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Supernatural Love

August 22, 2021 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Sermon on the Mount

Topic: Expository Passage: Matthew 5:43-48

 

Introduction

Last weekend was especially hectic for me. As a result, I knew that bad things were happening in Afghanistan, but I didn’t have time to read about the Taliban takeover. So, Monday morning I took some time to catch up on the situation. It’s a bad situation.

It was difficult to read about the violence, about criminals being released from prison, and about the brutality ahead for Christians and for Afghan citizens who resisted the Taliban. I’m sure many of you saw the video of an Air Force plane sealed up and ready for takeoff, while surrounded by desperate people trying to get on. It was a stunning heartbreaking representation of the situation, and it should inspire righteous indignation.

But ironically, right after looking at a few of these things, I jumped into my study of our text for today, and Jesus’ words hit me hard (read text). Verse 45 really stood out to me. Billions of people rebel against God and blaspheme his name, yet he is abundantly generous and merciful to them all. God is love. And Jesus calls us reflect his love even toward enemies, who do horrible things.

As such, just has he did in the last five paragraphs, Jesus sets a high standard. In fact, you may look at this paragraph and think, “No way! Love my enemy? Be perfect as God is perfect? That’s not possible; that’s not reasonable.” But Jesus means what he says, and he never asks more of us than what we can achieve in the strength of his grace. So, let’s pay attention to Jesus’ challenge and commit to living it.  

As Jesus has done in the last 5 paragraphs, he begins our text by citing a command from the OT Law. But he also does something unique. He adds a false application of the command, which he will proceed to destroy. So, notice in v. 43 that the Jews had the…

I.  Right Truth, Wrong Application (v. 43)

The right truth is that God had commanded Israel, “You shall love your neighbor.” The complete form of the command comes from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

This verse connects our text from last week with this week. The answer to vengeance (our subject last week) is genuine love (subject this week).

Not only that, Jesus said in Matthew 22 that the entire Law hangs on rightly loving God and loving my neighbor. Therefore, loving your neighbor is foundational to the entire biblical ethic.

Therefore, it’s worth remembering often that true godliness must include sacrificial, humble love and service to others. Every command in Scripture is an expression of how to rightly love God, rightly love your neighbor, or both. The Law hangs on these demands.

This was so clear that Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees actually agreed on this point. However, sinners have a way of messing things up, and the Jews had done so by debating the definition of neighbor. Specifically, many Jews believed other godly Jews were the only people who qualified as their neighbors; therefore, they only had to love godly Jews.

Listen to this Pharisaical saying from Jesus’ time, “If a Jew sees a Gentile fallen into the sea, let him by no means lift him out, for it is written, ‘Thou shall not rise up against the blood of thy neighbor,’ but this man is not thy neighbor.”

We have a biblical example of this debate in Luke 10. Jesus is talking with a lawyer, and he cites the command to “love…your neighbor as yourself.” And v. 29 states, “But he (i.e., the lawyer), wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” He assumed that only certain people were his neighbors. However, Jesus answers with the Parable of the Good Samaritan where he teaches that anyone in need is my neighbor.

But unfortunately, most Jews rejected God’s heart as expressed in Leviticus 19:18 and chose to only love those who were convenient to love.

And this misinterpretation opened the door to a wrong application which Jesus cites in v. 43b. As we saw in the Pharisaical saying, many Jews believed it was right to “hate your enemy.”

Now, it’s true that at times the OT has strong words for the Gentile nations and for all types of wicked people. In particular, the imprecatory psalms pray for strong judgment against God’s enemies.

But the common denominator with these pronouncements is that Israel’s enemies were resisting God and his glory was at stake. God wanted Israel to oppose evil and be zealous for God’s glory, but he never commanded them to hate their enemies.

And while the OT never specifically said to “love your enemy,” it comes close. “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it” (Ex 23:4–5). “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Prov 25:21).

And God never encouraged hatred for Gentiles. “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21). God was clear that Israel must show kindness and give justice to strangers and foreigners.

But sadly, the Jews of Jesus’ day had allowed bitterness and pride to twist other aspects of the OT to justify hatred They abused God’s Word to fit their agenda. It’s a good reminder that we must carefully weigh all of Scripture as we build our theology and ethics. Otherwise, our sinful hearts are very good at grabbing things we like and twisting them to justify our sin.

We especially need to be cautious as we balance biblical priorities like grace and justice, love and hatred of evil. These are complicated, emotionally laden issues that require great discernment. But the Jews failed here. As a result, they twisted an important biblical truth into the wrong application of v. 43. So, in v. 44 Jesus answers with a shocking demand.

