Kingdom Collision  Matthew 5:38-48

His parents are from the Philippines, this type of coffee is a delicacy in that region—it’s called Musang coffee.  It comes the Kalinga mountain region of the Philippines.  In this distinct, sort of untouched, mountain region, they have a number of coffee trees.  This coffee is unique because it goes through a process in order to be formed. The process is the coffee beans are eaten by the civet cat.  The civet cat eats the coffee bean, it goes through his system, interacts with the enzymes in his gastric system, then he….gets rid of it (if you know what I mean). He poops it out!  The civet cat has this unique ability to get the best coffee beans.  He can sniff them out.  This is some of the best coffee in the world.  You hear the story and go if that’s how that coffee’s made, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.  I can assure you (Ryan opens package and takes a deep whiff) that it’s delicious!!!

Sometimes I read the words of Jesus and feel the same way.  I hear what Jesus teaches sometimes and I go there’s no way that I want any part of that Jesus, thank you very much!!  But then we start to live it out.  We start to practice it and we go, “You know what, I can taste and see that God is good.”  There’s no passage, I think, that draws out this tension more than Matthew 5:38-48.  You can listen to the words of Jesus; this is from the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’s most famous and extensive teachings.  He’s teaching people what it looks like to live in the Kingdom of God, to be “kingdom” people.  Listen to what he says:  You have heard that it was said,  “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  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.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….  I heard that when I was a high school student.  My parents were followers of Jesus for as long as I can remember and I read that as a high school student and thought to myself, “I want nothing to do with this type of teaching.”  I read it and what I heard—and you may have heard the same thing—was you’ve got to be a doormat and everybody’s going to walk all over you.  The egregious wrongs you see in the world, you have no right to do anything about, you’ve just got to sort of let them run their course and you’ve got to let them do their thing.  But I wanted to live passionately.  I had this desire, this stirring, in me that God had created every single one of us who walks the face of the planet to make some sort of difference in the world, that he gifted us and that we were called to step into that gifting and this teaching of Jesus seemed to grate against everything in my humanity.  And everything that I was created for.  I heard about it and I thought, “There’s no way.  There’s no way I want anything to do with that.”  I can stand before you today and tell you I read it all wrong.  You may have, too.

What we read in this passage is Jesus teaching us how to live in the Kingdom of God.  In order to live in the Kingdom of God, there needs to be a death to the kingdom of self.  That’s the thing that starts to grate against our humanity, when we read a passage like Matthew 5, our kingdom takes a hit, does it not?  The kingdom of God, Dallas Willard describes as the sphere in which God rules.  What God wants done is done.  Would you agree that there are times that what God wants done and what you want done are two different things?  Me too!  In the Sermon on the Mount what Jesus is teaching us is how to step into the Kingdom of God.  That’s great news for you and I.  The kingdom is possible.  You can live in the Kingdom of God today, did you know that?  That’s the good news.  The bad news is in order to get in you’ve got to die to yourself.  That’s sort of the main point Jesus is going to draw out in this passage—to live in the Kingdom of God we must die to the kingdom of self. 

I was in the airport a number of months ago standing in a very long security line, so I had a chance to look at the people who were waiting around me.  There was this guy who had a tattoo on the side of his neck that said “Carpe Diem” and I thought, “Oh man, this guy is seizing the day!”  You’ve gotta be hard core if you’re going to wake up every morning and shave and go, “Oh yeah, I’m suppose to carpe this diem!”  I kid you not, I looked at his neck and thought this guy is hard core and his T-shirt said, “I’m allergic to mornings….”   I thought, “There it is!”  That’s the tension so many of us live in when it comes to the teaching and the words of Jesus.  We hear him talk about the kingdom and we go oh yeah, that sounds brilliant and that sounds beautiful and that sounds good and you want me to….DIE in order to live that way??  I know a lot of people who admire Jesus and that’s easy.  I know a lot of people who believe in Jesus and I’d argue that that’s easy.  Following Jesus….it’s a whole other ballgame.  Following Jesus is a whole other thing because it means that we die in order to find out what it means to really, truly live.  That’s the tension.  This morning we’re going to look at this teaching of Jesus that invites us into the Kingdom of God, to live in a way that reflects the way that God is, the way that the universe is created to function, but in order for us to embrace His way, we’ve got to die to our way.

