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The Teachings of Jesus (Part 1 of 2)
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matt. 5:9 (ESV)
When the typical evangelist talks about Jesus to someone who is not a Christian, they usually speak little to nothing about who Jesus actually is, and more about what he has done for those who believe in Him by saving them from Hell. But this method of evangelism is lacking in content, and it needs a follow up.
Christians have to be careful to not only use this simple evangelistic method as the basis for their theology of Jesus. We have to be careful that our theology of Jesus goes beyond emphasizing the importance of Christ’s miraculous birth, the last supper, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. If we leave this theology with only those four points, our theology is only based on what God has done for us, when it does little in showing us who God actually is, and how he wants us to live, as revealed in Jesus. I say this not because I know a secret formula, but because I have observed Christians become so consistently hateful towards others that it consumes them, while Jesus commands his followers to always put other people first, to treat them kindly, and to care for the poor and the oppressed. I have been that jerk of a Christian…I am sure that many of my readers have as well…But Jesus calls you and me to MORE.
When a new member is officially a part of a Church in a ceremony, the congregation is usually called by the pastor to follow up with this new member; to make sure that he or she is cared for, as well as to hold that person accountable for the beliefs in which they had professed during that ceremony. Likewise, when a person is baptized in a church, the congregation is called show that same care and guidance to that individual, or in support of their parents if a child is baptized. And so, my question to all of us is: Do we, as Christians, follow up with others, and with ourselves, to see if we are truly seeking to live for Christ? Or do we simply say “the prayer”, go to church, and keep on going through our normal lives? It is easy to follow a god who doesn’t demand anything radical..Jesus is not that god.
If you believe that Christ is Lord, that He is the promised Messiah, that He is GOD, then His words are incredibly important. His teachings are worth following. If we are to go against His teachings, we go against God in the most direct way that is possible at this current time; for in Christ, the fullness of God dwells (Col. 2:9). However, though His teachings are important, it is essentially impossible to avoid going against them. From that anger you hold towards a car in front of you in traffic, to the little “white lies” we tell, or in harboring hateful, prideful, or impure sexual thoughts; we are sinful people.
But the road doesn’t end there with us saying “oh well, it’ll never stop”; Jesus calls us to more because there cannot be a true relationship and connection with Him if Jesus keeps trying to get our attention, and we hit “ignore”. We are desperately in need of a Holy God to redeem us, restore us, and to give us the power to overcome evil within our own lives.
If Christ is God, and If Faith is serious, Then His teachings are worthy to be followed. For the purpose of the topic we are studying in this book, I would like to delve into some of the passages that seem to support the idea of a Christian not being involved in killing of any kind, and even to not be involved in violence apart from the Lord’s command or allowance. The scripture passages presented to you in this chapter are Christ’s Words, and should be taken seriously.
The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:2-12
“2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (ESV)
In these famous beatitudes, Christ elevates the weak to showcase how transformative the Gospel can be to those who follow Him. He blesses the merciful, the peacemaker, and the ones being persecuted, and He tells them how their persistent faith will be rewarded.
The beatitudes are a collection of statements that convey blessings for people throughout time to give them hope, and to give them a purpose. The later blessings are things that all Christians should strive to be: Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure in heart, those who are peacemakers, and those who are so faithful to God that they are willing to face persecution because of that faith and desire for righteousness. As Christians, we can read these blessings and see that we are to be more than what the world expects from us, and should always strive to be identified as having the attributes amidst persecution.
“Blessed are the peacemakers”
Matthew 5:9 is the verse which I would obviously point out here with the line “Blessed are the peacemakers”. We must examine what it means to be a “Peacemaker” because violence is innate in our human nature; we seek justice, and we desire to give justice with violence because it appears to be the quickest solution to overwhelming problems. Therefore, to be a Peace-Maker is in contrast with the natural inclination of humankind. In The Pillar New Testament Commentary “The Gospel According to Matthew”. Leon Morris writes the following on what it means to be a Peace-Maker:
“There is a quality of peaceableness, a disinclination to engage in disputes, that is admirable, but Jesus is talking about more than that. He refers not to peace-keepers but to peace-makers, people who end hostilities and bring the quarrelsome together”(pg.100-101).
Morris writes that a peace-maker is active, not passive, when he states that they “end hostilities and bring the quarrelsome together”. To be a peace-maker is to be in the pursuit of peace; seeking to end things that hinder the progression of peace through means consistent with Christ’s ethic of nonviolence. The Christian is called to this type of active role, and is told to rise above the norms of natural response.
It is extremely easy, when we are talking about Christ’s teachings on the subject, to water down the words to fit our current understanding. For instance, I am sure that when some of these familiar passages like “Blessed are the peacemakers”, “Love your enemies”, and “turn the other cheek”, were read to us as children, our well meaning Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, or even our Pastor may have explained it by saying, “Don’t be mean back to a person who is mean to you”, or in relating the word “enemy” with the school bully, a gossipy friend, or someone you just don’t like… But just a reality check here: Jesus was addressing Jewish people who were under the thumb of Rome, and who desired independence; so much so that some formed a group called the Zealots who sought to overthrow the government violently (Source: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Zealot). In fact, the Jewish people of the day were so focused on breaking free from roman rule, that they desired a militant messiah who would lead them out of Rome’s grasp, and establish them as their own nation once again (which is one of the reasons that many did not accept Jesus as the Messiah). Jesus told people who felt oppressed to love their enemies. Jesus was radical. Jesus is still radical today.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you…”
Matthew 5:11-12 says:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (ESV)
Jesus was instructing his followers that although they will go through persecution..that they are to rejoice because their reward in heaven is great, and He reminded them of the great men and women of God who were before them who were persecuted. In these two verses, we discover two things of great importance.
The first point is is that followers of Christ will be persecuted. In His audience’s time, they would be persecuted by their jewish peers who did not accept Christ as the Messiah, and by the romans who eventually would hunt them down under the rule of Nero from 54 – 68 A.D. These followers of Christ would at times be verbally, physically, and socially persecuted all for believing that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, and that He is God. Even at the point of death, these believers refused to renounce their faith in Him.
Throughout time, men and women of the Christian faith have been persecuted by nations, societies, and even from other sects of Christian belief (Catholic vs. Protestant, the persecution of Anabaptists, etc.). Today, there are still countries where Christians have to meet in secret in order to escape persecution.
American Christians are even crying out that they are being persecuted by the secularization of America! Wait a second, side bar: for these American Christians, I have news for you – you are extremely fortunate to live in the country that you do, and it’s time to grow some thicker skin. Jesus told us that we would be persecuted for following Him, and what you may think is persecution, is but a scratch while others experience tragedy each day.
The fact is, despite what prosperity preachers and some others would have you think, the people of God will be persecuted against, and we need to accept that. And not only do we have to accept it, but we should rejoice in that we are following God faithfully if persecution happens (easier written than implemented, I know).
This leads to the second point, which is what is left out of this verse: We are not to respond to persecution with violence, but instead trust that God is in control, and that we will be with Him for eternity, on this earth, as well as in heaven. Notice how God did not tell the persecuted “Blessed are the persecuted, for I will give them strength to overthrow their enemies”. God did not give them a manual on overthrowing their enemies, but instead essentially told them, “blessed are you who are persecuted in my name for your faith…don’t worry, I got this – you will be rewarded in heaven”.
Some of you may be saying that this is a stretch. I admit that my thoughts on this are attempting to read between the lines, but they are not unfounded. I arrived to them through thinking about the context of the Sermon on the Mount, including the “Love your enemies” verse, which we will get to soon. I also came to this thought through passages such as Romans 12:19, which says: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”(ESV). As much as we think we can take revenge, and as much as we feel that revenge is justifiable…God is in control, and we should trust His judgement, and keep our eyes on heaven.
Anger: Matthew 5:21-22
“21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”(ESV)
Jesus tended to take things just one step further that what people thought he was going to. In this section, Christ equates anger with murder by saying that if a man has anger towards another, they murder them in their heart. Likewise, In Matthew 5:27-28, Christ tells this same audience that if a man even looks at a woman with lustful intent, he has already committed adultery in his heart. Jesus looked beyond actions, and went into how what a person thinks about another can be just as terrible as an angry, or lustful action.
But is all anger bad? Is all lustful thinking bad?
Certainly some anger is good; our reactions to injustice, our anger towards words that mock our God…and certainly some lustful thinking is good – a married couple sharing the joys of one another.
What is being addressed in these passages is anger and lust in the wrong contexts, and Jesus was against both.
Matthew 5:38-42 – Turning the other Cheek
“38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”(ESV)
When Christ states “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, He is referring to a passage in Exodus 21:22-25, which is in reference to paying back a man or group of men who beat a pregnant woman; it is about giving punishment to a crime, even repaying life for life. This law was given to the budding Israel, and as we covered earlier, God did not reveal his perfect Will all at once, but instead worked with His people at their time.
In the next verse, Christ revealed the complete revelation, which is to “turn the other cheek” when struck. However, before we get there, the beginning of that verse says: “Do not resist the one who is evil”, which sounds like followers of Christ cannot be a part of bringing about change at all, if that change means resisting evil. But this does not make sense because Christ himself seemingly went directly against the first century Jewish understanding of the laws of God; thereby resisting the pharisee’s whole religious construct while being proclaimed to be the messiah of their faith. And so, not resisting evil at all does not make much contextual sense, so this passage may have been be an incorrectly translated, dating all the way back to the KJV, which is what a lot of translations, ESV included, use to base their phrasing off of. Walter Wink, author of Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, says the following:
“When the court translators working in the hire of King James chose to translate antistēnai as “Resist not evil,” they were doing something more than rendering Greek into English. They were translating nonviolent resistance into docility. Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. That would have been absurd. His entire ministry is utterly at odds with such a preposterous idea. The Greek word is made up of two parts: anti, a word still used in English for “against,” and histēmi, a verb that in its noun form (stasis) means violent rebellion, armed revolt, sharp dissention. In the Greek Old Testament, antistēnai is used primarily for military encounters— 44 out of 71 times. It refers specifically to the moment two armies collide, steel on steel, until one side breaks and flees. In the New Testament it describes Barabbas, a rebel “who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15: 7; Luke 23: 19, 25), and the townspeople in Ephesus, who “are in danger of being charged with rioting” (Acts 19: 40). The term generally refers to a potentially lethal disturbance or armed revolution.
We can see through the point made in this quote that a Christian is not permitted to resist evil through violent means. In accepting this idea, the whole passage makes a lot more sense: Jesus was all about revolution…but he wanted the heart of that revolution to be love and light in order to bring about change in the hearts of His followers’ enemies.
Finally, in getting to “turning the other cheek”, we come to a bizarre scenario. Imagine that the school bully was picking on someone right in front of you, and slaps them in the face. The struck person then turns his other cheek to the attacker, as if to say “go ahead, I have another”. The scenario sounds bizarre because it is.
Getting slapped in the face is always both hurtful, and insulting; it is a dehumanizing act that makes the attacked feel trampled on. It is only natural to strike back. But Jesus says not to.
There is an ancient Christian text called the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, written in the 5th Century A.D, that has a good thought on these verses. It is a commentary on the Book of Matthew and I am drawing the text from a commentary collection aptly called “Ancient Christian Texts”. The author states the following as a commentary on verses 38-39 on Matthew 5:
“But you say that the one who struck you contrary to the law deserves to be struck back. True. But you do not deserve to be the one to strike back because you are the disciple of the one who, when reviled, did not revile in reply and who, when struck, did not strike in return and who, when crucified, prayed for those crucifying him”
The author makes the correct reasoning in stating that vengeance is up to God, and that we do not have the right to administer justice, even if it does need to be done. I will explore this issue of vengeance further in my writings on Romans 12 & 13.
Verses 40-41 are about the idea of going the extra, undeserved and unasked for, mile, even for someone who has done you wrong. It is about showing God’s love to someone who doesn’t deserve it, and it is in doing so, that we see how undeserved God’s love is for even us to receive. “Going the extra mile” humbles us, and beckons us to overcome our selfishness for the sake of serving God, and serving our neighbor – which is a term which we can apply to any person whom we cross paths with, or shares our world with us; in short, our “neighbor” is everyone.
Verse 42 beckons the follower of Christ to be charitable of their resources, and to not show partiality to the poor, but to help all. This flies in the face of some who would refuse to aid the poor at all because of fear that “their” money would be used to buy drugs or alcohol. However, there are other ways in which to help, and Christ does not give us the privilege of picking and choosing the receivers of our aid.
In short, this passage that contains “Turn the other cheek” says a lot more than encouraging followers of Christ to be nonviolent in the face of trouble; it in fact advocates for active resistance through Love.
Matthew 5:43-48 – Loving your enemies
“43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”(ESV)
Like the preceding passage, Jesus took a current understanding, and provided God’s perfect Will on the matter. We cannot blame anyone who would hate their enemy; especially because in the Old Testament, the Israelites killed their enemies with the blessing of God, but Jesus, again, takes things further than where we would naturally go. He tells us to not only love our enemies, which is hard enough to grasp, but he also tells us to pray for those who persecute against us.
Did he mean for us to pray for our enemies to be killed? No.
He meant that we should actually pray for them as we would our neighbor; as we would those who we do not have a problem with.
The purpose of praying for our persecutors and loving our enemies is to be Holy as God is Holy. For just as God sends nourishing and refreshing rains to our land…he also sends that same rain to the land of our enemies. Loving our enemies goes above and beyond anything that we would do on our own volition. Loving our enemies is therefore an evidence of a “redeemed nature” which goes against our natural nature. Just like how “going the extra mile” in the passage before this one is evidence of our redeemed natures to the world, the notion of loving our enemies and praying for them is even more foreign to our natural natures that are filled with revenge, pride, and hate. For just as the passage states (paraphrased) : “What good is it to love only those who are good to you? Doesn’t everyone do that? “
Therefore, following Jesus in his teachings on nonviolence and caring for the needy is meant to make us look and be so different from those around us, that we are living examples of Christ doing amazing works within us. Our obedience is meant to be a way in which we show Christ to our world.
