Jesus on Revenge and Enemies



“Jesus on Revenge and Enemies” by Interim Pastor Tim Morphew

Why, do you suppose, did Jesus attract crowds so quickly? What was it about Jesus that drew people to him? We don’t really know how quickly they were drawn to him, but it seems to happen pretty fast the way Matthew tells it.

(Matthew 4:23-25) Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So, his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics & paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. Boom, Boom, Boom. Jesus teaches and heals all over the place & great crowds follow him where-ever he goes.

And pretty soon Jesus goes up the mountain and sits down, as rabbi’s do when they’re going to teach a lesson.  His disciples draw near, the crowd gathers round. This Summer at Creekside church, we draw near, with Jesus’ first followers to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and to consider what it means to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom – starting now and for the rest of our lives!

This morning we hear Jesus’ teachings on revenge and enemies…  So, did the scripture jam trigger for you any thoughts, any thoughts about revenge or enemies??

Has anyone treated you badly in the past week? Anyone insult you? Tease you? Bully you? Hurt you?? Anybody you have wanted to get even with recently? Anyone that you want now or have wanted to hurt as badly as they hurt you?? When have you yearned for revenge??

How many of us have had a dear one come home from work, from school, or other (mis)adventures bruised in body or in spirit, or watched from the sidelines as they were insulted, injured or mistreated at a sporting event. How many parents have fumed, with fantasies of vengeance against an offender while trying to say & do & teach the right thing…

An ABC News segment from February 2007 cited psychiatrist Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of the book, “Dare to Forgive.” Hallowell says that wanting revenge is a universal human feeling. We know the feeling of wanting revenge…

Have you heard about the letter that Bob sent to his neighbor Frank?

Dear Frank. We’ve been neighbors for 6 rough years. When you borrowed my tiller, you returned it in pieces. When I was sick, you blasted rap music. And when your dog went to the bathroom all over my lawn, you laughed. I could go on, but I’m certainly not one to hold grudges. So I am writing this letter to tell you that your house is on fire. Cordially, Bob. – Submitted by Van Morris, Mt. Washington, Kentucky

Is there anyone here this morning who never yearned for revenge for a hurt you have suffered? Maybe it is possible. I have known some believers, some followers of Jesus who truly seem to be so filled with a Christ-like spirit that they can “get over” insults and injustices, they can let go of and forget any need for revenge.

But the spirit of vengeance is alive and well in our world and in our culture.

According to a 2016 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 80% of U.S. drivers expressed significant anger, aggression, or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the past year. The most alarming findings suggest that approximately 8,000,000 U.S. drivers engaged in extreme examples of road rage, including purposefully ramming another vehicle or getting out of the car to confront another driver. Many drivers reported engaging in the following types of road rage:

  • Purposefully tailgating: 51%
  • Yelling at another driver: 47%
  • Honking to show annoyance or anger: 45%
  • Making angry gestures: 33%
  • Trying to block another vehicle from changing lanes: 24%

One of the study’s researchers concluded, “Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic and the daily stresses of life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage. Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.” – Tamra Johnson, “Nearly 80% of Drivers Express Significant Anger, Aggression or Road Rage,” AAA News Room (7-16-16)

Yes, the spirit of vengeance is alive and well in our world and in our culture. Consider the classic happy ending for every fight movie, every martial arts movie, many super-hero movies, most westerns and lots of crime dramas? The good guy wins, which often involves humiliating, beating up, or killing the bad guy… 

The Revenant, a 2015 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, tells the apparently true story of Hugh Glass (played by DiCaprio), a fur trapper who is attacked and severely wounded by a Grizzly Bear while hunting on the Western Frontier. His friends intentionally leave him for dead and then murder Glass’ son before his eyes. According to the film’s version of the story, Glass emerges from his grave and treks 80 miles on foot to hunt down and kill the men who betrayed him. But according to film blogger Michael Punke, in the real historical story Glass travels all that way and then ends up forgiving his betrayers. Punke suggests that the forgiveness narrative would be way too boring for Hollywood…  As Julian Brooks says on the Mockingbird blog, “Is forgiveness too boring for Hollywood? It is understandable that Glass would want to avenge the death of his son and his own betrayal. Who could really forgive in that situation? Those men deserved to die. And nothing is more compelling for us than vengeance. … Forgiveness on the big screen is apparently no match for [retaliation]. It’s just too anti-climactic.” Too bad. Personally, I’m a sucker for the high drama in forgiveness stories. – Preaching Today

So when someone insults or hurts us, when someone treats us rudely or drives rudely, what is our first impulse? Don’t we want to get back at the offender? “I don’t have to take that. Someone needs to teach that jerk a lesson!” We may not claim an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, but it is common to think that some kinds of killers deserve to die for taking another person’s life…

But, Jesus calls those who would follow him to a different standard (Matthew 5:38-48)

“…Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to… take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile….

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….”