Before we jump into the teaching, let me just give you a few things this teaching is NOT SAYING.  I want to be as clear as I possibly can, because I’ve heard a lot of terrible teaching coming out of Matthew 5.  This passage is NOT SAYING:  If you’re in an abusive relationship that you should stay in that abusive relationship.  That’s not what Jesus is saying.  Jesus is not saying if you’re getting beat up just keep getting beat up.  Jesus is NOT saying that you must be a pacifist—that if your family is attacked that you don’t have the right to defend them.  Jesus is NOT saying that we as followers of Jesus are called to be passive against the evil we see in the world.  How do I know that?  You can read all throughout the Scriptures that God’s people are called to be people who fight for injustice, who stand up for people who have no voice, who point out things that are wrong and say, “God has a better plan.”  That’s the mission and call of people of God all throughout the Scriptures.  You’re sitting there going, “Okay, Paulson, well if that’s what it’s NOT saying, then what IS it saying?”  That’s a really good question, I’m glad you asked that.  Here’s what it is saying.  The context is really important because Jesus is talking to people who are extremely poor and extremely oppressed.  This group of people gathers around him on the mountain.  He’s giving this talk, the Sermon on the Mount, and they live in the Roman Empire.  These are people who have seen family members, they’re people who have seen friends, they’re people who have seen loved ones nailed to Roman crosses and killed by the thousands outside of their cities.  These are people who have zero political power or authority.  They have no dream of how to make the world a better place.  Here’s what Jesus is going to do, in a brilliant and beautiful way he’s going to teach people who have zero power and zero authority how to be people who have MASSIVE influence.  It is a wonderful, beautiful teaching and it grates against our humanity even now because we go the way to have influence or authority is to have power.  We legislate our influence.  That’s how we do it!  But these people would have had no vision of that.  That would have been so far off their radar screen and Jesus goes okay, okay, okay, so you’re never going to have power or authority, that does not mean you can’t have influence.  He’s going to teach them how in two different ways.

Jesus, in this passage, is teaching his followers how to respond when they’re wronged.  {Will you look up at me for a second?}  The way that you and I respond when we are wronged determines the kind of fruit that starts to come from our life.  Anybody can respond in the right way when people treat you well, but it’s people who live in the kingdom who are the type of people who say, “Even when I’m not treated well, I’m going to respond in a way that honors and lifts high the name of Jesus.”  Listen to the way he starts to teach this (Matthew 5:38-39a)–You have heard that is was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.  He’s going to give four illustrations and every single one of the illustrations has at its core this central message, that when I am wronged creative influence has to replace vindicated vengeance.  Oh, sure, we could look at the person who wronged us and go my goal is to pay them back, my goal is to give them what they deserve.  In fact, the original teaching “you’ve heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was limiting the amount of vengeance the people could have.  It was a good command.  It limited retribution.  It declared, essentially, that the punishment had to fit the crime.  But Jesus said if you want to have the type of character that has an influence on the world around you, when people wrong you, you don’t respond in kind.  You respond in a better way with more creativity and, in time, with more influence.  Listen to the way the Apostle Paul would say it to the church at Rome:  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is min, I will repay, says the Lord.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19, 21)

If we want good to win in our world, how do we do it?  When somebody wrongs us we don’t fight back with the same evil that they came at us with.  Jesus says we actually respond with more creativity, more flare.  It’s this confidence, that God will eventually make the world to rights, that frees me to say, “I don’t need to get vengeance now.  I trust that my God has everything under control.”  Friends, when I’m confident in the King, I’m free to live in the kingdom.  As we’ve just sung in that great hymn,  This is My Father’s World, the author writes: “This is my Father’s world, oh let me never forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, he is the ruler yet.”  When I trust that God will get his justice, I’m freed to think creatively about how I respond to the wrongs in the world.  But when I’m captive to fear, I have no ability to live in the kingdom.  When fear has a grip on my heart, I have no ability to step into the way of Jesus.  Fear makes me defend my turf and my kingdom and my self.  But as Dallas Willard so beautifully puts it: “This world, with all of its evil, is a perfectly good and safe place for anyone to be, no matter what the circumstances, if they have only placed their lives in the hands of Jesus and his Father.” 

