Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message: The Kingdom For Keeps – 07 – Series On Sermon On The Mount; Date: 17 April 2011

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Muscular But Meek

 

Jesus began by saying – Matthew 5:5-9: “Blessed are the meek … Blessed are the merciful … Blessed are the peacemakers … ” and we loved the encouragement but then – not much later – Jesus again deflated us – so it seems – by fleshing out the behaviour of these meek and merciful peacemakers. He said – Matthew 5:38-42: “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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you

Five short Bible verses which rock our world! Who can live like that? “Do not resist an evil person. Turn the other cheek. If anyone wants to sue you, let him and hand over your coat as well. Give and lend to everyone who asks youWho can live like that? Can you? What would be the consequences of obeying these instructions? Imagine this: Word would get around that you can rob and bully a Christian without any consequences. You can break into his home – sue him for anything – ask for money and any loan – and he will simply let you take advantage of him – until he is broke. What was Jesus thinking?

This is difficult. A professor wrote in his best-selling book: “I think it is perhaps these four statements, more than any others, … that cause people to throw up their hands in despair … ” (Dallas Willard: The Divine Conspiracy, San Francisco: Harper 1998, p198). And another Bible commentator wrote: “Clearly, we are face to face here with a subject which has often been debated, which has been frequently misunderstood, and which has always been the cause of much confusion. There is possibly no passage in Scripture which has produced as much heat and disputation as this very teaching which tells us not to resist evil and to be loving and forgiving” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Studies In The Sermon On The Mount, Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press 1959-60, p277).

What are we going to do? At the moment – none of us are obeying these instructions – at least not what they seem to be saying at first hearing – and none of us are willing to be changed. For instance, Jesus said: “Do not resist an evil person”; therefore I will be long-suffering and patient – (as much as I can) – with anyone but should the evil person attack my family – attempt to rape my wife or daughters – I will resist him. If I have time, I will ring the police. Otherwise I come out swinging myself. I rather die than not resist the evil person. Does that mean (that) I am rebellious against Jesus? Are you?

There have been people in history (e.g. Leo Tolstoy) that have advocated passive endurance at all times. According to them – in a Christian city and state there should be no soldiers, policemen, or magistrates because they resist evil people. These office holders – so they argue – are ruled out by the Sermon on the Mount. What a scary proposition! Do you think that we could even sustain road safety without breath-testing and speed cameras – without resisting the offenders? [I frequently see young men – leaving Picnic Point in their cars – accelerating down the steep slope of Tourist Rd and hitting speeds of over 100 km/h before they slow down again for the round-about at High St. This is dangerous driving – in a residential area with children’s playgrounds being located on either side of the road. Are we not to resist this kind of behaviour?]

Last but not least – Jesus’ words seem to be so “wimpy”. What kind of man – (what kind of woman) – is going to be inspired by becoming a “doormat” Christians? Do you want to be a passive loser – always holding out the other cheek – the poor defenseless victim – never taking a stand?

There has been a misunderstanding. Jesus’ words are radical but not “stupid” and obedience to his instructions makes you anything but a “wimpy” Christian. Talking as a man myself – you can be a man – (you can be strong woman) – you can be a warrior – and a Christian. In fact – much is required of you.

The Bible clearly confirms that God himself established our rule of law (in this nation and any other nation) and that God himself appoints the public office holders (such as policemen and magistrates) – Romans 13:1-7: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong … the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.  If you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants … ”

This Bible reference alone corrects any misunderstanding that Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is advocating the abolishment of law and order which is enforced by public authorities. No – when abuses happen – when evil people hit other people on their cheeks – then the God-established authorities must wield the sword of punishment – (because for this reason God established them) – and this is good and right.

Furthermore, Jesus himself did not simply turn the other cheek when he was beaten. He challenged the perpetrator and demanded justice – John 18:22-23: “When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. ‘Is this the way you answer the high priest?’ he demanded. ‘If I said something wrong,’ Jesus replied, ‘testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?’” This was not the behaviour of a passive victim. Jesus had strength. He was muscular. [Cf. Acts 16:37.]