II.  Christ’s Demand (v. 44)

You won’t find many verses that are more contrary to human nature than this one. First, Jesus commands us…

Love your enemies. Thankfully, I’ve only known a handful of people who would come close to something like a true enemy. Sometimes I read David’s complaints in the psalms about enemies who wanted him dead and schemed all sorts of evil against him, and I give thanks that I can’t relate.

But we’ve all had someone lie to us, be disloyal, slander our name, or do some other intentional damage. It hurts.

And thinking more broadly, we are all surrounded by evil people, who to some extent, are enemies. We should get fired up when we look at what the Taliban is doing in Afghanistan or at what the Chinese Communist Party is doing to the Uyghurs. They are enemies of all humanity.

But incredibly, Jesus commands us, “love your enemies.” Now, it must be said that he does not mean that you feel warm fuzzies toward them. Biblical love is primarily about what you do, not about what you feel. Again, Proverbs 25:21 defines what it means to love your enemy when it says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” You love him through kindness.

Then Jesus follows with 3 expressions of this love (read). There is a textual variant here; as a result, many translations omit “blessing” and “doing good.” For the sake of time, let’s just lock in on praying for your persecutors.

Again, I’m thankful that I have not had to endure any sort of serious persecution. But my heart grieved this week to read about pastors in Afghanistan, afraid for their lives and hiding with their families. It’s horrible.

To a lesser extent, it hurts when you are excluded from family and friends, slandered, or kept from advancement at work, simply for being faithful to Scripture. We naturally hate people who do these things.

But Jesus says, “Pray for those who persecute you.” In this case, prayer is both a symptom of a godly heart and a cure for a sick one. On the one hand, there are few more loving gifts you can give someone than to bring them to the throne of grace and pray for their well-being.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by Hitler for conspiring to kill him said of this verse, “This is the supreme demand. Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side and plead for him to God.” Praying for persecutors is a powerful testimony of a godly heart.

And it’s also a cure for a sick one. If you are struggling with bitterness toward an enemy, one of the best ways to cure it is to pray for that individual. It’s a way to forcefully turn your heart toward love by pursuing his good.

Of course, Jesus obeyed his own command when he hung on the cross for our sins. Jesus did nothing wrong; however, evil men aggressively sought his death. But as he hung in utter humiliation and excruciating pain between two criminals, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Then he bore the judgment for the ones who demanded his death, mocked him, and killed him.

It may be that you have endured some terrible pain at the hands of an evil enemy, but Jesus is not asking more of you than he already endured. If you are feeling too proud to lower yourself to loving and praying for enemies, remember that Jesus loved you when you were his enemy.

Considering the grace I have received, how can I not love my enemies, seek their best interest, and pray for their forgiveness and salvation? Then Jesus follows with 2 reasons why we must love this way.

III.  1st Reason: Loving enemies reflects our Heavenly Father (v. 45).

This is an incredible verse, because hardly anyone, especially not the Pharisees, but even most of us don’t think of loving our enemies as a defining issue of godliness. But I found it fascinating when I realized that twice in Matthew 5 where Jesus says you can be known as a “son of God,” meaning that you are a unique reflection of his character.

Verses 44–45 say that we reflect our Father when we love our enemies, and v. 9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Jesus is clear that there are few times when we better reflect our Father’s heart than when we manifest his love in the midst of abuse and conflict. God hates bitterness, and he loves generosity and grace.

And then Jesus follows with a beautiful illustration of his Father’s generosity and love (read). It’s awesome that Jesus calls the sun “His sun.” It all belongs to him. And Jesus says that God gives sunshine and rain to all people.

These gifts are foundational to all life and to human flourishing. Sunshine and rain cause the plants, on which life depends, to grow and flourish. Therefore, sunshine and rain are symbols of blessing and joy.

And God extends these blessings to all people—“the evil and the good,” “the just and the unjust.” Theologians refer to this as common grace. It’s common in the sense that God gives these blessings and many others to all people, not just his children. And it’s grace because no one deserves any of God’s kindness.

Now, we don’t typically see it that way. We all like to see ourselves as good people who deserve more not less. I can’t think of a better illustration than the weather. Everyone gripes about the weather, because we all think that we deserve to live in perfect weather conditions all the time.

But Jesus says that every ray of sunshine and every drop of rain is more than we deserve. It is all grace.

And what is remarkable is that God gives this grace even to his enemies. Our world is filled with evil men and women who blaspheme God’s name and commit horrible crimes. We naturally wish destruction and death upon them. Yet every day, they wake up to the warm sunshine and plentiful food because our Father blesses them with sunshine and rain.

All of it is an expression of the love, kindness, and generosity of God. And don’t forget that the blessings you enjoy are just as gracious. You don’t deserve sunshine, rain, or any other blessing. You are a sinner who was born in rebellion against God. But God has been gracious to you.