So four illustrations Jesus gives that are going to draw out this invitation to have creative influence rather than live with this desire for vindicated vengeance.  First illustration: 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.  Have you ever read a passage of Scripture and thought, “Seriously?! You want me to do what??”  We often skim over it and in my head the way I read this passage is if somebody punches you, let him punch you again.  But that isn’t what Jesus said.  If somebody slaps you on the RIGHT cheek….  Why in the world would Jesus give so much detail?  Why does it matter what cheek somebody slaps you on?  {I’m glad you asked that.  That’s a great question.}  In this society it was an honor and shame based society and the left hand was considered unclean.  You wouldn’t use it, so if you were going to hit somebody, you were going to hit somebody with your right hand.  In order to hit somebody with your right hand on their right cheek, you would have to hit them backhanded.  Jesus, in this instance, is not talking about somebody who is being abused, he’s talking about somebody who’s being demeaned.  This was the way they would hit slaves.  This was the way they would hit children.  It was a way of saying to somebody, “I want to publicly declare you are under me.”  Jesus says when that happens to you—because to the people he was talking to it would have happened—normally you have two options:  (1) You could run away and cower in fear.  (2) You could fight back and get beat down.  OR you can live in the kingdom, which means that your God is covering you.  He will get vengeance.  You are completely safe in Him.  No harm can overtake you.  He is good and He is your Father.  When that’s the case, how about instead of running away or fighting back, you turn the other cheek.  Because in the Kingdom of God, vulnerability is the pathway to impact.  When I feel the need to defend my own self, when I feel the need to sort of puff up my chest and my insecurities start to come out and my desire to prove that I’m right and to get the last word (look up at me a second), I lose the ability to impact the people around me.  You know that’s true.  You know that your quick-witted comeback to somebody’s condescending remark has never actually changed their heart.  Anyone want to argue with that?  You’re going oh no, no, no!  That funny quip that I came back with actually did change things.  No, it didn’t!  It never has!  Jesus wants better for us.  He wants us to be the type of people that influence and change the world around us.  The challenge is to believe that God is strong even in my weakness.  Or maybe better, God is strong ONLY in my weakness.  The Apostle Paul will write in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that he boasts in his weakness because that’s where the power of God actually shines through his life.  Jesus says well, you could turn the other cheek.

Verse 40: And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  When I first read it, I thought when somebody tries to steal your shirt give him your coat also.  That’s not what Jesus is saying. Jesus specifically says if someone sues you for your tunic.  Now, just a quick lesson on first century wardrobe. They didn’t wear any pants. They had a long undergarment which would have been their tunic, but you can think of it as a long T-shirt or even underwear.  On top of it, they would have a cloak, which was something they used to maybe cover themselves when they were sleeping.  It was also sort of an outer garment they wore on every single day.  If someone was being sued for their tunic, they were really, really poor.  I have never met anybody who wanted to give up their underwear!  Jesus says if somebody wants to sue you for your tunic, give them your coat or your cloak also, which would have meant they would have been effectively naked.  This isn’t if somebody wants to steal your shirt, give them your coat also.  This is when somebody abuses you to the point in your poorness and in everything you lack…….when somebody wants to demean you to the point that they sue you for your underwear, give them your coat also and it will be a way of saying, “I’m going to draw attention to the fact that there’s a wrong going on.  I’m going to wave a flag.”  In a position of no power and no authority, I am still going to step into my calling, but in order to step into my calling to be a person of influence, I have got to be the type of person that sacrifices a little bit of comfort.  You go back and read through the history books, the people who have made the biggest difference in our world are people who have said, “I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit of my temporal comfort to make an eternal impact.”  You show me one person who didn’t live this way and made a huge impact, and I will change my mind, but I can’t think of any.  I haven’t read about any?  I think Dr. Jeff Brodsky is a great example of this.  Going without shoes for over six years because of the girls who are on garbage dumps in Cambodia with their shoes stolen from them so that they’re easier targets for people who would take them into slavery.  What does he do?  He says, “I’m just going to step into this.  I’m going to go without shoes.  I’m going to draw attention to an egregious wrong in our society by creatively coming up with an idea to maybe, just maybe, have an influence.”  Friends, that’s the kingdom at work!

