Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Epiphany February 24, 2019
Text: Luke 6:27-38 ILCW Series C 19:2110
Theme: What Christians Do to “Get Even”
Insults flew; rocks were hurled. They hit the man in his chest and face. As he turned aside, they hit him in the back. It didn’t stop. The rocks rained down upon him. Soon he would be dead. Just before he died, he prayed: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Did he ask God to punish his enemies? No! Stephen, the first Christian martyr, asked God to forgive them.
Stephen prayed for his enemies. Where had he learned to do that? He learned it from Jesus. When the soldiers were nailing Jesus to the cross, Jesus did not try to get even. He did not hate them. Instead He prayed for them and said, “Heavenly Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.” That’s the way Jesus got even, by interceding for those who opposed Him. And to those who follow Him He said, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other too. If someone takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt.”
That’s not the natural thing to do when somebody hurts you, not even for Christians. Our first inclination is to stand our ground, to hit back, to do unto others the harm that they are doing to us. By nature, we want to get even until as Christians we learn a godly way. What do Christians do to “get even”?
I. You can treat others the way you would like to be treated.
Love your enemies, do good, bless, pray, let them hit you again. That’s a different way of dealing with things. Generally, people hit back, even harder. Retaliate! It’s in our very nature as sinners to pay back – wrong for wrong, loss for loss, eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. Doesn’t the Bible even say that? Yes, it says that (Lv.24:20). But it says that to the governing authorities who are to deal with the crimes of lawbreakers in society.
With His words Jesus is not abolishing the penal laws that God expects the courts to enforce just as Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. There is more. The Bible also says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself” (Lv.19:18). Jesus’ point is that the same God who commanded such severe penalties for lawbreakers to be meted out by the government had also given the law of love to His own people. And He went further: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” That’s what Christians do to “get even.” It is the principle of love which does the unexpected by treating others the way you would like to be treated yourself.
A church member once complained to his pastor, “I have been a member of this church for over 30 years. But when I was sick, only one or two people came to visit me.” “Tell me,” said the pastor, “how many sick people have you visited by yourself in the past 30 years?” Rather sheepishly, because he had never visited anyone, the man responded, “I never looked at it that way before. I never thought of my relation to others, but only of their relation to me,”
How true that can be. In our human weakness and sin it is easy for us to view people from the standpoint of what they should be or should do for us rather than from the standpoint of what God would have us to be or to do for them. How soon I forget that the universe does not revolve around me. That’s the way self-centered people think.
But the Christian life is different. It is not only inward looking. Jesus bids us to be outward looking, considering ourselves, but also considering others as if they were we. “Treat others just as you would want them to treat you,” Jesus said.
There is as legend about the Apostle John which, although it cannot be verified, is in keeping with the character that he learned from Jesus in words like our text. During his final years here, John lived in the city of Ephesus. Too old and too feeble to address the congregation with a formal sermon, the Apostle John was nevertheless called upon to say a word or two at the close of every service. Rising slowly, he would smile at the group and in a quavering voice spoke only one sentence: “Little children, love one another.” And with that he would slowly seat himself again.
One day one of his young friends asked him why he always said the same thing, he replied: “Because there is nothing more to say. That is the final word. If we love one another, that is everything.” Jesus goes further: “Not just your friends but love your enemies.”
How badly our bruised and bleeding world stands in need of this heavenly insight. Yes, how badly even we, who call ourselves His disciples, stand in need of it. In a day of short tempers, frayed nerves, and angry outbursts; in a day of petty bickering, petty back-biting, and petty tweeting; in a day when racial, political, and social prejudice seems to fill men’s hearts with unreasoning hostility, harassment, and hatred, how important that we hear and take to heart the words of our Savior.
Nor was Jesus speaking of a merely sentimental or on-the-surface-only type of love. The type of love we, as Christians should have even towards our enemies is a love which is deeply rooted in God. A theological love! The Bible says, “Let us love one another for love comes from God…This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1Jn.4:7f).
It was on Calvary’s cross that God spoke the final word on love as He did the unexpected, treating His enemies, yes, also us, in a way that goes beyond comprehension – forgiving us everything by having His own Son pay for our sin. May we return to that cross time and time again, there to have our hearts emptied of any hate or self-centeredness and instead filled with loving concern for all, even our enemies. For it is in the showing of such love that Christians get even, treating others the way we would like to be treated. You see, the Christian life is different. It doesn’t follow the ways of the world, but it does the unexpected, the way God did the unexpected in Christ.
II. You can show mercy the way the Father shows mercy.
The Christian life acts without any thought of reward or payment in return. Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you expect to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that in order to be paid back in full.”
To act without thought of reward or payback…now that is a different way of dealing with things! Different from our natural response! At times, there will be other Biblical principles to keep in mind that may also play into what you do. But here Jesus is addressing the self-centered inclination to say, “I’ll scratch your back, if you’ll scratch mine.” We expect to receive in return. We don’t want to give something for nothing. There may be a time that is appropriate. But the Christian’s character is to imitate God’s, as “sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the unthankful and the evil. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” Jesus said.
How merciful was Joseph to his brothers in the O.T. lesson this morning? How poorly they had treated him, almost killing him, selling him into slavery. Yet Joseph recognized the hand of God at work in all. And as God had shown him mercy, so he showed mercy to his brothers. That’s how Joseph “got even,” showing mercy the way the heavenly Father shows mercy.
The Apostle Paul writes, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…On the contrary if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Overcome evil with good” (Ro.12:20).
This is the way our Epiphany Lord encourages us to let our light shine before men, pointing the way to the Savior. This is what Christians do to “get even”. They do the unexpected by treating others the way we would like to be treated and by showing mercy the way the heavenly Father has shown mercy to us. God grant it in our lives of faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.