals were not to take the law into their own hands, perverting justice by making it a personal vendetta.
So that was the heart behind it. Now, how was it distorted? Well, just like everything else we've looked at, the scribes and Pharisees essentially twisted the original intent of this law, and really gave it the opposite effect. They almost made it, as I said, a pushing forward, a commending of retaliation type of law.
So it's no surprise that this is where they went with it. It's the same thing we saw last week, with the laws concerning divorce. That when Moses passed down that law and said "Give a certificate of divorce," it wasn't necessarily commending divorce, even. That's not the heart of what Moses was teaching there. God hates divorce. What it was teaching was, if you're gonna divorce, give your wife a certificate of divorce, to protect women who might just be pushed out into the streets.
So it was meant to be a restrictive thing; but they took it to encourage you to divorce. And the same thing here. And so Jesus comes and corrects it: But I say to you, look here, do not resist the one who is evil. That word "resist" means to oppose or withstand or set oneself against. So He's saying, DON'T do that. Now what does that mean?
Let's start with what it doesn't mean: It doesn't mean, for instance, what Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian novelist, did with this text. He recounts a time when he was reading the Sermon on the Mount, and he came to this text, and he said, Man, my whole view changed. This is what he declared: He came to believe that no Christian should be involved in the army, the police, or the courts of law. He said that Christ's way is not to resist evil in any way. And he said that that teaching is absolute and unconditional.
So again, you see how we can be mistaken by building a whole doctrine on one verse. You've gotta look at the whole Bible in its totality. Clearly the Bible also says that God has set up government and authority, first of all, to reward good, and to punish evil. So Jesus is not coming against that and saying that No punishment should be taken.
But what it does mean is, again, it's assigning the responsibility ultimately to the state, and saying to the heart of a Christian, a citizen of the kingdom of God, our heart should not be, "You did this to me, and now I'm coming after you." That's what He's coming against.
Paul does the same thing in Romans 12 and 13. You see the distinguishing characteristic of it there, in Romans 12, we're going to look at it there in a moment, he says "Do not take vengeance. Leave it to the Lord." Then in Romans 13, he comes around that and says that the way the Lord exacts the punishment is through the governments that He sets up.
So we've got to hold both of these in hand. So what He's saying here is not that we are to embrace injustice. That's not what He's saying. He's saying that our heart as Christians should not be to seek to retaliate. So He gives four examples that He walks through: Four examples where each one is saying this principle of non-retaliation. And each one of them is going to indicate the lengths to which we must go to not retaliate. Each example introduces a person who seeks us injury: Either by hitting us in the face, or by prosecuting us at law, or commandeering our service, or by begging money from us.
And in each one of the four situations here, Jesus is basically saying that our Christian duty is to forbear vengeance and even to allow the evil person to double the injury. This is radical, what He's teaching here. See how it's so counter-culture.
So the first example, He says on not retaliating, is that we should relinquish vengeance. That should be the heart of a Christian, that we relinquish vengeance. So He writes here, "If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Let me say this as a side note: As I have traveled periodically throughout the world, especially in the Muslim world, I would say that this is probably the most well recognized teaching of Jesus throughout the world. If someone slaps you on the right, turn to him the other also. Every Muslim I've talked to brings this up, and usually in a way where they are kind of scoffing at it, like "Man, this is ridiculous, what kind of religion -- no one would ever do that!" Or they think it's a weak thing, like you're called to be a doormat.
I hope you see that what we're being taught here is not a weak thing at all. But it takes incredible moral fortitude and faith in God to do what He's teaching us. He says, "If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Now, that's not just a physical blow; it's an insult. Because to slap you on the right cheek meant, basically, using the right hand, it would be a backhanded slap, which in that culture would be a sign of great insult. So what He's saying is, You are not to seek vengeance.
This is exactly what Paul teaches in Romans 12. Listen to this: "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God. For it is written, 'vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
And so we're gonna see, that's where Jesus is gonna go with this on the Sermon on the Mount as well. It's not just to relinquish vengeance, but to go the extra mile and actually do good to the person who has slapped you, the person who has wronged you, the person who has hurt you. So what Paul is saying in Romans 12 is that when you do this, you won't be overcome. It's a military term meaning to be overpowered. You're not gonna be overpowered by evil, but you're gonna overpower evil with good.
