Sermon on Matthew 5:38-48
Text: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“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 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We have all heard of the phrase “going the extra mile.” We also understand what is implied by that phrase. It means that you go above and beyond what is expected. If a company went the extra mile for you, it means that they did more than was necessary for you. Not many people realize that the thought behind this phrase comes to us from our sermon text for this morning. In verse 41, Jesus said, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” He is referring to the practice that Roman soldiers, who were occupying the land at the time, had the right to have the locals carry their baggage or cargo for them for one mile. Naturally, this caused even more animosity toward the Romans. Yet, Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, goes completely in the opposite direction. He said, if you have to go one mile, go the extra mile for them. This morning we will look at GOING THE EXTRA MILE. First, we will see What It Meant For Jesus. Then, we will see What This Means For Us.
God has always been clear about his expectations of humanity, going all the way back to Adam and Eve. His explicit directions were that they were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He was also very clear about the consequences. He said, “when you eat of it you will surely die.” God has continued in his clear demands of humanity. His holy will is summarized in the Ten Commandments. In addition to putting God in the first place in our lives, we are also told to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” The consequences have also been made very clear. We read in Ezekiel 18:4, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” There it is in black and white. There is no mistaking what God demands of us.
However, while God’s demands were crystal clear, they have not been met. Adam and Eve set aside God’s demand and chose to eat from that tree. We, also, knowing God’s will, have also set it aside. We have not always put God as the most important thing in our lives. People or activities or things have replaced him as the center of our lives. We have not loved each other as we are supposed to. We see this in our relationship as husband and wife, when we have not sought the best for our spouse, but what pleases me. Children have not loved their parents, as they disobey them. Parents have not always loved their children as they should, as they have been selfish or lazy or refused to tell them that they were doing wrong. We have not loved our employers as we ought, working while they were watching, but otherwise taking it easy. The list goes on and on. However, the fact remains. We have not lived up to God’s clear commands.
What is God’s response? He had every right to come to Adam and Eve and tell them that it was over. They were banished from his presence for all eternity in hell. He could well come to us, also, with the same pronouncement. He would be just in his sentence, for he was clear about his commands and clear about the consequences.
Yet, God went the extra mile. After God confronted Adam and Eve about their sin, he went the extra mile and told them he would do something about their situation. He would send an offspring of the woman, who would crush Satan’s head. He repeated this promise to sinner after sinner, until the time was right. Then, the Father went the extra mile and sent his Son into the world. Jesus perfectly followed his Father’s will, including the command to love your neighbor. This was done, in spite of the fact, that those around him were not always loving to him. Think of Jesus’ trial before the high priest. When the people were abusing him verbally and physically, he did not retaliate. When he was being nailed to the cross, he asked his Father to forgive them. Jesus went the extra mile as he dealt with those around him. He also went the extra mile as he was on that cross, for there he suffered the punishment that was due for all people. Jesus did not have to do this. He chose to do this, so that the sins of the world would be paid for. He gave up his life, so that mankind could be with him in heaven. Then, as further evidence of God’s amazing love, he raised Jesus from the dead. This tells us that everything necessary for our salvation was done. Jesus went the extra mile in rescuing us from the fate that we deserved. In addition, Jesus wanted to make sure that we received the benefits of what he had done for us. That is why he sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts, so that we might believe that Jesus is our Savior and, thus, make the forgiveness he won our own. This is all ours, because Jesus went the extra mile in rescuing us.
When we think about this, we cannot help but be amazed at all that he has done for us. We ask him, “How can I thank you for all that you have done for me?” His reply is to go the extra mile for those around us. What does that mean? What does that entail? Let’s look at a few examples that Jesus gives us in 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.” Jesus quotes a saying that had its roots in three different places in the Old Testament: “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” Its original purpose was to discourage the practice of seeking private revenge. Their judicial guideline was that fair compensation be granted for injuries received. You do not get more for something than it was worth in a court of law, nor should you get less. The Pharisees, however, applied these laws as justification for personal retribution and revenge, to get “their pound of flesh.”
We understand that type of feeling. Seeking revenge or getting back at someone is not only our natural inclination, but is seen as our right. I remember one time when Lori was babysitting for some children, while we were in Mission, South Dakota. One of the children hit another of the children. After taking care of the child who did the hitting, she was talking to the child that was hit. In the course of their conversation, he asked if he could get his “pay-backs.” When questioned about this, he said that, at school, they had the rule that, if you were hit, you had the right to get your pay back and hit them. This is our natural inclination. You hurt me. I will hurt you. You say something mean to me. I will say something worse. This, we claim, is our right.