Verse 41: And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Jesus is giving four real-world examples that everybody would have seen or experienced or been a part of in some way.  In the Roman Empire, a Roman guard could require any person that they encountered to carry their heavy gear one mile.  So imagine, if you’re a mom and you have your kids in tow with you and you’re heading to the market place…….or you’re a dad and you have your kids in tow with you and you’re heading to the market place to buy food that you’re going to eat that night for dinner, and a Roman guard comes up to you and says, “Hey, calling on you to carry my gear one mile.”  What would your response be?  My guess is that this command or that this call from a Roman guard never met somebody at a time when they were like, “Actually, this is a really convenient time for me to do that for you.”  I don’t think that ever happened!  So what’s Jesus saying?  Jesus is saying that even when we’re inconvenienced, we can be people who respond with compassion.  In the Kingdom of God, you can, because you’ve been loved by the King, love people who are really, really difficult to love.  You got anybody like that in your life?  If you don’t, you’re that person in somebody else’s life!  One of the ways we respond when somebody wrongs us or if somebody inconveniences us is we dehumanize them.  Can you imagine how easy that would have been for somebody who a Roman guard requires them to carry a their gear a mile and you can look at them and go well, this person is evil and this person is dark and this person is you-fill-in-the-blank.  We have this ability to dehumanize people and the teaching of Jesus is no, even the people who you’re in competition with or you view as your enemy, because of God’s love towards you, you can respond with compassion towards them.  You can say hey, you know what, I know you required me to go one mile with you and I’m happy to do that, but my guess is that you’re somebody’s son or daughter and my guess is that you’re here against your will, to some extent.  My guess is that you’re being treated poorly and that you’re being paid poorly also, so I’m going to serve you even though we should be at competition with one another.  You know what that does?  It changes somebody.  

Verse 42:  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  Jesus isn’t giving a new set of commandments that every time somebody begs you need to give.  And every time you get into a slapping match you need to turn the other cheek.  And every time……    He’s not doing that.  He’s saying, “What if because you are so free in the love and care of your Father, you thought creatively about the way you responded when you were wrong.”  And instead of responding to somebody who’s needy and whiny and always asking….instead of responding with annoyance, you can address the people you normally avoid.  You can be generous to the people that you normally judge and you can, because you live in the kingdom and you died to self, see the person underneath the problem.  Wow!  In the Kingdom of God, vulnerability leads to impact, comfort is exchanged for calling, competition is exchanged for compassion and judgment is exchanged for generosity.  {Look up at me for a second.}  Jesus is brilliant.  He’s brilliant, because the way of the world, when somebody wrongs you and you just respond in kind, does not work.  Does it?

He goes on says this in verse 43:  You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  Do you know that the main predictor of whether you like somebody is whether or not you think they like you?  You could find out that Mother Teresa didn’t think that you were all that great of a person and you’d go, “That Mother Teresa, I’ll tell you what.  I’ll tell you a few stories about her.”   Right?  The main predictor of whether we enjoy somebody, like somebody, appreciate somebody is whether or not we think they like us.  But Jesus is saying that because we know our Father, we know who he is and we know the love that he has for us, we are free to love people regardless of how they feel about us.  In the Kingdom of God, when I’m hated, sacrificial love replaces a heated hostility, a hatred back.

Creative influence replaces vindicated vengeance and sacrificial love replaces heated hostility.  This, friends, is the crux of what the early church held onto.  When they didn’t have the Bible, in the same way that we have the Bible, all put together nicely for us.  And they really had a central command from Jesus and his commandment was, “People will know that you are my disciples by the way that you love.”  It was what they held onto.  It was the thing that held them together when the whole world was falling apart around them, when their friends were being crucified, when they were being tarred and lit on fire to light up Caesar’s night parties. This was the thing that they held onto.  Even when we’re wronged, we will respond with love.  Did you know that you have never laid eyes on somebody that you were not called to love??  Ever!!  Followers of Jesus….if you’re not a follower of Jesus, this isn’t for you today, but if you are a follower of Jesus, we don’t get the chance or opportunity to decide IF we love.  We only get to decide HOW we love.  Our recognition at the core of who we are is that the battle that we fight and the enemies that we have, at their deepest core level, are not enemies of flesh and blood, but that this is a spiritual battle that we find ourselves in.  The way that we win the spiritual battle isn’t by hating people that hate us.  It’s by loving people that hate us.  It’s by sacrificing for people who would want to take us down.

Jesus says in verse 45:  And when you do this….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.  {Quick timeout.}  Jesus wants to say alright, all I’m asking you to do is live in the same way that God created the universe to function. Have you ever stopped to recognize that the sun comes up on your atheist neighbor at the same time, in the same way, with the same degree of heat as it comes up on you?  Have you stopped to recognize that?  Have you stopped to recognize that regardless of people’s religious affiliation or the color of their skin or the part of the world they live in, that they all wake up and there’s air to breathe?  That the rain comes down and it doesn’t just hit followers of Jesus’s lawn.  Have you ever noticed that?  Here’s what Jesus is saying:  God is way better than you think. Theologians call this “Common Grace.”  It’s that grace that followers of Jesus are called to live with.  When sacrificial love replaces heated hostility, we start to ditch the way of the world or the way of humanity and we start to look at the world around us the same way that God looks at it.  Think about the contradiction, if Christians are known for hatred and they preach a God who defines himself as love, is there not a bit of a contradiction?  We have a little bit of a PR issue, would you agree?  We are the issue.  Jesus would say, “What if instead of hating back you responded with prayer.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his great little book Life Together, says it’s really hard to hate somebody you pray for.  It’s true, try it.  The reason it’s so easy for us to hate oftentimes is because our prayer lives are so infantile.  What if, instead of cursing back, you blessed?  You know what just might happen?  You might start to look like the God that we preach.  You might become a light to the world or a city on a hill.  That might be what happens.   When you live in the way of love, people see your great God! 