So to stoop to vengeance is to allow ourselves to be conquered by evil. If hatred is met with more hatred, hatred is only increased. The only antidote for the poison is found when we actually don't respond with hate, but respond with good. As Booker Washington says, "I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him. The only real way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend."
So, friends, we are called to forgive; to love; to show kindness to the one who has wronged us.
Now, this forgiveness, this love, does not mean that we condone the wrong that has happened to us. In fact, in Romans 12 there is a major qualifier in verse 18. It says, "As far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." So in some situations, people are determined NOT to live peaceably with us. Then we have to use wisdom and protect ourselves. But the heart is, the Christian should not be bent on retaliation. He should have a heart freed from that.
And friends, when we do this, when we, as it says, actually provide food and water to the one who is hurting us; when we turn the right and left cheek to them as well; when we do this, I think three things are happening:
First, this cycle, this poison of hate and evil, is not going to penetrate our hearts. So we're protecting our own hearts when we do this. You've heard me say this before, that when we're so fixated on the person who's wronged us, or the wrong that's happened; when we look at them and say, I'm never gonna be like you. When you're consumed by that, you'll eventually become like that.
But when we put our eyes on Jesus and say, Lord, help me to be like You, to love like You loved -- it stops the poison that's spreading into our hearts. Louis Smedes says it this way: "To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and discover that the prisoner was you." So not only does it protect us, but I would say that when we turn the other cheek or go the extra mile and actually do good, we are actually softening their hearts.
You've heard me say this over and over again, in my life, with my Muslim father, who has disowned me it would have been very easy at any point for me to just say, Well, forget you, Dad. I wash my hands of you; I'm done with you.
And I'm telling you, by God's supernatural Holy Spirit power in my life, I was able to keep loving my dad, to keep showing him acts of kindness. And it's impossible to hate someone who keeps loving you and doing good to you. And his heart has, slowly over the years, just kind of softened to me.
And then, I believe, ultimately this is how the gospel is proclaimed. Because it's the exact way that Jesus has loved us. It's the way I first saw the gospel. If you know my story: The tutor who loved me when nobody else loved Iranians because of the hostage crisis. Now I'm telling you, each one of these, we have to look back and look forward in order to live it out. What I mean is, in order to relinquish vengeance, we have to look back at what Christ has done for us -- that He did not exact revenge on us when we were in rebellion against Him. He did not give us what we deserve. He did not go "an eye for an eye" with us. But he actually gave us what we did NOT deserve. He gave us mercy and grace.
And I have preached all over this country and shared my story of being a former Muslim, becoming a Christian, and having people come up with tears in their eyes, look at me and say, "Afshin, I've never had compassion for Muslims like that. Forgive me."
And I say, man, don't ask for my forgiveness. Go read your Bible. Because the world is telling us that Muslims are our enemy. But what does the Bible say? First of all, we ALL were enemies of God. And again, we're never gonna do this unless we are captured by what God has done for us.
And then, listen, in order to relinquish vengeance we just don't look backward, but we look forward to the future. We know that we serve a God who is ultimately going to make all things right. He says, "Vengeance is mine." And knowing vengeance belongs to Him, then I'm freed from trying to get vengeance for myself. There's an amazing amount of peace for me to be able to relinquish vengeance, knowing that God is faithful to make all things right. This is Jesus' way.
In 1 Peter 2:21-23, this is what Peter wrote about Christ: "For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving an example for you, that you would follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return. When He suffered, He did not threaten (How? Listen:) but He continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. The way He was able to do that, was He put His faith in God. God will vindicate in the end. All wrongs; He'll vindicate me.
So, friends, we are called to live this out. Again, I say to you, it's not a weak thing to do. It takes an incredible amount of moral strength and faith in God.
