Matthew 5:38-42 & 1 Peter 2:19-25
The words of Jesus during His sermon on the mount, and then a letter from Peter to the early church. Two messages delivered years apart, yet it can be hard trying to understand the first without the second. Often times we read Jesus’ words here and almost get offended: are we called to be push-overs? Are Christians supposed to be the righteous but weak and submissive ones? Why would our strong, mighty Father call us to be so… wimpy?
Peter clarifies this a bit more for us by pointing out how Jesus Himself lived. Humble and meek, yet full of the strength of God, He submitted Himself to the authorities and rulers who were unjustly judging and abusing Him. When He was treated unjustly, He “did not retaliate.” That’s a good word to use there; how often do we wish to retaliate against people we feel have treated us in an unfair way? What are these people doing to us anyways? In some cases, they may actually be severely persecuting us, but usually, we get frustrated by snide remarks or arrogant looks. We are called to not retaliate but to be forgiving. Lord Jesus was being mocked, beaten, whipped, spit on, laughed at, wounded, bruised, accused, and crucified by both Romans and Jews. His own people and the nation oppressing them came together to crucify Jesus, showing human nature is the same regardless of religion, country, or background. A heathen nation and God’s chosen people both rejected Jesus, the Son of God. How do you think that felt?
But how did Jesus react? “Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23b) Though everyone around Him unjustly and unfairly accused Him, Jesus trusted God, the only righteous and true Judge. When we are in circumstances in which we feel unjustly treated, we should trust in the One Who’s actually in control. Nothing but the will of God will be done. No, none of us are called to die on a cross the way Jesus did; He did that once and for all. But Jesus showed us that even in situations that bad we are called to love those around us. That is the reason we are called to turn the other cheek: to show God’s love to our persecutors.
We as Christians will at some point suffer for doing good. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21) It goes with the faith, and we live in a sinful world. But we are also called to so much more. When we are suffering for doing what’s right, and even when we aren’t, we should remember all the riches of God’s grace that we have already received. Eternity with God, forgiveness for sins, relationship with Jesus, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the unending and boundless love of God—this does not even scratch the surface of all the blessings the Lord has given us! On top of this, earlier in this chapter of Matthew Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”(verse 10). When we suffer for doing good we are blessed.
So, there are positive things in an otherwise negative situation. God gives us the strength and joy to continue even in difficult times, and He will eventually deliver us from them (2 Corinth. 1:8-11). But while we are in them, Jesus tells us and shows us how to act. When Jesus suffered: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). (Jesus never sinned anyways, but He shows even when we are hard pressed, we have no excuse.) Jesus also tells us what we are to do, and what Jesus said in Matthew 5:38-42 is not just hard for us today to understand. The people of Israel did not readily grasp the concept either. Jesus acknowledges in verse 38 that up until this point the people had been living by the concept “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” which is stated three times in the Old Testament’s instructions on how to live. This is also the excepted concept of justice in America today: if you hurt someone or damage something, you must pay for it in an equal way. We no longer gouge people’s eyes out, but we are careful to match the punishment to the crime. These people Jesus was preaching to no doubt had to stop to think about what He had just said.
Read the verses in Matthew one more time. If you look closely, you’ll notice Jesus is saying we are to treat those who persecute us with love. If someone you love dearly told you to walk with him or her one mile, would you do it? Yes, you probably would because you love that person. You might even walk another mile with that person out of your own will. We would do it out of love, which wants only the best for the other person and nothing in return. This same love is how we are called to care for our enemies. It seems strange, dumb, and utterly absurd by the world’s standards, but to love like the world is to not truly love at all. Jesus came and died for us while we were still sinners. “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son” not after we turned to Him, but before. Our Father loved us before we were His children, and that is how we are called to love others too.
We are not called to be weak, but strong in love! It takes far more strength to live and love like Jesus than to retaliate and hate like the world. But our strength comes from God, and we can trust Him to help us follow His will for us, even in times when we feel like our own feelings are about to explode. We are called to look at the great mercy, love, and grace of our Father and see the things around us through His eyes. By doing this we live the greatest testimony to God we could ever have.
E. R. Peters