And every gift we enjoy should remind us that God has called us to be gracious and generous even to our enemies. It’s hard, but when you begin to look down your nose at others, remember God’s kindness to you and commit to being a son of God even in how you treat a wicked enemy. The 2nd reason we must love is…

IV.  2nd Reason: Loving enemies sets us apart as Christ’s Disciples (vv. 46–47).

In these two verses, Jesus blasts our self-righteousness. Have you ever watched a movie about some evil villain, but they paint him as something of a sympathetic character because he really loves his kids and his wife? We think, “Ahh, he’s really not that bad. See, he’s hugging his kids.” As if that’s something extraordinary.

We also love to pat ourselves on the back for loving people who are lovable. We think, “Wow, I’m such a kind soul. I just shook hands with all those nice people at church. And I just love my nice friends who are kind to me and just like me.”

Jesus says, “Whoopty doo!” And he especially hits a nerve with his Jewish audience, because he says, “Even the tax collectors do the same.” In other words, “You think you are really something for loving your friends, but that’s nothing special. Even the tax collectors who are stealing from you and have betrayed you for Rome do that.”

No, if I am going to truly reflect the love of my Heavenly Father, then I must go further than loving the loveable. Through the power of the gospel I must pursue an unnatural, selfless love even for my enemies.

This is essential to the Christian walk because love for enemies is at the core of the gospel. “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:6–8, 10).

Notice the condition in which God found you. Without Christ, you are “without strength,” “ungodly,” a “sinner,” and an “enemy” of God. The clear implication of the passage is that there was nothing attractive about you. But God demonstrated his unique love by having Christ die for his enemies so that they could be reconciled to God and enjoy eternal life.

Maybe you have sat there this morning flabbergasted at what Jesus is asking in our text. “Love my enemies? No way! That’s absurd!” It might be that your reaction reflects the fact that you have never come to grips with the severity of your sin and the fact that you are God’s enemy.

As a result, you know that God is love, but you have never experienced the depth of that love in the gospel. I pray that you will repent of your sin and cast yourself on Christ today so that you will be reconciled to God and receive eternal life. Please come to him today and be saved.

And if you are saved, I want you to think of the person that is hardest for you to love, the one who has inflicted the deepest hurt, the one you can’t talk to, or the national figure who you can’t stomach. Then remember how Christ loved you. Repent of your self-righteousness and bitterness, and obey Christ in the power of his grace.

Again, vv. 46–47 say there’s no glory in loving the lovable. Everyone does that. But when you love an enemy, you reflect your Heavenly Father and the beauty of the gospel in a glorious way. Love your enemies in a way that sets you apart as a disciple of Christ.

Finally, Jesus wraps up this paragraph and really the entire section going back to v. 21 with a stunning conclusion.

V.  Conclusion: Reflect God’s Perfections (v. 48).

It’s possible that we might hear Jesus’ demands in this section and think that he is exaggerating or that he can’t possibly expect us to do all of this. But if we think he is joking, this conclusion should destroy our doubts. Jesus says…

Our target is perfection/holiness. I mention holiness because this verse is simply a twist on familiar OT command. “For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Lev 11:44). The point of both passages is to say that God demands the best from his people. He expects us to reflect his holiness and perfection.

Now, a lot of Christians and churches want to pretend like these verses aren’t in the Bible. They will mock you for seriously pursuing holiness. But God is clear. Our target is the perfection of God.

Yes, God knows that we will fall short of the target every day. But we can’t stop trying even when it comes to hard to do things like eradicating anger and lust, being faithful to our marriage, honoring our word, and loving our enemies. Our target must remain God’s perfection and holiness.

Our motivation and power are in the Father. Considering v. 45, it is significant that Jesus changes from “God” in Leviticus 11:44 to “Father” in v. 48. He’s emphasizing the fact that God has not simply called us to pursue a standard of perfection; he has called us to pursue a person. And this person is not just anyone; he is our Father.

Therefore, loving our enemies, as well as being honest, faithful, pure, and a peacemaker are primary ways that we can become like our Lord. BTW, this is coming from Jesus, who knows the Father’s heart perfectly.

But beyond that, these are also qualities that we can expect him to produce in us. Sometimes we look at v. 48 and our only response is despair. “Perfection? I can’t do that.” Of course, you won’t get there this side of glory, but if God is your Father, you should expect that his character will progressively take root in you.

And you should believe that whatever shortcomings you have identified in yourself from vv. 21–48, you can progressively overcome in the strength of the Spirit. Afterall, remember how Jesus introduces this section in v. 20. Jesus sets a high standard, but he also gives strength to achieve it.

Conclusion

Therefore, if you are in Christ, you can love your enemies. That doesn’t mean that you approve of their sin or encourage their sin, but you can still manifest the same love and grace of the Father to them that he showed to you when you were his enemy.

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