Secondly, we're not to just relinquish vengeance. This text tells me that we're to relinquish our rights. So in verse 40, if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him take your cloak as well. So your tunic is what you wear, like your normal dress -- your suit, men, or ladies, your dress. And then your cloak was the coat you wore over, right? And so the example here is a lawsuit where a man is going to lose his tunic. And He says, the follower of Jesus should be ready to throw the cloak in also.
Now, you have to understand what's going on there. Because in those days, in that culture, the cloak was something that was yours by law. It was an inalienable possession. In Exodus 22:26-27 (you can look it up later), it actually says, if you take someone's cloak by a pledge, you are commanded to return it to them by nighttime. Why? Because your outer cloak is what you would use as a blanket when you slept. And so here's the point. What Jesus is saying here is, Even the things you regard as your rights by law, you should be prepared to abandon. You should be willing to let go of even your rights.
Verse 41 does the same thing. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. So in that culture, a Roman soldier could come and commandeer the service of a Jew -- could say, Hey, carry my possessions. And whatever prescribed distance he gave, what Jesus is saying, you are to go and double it. Now listen to me: Jews hated this law. Because every time they had to carry a Roman soldier's possessions, it reminded them that they were under Roman occupation; that they were slaves. They hated it. And what Jesus is saying, no, when it happens for you, you do it cheerfully, and you go double the distance.
That's remarkable, man. How in the world can any of us do this? And here's why we can't: Because as a people, we are so fixated on our rights. We have such entitlement in our hearts. No, man, if I have to do this, I'm gonna go exactly up to the point that I have to. And then I'm free. Jesus is saying, you shouldn't be thinking about your rights. You should be thinking of, How can I display the kingdom of God; how can I display my Lord? And I'll even go the extra mile if I need to.
That's what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19: "Though I'm free from all men, I make myself a slave to all men in order to win the more." I've got freedom, but I'm not even gonna think about my freedom and my rights. I'll even become a slave; I'll double the distance, so to speak, because my mission is most important. I've become all things to all people so that I might win some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I might share with them in its blessings.
So I'm telling you, Christians who are so fixated on their rights have forgotten that Jesus set aside His rights for us. Philippians 2:8-9-- Jesus, being equal with God, emptied Himself. He set aside His rights, and He came into our broken world, and suffered and died for us. And how are to be a people who are fixated on our rights? "Well, I deserve this." Or "Man, I did this, so I should get this back." And that's not the heart of a Christian. The heart of a Christian says, "Man, I serve a Lord who has set aside everything He deserved for me." So I'm not gonna be fixated on my rights.
You've heard me share a story before about being on Southwest Airlines when a lady was so repulsed because she was in the very first row, and a man asked her to move so that he could sit with his son. Because to pick your seat on Southwest Airlines, and in order to get to the first row, you've got to pay extra, you've got to get there early. So she's done something to deserve that. "That's my right!" Man, I thought, what if she got that as a gift? I would bet that she would get up and say, That seat is yours.
And I'm telling you, entitlement sets in when we think we deserve things. But when we put our eyes on the cross, you see how entitlement goes out the door. And so we are called to relinquish our vengeance, relinquish our rights.
And then thirdly, we're to relinquish even our possessions. Look at verse 42: Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. So the last example is that we as Christians ought to be giving and lending cheerfully, willingly, and generously. Not blindly to any freeloader who wants to go use it for something bad. We should exercise wisdom.
But the point is, we're not to have this "eye for an eye" mentality when it comes to our giving and lending. "Well, I'm gonna give you this, but you'd better give me something back." "I'll loan this to you, but I'm expecting you to loan something back to me."
And so, you're not to have this tight-fisted, penny-pinching attitude that says, What's in it for me?
LOOKUP Now how are we going to be generous with our possessions? How in the world will we ever do that? Again, by looking back at what Christ has done for us. 2 Corinthians 8, listen to this: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you, by His poverty, might become rich." Wow! Listen, I'm telling you, you will find yourself releasing the clutch on your possessions and being generous with them, when you remember how Christ in His poverty made you rich.
