Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Introduction: Immediate Law in Jesus’ Sermon
It is no doubt that Jesus’ words in His Sermon on the Plain challenge us just as much as they challenged His original hearers. Let’s be honest with ourselves: we don’t like what Jesus says here. Love your enemies? Yeah right! Do good to those who hate you? As if! Bless those who curse you and pray for those who abuse you? How insensitive! Turn the other cheek? Yeah right, what if my life is in danger! Give to beggars? Please, they’re just using it on drugs and alcohol! Give and lend without expecting anything in return? That’s not now the world works, Jesus! Be merciful? They don’t deserve it! Do not judge and condemn but forgive? No, they need to deserve my forgiveness!
If anything, we appreciate the peaceful sentiment of Jesus’ teaching, but we certainly don’t want to do what He preaches. They’re certainly not practical, but the kingdom of God—which Jesus is preaching about here—is not concerned with earthly practical matters. The Law for you today is that it doesn’t matter that you don’t like what Jesus says. He is your Lord, and you must obey Him. Next week we’ll be commemorating the Transfiguration of our Lord where God the Father once again acknowledges Jesus as God the Son, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” [Luke 9:35]. Do we though? When Jesus says something like this in His sermon, we certainly don’t like to!
Living Like Jesus by Listening, Being Humble, and Showing Mercy
If you’ve been following my daily devotions on Facebook or TikTok lately, I had a mini-series on how to live like Jesus. I spent a couple days talking briefly on this topic because of the divisive and fragmentary world we live in right now. We’re all just yelling at each other and talking past one another because we care more about being in the right than we do about loving each other. This isn’t how Jesus lived and it’s not how He calls His followers to live, as we see very clearly in this selection from His sermon. There is no need to prove you’re right because Jesus has already put you in the right! The only thing left for you to do, then, is to love one another, even your enemies. And Jesus tells us how.
Most of the time, before Jesus taught, He listened, He showed mercy, and He was humble. That is our model for living like Jesus. Before we teach—or rather, confess—what we believe, we first need to listen, show mercy, and be humble. What Jesus says in our short pericope this morning is merely one guide of what this looks like.
Perhaps the core of what Jesus teaches in this section is to love your enemies, the very opposite of what we want to do. We want to prove our enemy wrong and that we’re in the right! But Jesus says no! Love them, do good to them, bless them, and pray for them! So, how do we better put ourselves in a position to do this? Well, I think it starts with listening. Simon and Garfunkel are correct in their lyrics from their song Sounds of Silence where they sing. “People talking without speaking / People hearing without listening.” Instead of listening to love and understand, we “listen” to respond. We close off our ears as we think of how we might justify ourselves. That’s not listening.
Hearing and listening are different. Listening is a choice; hearing is a biological function. So, how do we listen? For one, it helps to keep your mouth shut, and it is even harder to keep our minds silent as we listen to what they’re saying, not trying to think of how we might prove them wrong. Ask questions for clarification and understanding. Questions like, “What do you mean by that? Can you explain this more? Can you define what that means?” The best way I’ve found to show that you’ve actually been listening is what I learnt at seminary called Rappaport’s Rules. Here is my revised version:
- Reword the person’s view (as a paraphrase; it doesn’t have to be verbatim).
- Share what you agree with.
- Share what you’ve learnt.
- Confess your view/belief.
Such listening sounds like this, “That’s interesting. So, you believe this _____. I agree that _____, and I never knew that _____. Please allow me the courtesy to share what I believe.” And then you confess what you believe as a Christian. If, after patiently listening, they still won’t allow you room to confess—which does happen frequently—then simply do as Jesus taught His disciples: dust off your feet and walk away. Don’t staple your feet to hostile ground by trying to prove you’re right.
Hopefully you can see how such a listening response is one of mercy and humility—that such listening is loving rather than hating, turning the other cheek rather than going on the attack to prove you’re right, and doing good rather than evil such as blessing rather than cursing. Everything else Jesus says here is to be merciful and humble: praying rather than abusing, giving to the beggar rather than making unfounded accusations, and forgiving rather than judging and condemning. To do any of these things is to turn from pride to humility, from vengeance to mercy.
Such humility is what Paul describes to the Christians in Colossae, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” [Colossians 3:12-14]. Put on the cloak of humility rather than stripping yourself bare in shameless pride. The church is a community of forgiveness, not of condemnation. The irony is that while we claim we want the church to be in harmony, we clothe ourselves not with the love that binds such harmony but with hatred and contention, which aims to divide and conquer—to separate you from me so I can prove I’m in the right. But sinful creatures can never put themselves in the right; that’s why it was necessary that Christ come down to do this justification for us.
In a similar fashion, St. James urges Christians toward mercy:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, fully of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.James 3:13-18
I get questions like this all the time, “Pastor, why is the world so chaotic, in so much disorder?” The Scriptures tell us: because of demonic influence. Why is the world filled with the opposite of what Jesus teaches here? Because it’s what the demons want. They don’t want us showing the love, mercy, and humility of Jesus. No, they want us to add to the noise of hatred, bigotry, and division. That’s why churches raise gay pride flags on their buildings, and Black Lives Matter signs, All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, trust the science, this and that politician, and so on—because it is in the devil’s best interest to distract God’s people from Christ and into creating walls of division as we plaster thoughtless virtual signals all over our lives rather than the Word of Christ. Instead of bearing our cross and following Jesus, we bear whatever flags, lawn posts, and bumper stickers we raise and follow these false gods into chaos and division.
Let us, therefore, tear down these idols and depend utterly on the mercy of Christ as we show mercy to others, for all mercy flows from the Merciful One. As Peter writes, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” [1 Peter 2:10]. As people who have received God’s mercy in Christ, let us therefore go forth with mercy.
Mercy is the only way in which one can walk once one has received the mercy of Christ the King. Any other sort of living is waywardness. We should lament how far we have gone wayward from the mercy seat of Christ [Hebrews 9:5]. Let us, then, return to Christ’s mercy seat and learn from Him, according to His own gracious invitation: “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” [Matthew 11:28-30]. The Humble One shows us mercy; we therefore live in humility and mercy with others. Let us, then, repent of our wayward divisions and learn humility and mercy from our Lord.
Jesus Loves Us Perfectly
At this point, you have probably seen where you have failed and how you should do better, which we all should because Jesus calls His disciples to live differently than everybody else. We’re not called to love only those who love us and those who agree with us, because even the unbelievers do this. Rather, we are called to live differently—to love our enemies, which we have spent enough time on.
While you see your failures in Jesus’ words here, what you should see more is Jesus’ perfect love for you. You fail to love your enemies, but Jesus loved you when you were His enemy. St. Paul puts it beautifully, “but God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” [Romans 5:8, 10].
You were once God’s enemy, but by the death of His Son it was made possible for you to become God’s child. As St. John puts it, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name [that’s you], He gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” [John 1:12-13]. The Spirit of God that was involved in creation and breathed even the breath of life into you when you were conceived is the same Holy Spirit that has conceived you as God’s child in your Baptism.
And instead of cursing you as you deserve, Jesus blesses you. Remember the Beatitudes we heard Jesus preach last week [Luke 6:20-23]. Instead of cursing you with eternal death, hunger, and despondence, He has blessed you with the kingdom of God, eternal satisfaction, the joy of the Lord, and the inheritance of heaven, which is eternal life. Instead of abusing you when He was abused, He prayed for you in Gethsemane, just as He prays for you right now before the Father when you pray and ask for forgiveness. St. Peter describes this well also, “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” [1 Peter 2:23-24]. Jesus became a curse on the tree so that He might bless you with salvation.
And instead of turning around to strike vengeance, calling in His army of angels as Lord of hosts when He was struck and beaten and nailed to the cross, He turned the other cheek for you. He gave Himself over to brutal torture and death so that your own suffering might be relieved by His burden and that your death might find its own death in His life. We are all beggars before Him, which is most evident in the Lord’s Supper. We all come before the Lord’s Table kneeling with hands open like vagabonds and mouths open like starving orphans, and instead of finding excuses not to show mercy and feed you, or launching unfounded accusations against you, He places His body and blood in your hands and mouth to give you that sweet forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation as God’s beloved children.
Jesus loves both those who do good and those who do evil. Neither deserve His love, but loving is who He is, and loving is what He does. “God is love,” writes St. John [1 John 4:8]. We were, all of us, evil… until the Lord showed kindness to us. In His kindness, the Lord forgives. Jesus extends the same mercy as His Father, which is forgiveness instead of condemnation in His coming judgement. He has given His life to you in full measure—grace overflowing your cup and falling into your lap, soaking you through. Thus, wherever you have failed in listening to your Lord, to one another, and loving your enemies, Christ has done immeasurably more and perfectly for you.
Jesus’ love, you see, is vastly different than the world’s love. As we’re all yelling at each other and talking past one another, one of the things the world yells at us is, “Love is love,” and “Love wins,” but if any of that were true then they would not treat you and me with such contempt, division, and indignance when we call people to repentance with love, respect, and meekness out of concern for their souls. The Scriptures tell us that love “does not insist on its own way” [1 Corinthians 13:5], but such mantras do exactly that. This is because the so-called love of the world makes demands of you; you are only worth loving if you do as they say. That is the way of sinners. But the love of Jesus is nothing like this.
Jesus loves you even when you fail to do as He says, even when you fail to do good. “Love is love” is the wrong equation; “God is love” is our confession’s equation. Love does not win, because after the semicolon of this mantra are words of contempt and division, and we often respond likewise; but the love of Christ wins because He loved you even when you were His enemy, conquering death for you, and who is now ascended and reigning for you on His mercy seat to grant you forgiveness when your love fails. As the psalmist repeats as an echo into eternity, “His steadfast love endures forever” [Psalm 136].
This is why we sing as we did in the sermon hymn, “He offers all His treasure / Of justice, truth, and righteousness, / His love beyond all measure, / His yearning pity o’er distress; / Nor treats us as we merit / But sets His anger by. / The poor and contrite spirit / Finds His compassion nigh; / And high as heav’n above us, / As dawn from close of day, / So far, since He has loved us, / He puts our sins away.” Amen.