This post is part of the Living the Sermon on the Mount series.
Video – I forgave my son’s murder. Now his murderer has become my son. We use our story to help other people.
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Have you ever seen the Disney animated film The Beauty and the Beast? It’s a story with its history in a classic French fair tale of the same name. The premise is has been modified some, but essentially includes a handsome prince who is cursed by an evil fairy and is transformed into a ferocious, ugly beast. The curse will become permanent upon the young prince unless he can find true love by a specific date. Beauty, a young woman ends up living with the beast and eventually, just before time runs out Beauty looks past the animalistic tendencies and coarse exterior into the heart of a prince. She weeps over him and as her tears touch his fur, he is transformed before her eyes. There is a great principle here, church. Before something is loveable, it must first be loved.
You see, every human being on earth has been made in the image of God. We are created to be in loving relationship together, to live in harmony and dignity, as… royalty if you will—not as animals. But since Sin entered the world we have been put in “survival mode” The image of God in others has been broken and misshaped—people act more like wild animals and treat others the same. And while it breaks God’s heart to see the victims of murder, rape, theft, and deceit, it also breaks God’s heart to see the one’s He created to be a mirror of Himself becoming the beasts capable of these disgusting acts.
How about you? If I could look into your heart, see your thoughts written above your head, or a read a printout of your deeds would I find a prince or a beast? Now I know, we can always point to someone else worse than us, can’t we? But when we hold ourselves up to God Himself… we find that perhaps we don’t have as much room to judge as we thought. We find that every one of us has been affected by some hurt, habit, or hang-up, a mixture of pain done to us and pain we have chosen to participate in.
Turn with me to Matthew Chapter 5, beginning verse 43. Again, that’s Matthew 5, verse 43. If you are using one of our Sanctuary Bibles that’s page 811.
Today we continue our series Living the Sermon on the Mount by looking at the final section of Jesus’ correcting of misinterpreted Scripture. We see Jesus explaining the spirit of the Old Testament Law and fulfilling what God has desired all along—the restoration of the entire human race. For all of God’s children to become princes once again. Here today in the concluding passage we see the crown jewel of God’s New Kingdom commands—to love our neighbor. Let’s read.
“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 on 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. Matthew 5:43-48 ESV
Again, Jesus is confronting misunderstandings that grew up around the Old Testament Law. In this case Leviticus 19:18, which reads: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18 ESV So yes, they had it right in saying we ought to love our own, but all Bible scholars agree, and even the Jewish Talmud, that hating your enemy is not found ANYWHERE in the Hebrew Bible! Once again the religious leaders of Jesus day take the command of God and walk all the way to the other side of its intention. While God has been leading humanity toward greater love for one another, the contemporaries of our Lord were leading people back into survival mode. They weren’t interested in being light to the world, a blessing to the nations, or salt on the earth They were only interested in self-preservation.
Now before you join the bandwagon in shaking your head at “those naughty old Pharisees” you might want to do a gut-check. Many of us in this room have the notion that all we are called to do is take care of our families and friends. When we read the word “neighbor” in “love your neighbor” we make that list as short as possible lest our self-preservation be infringed upon, lest our world be disturbed. Can you see it? Our hearts are tempted the same way Jesus’ original audience’s hearts were tempted—to look out for me and my people. Not be light, not be salt, not be a blessing, but just survive.
So let me be crystal clear: Jesus calls us to live above all of that. Somewhere along the line there has to be a mother who forgives her sons murderer. Somewhere true love has to enter into the equation and break the curse, generate transformation, or else sin will continue to breed sin.
Imagine a man who was abused as a child, in his ongoing pain he eventually takes out his pain through ongoing physical abuse on his girlfriend, this woman resorts to popping prescription pills to ease the pain. She was neglected by her father and would rather be in an unhealthy relationship than no relationship. Inevitably as she maintains a constant mellow high from her Xanax addiction she will neglect her twelve-year-old daughter who is sneaking off to a boy’s house at night. Can anyone HEAR me this morning!? We are all victims, AND we are all active participants, we are all beasts in deep need of true love from God—displayed through people. This is why Jesus said the greatest commandments, which sum up every Old Testament law is this:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 ESV
Because this throws a wrench in the system! This breaks the cycle of sin upon sin! IF… we will live the command.
Of course when Jesus shared that passage with a group of people someone had to ask “yeah, but who is my neighbor?” So Jesus tells the famous story of the Good Samaritan. If you aren’t familiar with the story, Jesus is talking with some Jewish teachers who really hate Samaritans because they are only half-Jewish. They are impure in their eyes. So in the story a man is beat up and left for dead. Jewish priests walk on by, holy men. But a Samaritan comes and takes care of him. It’s like in today’s passage, our example is God who sends rain and sunshine on both the deserving and the undeserving. Those listening to Jesus’ story were dumbfounded.
Here in Matthew 5 and in Luke 10 Jesus essentially asks “You want to know who your neighbor is? Start with this question, ‘Who do you hate?’ and move on from there.”
In a groundbreaking book titled The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg outlines amazing insights which have been uncovered in only the last few years regarding habits. I enjoyed reading this and learned a lot. It turns out there is an area of the brain, separate from memory where habits are stored, that habits can never be erased, only reprogrammed, and that certain “keystone habits” will affect many small habits in your life. For instance Craig Groeschel, leader of one of the top five largest churches in the U.S. was interviewed in the book and says that everything for him breaks down when… he doesn’t floss. Floss! Can you believe it? Over 20,000 people are hinging on mint-flavored string. But for him to floss means he brushes his teeth, which means he eats breakfast, which means he needs to get up in time. For me, when I go for a run it means I need to get up early, it means I will stretch, it means I will shower, I will eat breakfast, I will probably be up before Jenness and can read the Bible for a little bit. It’s one key thing that aligns all these other things.