I love the story in Luke 7, where a woman comes to Jesus with a very bad and shady lifestyle and background, and she comes and falls at His feet and is washing His feet with her tears and with her hair. And a Pharisee looks at the scene and says, Man, if this teacher knew who it was that was washing His feet, He would never allow this to happen. Remember what Jesus does? He says to him, basically, this woman, from the moment I've come here, has not stopped washing my feet. And He basically teaches this man something. He says, look: He who has been forgiven little, loves little. But the one who has been forgiven much, loves much. And I'm telling you, we will be generous and lavishing on others because of our worship of Christ, when we remember how much we've been forgiven.
LOOKUP And so we are called to relinquish -- and, by the way, not just to look backwards, but forward. Say, God is going to take care of all my needs! That's what Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 6: Teach the rich in this age to be generous in giving; to store up treasures in Heaven. He says, be generous and don't put your hope in riches. But put your hope in the One who richly provides you with everything you need.
So when you put your eyes on God, and say, I know He takes care of me if I'm generous with my stuff. It takes faith to do this. Let me sum this up before we go to the last of these six examples.
This fifth one, that says do not retaliate, relinquish your vengeance, relinquish your rights, relinquish your possessions, is essentially saying this: You, friends, don't want to be in the system of "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" when it comes to God. You don't want that system. "Hey, God, give me what I deserve." Really? And God, by His grace, has NOT given you and given me what we deserve. Those of you who've put your faith in Christ, because of Christ's blood, He gives you, lavishly He blesses you, with more than you deserve, much more.
So if we stand on that, what He's saying that is the Christian is to go beyond the world, not, "You do good for me, I do good for you; you do bad to me, I do bad to you." But to say, no, I relinquish my right to vengeance, my right to possessions, even my right to my rights, because I ultimately want to shine Christ.
One last point in this chapter is to love our enemies. Let's look at Matthew 5, verse 43. If you thought that was hard, look at this one: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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 the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
And I would say that this last of the six examples that He walks through, showing how your righteousness should exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, this one more than any other is an explicit example of how Jesus is critiquing not the Old Testament, but the interpretation of the Old Testament. You say, why? Because, friend, "Love your neighbor" is in the Old Testament, Leviticus 19:18. But guess what? "Hate your enemy" is nowhere in the Old Testament. So you see that they literally have added to this text, to the Old Testament command. They've interpreted "Love your neighbor" to mean this: If I'm to love my neighbor, then that's who I love. Therefore anyone who's not my neighbor, I'm to hate.
And the heart of the law was never meant to go there. Again, if they limit adultery to only the physical act of marital unfaithfulness and not to the lustful eye, if they limit murder only to the physical act of shedding blood and not the hateful word that comes out of your mouth, then of course they're gonna limit "love your neighbor" to just those who are your family, or your crowd, or your people. But all else, you're to hate. In fact, there was a teaching in a community around the Dead Sea, where a common saying went this way: "Love the brothers, hate the outsider."
So I think what Jesus is doing in this last part of chapter 5 is really two things: He's redefining for us who our neighbor is, and what love really is. So first of all, who is our neighbor?
So look at this. The world's definition, verse 47, greet only your brothers. So the world's definition of your neighbor that you're to show kindness to, again, is just your brothers, your people. And what Jesus is doing is, He's expanding their vision of what a neighbor really is. It even includes people who are not like you -- people who are your enemy. And so, you know, the greatest illustration of this, obviously, is the parable of the Good Samaritan, when a man comes to Jesus and says, "What's the greatest commandment, Jesus?" Jesus says, "How do you read the law?"
He says, "Well, you should love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." And Jesus says, "You're right, go do that, and you'll live." And then, sure enough, he turns around and says, "Who is my neighbor?" In other words, How far do I have to carry out that command, Jesus?
And Jesus throws the greatest curveball at them. He says, okay, ready? Listen to this: A man going from Jerusalem to Jericho is beaten and left for dead. A priest and a Levite both see him, and they pass by on the other side. And then you've got to feel the weight of this: A Samaritan. The despised Samaritans -- they're not one of us. A Samaritan sees him, and he crosses over, and he binds up his wounds, and pays for all of the expenses to take care of this man.