At another time he counseled his disciples to sidestep abuses by simply going to another place – Matthew 10:23: “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another … ” This is also not turning the other cheek. We are not the helpless victims of circumstances.

There is a bigger picture which is going to unfold as we learn more from Jesus’ own behaviour. As someone that preached the Sermon on the Mount – how did he apply his own teaching and respond to evil persons? We are in for a surprise. Jesus ended up dying for us on a cross but he was not the meek and mild person of popular imagination. [He was not just this serene shepherd person who was grazing his sheep in a peaceful meadow.] He was feisty and he knew that he was in charge – still is.

Right now – how do you think about Jesus? What is the dominant image in your mind? Is it the (meek and mild) Lamb that was sacrificed for us? Is Jesus only ever the willing and passive Lamb that had his throat cut for us? What about Jesus as the Lion of Judah that roars with power? What about this image of Jesus which John encountered. He wrote in the Bible – Revelations 1:10-16: “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet … I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw … someone … his eyes were like blazing fire … his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves … and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brillianceJesus practiced and keeps practicing the Sermon on the Mount but he is powerful and in charge.

The Sermon on the Mount is written in the Bible book of Matthew – (Matthew 5-7) – and we learn much about dealing with evil people in another chapter of the same book.

Consider the first episode in chapter 12 – Matthew 12:1-8: “At about that time Jesus was walking through some grain-fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, ‘Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!’”

The Pharisees – the religious leaders – had a go at Jesus because his disciples were helping themselves to some grain from a field that was ready for harvest. They claimed that this was unlawful work on a Sabbath. [The seventh day of the week was to be holy to God]. However, Jesus argued with them – citing another Bible story where David and his companions even helped themselves to some holy food in the temple. Then – he pointed to his own authority. He was someone greater than the Temple and – indeed – he was Lord, even over the Sabbath. Finally – Jesus attacked them, saying that they first had to learn something about showing mercy – (a heart of compassion that pleased God) – before offering sacrifices and attacking other people. There was something wrong with their entire attitude.

Thus – in the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus taught us not to resist evil people (and turn the other cheek) but here he himself offered some strong resistance to the Pharisees. He did not just take their criticism but – (in turn) – had a go at them and his combatant behaviour continued into the next episode – Matthew 12:9-14: “Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?’ (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) And he answered, ‘If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then he said to the man, ‘Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus.”

The religious leaders were again hostile to Jesus and tried to trick him into healing a man on the Sabbath so that they could accuse him of unlawful work on this holy day. Jesus took on the challenge. First – he argued with them, saying: “As you would rescue a sheep from drowning in a well on a Sabbath, so you can heal a person on the Sabbath. God is not against good works on the SabbathHowever, his words did not shift the attitude of his accusers and he knew but he did not care. As they were watching (with hostile intentions), Jesus said to the man with a deformed hand: “Hold out your handAnd as the man obeyed Jesus, his hand was restored. This was an “in your face” healing.

What would you have done? Would you have counseled Jesus to be diplomatic and walk away from this tense situation? Would you have said: “Please – don’t upset the religious leaders. There’s going to be another time for healing. Keep the peace.” In this instance – Jesus would have none of that. He was not going to be a shrinking violet. He knew his authority and he knew what was right – and if you had been the man with the deformed hand, you would have been glad that Jesus was strong.

Nonetheless – Jesus did change tack when the whole situation escalated further and the hostile opposition began plotting his death – Matthew 12:15-21: “Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope”

At the right time – but not before – Jesus adopted the kind of behaviour which we – more easily – recognize from his instructions in the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5:38-42: “ … do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well … ” Maybe – again – Jesus’ own behaviour and his instructions do not line up perfectly because, rather than turn the other cheek, Jesus evaded his opposition. He (did not stay for more conflict but) withdrew from that place.