Can I suggest to you this morning that if you decide to love your neighbor… remember that starts with who you hate, a lot of other things in your soul are going to line up? Here are a few things I think will line up for you if you choose to love your neighbor/enemy, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who use you and persecute you:
- Loving people you like
- Giving to the poor
- Extending hospitality
- Bringing Salvation to others
One of my favorite books of all time, is one of the most difficult to read. I can’t pick it up very often due to the weight of it’s subject matter. It is called Tortured for Christ, written by Richard Wurmbrand who spent fourteen years in Communist prisons throughout Romania. The horrors in which he and other Christians were subject I cannot share from this platform. But it isn’t only the atrocities brother Wurmbrand faced that make this book difficult to read, it is also the call it places upon my heart. I’d like to read an excerpt from the book where he answers people who often ask “How are you able to love the Communists?” He writes:
The Jews have a legend that, when their forefathers were saved from Egypt and the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, the angels joined the songs of triumph sung by the Israelites. And God said to the angels, “The Jews are men and can rejoice about their escape. But from you I expect more understanding. Are the Egyptians not also my creatures? Do I not love them, too? How do you fail to feel my sorrow about their tragic fate?”
Joshua 5:13 says, “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, ‘Are You for us or for our adversaries?'”
If the one met by Joshua had been only a man, the answer could have been “I am for you” or “I am for your adversaries,” or even “I am neutral.” These are the only possible human responses to such a question. But the Being whom Joshua met was sent from the Lord and, therefore, when asked whether He was for or against Israel, gave an answer that is the most unexpected and difficult to understand: “No.” What does this “no” mean?
He came from a place where beings are not for or against, but where everyone and everything are understood, looked upon with pity and compassion, and loved with fire.
There is a human level on which communism must be utterly fought against. On this level we have to fight against Communists, too, they being the supporters of this cruel, savage ideal.
But Christians are more than mere men; they are children of God, partakers of the divine nature. Therefore, tortures endured in Communist prisons have not made me hate Communists. They are God’s creatures; how can I hate them? But neither can I be their friend. Friendship means one soul in two breasts. I am not one soul with the Communists. They hate the notion of God. I love God.
If I were asked, “Are you for the Communists or against them?” my answer would be a complex one. Communism is one of the greatest menaces to mankind. I am utterly opposed to it and wish to fight it until it is overthrown. But, in the spirit, I am seated in heavenly places with Jesus. I am seated in the sphere of the “no,” in which, notwithstanding all of their crimes, the Communists are understood and loved, a sphere in which there are angelic beings trying to help everyone attain the highest goal of human life, which is to become Christlike. Therefore, my aim is to spread the gospel to the Communists, to give them the good news about Christ, who is my Lord and loves the Communists. He has said Himself that He loves every man and that He would rather leave ninety-nine righteous sheep than allow the one that went astray to remain lost. His apostles and all the great teachers of Christianity have taught this universal love in His name. St. Macary said, “If a man loves all men passionately, but says only about one man that him he cannot love, the man who says this is no more a Christian, because his love is not allembracing.” St. Augustine teaches, “If all mankind had been righteous and only one man a sinner, Christ would have come to endure the same cross for this one man, He so loves every individual.” The Christian teaching is clear. Communists are men and Christ loves them. So does every man who has the mind of Christ. We love the sinner even though we hate the sin.
We know about the love of Christ toward the Communists by our own love toward them.
I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold-and praying with fervor for the Communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts.
Later, the Communists who had tortured us were sent to prison, too. Under communism, Communists, and even Communist rulers, are put in prison almost as often as their adversaries. Now the tortured and the torturer were in the same cell. And while the non-Christians showed hatred toward their former inquisitors and beat them, Christians took their defense, even at the risk of being beaten themselves and accused of being accomplices with communism. I have seen Christians give away their last slice of bread (we were given one slice a week) and the medicine that could save their lives to a sick Communist torturer, who was now a fellow prisoner.
These are the last words of Iuliu Maniu, a Christian and the former Prime Minister of Romania, who died in prison: “If the Communists are overthrown in our country, it will be the most holy duty of every Christian to go into the streets and at the risk of his own life defend the Communists from the righteous fury of the multitudes whom they have tyrannized.”
Communists have committed and still commit horrors but “love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave…Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7). As the grave insists on having all-rich and poor; young and old; men of all races, nations, and political convictions; saints and criminals-so love is all-embracing. Christ, the Incarnate Love, wants all men to come to Him, including the Communists.
A minister who had been horribly beaten was thrown into my cell. He was half-dead, with blood streaming from his face and body. We washed him. Some prisoners cursed the Communists. Groaning, he said, “Please, don’t curse them! Keep silent! I wish to pray for them.”
Band please come join us at this time. Church—we are going to sing a song called “Lay me Down” And as we sing would you let go of your self-preservation. Give up survival mode for a higher calling—to be light to the world, salt to the world, a blessing to the nations, CHILDREN of God. It happens through selfless love. Let’s sing.
Thank you for singing today and thank you for being here. On the back of your Sermon Notes in the Bulletin is an assignment for the week. The assignment is to consider someone who is your enemy and pray for them every time they come up in your heart. First of all, I challenge you to cross out the word enemy and write the word “neighbor” And second of all I encourage you to take the challenge. It could be your keystone habit which aligns your soul with Jesus’ Kingdom ways and finally puts a stop to the cycle of sin in the world.
As you leave, remember to drop your connection cards off in the basket, join the prayer team up front if you need prayer or want to respond to today’s message.
Receive the benediction:
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV