I’m going to begin our message today by retelling some of a fictional story originally written by Victor Hugo. The story is called, “Les Miserables”. It is a story about a man named Jean Valjean who was orphaned as a young child. His sister raised him and when he grew old enough he began to support his sister and her seven children by chopping wood.
One day, Jean can find no work, and the cries of his sister’s starving children is too much for him. In the middle of the night he breaks into the baker’s shop and steals a single loaf of bread. In the morning he is arrested and taken away to serve time for his theft.
After four years he attempts to escape, but fails. Years are added to his sentence. He tried to escape again, but fails once more. More years are added to his sentence. All together he ends up serving 19 years for stealing a single loaf of bread.
When he finally gets out, he is a bitter man. No one will take him in or even feed him because he is a ex-convict. He must travel with a yellow passport and announce his criminal record to everyone.
Finally he ends up at the Good Bishop’s house. He knocks on the Bishop’s door and enters announces loudly,
“Look here, I am galley slave. Here is my yellow passport. It says: ‘Five years for robbery and fourteen years for trying to escape. The man is very dangerous.’ Now that you know who I am, will you give me a little food, and let me sleep in the stable?” (Quotations from “Les Misérables” adapted from Victor Hugo and taken from “The Book of Virtues for Young People” by William J. Bennett ).
But the Good Bishop says that Jean will dine with him tonight and after that he is welcome to sleep in the Bishop’s own home. True to his word, after supper the Good Bishop graciously shows Jean to a bed where he can sleep.
But Jean wakes up in the middle of the night and decides that he will rob the man. Finding the silverware they had eaten supper with, Jean takes it all and leaves through the garden at the back of the house.
In the morning, the Good Bishop finds Jean and the silverware are missing. He thinks to himself that he should have given the silverware away to the poor anyway. It was too valuable just to have around. And certainly, Jean was a poor man.
But soon, Jean returns, accompanied by five soldier who, finding an ex-convict with a bag full of silverware easily figure out what has happened.
But when the Good Bishop sees Jean he exclaims, “Oh, you are back again! I am glad to see you. I gave you the candlesticks, too, which are silver also, and will bring forty francs. Why did you not take them?”
The Good Bishop convinces the soldiers that he indeed gave Jean the silver. They release Jean and leave. Then Jean says,
“Is it true that I am free? I may go?”
“Yes,” the Good Bishop replies, “but before you go take your candlesticks. Depart in peace, but do not go through the garden, for the front door is always open to you day and night.”
How many times in real life do you meet a person who shows compassion of this kind, for an enemy?
The Good Bishop of Hugo’s tale was living what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, “Love your enemies”.
The part of the Sermon on the Mount that we’re going to take a look at today is found in Matthew, chapter 5. You can follow along in the bulletin, or in your own Bible by turning to Matthew 5, verse 43. Jesus says,
“43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43-44 NIV).
The people had heard, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” from the Pharisees. But the Pharisees hadn’t gotten this from the Bible. They had STARTED with a passage from the Old Testament. But they had altered and twisted it until they came up with a completely different idea.
Turn to Leviticus 19, verse 18. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus. This is the passage the Pharisees had started with.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18 NIV).
The idea that God expresses here is, “How to love people. As if they were actually YOU.” Imagine that you could meet yourself. Not a copy of yourself, but you meeting yourself. How would you treat yourself? God says that’s how you should treat everyone you meet.
But the Pharisees chopped off that last part, “as yourself”. They began teaching God was saying WHO to love, not HOW to love. Not love everyone LIKE YOU LOVE YOURSELF, but just love YOUR NEIGHBOR. Then they taught that “your neighbor” was only those people near to you, your fellow Jews. Not the Samaritans, you can treat them like dirt. Not the Romans, feel free to hate them.
Jesus corrects this atrocious misrepresentation of God’s word. He tell the crowd listening that there should be no division between neighbors and enemies. Jesus says, while you may HAVE enemies, BE AN ENEMY TO NONE.
Jesus says to love our enemies. Love is more than merely wishing someone well. Love is more than an emotion in the heart. Love shows itself tangibly through actions like the Good Bishop giving Jean Valjean his silverware and saving him from making a horrible, life destroying mistake.
Jesus says we should pray for our enemies also. We should ask God to bless the people who make our lives hard.
If you love and pray for your enemies, are you really their enemy? No! He may remain your enemy, but Jesus says, don’t you be his enemy.
Jesus tells us to treat our enemies with love, because that’s what God the Father does. Look at Matthew 5, verse 44-45.
“44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that 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” (Matthew 5:44-45 NIV).
Right now there are millions of people around the world enjoying the same good weather that we are today. Good people, and bad. God doesn’t differentiate between the good and bad when He makes the sun rise in the morning or the rain fall of fields of thirsty crops.
God’s behavior confuses sinners. Why bless the evil? That isn’t what we would do. Typically, we are nice to nice and jerks to the jerks.
Think about how you drive. You’re the idiot who hasn’t been paying attention and needs to quickly merge before you run over some big orange cones. You simultaneously flick on the blinker and twist around to see if there’s a spot.
But the drive just behind you sees your predicament and slows up, motioning you to come on over.
What do you do? At the very least we acknowledge their kindness with a thankful gesture. You know, “the wave” that says, “I’m a big dope, but you saved me! You’re the man! Thanks!”
Now think of a different scenario. Your traveling south down I-5 near Northgate. The express lanes are closed, so the sign says to merge right because your lane is going to end soon. A courteous driver, you get over right away. But other drivers stay in the lane until the last possible second, hoping to hop ahead of some traffic. They all bunch up where the lane ends, blinkers flashing, finally trying to merge.
This irritates you. If they’d have just gotten over when the sign SAID TO, they wouldn’t be all slowed up and about to slow you up too! So, you decide in response to their little maneuver, you’ll hug the bumper of the car ahead of you as closely as possible. You’ll also stare straight forward as a way of communicating that they themselves into that spot, and they won’t get any merging help from you.
On the road we respond to good with good, and to bad with bad. And while it might be easiest to see on the road, it happens everywhere in our lives.
But God doesn’t act like us. He blesses the bad and the good alike.
When God blesses the wicked, He’s not saying it’s okay to do what the wicked do, He’s simply exercising His goodness. The fact that the wicked are wicked can’t change the fact that God is good. Perhaps they’ll eventually realize that all their good things come from His gracious hand.
When Jesus says, “love your enemies”, He’s talking to His followers. He’s telling us to remember who we are. If we are the followers of God, than we should act like it. We should follow Father by doing things His way. We should love friend and enemy both.
Jesus sure followed His Father’s example. He was the Son of God from eternity. He was pure and sinless. All sinners were His enemies. Yet He loved sinners by becoming human to save them. He suffered and died on the cross so that our death sentence would not be carried out on us.
Though Jesus has many human enemies, HE IS AN ENEMY TO NONE. The Bible says that if you are a sinner, Jesus suffered for your sins while He was on the cross of Calvary. The Bible says that Jesus took your punishment away, and because He did, your sins are forgiven. To you, God’s mortal enemy, Jesus gives forgiveness and eternal life.
This section of the Sermon on the Mount is the last time that Jesus uses the phrase, “you have heard it said… but I tell you”. Jesus has used this phrase six times. He has been explaining how the Pharisees were missing the point when it came to God’s Law. They said, “Don’t murder, but hatred in the heart is okay”. They said, “Don’t commit adultery, but lust in the heart is alright”. They lowered God’s standards enough so that they could convince themselves they were right with God.
Jesus shows that by their tampering, the Pharisees had made God’s code of conduct no greater than the code followed by everyone.
Let’s look at Jesus’ final words in Matthew 5, verse 46. There Jesus says,
“46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:46-48 NIV).
“Every good turn deserves another”. It comes natural to repay good with good. The tax collectors of Jesus’ day were known for getting filthy rich because they overcharged people. Yet, they still were nice to the people who were nice to them.
Treating family friendliness is also something that everyone does. Even if the family is some cousin that we hardly even know, if they showed up on our doorstep, we wouldn’t treat them like a complete stranger.
As followers of Jesus and His Father in Heaven, Christians are called to a higher standard. Loving friends and family is ordinary. God calls us to complete love. Love that extends itself even to our enemies.
God calls us to be like Him, who blesses ALL people with sun and rain. He calls us to be like His Son, who suffered to rescue His enemies from hell.
The Pharisees lowered the bar, but Christ put God’s standards back where they were supposed to be.
At the beginning of His sermon, Jesus said to His followers,
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 NIV).
God has made peace with us by taking our sins away through Jesus’ cross. By making peace with our enemies, we show that we ARE the children of God.
Like Christ Jesus our Savior, let’s also be: enemies to none, Sons of our Father in Heaven, letting Him set our standards.
The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.