And He says, "Who is the real neighbor here?" And the man says, "I guess the one who showed him mercy." You see, I'm telling you, this is grating against what I see so much in our society. That we are a Christian people, who, if we're not careful, tend to fall into a trap of only caring for our kind. This kind of nationalistic Christianity that equates America to the kingdom of God is repulsive to God, and ought to be repulsive to us. Let me just say this really carefully: I am very grateful for our country, and I love our country. But I'm saying, I do not mistake our country for the kingdom of God.
And so we are to be a people who have a heart for the kingdom advancing. This is our command, that God desires us to make disciples of ALL nations. So we have to have a heart for that. And again, I've talked several times from this pulpit, so I don't want to belabor the point, about the refugee crisis, and with the refugee crisis, I'm always carefully to say, look, I want our government to do whatever they can to protect us. I'm not an idiot. Yes, I want them to protect us.
But I'm saying, if you look at scripture, if you look at history, God has used displaced people to carry out His purposes. He's used displaced people to advance the kingdom of God. You go to Acts, Stephen is stoned. Because of it, the Christians are spread out all over. Displaced, and the kingdom of God goes out. And you know what's so interesting, because in Europe, the reports we're hearing are that so many of the refugees that have been pushed out of Syria and other countries, they end up in Europe, and guess what? They're knocking on the doors of churches. And how amazing, some churches that are probably dead, lifeless in Europe, are being confronted with refugees who are disillusioned by this radical form of Islam and are wondering if there is a better way. So I'm saying, what if this is a huge, massive opportunity that Christians around the world have? And we, firstly, primarily only think of our safety.
Again, I want safety, but we cannot forget that God is saying, Look, your neighbor is not just your kind, but even those who you'd think are your enemies. And then, not only does He define who is your neighbor, but then He defines what is love. So what is love? The world's definition of love is to love those who love you. That's what the world does. So in other words, love must be earned or deserved. This perverts the meaning of love. The moment love is achieved, or earned, by something you do, it ceases to be love.
What Jesus is saying is, If you love someone for what they do for you, you don't love them; you love their love of you. And that's what the world does. I love people who love me. I love their love of me. But God's definition says, no, you actually only display love when you love people who do nothing to deserve it -- in fact, who harm you and wrong you. And I would say, in the area of love, you have not done anything uniquely Christian until you have loved someone who doesn't deserve it.
If you love someone who loves you, pat yourself on the back -- you've just come up to the level of the world. But this sermon is teaching us how we as citizens of the kingdom are to shine Christ out over and against the world. And the way you do it, the greatest way, I would say, that you show Jesus to a world that desperately needs to know Jesus, is when you live out the gospel by loving someone who's wronged you. That is the gospel.
And it says, when you do that (I love this), it proves that you belong to God. Look what it says: "So that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven. And again, be careful, I don't think it's saying, you've gotta do this in order to be saved, in order to be a son of the Father in Heaven. I think what He means there is that by doing this, you prove yourself to belong to Him, to be a child of God.
Even in verse 48, the last verse, He says, "Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect." So He's already assuming that they belong to the Heavenly Father. So what I think He's doing here is saying, Look, when you love like this, you prove you belong to God. And then He says, How do you know that? And I would think Jesus would immediately go to, Because that's the way I'm going to love you, by laying my life down when you don't deserve it. But that's not where He starts. He goes to common grace as the example. He says, you prove to be the son of God -- Why? Because God is the one who gives rain to both the evil person and the good person.
So He points to what theologians call "common grace" -- the grace that God showers on ALL people - both good and bad. And He says, if that's the God you serve, then you can't discriminate who you love. And so, obviously we would say, not only can we see it in common grace, but as you see in the New Testament, we also see it in the cross. That Jesus, on the cross, suffering and dying for the sins of the people who are coming against Him, who have rebelled against Him, you've got a thief hurling insults at Him, and yet on that cross, He says, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they' are doing."
And I'm telling you, when the insults come and when the pain comes, that is your opportunity to actually shine the gospel. They don't come all the time. And you've heard me say this, in our country, man, especially when like what happened in London last week -- immediately Muslims here, just because that was a Muslim guy, immediately they would expect us to treat them differently. And when we don't, in this kind of a season, they're blown away by that? Why are you showing me love? You should be like everyone else is doing, kind of pushing me away.