Yet, Jesus acted out the heart of his teaching. He gave up his rights. He had the power to heal people – not the Pharisees. He knew that he was greater than the Temple. He was the Lord of the Sabbath. And he was the only one that made sense. Of course you can heal a person on the Sabbath as you would rescue a drowning sheep from a well on any day. Yet, Jesus gave up his rights. He did not quarrel or cry out. He walked away from the public places – the centres of commerce and influence. (The Bible has no record of Jesus ministering in Sepphoris – the capital of the Galilean district. Instead – he worked in the small villages of Nazareth and Capernaum.) For a long time he was not heard in the streets of the capital – Jerusalem. Jesus walked away and gave up his rights. He gave up trying to win the argument against evil people. He let them be.

And so can you. When you run into opposition, you don’t have to be a shrinking violet. State your case. If need be – point out the flaws of your accusers and do not shy away from an “in your face” healing. Stand up for what is true and good. Be a man of God – be a woman of God. Yet – when the situation keeps escalating, (at some point) give up your rights and walk away. Let the evil person(s) have all the advantages (of the public places). Do not resist them.

How do you feel about that? It can be hard to walk away from a conflict when the authority and common sense is on your side. It can be hard to walk away when the accusations have slandered you and dragged down your reputation. It can be hard to walk away when you seem to desert a good cause. When you walk away, who is going to care for the people that are left behind? Walking away – and no longer resisting – can be hard but it is also freeing. You don’t have to waste your energy in conflict.  God is saying that you are not abandoning the sheep when you give up fighting the opposition and God is promising us that his way of not quarreling – not crying out and not being heard in the streets – (giving up your rights and walking away) – will triumph in the end. The Bible reading said – Matthew 12:15-21: “ ... Jesus withdrew ... This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant  ... I will put my Spirit on him ... He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets ... till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope” On the quiet – from the fringe places – away from the power centres of the opposition – Jesus will bring justice through to victory and all nations will put their hope in his name. [Cf. Wittenberg, Herrnhut, Neuendettelsau, Iona.] This is good and encouragement to apply the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not resist an evil person. Turn the other cheek

Only – this is not the end of chapter 12 in Matthew. The whole subject matter is not easy. On the one side – there are clear instructions in the Sermon on the Mount but – on the other side – Jesus remained sensitive to the circumstances. Conflict kept following Jesus – people could not ignore him – and this dragged Jesus back into a more aggressive fighting mode – Matthew 12:22-45: “Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.’ Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? … if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you … Whoever is not with me is against me … a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? … I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken … Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.’ He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth …’”

Jesus reasoned with his opposition, saying: “I am not driving out demons by a stronger demon because no kingdom – not even Satan’s kingdom – could stand, if it was divided against itselfJesus resisted doing further miracles – more signs – on command because he pointed out to the people that this was just evidence of their stubborn refusal to commit themselves in faith to God. Instead of surrendering to God – it was easier for them to ask for still another proof of God’s presence. Jesus was again non-compliant – standing up to wickedness – and – once more – he ended up being on the attack himself, saying: “… a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?”

“You brood of vipers” is not nice language and – down the track – Jesus would actually curse the same people – Matthew 21:13-33: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to … Woe to you, blind guides! Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former … Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence … Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs … on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness … You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell

Is this confusing? What happened to “turning the other cheek”? We will solve the riddle in a little while but – take note – here we have a feisty Jesus in full flight – the Lion of Judah roaring with authority. Think about Jesus in this way.

[Abbreviate and retell the following testimony by Benny Hinn in your own words:]

 