Preston Sprinkle says the following:
“The Sermon on the Mount constitutes Jesus’s radical kingdom ethic. Heads will turn as we turn our cheeks. Our inexplicable behavior will call attention to our inexplicable God. Light will beam across our dark world as we love the spouses who don’t love us back, keep our word when it hurts, judge ourselves rather than others, and— most shockingly— love our enemies who are harming us. When we are cursed, we bless. When we are hated, we love. When we are robbed, we give. And when we are struck, we don’t strike back with violence. A person who chooses to love his or her enemies can have no enemies. That person is left only with neighbors.” (Kindle Locations 2103-2107)
Does anyone dare to scoff at the truth of this?
In recent times, there are two popular real-life examples in which a faith community did the impossible and forgave and prayed for people who killed their loved ones.
In October of 2006, a man went into an Amish schoolhouse and shot 10 young girls, killed five of them, and then killed himself. One would expect the attacked community to react in anger, to possibly go after the home of the attacker to find some type of revenge and closure. However, the Amish said that they forgave the shooter, but not only that…some of them attended his funeral, and hugged his grieving wife.
This incident sparked a huge reaction from the media because they could not believe that ANYONE would go to such great lengths as showing love to the shooter’s family, and in even uttering that they forgave the shooter. Before the days when social media consumed our lives, this act of undeserved forgiveness was widely recognized and known, and it shook everyone to the core.
In June of 2015, a white shooter attended a wednesday night bible study at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, SC (A predominantly African-American church). After the bible study was over, the young shooter opened fire and killed nine people. After the incident, when the shooter was in custody, some family members were able to speak with him, and they used this time to express their confusion as to why he would do something like this, but they also used this time to offer their forgiveness to the young man who killed their loved ones in the name of racism.
In both of these instances, the affected family members did not negate their hurt, or their confusion as to why this sort of thing would happen to them; they chose to love the shooter intentionally…even though a natural, and understandable reaction would be to hate them.
In both of these instances, the world was flabbergasted by the Crazy Love and Forgiveness of these people affected by a horrible evil, and in both instances, their faith in God was highlighted as the reason for their undeserved showing of Grace. They were able to look past the evil committed, in order to see the humanness in their enemy.
Luke 10:25-37 – The Good Samaritan
The story of the Good Samaritan conveys this humanness in a people group that his Jewish audience did not like. Please read it below to keep things fresh in your mind.
“25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
In asking Jesus what needed to be done to enter heaven, the reply was to love God, and love their neighbor. The snarky listener then asked “Okay, well, who is my neighbor?”, and then Jesus replied with something that the listener did not want to hear.
The Story of the Good Samaritan is more than just a story about what it means to do good. This Story told Jesus’ audience about the good in the people that the Jewish people despised and rejected based on their different culture, faith, and ethnicity. In a sense, this story helped them see the good, or even the humanness, in their enemies.
In recent times, with the 9/11 attacks, the many middle eastern conflicts and wars since, as well as the rise of ISIS, there is a disturbing hatred/scepticism towards all muslims coming from the Christian Right in America based on the actions of extremist muslim terrorists.
Because of this hatred and scepticism, blogger Phillip Fletcher wrote an article retelling the Good Samaritan as The Good Muslim. He conveys the story as such:
“A man was going from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, and he was car-jacked by several persons, who stole his clothes, seized his smartphone, broke his ribs, cracked his skull, leaving him unconscious on the side of the road. Now it happened to be the time of a great conference and a pro-life group was passing by, and when they saw the man, they passed on by. Likewise a missionary group who just returned from India, when they came to the exact same location, they too passed on to the other side.
But a Muslim, as he traveled to work, saw the man on the side of the road, and when he saw him, he entered into his suffering. He pulled out his first aid kit, tended to the man’s injuries and then called 911 for emergency assistance. He followed the ambulance to the hospital and sat over night with the man in ICU. Next morning he told the hospital billing office, “Here is my credit card. Take care of him and whatever he needs.”
In this retelling, fletcher accurately captured the cultural distrust of Muslims by the Christian Right, and related it to the Good Samaritan. This parable is really about non-hostile cultural differences, and less about nonviolence, though it brings to light the humanness is those that people dehumanize. If Christians are called to love our enemies, how can we do so through the barrel of a gun? If Christians are to love our enemies, how can we do so by actively dehumanizing them?
*All sources will be compiled into the “Works Referenced” section at the end of “Chapter Three (Part 2 of 2)”*