Jesus finishes his teaching:  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  {He’s like, Come on, you guys, the standard’s a little bit higher, it’s a little bit more.} And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.   How’s THAT for a standard?!  I read that and go, There’s no way I can do that!  This word that’s translated ‘perfect’ in our English Bible is the Greek word ‘telios’ and it means ‘complete’ or that it’s reached the goal or you could read it as ‘whole.’  It’s this idea of shalom — wholeness, healing.  Jesus says when you live in this way, not only is your soul beginning to be healed or telios, coming to its completion or its goal, but when you live in this way the world around you is healed.  Have you ever stopped to recognize how much energy it takes to hate?  What if, because of the kingdom, we were freed from that and released in a way thatbrokenness was traded for flourishing.  Be ‘whole’ as your heavenly Father is ‘whole.’

I started to wrestle with this idea that this love is what we’re called to—this ridiculous, transformative force in the world that, please know, it HAS changed the world.  Followers of Jesus in the Roman Empire….when that little sect of religion started, they had zero power, zero authority, as we said, and within 300 years they had turned the Roman Empire upside down, living the way Jesus had taught them to live.  No political power, no authority and absolute transformation.  This type of love can melt a hard heart.  It can repair a damaged relationship.  It can change a nation.  When your head and your heart aren’t consumed with hate, think of how much more energy you have to point people to your God who says, “I am love!”

The question I’ve wrestled with is how.  How?  Because it’s hard.  The last thing I want you to do is come in here this morning and hear, Alright, in order to live in the Kingdom of God we’ve got to try harder and we’ve gotta do more.  That’s not it at all!  Jesus draws out the ‘how’ implicitly when he says, Therefore you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect—you’re children.  You’re children of the Most High God, who not only instructs you to live this way, but who lives this way himself.  Think about it.  Jesus was taken before the Roman authorities and he was slapped and he opened not his mouth.  Didn’t just have his tunic and his cloak taken, He was stripped bare.  Naked.  Hung on the cross for your sins and for mine.  He didn’t just go one mile and He didn’t just go two, but he walked all the way to the hill of Calvary.  He looked down on those who were needy and annoying and desperate and condescending and He looked down on them with love, declaring Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.  How did Jesus treat his enemies?  This is important to know, because, in the Bible, you’re described as one!  Here’s how he treated his enemies: He loved them and He gave himself for them.  Instead of killing his enemies, Jesus dies for them.  He invites us to live in the same way.  Friends, this is the heart of the gospel.  The good news is NOT that you are a good person, but that He is a gracious God and your life is hidden Him!!!  That’s the good news!!  We can live in the kingdom when we trust that we’ve been loved by the King…and only then.  That’s the security that your heart needs and that my heart needs at its very core.

I have one phrase I want you to keep in mind this week and it’s simply this:  OPPOSITION is my OPPORTUNITY. When I’m wronged or somebody makes a condescending remark or a slighted glance, when I’m wronged: opposition is my opportunity.  When we’re criticized: opposition is my opportunity.  When you’re taken advantage of: opposition is my opportunity.  When you’re hated: opposition is my opportunity.  The same material that the enemy wants to use to destroy you, God wants to use to develop you….and change the world!

Martin Luther King, Jr., January 30, 1956, had his house bombed by a white supremacist group.  After coming home and finding his house in shambles, he went to see if his wife and daughter were alive inside.  They were. An angry mob of his supporters gathered on his porch and wanted to go and find whoever “did this.”  Martin Luther King, Jr., at that time, gave one of the most stirring and impressive sermons of all time about not responding in kind to hatred but responding in love.  Then he led his followers, not in an expedition of finding the enemy and taking them down, but he had them all sing Amazing Grace on his porch.  Would you stand with me and we’re going to sing that first verse together this morning.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound; that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.

{Ryan leads directly into communion.}