Contrast that to what Jesus says here. He speaks of the law of love. There is no place in the heart of the Christian for revenge. Jesus says, “Turn the other cheek.” In other words, accept the insults and whatever else that people hurl in your direction. Show your attacker Christian love. We have the example of Jesus, when he was on trial and being crucified. He did not retaliate. He did not hurl insults at them. Instead, he showed them love. The best response to an evil person is to accept mistreatment rather than retaliate. The most effective response is simply to endure it. That, in itself, may put the offender to shame. Obviously, this does not mean that we are to be punching bags for all those who come our way, nor does this say that we are not to defend ourselves. However, any retaliation must be consistent with the Christian law of love.
In verse 42 we read, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Just as revenge has no place in the heart of the Christian, neither does greed or selfishness. When someone in genuine need or distress asks for assistance, be ready to respond. Do not look the other way. Do not give grudgingly, but generously. Here again, our natural inclination raises its head and comes up with all sorts of different excuses as to why we cannot do this. ‘They’ll just waste what I give them, anyhow.’ ‘They’ll probably do something bad with it anyhow.’ ‘I really don’t have any to spare.’ The list goes on and on. It is true that we are to be good stewards of what God has given us. We are not to waste what we have been given. We do not give to the point that we cannot take care of the responsibilities that God has given us, namely family, government and the church. We are not to give so liberally that we become a burden to others. However, when there is a genuine need, God gives me the opportunity to love him, as I show love to those who are in need. Look for a way to respond that will show Christian love for others and glorify God.
Looking at verses 43-47, we read, ““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, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” God’s law had told his people in many different ways that they were to love their neighbor. Nowhere does it say that you are to hate your enemy. This is an addition that was added through the years. Yet, when you look at God’s law, he said the exact opposite. He said to love your enemy. He gave an example of this love in Exodus 23:4, “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him.”
It is interesting to note the type of love that Jesus calls for here. It is the same type of love that he has for us. It is a choosing to love. It is loving them, when they are anything but loveable. It is a love that is active. It does not just sit back and say “I love you.” This is the type of love that Jesus had for you, when there was not anything loveable about you because of your sins. It was a love that moved him to go the extra mile for your salvation. Now, Jesus tells us, ‘Love everyone, even if they are not always loving to you.’ Don’t just love them with words. Put your love for them into action, even if they will not appreciate it the way we think they should. As John wrote in his first epistle (3:18), “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
We cannot pick whom we will choose to love and those we will not. Our natural tendency is to be nice to those who are nice to us, to love those who love us. Is this type of love in line with what God calls on us to do? Of course, not! Anybody can do that. Returning good for good is commendable; returning good for evil is Christlike. Christian courtesy is to extend beyond those we feel deserve it. I show love to God when I love those who are not loving to me. Children of the heavenly Father will want to show themselves to be his children by the way that they live their lives. Just as God is no respecter of persons, so his children will want to show impartiality toward all people. I show love to God, when I look at a person and the first thing I see is not how they have treated me, or is not the cut of their clothes or the color of their skin. I show love to God when I look at that person and see a soul, one that Jesus loved so much that he was willing to suffer and die to rescue. That thought will help me go the extra mile for those whom God places in my path.
Jesus concludes this section with the words, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is the ideal that is set before us. We know that, by nature and action, it is impossible for us to attain. So, at first glance, Jesus’ command seems far beyond our reach. Nevertheless, the goal is not too high. Although we sinners cannot come close to this level, with God’s help and by his grace, we will still seek to heed this command. When we fail, we do not throw our hands into the air and say, “I can’t be perfect, so why even try.” Rather, we come to God, asking first for his forgiveness for our failures. Then we ask him for the strength to do it better next time. We, as Christians, want to grow and mature in our lives of sanctification. We are not satisfied with the status quo. We pray that, every day, we are that much closer to the goal that Jesus sets before us. May God help us to this end!
It is an uncommon thing in our world today for people to do more than they have to. We see this in the classroom, on the job, in the store and in our own families. When we see someone who actually goes out of their way and goes above and beyond, we take note of it. We appreciate what they did. This morning, we stop and thank God that he went above and beyond. He went the extra mile, so that we would be with him forever in heaven. May God help us to also go the extra mile in dealing with those whom he has placed in our lives. In doing so, we give thanks and honor to him. Amen.
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