Now, again, that's kind of a radical example, but bring it home: Who's the person in your life that you don't want to love? I'd say, that's probably the person that I think when you start to love, He says, listen, Pray for your enemies. You can't hate someone you keep praying for. Who's that person you don't wanna love. Would you commit to praying for them?
God, I'm gonna start praying for them. I'm not saying you condone what they've done. But I'm saying, I'm gonna pray for their heart. How about, I'm gonna bless them somehow. And this is hard teaching, but I'm saying, This is when the gospel goes out.
The hero of my faith -- some of you have heard this story -- is a martyr in Iran, whose story goes like this. He would literally hurl rocks at Christian ladies, carrying clay pots of water. His game would be to try to bust these clay pots. And one time, he did, and he runs away from this lady. This lady turns and is coming after him, he thinks, to whup him for what he did. Instead, he falls and scrapes up his leg, and she comes and actually starts taking care of his bloody leg. He's blown away! And that was an indelible picture in his life; that memory would never leave him.
Years later he would be in the Iran-Iraq war. He'd be injured and put in the hospital, and a Christian nurse would share the gospel with him. And he immediate remembered that lady. That guy gave his life to Christ, and years later that guy was martyred for his faith. He's made an impact on many Christians. And I'm telling you, it all goes back to one lady who lived out what Christ lived out for her, that here you're hurling rocks at me, but I'm gonna show you love.
And so this is why I think verse 48, before we pray, says "Be perfect (thanks for that one, Jesus) -- be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect." I think what He's doing here -- listen, friends -- what He's doing here, is saying, Therefore, have this kind of perfect love. Love is tainted and it's not really love if it's done for anything in return. Show this kind of love, and you are actually showing perfect love.
But I also think that this is a very fitting verse to end the entire chapter, because if you've been walking with us (and if you haven't been with us, go back and listen to some of these sermons) because these scriptures in Matthew 5, over and over again, every week I leave here, I guess you do to, going, "Who can do this? Who is NOT guilty of adultery -- who is not guilty of murder?" And I think, again, verse 48 says to me, Oh yeah, none of us are perfect. NONE of us can do this.
And so I'm telling you, if you're here and you do not know Jesus, this is God's standard: Be perfect. And the only way you can be perfect before God is to receive the gift of Christ. He lived a perfect, sinless life. He was tempted in every way. He was reviled. He was threatened. He didn't threaten in return; He didn't revile in return. There was no deceit found in Him. He was sinless. Why? So that when He died on that cross, His blood could be a once and for all, perfect sacrifice, sufficient to pay for all of our sins.
And when you put your trust in Him, His perfect righteousness covers you. And when God looks at you, He sees Jesus covering you. I'm telling you, THIS is the gospel. Be perfect. Okay, how? Jesus.
Let's bow our heads and pray. Father, we love You, we thank You for Your word, and God we pray that if there's someone here in this room today who does not truly know You, oh God, I pray, Holy Spirit, that You would penetrate hearts, that You would open eyes, and turn people to receive You. Friends, as your eyes are closed, hear me say this: Every one of us is guilty of sin, and what we deserve from God is punishment. And out of His great love, Jesus came, and He died a death on that cross in our place. He took the punishment that we deserve. We rightly deserved it, and He took it. He didn't deserve it. And He suffered it.
And I want you to imagine, even now, God's hand reaching out to you. He's ready to receive you, if you receive His gift, if you receive His Son, if you receive Jesus and commit your life to Him. You say Jesus, thank You for loving me when I didn't deserve it. I commit my life to You. I'm telling you, on God's word, you are saved through faith. Your sins are forgiven. His love comes into your life, transforms you. So turn to Him now.
And those of us who have turned to Him: Remember what we stand on. We got what we didn't deserve. And what we did deserve, we didn't get. So, Lord, may we do now and do likewise. Not embracing and even applauding injustice when we see it, but, Lord, seeking to live out this gospel. For people you've put on our heart, God, may we put feet to our prayers. May we actually go and show them this love. We can't do it apart from you. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.