[The transcript from talk no 12 from the “Operating in the Anointing” series is not word-perfect.] There are individuals that have great ministries that believe that their ministry is to judge other people. You have to reject them … There is the other that is frightening. I was in South Africa ministering in Johannesburg. I had been harassed by religious fanatics for two years that kept protesting at my house every Saturday … protested at our church every Sunday. They would curse our people as they were driving into the church … foul language was used … They were religious fanatics … The fruit that was coming out of them was satanic … the filthiest signs … Now they came to my home every Saturday … “Benny Hinn is a snake-oil salesmen” … So you do what you are supposed to do as a Christian. You pray and pray and pray. You bless those that curse you … My wife even wanted to bring out refreshments to them – love them … We had police every Sunday – standing between the worshippers and protesters. They would follow us from crusade to crusade – shouting and hollering. I was in South Africa … They had crossed the line. They were blaspheming the Holy Spirit. They screamed: “This is of the devil.” Jesus warned us about that … When the opposition accused Jesus of being of the devil, he talked about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit … To say that the work of the Holy Ghost is of the devil is dangerous. And only then do we have the right to pray differently. The protesters kept going for two years … two years … I was in South Africa and I prayed: “Lord, what do I do.” God said: “Curse them.” This shook me. I did not want to hear it. I did not want to do it. God never told me to do anything like this before. I had never been told by the Lord to do such a thing because when I read the Bible it says “bless those that curse you”. Is it the devil advising me? Is it God? I searched the Scriptures … Elijah cursing the children … Lord, how can I even feel good about this … When I get to the meeting, a pastor (Fred Roberts) tells me that God wanted me to do something: “Curse them.” The man of God tells me to do what I knew that I had to do but I did not want to do it. On the platform – under a heavy anointing – the Holy Spirit said: “Either you do it or they will mock you and harm my work. I’ll stop them but only if you want.” We Christians do not want to pray such prayers. The anointing was so strong. I could hardly stand up and I said: “Lord, desolation and destruction into their team.” A week later that group fizzled out. The wife left the husband. The team turned against him and they disappeared.

Now – all I can tell you – maybe it was by chance. Maybe it wasn’t my prayer … and then I had another experience that was frightening … Two men rose up against our ministry to destroy it … Three years … One said to another: “If it means my death, I will destroy that man.” I was preaching in Denver under a heavy anointing, God asked: “What do you want me to do about it?” I spoke the same words. That man within days dropped dead. It shook me to my bone. They said: “He’s dead.” A young man just dropped dead. You be careful how you use the mouth of yours. Those man crossed the line. They blasphemed the Holy Spirit. There is power in your tongue. If God ever tells you to speak a word, you speak it – in fear and trembling. It is an awesome awesome responsibility … The work of God is sacred … It only happened twice in thirty years of ministry …

 

Christians are not “wimpy”. Christians are not “doormats”. However, the Sermon on the Mount does apply. The Sermon on the Mount applied to Jesus in the midst of his muscular ministry. When you look at the big picture, Jesus did turn the other cheek with the most devastating consequences for himself. It had been in God’s nature for a long while to exercise patience with evil people and Jesus explained this in a parable – Matthew 21:33-46:

 

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,’ they replied, ‘and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.’ Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.”

 

Jesus was confronting his opposition with this parable but what he was saying was that – so far – God has kept turning the other cheek as the tenants – his people – kept persecuting and killing one prophet – one preacher – after another until Jesus himself – the Son of God – was murdered. They simply did not want to produce fruit. They were evil and God suffered them at the cost of his Son’s life and the life of his other servants.

This is big and describes God’s patience with us. We may meet muscular men and women in ministry – and they may be feisty – but – even now – when you look at the big picture – when you look at their whole life – their call is to turn the other cheek. They give their lives for others and be they evil people.

Why? Jesus explained “why” in the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5:43-48: “ … I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven … Be perfect . as your heavenly Father is perfectOur Father in heaven is perfect because he loves even his enemies and we are his children. We are to be perfect too.

Can you respond? Can you come on board with Jesus and his servants? Can his love win you over? Then – can you do the same as Jesus and love without counting the cost – giving up your rights. The Sermon on the Mount is not saying that we do away with the police and governing authorities. The Sermon on the Mount is not saying that others can always take advantage of us. The Sermon on the Mount is not saying that we shrink back in the work of God’s kingdom but it is saying that the big picture of our lives is about radical love. There are times – the times that sum up your life – when you do precisely what Jesus instructed us to do – Matthew 5:38-42: “ … I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from youAmen.