Redeemed Natured: Chapter Seven – An Example of Nonviolence: Anabaptism (Part 2 of 2)

Chapter Seven

An Example of Nonviolence: Anabaptism (Part 2 of 2)

“The commandment ‘You shall not kill,’ has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.” – Pope Francis, February 21, 2016

(Click Here to read Part 1 first)

My Family Legacy

I was blessed to have not only loving parents of faith, but two sets of loving and devoted grandparents of faith.  I was raised by a village of close relatives who loved me, loved God, and loved others deeply.  It was/is said of all of my grandparents how kind and loving they are/were, or how how faithful they were to God.  Below, I will go over the stories of each of my grandfathers, as well as one of my great-grandfathers as it pertains to the theme of nonviolence.

Clair S. Bauman

My Grandpop Bauman was a strong man, whose faith warmed you as he embraced you, or as he spoke of others.  I have clear memories of sleeping over as a child, and how Grandpop would read his bible by a single light as others slept.   I have clear memories of his warm smile, working hands, and blue overalls that were manifestations of the wonderfully humble loving soul that he was.  He was a man of deep convictions and compassion for his faith and for the well being of others.  

Although I have no record of his words on nonviolence, I do remember him having a “support all peacemakers” bumper sticker, and memories of him being against war, and even against voting.  As to physical evidence of his actions for nonviolence, I do have record of Him serving as a Conscientious Objector (CO) in WWII as part of Civilian Public Service(CPS) from 1945 – 1947.  Grandpop Bauman served on the CPS Camp 18, Unit 1 in Denison, Iowa, and on Camp 34, Unit 5 in a subunit located in Newton, Kansas.  In Iowa, He worked to build up dams, and in Kansas, he served by working on highways, canning foods, and something with forestry, as told to me by his eldest son, Duane Bauman.  

My Uncle Duane also served as a CO during the Vietnam war, objecting for religious reasons like his father before him, but also expressing the internal conflict felt when your friends, classmates, and teammates were sent off to war, and you stayed behind.  Being a CO was not an easy thing to do, but it felt like it was in comparison with those who entered the war.

J. Walter Hackman

Grandpop Hackman, my Mom’s dad, was also a CO during WWII.  Thankfully, due to an interview conducted by my cousin Andrew, the family has a written record of Grandpop’s experiences and thoughts on being a CO.  I am going to dictate some of my grandfather’s words and responses to some of my Cousin’s questions below:

On why he became a CO:

“I became a religious objector as soon as I knew anything about it.  I knew I couldn’t take a life of another person, created by God.”

On Payment:  

“At that time we weren’t paid by the Government.  We got no financial reimbursement in the regular CO camps.  They were in the old CC camps from [the] depression to keep people off [the] street and put them in jobs.”

On What COs did:  

“They [COs] were mostly making parks and maintaining state and federal parks.  Then they needed help in hospitals and in mental hospitals.  Business men that were COs were put in management”

On the perception of others, and of themselves:

“If someone died in the front [lines], it made no sense to a lot of people that we were here.  But all of the serious religious objectors would have given up our lives if it was needed so that others might live.”

“The important thing is that it is a sincere commitment and that those around us could see it.  Sincerity in our desire to follow Christ is very important.  That comes first, and also our fellow men, we are concerned about their lives, and their souls.  However, sincerity alone isn’t everything.  You can be sincerely wrong, you must base your sincerity on the Scripture”.

On the roles of the Christian and Government:

“I feel that the government has their job to do, and the church has theirs.  I feel that you, as a citizen, have the right to follow your own conviction, if you conviction for following the Lord is number one.  That right was honored if you were against taking a life [because the government allowed for religious objectors], and even if it wasn’t, we still would have had to take that path whatever the punishment would have been.”

On the thankfulness of the government:

“The government was very kind to us in allowing us to take our position.  In World War 1, this was not the case.  Many of them were punished in the regular army camps because they wouldn’t put on the uniforms.”

“I was very much concerned at what was going on.  I feel that being a citizen of a country is a privilege and that we were certainly given a privilege in being able to take our stand.  Many of our [anabaptist] forefathers were burned at the stake and some drowned and persecuted for taking stands on various issues.  I felt our country was giving us an opportunity.  Since it sometimes has been abused, I fear for our younger generation if we should have a draft like we had before”  

On the Mennonite church, and on others joining the service:

“Some of our men did go into the armed forces.  But if they went, they would be excommunicated from our denomination.  Looking back, I feel this wasn’t a fair practice, but it was done.  I have very good, Christian friends in the service and I would be in no way judgemental of their decisions.”

In response to the question: Would you make the same decision today [peace time]?

“ I still want to be a pacifist – war or no war.”

My Grandpop Hackman had some convicting words to say in what I just quoted – he not only defended why he chose the route of nonviolence, but he recognized the internal conflict he went through while staying in the states while his peers went to war.  Not only did he recognize this struggle, he stated that he made no judgements on Christians who did go to war.  He did not take the nonviolent route out of fear of dying, or as a draft dodger, but out of religious conviction which superseded any other authority.

After his time as a CO, Grandpop Hackman moved with his wife to Allentown to start city missions, and soon he started to sell bibles and books from a truck which eventually became a Christian bookstore.  This bookstore has been serving the Allentown area for over 65 years, and is called Hackman’s Bible Bookstore, located in Whitehall, Pa.  Grandpop saw his store as his mission.  But in addition to this mission, He also organized monthly programs at Lehigh County Jail for nearly 30 years.

Wilmer R. Yoder

My great-grandfather Wilmer Yoder, who I never met, was too young for the draft in WWI, and too old for it in WWII, but he still felt a responsibility to help people.  He, along with 55 other crew members from the historic peace churches, and other places traveled to Poland in 1946 on the USS Virginian, which was a retired Navy Troop ship.   These men were nicknamed the “Seagoing Cowboys”, and you can read a little more about them in your own time, if interested.

Wilmer’s journal is mainly what you would expect from a daily log – full of the day’s events, current emotions at the time, and memories of home.  However, my grandmother Ruth Hackman put together some of his other writings in that diary that were not part of the daily log, and here are two of them that pertain to our topic:

“If Hitler had the enthusiasm for religion as he had for war, I am sure there would have been no war in Europe. “

”Wars, I’m sure, make more hatred than love.”

For Wilmer, and those in my tradition of Christianity, to be religious meant to follow Christ and seek to live like him, and so, if Hitler was religious like he claimed to be, his love of Christ would force his prejudice to cease.

Conclusion – An Active Nonviolence

Whether it be through the example of the anabaptist movement, or through my more personal examples, we can see that these people of faith not only were committed in not taking a life, but they were just as committed to improving the lives of others.  They were not “arm-chair pacifists”, or draft-dodgers, and they did not resemble any sort of cowardice.  

As argued before, passive nonviolence does not do anyone good.  Its when people actually live out nonviolence, and its end results, that we can see something beautiful coming out of the hatred and anger of the world.

But something that has stuck with me ever since I read my Grandpop Hackman’s interview was how he didn’t judge his Christian, even his Mennonite, brothers who joined the service.  And how he disagreed with the way his denomination handled them when they came home.  Neither of my grandfathers would endorse, based on writings, and what I know of their character, any sort of disrespect for a serviceman or woman.  They cared about regular citizens, Christians, soldiers, criminals, and even enemies lives.

To those who are pacifist, or accept the nonviolent ethic:  Let me say to you to always be careful in how you talk about this issue.  Always respect the veterans.  Know also that for many, your nonviolent religious conviction is synonymous with the soldier hating hippie-led peace movement that veterans of Vietnam came home to.

The Active Nonviolent teachings of Jesus lead us to peace with all men and women – soldiers, criminals, enemies, and neighbors.  Live out that teaching, and be a light to the world.


 

Works Referenced

Arnold, Jack L., Dr. “THE ANABAPTISTS Reformation Men and Theology, Lesson 10 of 11.” Thirdmill.org. N.p., 16 May 1999. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Carlin, Dan. “Episode 48 – Prophets of Doom.” Dan Carlin. Hardcore History – Podcast, 22 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

“CPS Unit Number 018-01.” The Civilian Public Service Story. Civilianpublicservice.org, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

“CPS UNIT NUMBER 034-05.” The Civilian Public Service Story. Civilianpublicservice.org, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

Horsch, John. “Persecution.” Anabaptists: Mennonites in Europe. Anabaptists.org, Jan. 1995. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. (Text taken from “Mennonites in Europe” by John Horsch, published 1995 by Herald Press.)

“Menno Simons.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Ccel.org, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

“POPE CALLS FOR END TO DEATH PENALTY: ‘Thou Shall Not Kill Applies to the Guilty as Well as the Innocent'” Living Faith – Home & Family – News – Catholic Online. Catholic Online, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. (Referenced for the quote by Pope Francis)

Ritchie, Mark S. “The Protestant Reformation.” Story of the Church. Ritchies.net, 1999. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

“The Schleitheim Confession.” Anabaptists. Anabaptists.org, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. (Text taken from a printing by Rod and Staff Publishers, Inc., Crockett, KY. Sixth Printing, 1985)

Simons, Menno. “Why I Do Not Cease Writing and Teaching.” Complete Works of Menno Simon. Elkhart, IN: J.F. Funk and Brother, 1871. 246. Print.

Woods, Mark. “Burned at the Stake, Racked and Drowned: Why Did Everyone Hate the Anabaptists?” Church. Christianity Today, 10 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Seven – An Example of Nonviolence: Anabaptism (Part 1 of 2)

Chapter Seven

An Example of Nonviolence: Anabaptism (Part 1 of 2)

“The commandment ‘You shall not kill,’ has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.” – Pope Francis, February 21, 2016

I have debated going over in detail about the successes of Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent movements for this chapter, but then I realized…you all know about those movements.  Sometimes when we hear something over and over again, it loses its significance, and the effort for me in preparing such a chapter may not prove to be worth it to my readers.  Instead, I will go over a little of my own heritage’s history on this matter for the purpose of telling a few stories that are rarely told: The story of the anabaptists being killed for their beliefs, and refusing to fight back, the story of religious men in the days of war who refused to serve as a soldier out of their convictions, and the theme in how all of these things can be inspirational.

The Rise of Anabaptism

The Protestant Reformation is well known to many, and brought out several early branches of Protestantism including the followers of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others.  However, some individuals felt that more stones were left to turn over in seeking to reform/reform the Church; particularly on the issues of baptism, the separation of the church from the governing authorities, the question of military service, and other areas.

The Early Beginnings – 1525

Ulrich Zwingli was an early supporter of this movement, but parted ways with them because he desired a slower and less radical movement.  Keep in mind that the State and Church were united at this time, and baptism was not merely a religious ceremony as Christianity Today explains here:

“The immediate issue creating the Anabaptist movement was not just baptism, however, but also civil government. (The two were related. To be baptized was a civil issue, and to refuse it tore a “seamless Christian society.)”

The Anabaptists rejected infant baptism because they believed that only believing adults, or believing children old enough to reason,  should be baptized, and because of this rejection of infant baptism, they re-baptized those who were baptized as infants, which would have been seen as both heretical to the Church, and rebellious to the State. This, combined with their views of not having any governments influence the Church, and other views, caused Zwingli to part ways with their movement.  On January 21, 1525, Zwingli, along with the city council of Zurich, Switzerland, forbade these Anabaptist radicals from seeking to spread their beliefs.  That evening, the Anabaptist radicals met in a neighboring village, and baptized one another.

From those cold clandestine adult baptisms arose a movement in which men and women joined out of a few united convictions.  

The Schleitheim Confession – 1527

On February 24, 1527, the Schleitheim Confession was penned.  The confession served as the first significant united statement of Anabaptist principles and beliefs which were all held by the Swiss Anabaptists. It is truly an interesting short document to read, and I encourage you to read it all, or at least the parts that interest you at your leisure, but for the purpose of this chapter, I will simply provide the points which were addressed, and a brief explanation of them.  (A full translation of this confession can be found on anabaptists.org)

-Baptism

A defense of what is now known as Believer’s Baptism, and a denouncing of Infant Baptism.

-The Ban (Excommunication)

Believers caught in sin should be addressed in private up to two times, and then the third time (if needed) , they should be openly disciplined, or banned/excommunicated, in the presence of others.  (This is where the modern Amish practice of shunning came from).

-Breaking of Bread

All believers of Christ are to take communion, and those who do not believe cannot do so.  The confession even takes it further and states that if a person is involved in worldly things, they should not take communion.  To the anabaptists, this would have included those baptized Catholics and Protestants who they saw as being worldly (See the next point), it would have included those in military service, and it would have likely included every government official.

-Separation from the Abomination

This was a broad point in which they desired to separate themselves from all evil, or from offices/organizations that commit evil.  This included separation from all Catholic and Protestant services, separation from their government, and the separation of the Christian from weapons of force.

-Pastors in the Church

A description of the responsibilities of the Pastor

-The Sword

A recognition that the sword can be wielded to punish the wrong, and protect the good, and is allowed by God to do so in the State’s hands.  Contrastly, a Christian ought to never use the sword/violence against anyone, and this point also addresses that these anabaptists were against serving in the government.

-The Oath

They were against taking an oath, or swearing by something/someone as a way to prove the reliability of their word.  Rather, they stuck to the teachings of Christ in Matthew 5:33-37 by teaching “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no”.

These seven points were the foundation of early anabaptism, and although we may gloss over these points as nothing new or noteworthy, we have to remember that in the time when these were written:

-Infant baptism was practiced in both Catholic and Protestant churches and to actively go against it is heresy

-Their stance on who could and could not take communion put them at odds with all other Christian groups at the time.

-Their stance against Christians in the government and military, as well as against Christians using violence would have been seen as controversial at best, if not heretical.

The Anabaptists were radical pious people, who were inspired by Martin Luther and the earlier reformers to read the bible for themselves, as well as to go against what they saw as false doctrine.  Not only were the Anabaptists at odds with the Catholics, but they were against these new Protestant movements that rose up before them.  The Schleitheim confession gave this budding movement a voice and a set of united principles and beliefs, though not everyone agreed fully with each point, and not everyone would have even known that this confession existed.  

Obviously, we will focus in on the Anabaptist commitments to nonviolence, as well as their general attitude on the Church’s relationship to the State in covering their history – however, understanding what came out of that movement begins with understanding how it started, and what it went through.

Anabaptist Persecution

Because of the Anabaptist’s radical views, they were violently persecuted by both Catholics and the Protestants, and because of their refusal to take up arms and fight back, their options were to flee or to die.  John Horsch in “Mennonites in Europe” writes the following on the severity of the persecution of the Anabaptists:

“Anabaptism was made a capital crime. Prices were set on the heads of Anabaptists. To give them food and shelter was a made a crime. In Roman Catholic states even those who recanted were often executed. Generally, however, those who abjured their faith were pardon except in Bavaria and, for a time, in Austria and also in the Netherlands. The duke of Bavaria, in 1527, gave orders that the imprisoned Anabaptists should be burned at the stake, unless they recanted, in which case they should be beheaded. King Ferdinand I of Austria issued a number of severe decrees against them, the first general mandate being dated August 28, 1527. In Catholic countries the Anabaptists, as a rule, were executed by burning at the stake, in Lutheran and Zwinglian states generally by beheading or drowning.” – as seen on anabaptists.org

Although burning at the stake and being beheaded is severe persecution, the most alarming thing to me was those who put anabaptists to death by drowning because they usually made a cruel joke of the event by making fun of the anabaptist conviction of believer’s baptism, in which they re-baptized those who were baptized infants.  Mark Woods, of Christianity Today, writes of these cruel ways of execution:

The Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand, was particularly vigorous; he unleashed a wave of burnings and drownings (drowning was the “third baptism” and “the best antidote to Anabaptism”, he thought)”  

Not only was this a cruel joke in which leaders, yes political and Religious leaders, carried out while claiming to follow God, this also should have been completely sacrilegious to any Christian in their right mind because it made a mockery out of the sacrament of Baptism.

The Münster Rebellion – 1534-1535

*Disclosure:  The Anabaptists of today would have a hard time labeling the Münster Rebellion anabaptists as Anabaptists at all, but they all still held to a few common beliefs, and were seen by other people of the day as belonging to the same sect. Since what we know of anabaptism today is a church tradition that traditionally advocates for nonviolence and peace, it would be unjust to align them with this perversion, especially considering the Schleitheim Confession that preceded the event, and the nonviolent teachings of Menno Simons which came shortly after.  Nevertheless, this point in history left a black mark on the anabaptists outside of the city.*

Imagine going through about 10 years of widespread persecution coming from the tops of governments, as well as from the various other Christian churches  who all claim to follow the same God as yourself.  Imagine losing family and friends because they refused to renounce the faith that they held, and they refused to fight back.  Add to that the German Peasant’s War(1524-1525) which just recently took place in which peasants revolted under the inspiration of the radical independent thinking propitiated by the Reformation, and a myriad of other reasons, and we can begin to understand the radical, though misguided, rise of the Münster Rebellion.  I write about this in the spirit of the goal of this book, which is to present an argument for Nonviolence, while acknowledging alleged philosophical or biblical roadblocks. The Münster Rebellion is the only major instance in which anabaptists (though they were outliers) were seen as violent.  It causes the anabaptists of today, who know of its existence, to hang their heads in disgust.  I did not even know too much about it until I recently finished listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast on the subject – Episode 48 – “Prophets of Doom”.  It is from this podcast that most of my knowledge of the subject comes from, along with a few other articles that I will place in the Work’s Referenced section of this chapter.

The Münster Rebellion is such an odd and confusing story, and truthfully, the information on it is a little hard to find.  But in order to present this story to you in a clear way that gets the point across, I will summarize the account with broad strokes.  The Rebellion began when Anabaptist teachings of Believers Baptism, and the sharing of wealth among believers, overtook a good portion of people in the city of Münster(located in the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia), and the city hall was seized by these anabaptists who installed one of their leaders, Bernhard Knipperdolling, as mayor.   Bernhard Knipperdolling also printed the works of Bernhard Rothmann which called anabaptists in the surrounding areas to come to this new Anabaptist Haven in Münster.

A man named Jan Matthys rose up in recognition for claiming to be a prophet of God, and proclaiming the “End is Near”; calling the town of Münster was the “New Jerusalem”.  Matthys desired the town of Münster to be an anabaptist theocracy (sounds oxymoronic) because he truly felt that that is what God was telling him to do.   Soon the remaining Catholics were told to leave, and the Lutherans were given the option to either convert, or leave the city.

After Matthys died by riding out against local armies with just a few men, an even more extreme prophet-figure rose to power.  This man, Jan Van Leiden, eventually became “King”, established mandatory polygamy (wives who objected to their husbands taking more wives were put to death), and lived richly along with those in his court, while the citizens of Münster literally starved to death.  In June of 1535, the city was overtaken by outside forces, and the Rebellion was no more.

In short, the Münster Rebellion started as an Anabaptist Haven, and ended as a brutal and bloody tyrannical theocracy.  This event would unfortunately paint the other, less revolutionary-minded, anabaptist believers black as they would be seen as crazy, as rebellious, and as a threat.  As Mark Woods writes “They [anabaptists] suffered a crushing blow to their reputation with the terrible events of the Munster Rebellion of 1534-35”.

I wanted to touch on this black mark in anabaptist history to explain the only time in which some outliers who claimed to be a part of my own specific faith tradition fell guilty, in a major way, to the temptations of power through government, and killing in the name of God.  The Catholics, the Lutherans, the Reformed, these outlier anabaptists, and many other Christian groups have all been guilty of bloodshed, whether through an official position of their faith, or through the works of a radical offshoot.  I believe the key is what these various movements learned from these violent histories, and how they view these histories in hindsight.  Where I am going next tells of how many anabaptists rejected the horrid situation in Münster, and went on to form some of the most consistent “peace” churches today.

Peace in the Name of Christ

I was raised in a Mennonite Church, which is a remaining Anabaptist tradition, along with Brethern in Christ, Church of the Brethern, and others.  Growing up, there was a strong emphasis on the Bible, prayer, service, and all of which was based on a Christocentric view of scripture and theology, which essentially means that Christ is the Climax of the biblical narrative and his teachings and example should be seen as such – in other words, we believe that Christ is the center of our theology and mission.

Menno Simons is credited as being a unifier of the Dutch anabaptists, and as such, his followers were known as mennonites.  However, it is important to note that modern day mennonites do not view Menno Simons in the same way that Lutherans view Martin Luther – we don’t hold Menno’s teachings very high, but rather, we generally simply agree to some main tenants of his branch of anabaptism, and most mennonites would agree with several points in the Schleitheim confession if they were to read it – we are not generally a creedal or confessional church.  Regardless, the following quote of Menno Simons is quite relevant to our discussion in defining what Anabaptism means, apart from the perversion that was the rebelliousness in Münster:

“For true evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lay dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto flesh and blood; destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; cordially seeks, serves and fears God; clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes and reproves with the Word of the Lord; seeks that which is lost; binds up that which is wounded; heals that which is diseased and saves that which is sound. The persecution, suffering and anxiety which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord, is to it a glorious joy and consolation.” – Menno Simons in Why I Do Not Cease Writing and Teaching, 1539.

The Anabaptist/Mennonite faith is about striving to live like Jesus in piously worshiping God and serving/loving others – including our enemies.  These commitments are what make anabaptism so attractive to me because it pairs taking the scriptures and God’s Will seriously, with striving to live out the love of Christ.  There are some churches who are happy with members who read their bible every day while ridiculing, shaming, or hating others (Westboro baptist is the extreme of this), and there are other churches who don’t really have a lot of theology past “God is love”.  To me, the anabaptists are very good about marrying the good in both extremes, and getting rid of the distortions.  Not that I believe that the anabaptists have it all together, or that they are any better than others, but I have been in other denomination’s church services, I have been a part of other churches for longer periods of time, and I keep coming back to the consistent and radical way of the anabaptists.  It doesn’t matter whether your church, or you as an individual, claim to be anabaptist – I believe that anabaptism has influenced many branches of Christianity.
When it comes to the discussion killing “what would you do if…” questions raised in conversations about Nonviolence, the person asking always assumes that the person who claims nonviolence would falter in a real-life situation.  Although it’s nearly impossible to know what our personal responses would be, at the very least we have the example of the anabaptists who endured persecution without fighting back, and without renouncing their beliefs.

 

(Click Here to continue to Part 2)

*All references will be included in the Works Referenced section at the end of Part 2*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Four -Selected New Testament Writings and Letters

Click Here to see all posts in this series

Chapter Four

Selected New Testament Writings and Letters

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” – 1 Peter 3:9 (ESV)

Jesus had a ministry in which nonviolence and redemption were intricately woven into his teachings, example, his salvific work on the Cross, and in the resurrection.  The Lord God, Holy and blameless, became one of us, and took all of our sorrow upon himself so that we can be set free from sins that afflict us, and walk with God in this life, and in the next. Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies, and he showed the good in their enemies through the story of the Good Samaritan, in which someone who was an enemy showed one of their own people more love than their religious leaders.  Additionally. Christ showed them how to respond to sinfulness in the story of the woman caught in adultery.  He showed them how to respond to persecution by not harming those who harmed him, and by willfully carrying his cross on his aching and torn back, and taking the nails on the cross, while praying to God, “Bless them Father, for the know not what they do”.  Christian Author Preston Sprinkle writes in his blog “Theology in the Raw” that:

“Christ defeats evil by submitting to violence—by dying rather then killing—and rises from the dead to tell the tale.” 

In the cross, Jesus showed us the full expression of Love and Mercy, and in the resurrection, he showed us that that Love was true and hopeful.

The argument for Christians to live nonviolently should be able to rest within the words and example of Christ alone.  However, many still are resistent, and for good reason.  Nonviolence calls us to accept the seemingly improbable, impossible, and unlikely way to address a problem.  Nonviolence takes away our first instinct and tells us to do that which doesn’t make sense.

It would be easier to dismiss Christ’s teachings if the rest of the New Testament did not advocate for nonviolence, or if it even endorsed a Christian’s use of deadly force against evil.  If this were the case, one could say of Christ’s teachings “Well, he is talking about his millennial reign”, “that’s really only for Christians who are normal civilians and are not in government”, or even a vague statement like “It is a good teaching, but that doesn’t apply to…[name scenario]”. As someone who takes Christ’s words so seriously…I don’t think that I could make these conclusions, even if no other writings of nonviolence existed in the Bible, but it would at least be understandable. However, the other New Testament writings DO address nonviolence.

This chapter is going to cover some selected writings, and the next chapter will be a more specific chapter on Romans 12 and 13, and dealing with the question of Christians and Governments.

1 John 4:19-21 – Love one another

Christian love is unique in that it demands love when love is not necessarily our first response.  It demands us to love those we don’t want to love.  It demands us to love those who have wronged us.  Why do we love?

“19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Within the book of first John is a powerful call for Christians to radically love one another, and others. This Love was a defining attribute for these early believers.  

1 Peter 2:21-25  – When He was reviled, he did not revile in return

The Apostle Peter wrote pretty plainly in the following passage about the influence that Christ’s example should have over our own lives.

“21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 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. 24 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. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

In context, this passage was written to slaves in first century Israel, within the broader context of Peter writing to all people to be subject to authority, and calling them to put away all sin – “all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander”(1 Pet. 2:1).  Despite harsh and/or powerful authorities over them, followers of Christ were expected to follow His example, and to not retaliate evil for evil.  

1 Peter 3:8-12 – Seek Peace and Pursue it

Although that last passage, in my mind, refers to all Christians, some may think that it was originally written to Christian slaves, and therefore may be simply an instruction for slaves to not retaliate because that is not what slaves were expected to do in that time and culture.  I understand that, and so I want to provide this next passage from the same book and author.

“8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

Peter states nothing to the new testament reader that had not been alluded to/taught before.  He informs his audience to not repay evil for evil, to be unified, loving, tender-hearted, humble, as well telling them to bless the one doing evil against them.  He also adds that the Christian is to not only seek peace, but to pursue it; for the Lord is against “those who do evil”.

This passage contains a repeating theme that I have been noticing during my study of this topic, which is: Go above and beyond the normal.  Show the world that something about you is different.  Be your “brother’s keeper” to your friends, as well as to your enemies; instead of cursing them, bless them.  See the humanness in all.  Evangelical Pastor, Brian Zahnd, affirms this truth in his book “A Farewell to Mars” by stating:

Humanity’s worst sins and most heinous crimes occur when we follow the way of Cain as the founder of human civilization and refuse to recognize the shared humanity of our brothers and fail to acknowledge our responsibility to be our brother’s keeper. When vicious competition and blind commitment to tribalism become more valued than the brotherhood of shared humanity, we let Satan loose in our midst. When we denigrate those of differing nationalities, ethnicities, religions, politics, and classes to a dehumanized “them,” we open the door to deep hostility and the potential for unimaginable atrocities. If we believe the lie that they are “not like us,” we are capable of becoming murderers and monsters. And it’s been going on for a long, long time.”

Dehumanization leads to us being comfortable with that which Christ preaches against.  For if our enemies, or those who have done us wrong, are forever cursed in our minds, than how can we have the desire to even think about loving them? Instead, we should see that all of us, if prompted enough, if desperate enough, if lost enough, can be guilty of the same evil; we can become murderers, racists, terrorists if we do not consistently fight against dehumanizing others.

“How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love…

My enemies are men like me…”

-Derek Webb. From “My Enemies are Men like me”  Album: Mockingbird

Acts 5:40-42 – Rejoicing in Persecution

“40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

In context, this quote is in reference to a meeting composed of the senate of the people of Israel (5:21), and was in reference to the Apostles who were put in Prison for preaching about Christ (5:17-20).  The Apostles were then set free by an Angel, and were later seen preaching in the temple (5:25).  They were charged for going against their jewish laws, and Peter’s response to them was this:

Acts 5:29-32

We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.

The apostles were not afraid to follow God, even unto death, and saw evangelism as incredibly important.  Even when they were beaten and jailed, they REJOICED that they were worthy to suffer for their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Please take note that they did not only refuse to revile, but they rejoiced in their suffering.  

This is in harmony with the writings of James, which could speak of literal persecution, or going through another tough spot in our faith walks.

James 1:2-4

“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Acts 7:54-60 – The Martyrdom of Stephen

“54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

In carrying out the thrust of what Peter was doing in the previous section, Stephen went against the laws of man to preach the Gospel because His true authority was God.  Not only is Stephen a great example of having a faith that lasts through suffering, but he is also a great example of how to love our enemies.  While he was being stoned to death, Stephen echoed Christ’s own words and asked God to not hold the sin of stoning him to death against those casting the stones.   His love for Lord, his passion for the Gospel, and his love for others was so great that he did not desire even God to punish his persecutors.  It is a crazy enough thing to think about when Christ said this as he hung on a cross, but Christ was Divine.  Stephen’s devotion to Christ and His teachings is an example for us all to follow.

Nonviolent Action

The last two sections touched on not fighting violence with violence when you are being persecuted for your faith.  Within these sections, we found that Peter told the council that was accusing him of breaking their laws that “we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)”.  After being jailed for evangelizing, Peter evangelized once again after he was set free.  In this way, he was saying to the authorities – “I do not care about your laws, I have to do what God calls me to do.”  In the same fashion, Stephen was martyred in Acts 7 for preaching the truth of the Gospel, while knowing the consequences for doing so.  

Many people believe that nonviolence is a worldview that does not allow for resistance; that we would allow people to trample our loved ones, or that we would passively stand by as we watch the world burn. But to assume such is to make the statement that the only solution to violence, is violence.  To assume this goes against even the Just-War position, which is supposed to attempt many ways in resolving an issue before resorting to war/violent retaliation.

As I will cover more later on, the nonviolence ethic is not passive, but it quite active, and for this and other reasons, Pacifism does not accurately describe the nonviolence teachings and example of Jesus.  American journalist and author, Mark Kurlansky in his book about nonviolence had the following thing to say about the the comparison between pacifism and nonviolence in regards to Christianity:

Nonviolence is not the same thing as pacifism, for which there are many words. Pacifism is treated almost as a psychological condition. It is a state of mind. Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than non-violence, which is dangerous. When Jesus Christ said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence. Nonviolence, exactly like violence, is a means of persuasion, a technique for political activism, a recipe for prevailing. It requires a great deal more imagination to devise nonviolent means—boycotts, sitins, strikes, street theater, demonstrations—than to use force.

One of the reasons why I am writing this book is to hopefully share what I believe to be God’s will for Christians on the matter of responding to conflict and our enemies in order to hopefully spark a movement in individual’s hearts to embrace the way of nonviolence.  After this, I would hope that all of us can be motivated to show the Crazy Love of Jesus through nonviolent action to our hurting and broken world so torn apart by bombs and bullets.

Leaving Vengeance to the Lord

Just as we are to non-violently promote peace and seek resolution to conflict, we are also called to trust that the Lord is capable of carrying out justice – whether that be in this life, or the next.  Recognizing that God will Right the Wrong makes accepting the call of nonviolence to the believer a little easier.  In the New Testament, there are a couple examples of Divine Justice that I will go over briefly in this section.   

The Case of Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5:1-11

Ananias and Saphira sell some of their land, and agree to keep some of the profit, and give the rest to the church.  However, they acted as if they were giving all of their profits to the church, but they only gave some of the proceeds to the apostles from the land which they had sold.  The early Church shared all of their possessions, as seen in Acts 4:32-37, in order to support one another, however, it is not said that they were required to do so.  And so, Ananias & Sapphira wanted to keep some of the money, but make it seem like they were giving up all of the money.  They lied when they didn’t have to, and did so for their own social good – more money, and being recognized as giving all of the money.

The sins of Ananias and Sapphira are not only lying, but also hypocrisy.  They were struck dead – not by a human hand, but they each fell down, and breathed their last upon being convicted of lying to God. We cannot fully grasp the extent of how offensive this incident was to God, for we still wonder in a quiet whisper, why did this have to happen, God?  And as much as we may toss and turn over this passage, we eventually have to accept that what was written happened, and that it happened by the hands of a completely righteous and just God.  

I know.  It doesn’t sit right.  It may not ever sit right with us.  But in this instance, we see God carrying out justice through his own hand, and his followers played no part in issuing this lethal justice.

The Final Judgement – Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 19:11- 20:15

Perhaps the most descriptive passages about Divine Justice comes from these passages dealing with Christ Jesus judging all of the earth, alive and dead.  To separate the “sheep” from the “goats”.  

It is hard to discuss these passages without going into interpretations about the end times, which is not what this chapter, or book, is about.  Some believe these passages to be metaphorical, some literal. Many disagree on the order of events, and on a myriad of other things. But what we can gather, no matter what interpretation that you take, is that God will Right all Wrong, He will bring Justice to the Wickedness of the world, and in doing so, he will Redeem the world.

God will do this, and it is not said that he needs our help doing so; Christ and the heavenly armies are more than capable of handling whatever that they will handle.  In the meantime, we have to trust that He will Right all Wrongs as we seek to live our lives following the Lord, and loving others.


 

Works Referenced

Kurlansky, Mark (2009-01-16). Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library Chronicles) (Kindle Locations 163-168). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sprinkle, Preston. “A Case for Christocentric Nonviolence.” Theology in the Raw. Patheos.com, 21 Nov. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

Webb, Derek. My Enemies Are Men Like Me. Derek Webb. Fair Trade Services, 2005. MP3. Album: Mockingbird

Zahnd, Brian (2014-06-01). A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace (Kindle Locations 502-507). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Three – The Teachings of Jesus (Part 2 of 2)

Click Here to see all posts in this series

Chapter Three

The Teachings of Jesus (Part 2 of 2)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matt. 5:9 (ESV)

John 2:14-17 – Overturned Tables

I would be dishonest to not address the passages that seem to contradict the viewpoint which I am advocating for.  This passage about Jesus in the temple is one of two that are commonly brought up in a discussion about this topic because some claim that  Jesus was also whipping the moneychangers. Let’s take a look at this passage:

“14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”(ESV)

I would like to start off by saying that if Jesus made the whips, and whipped the flawed human beings behind the tables…that would contradict everything that he preached about which is referenced in this chapter up until this point.  It would also contradict his common responses to sin, which is to love and welcome the individual, not the sin; examples being woman caught in adultery, woman at the well, and the man hanging next to him when He was crucified. Whipping people would make Jesus seem like a hypocrite and a lunatic.  

With that being said, I believe that Jesus made the whips like it is written, and drove out the animals with them.  Whether he whipped the animals, or cracked the whip in the air to drive them out is not clear in the text itself.  When it comes to the money changers, I believe that they would have chased their animals which were valuable assets to their business and livelihood, and were thus driven out with them.  I do not believe that Jesus whipped the moneychangers in any way.

If Jesus whipped the moneychangers to drive them out – why did he not do the same to the ones selling the pigeons/doves?  Instead, he addressed them after seemingly driving everyone else out and told them to take their things and leave.  He did this because he obviously would not whip a bird, or throw their cages out of the temple while driving the other animals out, and if he were to whip all of the other animal merchants, he more than likely would have whipped the dove merchants, and released the doves afterward.

To believe that Jesus whipped the moneychangers would require the reader to abandon reason, and context.

Luke 22: 35-38 – Sell your Cloak, Buy a Sword

“35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

This is another passage that is often seen in conflict with Christ’s message of nonviolence.  The issue lies in Christ telling his disciples to buy swords.  At the surface, in that verse alone (v.36), it would be the equivalent of Martin Luther King Jr., who grounded his civil rights movement on faith and nonviolence, instructing his closest men.. “Look guys, I know I said this before, but now, I need you guys to sell whatever you can to buy some guns to protect us”.

It just doesn’t make sense why Jesus would tell them to do this, especially at the end of his ministry, when he was accepting what would be done to him.

So, how can we explain this?

At this point, I’d like for us to re-read verse 37, which says:

“For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”(ESV)

This verse is in reference to a prophecy of the messiah that is found in Isaiah 53:12, and it explains to the reader why Christ would tell his disciples to buy swords; he needed to be counted among those that seemed to go against the law.  If this is not clear, the next verse will clear it up more.

Verse 38:

“And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”(ESV)

If Jesus was telling his group of 11 disciples (because Judas had betrayed him) to buy swords to defend themselves, or Him, how would two swords be enough?  When the people that would oppress them would either be roman soldiers, or religious zealots…how could two swords be enough to protect 11 people?

Two swords was enough for the group to be seen as rebels.  Two swords was enough for Jesus to be “counted among the transgressors”.

To imply that this passage is supportive of Christian self-defense is to completely ignore verse 37, as well as not carry verse 38 to its logical end. When a message and example of peace is so consistently given by Christ, this passage would go against that message if interpreted to mean that Christ told his followers to buy swords to defend themselves.  Essentially, that argument would be making Christ a God who doesn’t stick to his own word when times get rough. Such a view makes Christ appear weak.

The Influence of Christ’s Example Of Nonviolence

There can be no doubt about the influence of Christ’s nonviolence teachings to the early church and beyond.  As I will get to in later chapters, the New Testament writers, the early church, and many early church fathers all seemed to understand Christ’s nonviolence teachings, and sought to follow after them.  Some leaders and theologians during our our time are teaching the same.

Martin Luther King, Jr. urged his followers to not use violence as a means of protest during his civil rights movement, and he based everything on his deeply held Christian faith.  He said the following in his “I have a Dream” speech in 1963:

“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Followers of Christ were expected to go against their natural tendencies in order to serve and worship God. Followers of Christ are expected to do the same today.

If Christ is God, than His words are worth reading, and His example is worth following.


 

Works Referenced

Berman, Mark. “‘I Forgive You.’ Relatives of Charleston Church Shooting Victims Address Dylann Roof.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 19 June 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Fletcher, Phillip. “The Good Muslim.” Gospel and Humanity. Phillipfletcher.org, 8 Dec. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Martin Luther King I Have a Dream Speech – American Rhetoric.” Martin Luther King I Have a Dream Speech. American Rhetoric, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

Morris, Leon. “The Gospel According to Matthew.” Ed. D. A. Carson. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1999. 100-01. Print.

“Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum.” Ancient Christian Texts. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2009. 107. Print.

Shapiro, Joseph. “Amish Forgive School Shooter, Struggle with Grief.” NPR. NPR, 07 Oct. 2007. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Sprinkle, Preston (2013-08-01). Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Kindle Locations 2103-2107). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition

Wink, Walter (2003-04-01). Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Facets) (pp. 10-11). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

*The Works Referenced list above includes all resources from part 1 and two of Chapter Three*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Three – The Teachings of Jesus (Part 1 of 2)

Click Here to see all posts in this series

Chapter Three

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)”*

The Sermon On The Mount: Part Two – Matthew 5:17-48

**This post will is the second post of an exciting series on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts! And if you have not already, read the first post in this series my Clicking Here!**

Welcome to Lambtheology.com!  I am excited to write again after not posting in several days!  Please join me in this second post in my series on The Sermon On The Mount, focusing on Matthew 5:17-48!

Recap – We left off of the first note on an idea that those who claim Christ as Savior are expected to Strive after him, and to be different from, and enrich the world.  We now continue in Matthew 5 to the end of the chapter; looking at some of the wild and challenging teachings of Jesus.  While going forward, please keep in mind the surrounding context of these three chapters in Matthew, which was stated in the first post.

Matthew 5:17-20 – The Law

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus sates that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. When a lot of us come to this passage,  we either skim over it because we do not know what to think, or we get conflicted over whether or not we should have had those pieces of crispy bacon for breakfast.  In other words, is Jesus saying that all of the Old Testament laws apply still for today?  I would wager that if we take this interpretation we will miss the entire meaning of this passage, which is that some of the Old Testament laws are lasting, but some of the jewish religious leaders of the day had the wrong interpretations of those laws because they did not have the full revelation of Jesus.

Christ came to explain God’s law in a way that could not be done before, to fulfill some of the law which is unneeded for to day, and to do away with faulty and harmful interpretations that put unnecessary constraints on those seeking to follow the Lord.

Matthew 5:21-30 – Anger & Lust

Based on what was said in verses 17-20, we come to Matthew 5:21-30, which would have been a profoundly complex and challenging message to the original audience, and has continued to be so throughout all of time.  In this passage, Christ takes what is known to be wrong, actions of anger ,and adultery, and he calls those who seek to follow God to not only refuse to actions of anger, or commit adultery, but to seek to sensor your thoughts because even they can condemn you of doing the actual act!

Anger – The first issue addressed in this passage is anger.  The text says that if you have anger in your heart for someone, than that is the same as committing an action of anger – murder, fighting, etc..  To be angry at someone means that you do not wish good to come upon them; in essence you want their quality of life, or perhaps even their literal one, to be diminished or stopped.

Jesus tells these people, and us today, that having anger towards someone, or insulting them, is worthy of the same punishment as killing them: separation from God. This is an extremely high calling for the Christian, and one that reminds us to keep our anger in check because Anger should never be a defining adjective of a Christian.

Lust – One of my favorite stories from the last youth group I led was when a 15 year old boy comes up to me after a lesson which included the passage on lust, and he asked me, “Jon, Jesus didn’t REALLY mean what he said for 15 year old boys, right?  We do that all the time!”.  After laughing a bit at his honestly, I simply said something like, “The thing is, Jesus didn’t tell this to a people that Didn’t deal with this issue – Its meant for all of us.”  All of us deal with lust, but the difference comes in how we respond to the temptation of lust.  When a lustful thought comes in our mind, do we try to do away with it right away, or do we let it sit there a while for us to mull over?  It is not something thats easy to do, but over time and intentional effort, lustful thoughts can become less frequent or fade.

When we think lustfully about someone, whether we are a man, or a woman, we disrespect their own worth as human beings – as being made in the image of God. So when we talk about lust, we have to remember to look inwardly first.  Lusting after anyone who is not our spouse, in action or thought, is not surrendering your life to following Jesus, and to Love others.

Matthew 5:31-32 – Divorce

The topic of divorce is touchy.  We all know someone, maybe it is ourselves, who has been affected by divorce.  This is one of those topics that Jesus speaks on in the Sermon on the Mount that some want to leave out because a stance like the one of Christ’s is hard for a lot of us to take.  I believe in and work for my own marriage, and I pass no judgement on those who have had a different story than my own.  With that being said, let us get back to the text at hand.

Christ begins this short teaching in verse 31 by restating a known writing of Moses which allowed for a certificate of divorce (reference), and then going seemingly against that teaching to take it further in saying that anyone who divorces their spouse, except for reasons of sexual immorality, will then make that person an adulterous.  Why would this be?  Because marriage was meant to be till death, and just because the legality of a marriage is gone does not mean that the substance of that marriage before God is gone. When the vows are exchanged, and the blessing of God is uttered, that marriage is a consecrated covenant between two people and God.

Matthew 5:33-37 – Oaths

In this passage, Christ tells the audience to not take any oaths, which was based on an Old Testament teaching that followers of God should not swear falsely.  Again, Jesus took it one step further.  He does not want His followers to swear by anything in heaven, or on earth because we would be swearing by things that are not ours, but are God’s: “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King”(vv.34-35).  We are not even permitted to swear by our own body – for we do not have true ruling over our own bodies like God does.  Instead of swearing Oaths, Christ tells us to simply let our words be all the proof and backing that we need; for our words to be words of integrity that they would not need oaths to be spoken. 

Matthew 5:38-48 – Non-Retaliation & Enemy Love

It is in this passage that most of the argument revolve around in regards to the Sermon on the Mount.  Humans do not want to be told to do something that is drastically opposed to our nature; humans do not want to be told to “turn the other cheek” or to have any sort of love for any sort of enemy.

Christ tells his audience that when someone would slap you on the cheek, to turn the other one to the attacker also.  Some cheapen the application of this passage down to simply mean that in light confrontations, be the better person, and don’t fight back.  But in taking that interpretation, the entire surrounding context of first century Israel is thrown out of the window because the main agitators of the day would not have been comparable to your angry neighbor, but were Roman soldiers who ruled by the Iron fist of caesar.  Followers of God are not to violently retaliate, even in the extreme instance of an oppressive military force.

Moving on to Christ speaking of loving your enemy, lets remember who the “enemy” was to first century Israel, and let us not reduce “enemy” to only be applied to the town gossip, or town drunk. Christ, again, takes an old teaching of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy, and takes it a step further by saying that a follower of God is to try to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecuted them.  “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have”(v.46).

The question then comes down to how we view this passage and apply it to our lives.  We should not stand by interpretations that cheapen the contextual meaning of this passage by only trying to apply the word “enemy” to individuals in our communities and schools who pose no physical threat; the word “enemy” may apply to such individuals, but it is more aptly applied to physical and violent enemies.   What do we, as 21st century people, do with this teaching?  Can we reconcile the natural human urge to violently retaliate and to hate our enemies, with the words of Jesus?

I’ll leave you with that.  I am sure the topic will come up again in the existence of this blog.

Conclusion

Christ called the jewish people then to more than what they had previously thought was required of them, and he does the same for us.  It is not enough to merely say a prayer and go on with life; Christ calls us to FOLLOW after Him and His teachings and Actions REGARDLESS of how against those instructions are to our natural inclinations.

Are we willing to follow?

Holy God, we come before you to confess the errors in our ways of esteeming ourselves above you. We confess that we are not perfect; we need your love, and we need your continual redemption of our lives, and our minds.  Transform our hearts to reflect the desires of you to Love you with all we have, and to love others as much, or more, than we love ourselves. We pray these things in teh name of Jesus Christ, Amen.  

The Sermon On The Mount: Part One – Matthew 5:1-16

**This post will be the first post of an exciting new series to this blog on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts!**

The sermon on the mount is known to be both inspiring and challenging.  Within these three chapters, Jesus says some things that, if we are to apply them literally, would drastically impact most of our theology and the way that we view others – within the church, and outside of it.  Please join me on this journey to study this compelling, controversial, and undeniably thought provoking segment of Scripture.

The Sermon On The Mount: Understanding the context

The context of Matthew 5 is that Jesus has started his ministry, picked his disciples, and is traveling and preaching to cities and towns throughout ancient Israel.  In Matthew 4:23-25, we discover that the crowd that Jesus is addressing in Matthew 5, is made up of people that were following him from town to town to hear more of his message; this crowd would have been made up of common people, mostly of the Jewish faith, who were curious about this man named Jesus who appeared at the least to be an inspiring teacher, and at best to be a prophet of God (They most likely did not think, or were convinced that, he could be their messiah at this point).

Therefore, in Matthew 5, we have an interested crowd following Jesus; having a hunger to know more about Him, and what He was saying.  These people most likely knew and practiced Jewish law as prescribed by Moses, were oppressed by a Roman Government that regularly overtaxed them and limited their freedom, and if they Did expect a messiah at this point, they would want this messiah to free them from Roman rule, and establish for them a nation of their own.  To convey this point further, within this group could have been some people who identified with the Zealots who were a political group at the time, who were seeking to overthrow the Roman Government, and desired to do so through a violent revolution. If members of this group were not a part of the crowd, the members of the crowd were certainly aware of them.

Matthew 5:1-12: The Beatitudes

Based on the surrounding context, the beatitudes speak of hope to an oppressed, weak, and poor people, but parts of it would also be hard to swallow and to believe. To understand the beatitudes, we should break each of the blessings down.

  • “Blessed are the poor in Spirit – for theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven”
    • A broad message of Hope for a people who have almost lost all hope.
  • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”
    • A more specific blessing to those who have lost family members, or friends.  Perhaps this could also be for those who have lost a relationship, even though the other person or people still live.  This gives them hope when all they see in the moment is grief-fed darkness.
  • “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”
    • The oppressed meek, who are told to submit to and bear with the trials of this world, are told that they will inherit the earth.  This could be referring to the eventual ruling of Christ over the new world/New Kingdom, or it could be a metaphorical statement meaning that believers will find great joy in their faith.
  • “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”
    • The crowd was longing for the redemption of their people; for they have been under earthly oppression for a long time.  Though they grew weary, they still wanted justice and for the wrong to be righted.  Jesus told these people that they will be satisfied; though contrary to their possible assumptions as to how that satisfaction would be met, Jesus knew that spiritual renewal was more important than physical renewal in the form of politics and nations.
      • In many instances, our hearts cry for justice and righteousness for our world, and for our own lives.  This message is meant for us to know that Christ has, is, and will continue to satisfy our hunger for righteousness; for He is a God from which our idea of Righteousness originates from.
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy”
    • To show mercy is to go above and beyond caring just for yourself, and to care and love those who need it most, those who have wronged you, and those who perhaps may not deserve mercy in your eyes.  Jesus is telling this crowd that mercy and love, as opposed to punishment and revenge, is the higher calling, and that good actions will not go unnoticed.
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”
    • This message was for those who were honestly striving to be their best in order to please God, and for those who truly desire for God’s purposes to become a reality.  David was called a man after God’s own heart, yet David did awful things in the name of lust; God forgives and sees our true selves, and our true heart.
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[Sons and Daughters] of God”
    • Please take a moment to observe the word “Peacemaker” which is the common translation of the Greek word used in this passage in many translations (See the Greek word here).  The term “peacemaker” implies action; and not JUST action, but a kind of action that Creates peace when there may not be peace, or continues to make peace in a conflict ridden world. Some may have viewed this as peace being created through the use of violence; to overcome the roman rule so that Israel could finally have peace.  However, in passages that we will get to later, it is unlikely that that was the sort of peacemaking that Christ was referring to.
      • In our context, this statement is still a little bit of a shock to some, but I think that all people can agree on the need to make peace in areas of conflict throughout the world, and to do so non-violently would at least be the preferred option in most situations.
  • “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
    • If a person is persecuted for doing the right thing, and/or believing the right thing, than that person is blessed, and although this life may be full of trials, the Kingdom of Heaven awaits for them to find rest, peace, and joy.  To be persecuted for doing what Christ would have you do, or believe, showcases your faithfulness to God.  Jesus was speaking to a group that would face beatings, torture, and death for their belief in Him if some within the crowd came to believe He was the messiah later on in His ministry.

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.  We are to be more than what the world expects from us, and to strive to be identified with these attributes listed.

Matthew 5:13-16 – Salt and Light

Christians are called to more than what is expected from humanity.  We are to be different, and to be something that makes the world better; to be salt to enrich the world, and to be light to expose the bad and injustices, and to highlight, or reveal, the good.

Conclusion

There are blessings for those who continue to seek the Lord even when the going gets rough.  The Kingdom of Heaven is a hope that gives our life direction, and the idea of heaven and Jesus resolves the dissonance of life’s conflicts and trials when we honestly strive to follow Jesus.

Do not give up, for our reward is great, and our purpose on earth is to make it better for His Kingdom; to be salt and light.