Now some of us may know these words well enough that they have lost some of their “punch” for us. Some of us may have stopped wondering whether we are really living up to the standard that Jesus lays out for his disciples. On the other hand those who really “get” what Jesus is saying may be in shock, wondering whether Jesus really means it. Wondering, “Can anyone really live that way Jesus?” 

Can Christians in a hostile world really live up to the ethical standards that Jesus sets before us in his Sermon on the Mount? Or how can we possibly live up to Jesus’ standards??

Believe me, sisters & brothers, Jesus’ teachings are as much a challenge for me as they are for anyone. Yet I am inspired and encouraged to try, and try and try again by hearing about those believers who have – at least sometimes – gotten close to the standards that Jesus sets for his followers. 

According to an Associated Press account, in September 1994 Cindy Hartman of Conway, Arkansas, walked into her house to answer the phone and was confronted by a burglar. He ripped the phone cord out of the wall and ordered her into a closet. Hartman dropped to her knees and asked the burglar if she could pray for him.

“I want you to know that God loves you and I forgive you,” she said. The burglar apologized for what he had done. Then he yelled out the door to a woman in a pickup truck: “We’ve got to unload all of this. This is a Christian home and a Christian family. We can’t do this to them.”

As Hartman remained on her knees, the burglar returned furniture he had taken from her home. Then he took the bullets out of his gun, handed the gun to Hartman & walked out the door… Praying for an enemy can be incredibly disarming. – Scott Harrison, Waterloo, Iowa. Leadership, V. 16, #. 2.

Jesus does call his followers to high ethical standards. But every day, sisters & brothers in faith around the world are taking Jesus seriously, living and acting the way he calls us to live & act. If sister & brother Christians in real danger risk real suffering and loss to follow Jesus, why we can’t stretch out of our comfort zones to follow him??

Ghassan Thomas leads one of the few public churches that emerged [in Baghdad] after Saddam Hussein was toppled. His congregation erected a sign on their building that said “Jesus Is the Light of the World,” but the church was raided by bandits who left behind a threat on a piece of cardboard. It read: “Jesus is not the light of the world, Allah is, & you have been warned.” The note was signed “The Islamic Shiite Party.”

In response, Pastor Ghassan loaded a van with children’s gifts and medical supplies – which were in critically short supply after the American invasion – and drove to the headquarters of the Islamic Shiite Party. After presenting the gifts and supplies to the sheikh, Ghassan told the leader, “Christians have love for you, because our God is a God of love.” He then asked permission to read from the Bible. Ghassan turned to Jesus’ words in John 8, “I am the light of the world.” He then showed the cardboard note to the sheikh. The Muslim leaders, astounded by Pastor Thomas’s actions, apologized.

“This will not happen again,” [the sheikh] vowed. “You are my brother. If anyone comes to kill you, it will be my neck first.” The sheikh later attended Pastor Thomas’s ordination service at the church. – Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity (Zondervan, 2009), pp. 61-62

How, oh how can we possibly live up to Jesus’ standards?? How do we get over the insult or injustice? How do we forgive when we have been wronged? How do we let go of the need for vengeance? Well, one answer is that we make a conscious choice – even if we don’t really feel it. We choose to act in a Christ like way, even before we really feel like it! 

In a 2010 interview in The Sun, Sister Helen Prejean, the author of the book Dead Man Walking, talked about one of her heroes of faith and forgiveness – Lloyd LeBlanc. Lloyd is the father of David LeBlanc, a 17-year-old who was murdered by Patrick and Eddie Sonnier. When neighbors started harassing Eddie Sonnier’s mother for her sons’ actions, Lloyd Leblanc came to her house with a basket of fruit. Lloyd told Ms. Sonnier that he was a parent too, and he understood that she wasn’t responsible for the murder.

Utterly amazed by this act of forgiveness, the interviewer asked Prejean, “How does a parent do such a thing?” Helen Prejean answered with this story:

Lloyd told me how the sheriff had brought him to the morgue to identify his son’s body. David was a beautiful kid, 17-years-old. He had been shot in the back of the head, and when the sheriff pulled his body out on the cold tray … Lloyd – who was good with his hands and could fix things – looked down at his son and thought, I can’t fix this. And then he began to pray. He came to the line in [our Lord’s Prayer] about forgiving those who trespass against us. “I didn’t feel it,” he said, “but I knew that was where I had to go.” And that is where he went.

Lloyd embodies forgiveness – not just something we can do for others, but forgiveness … that says, I am not going to let this anger and hatred kill me. I’m going to remain kind and loving. [Forgiveness] is a path, not a single act. One’s commitment to it has to be renewed every day. – David Cook, “And Justice for All,” The Sun (Aug. 2010), p. 11

How do we get over the insult or injustice? How do we forgive when we have been wronged? How do we let go of the yearning for vengeance? Perhaps we look more closely at the person who hurt us… Perhaps we look more deeply…

Max Lucado writes about a big, muscle-bound man named Daniel who was swindled by his own brother. Daniel vowed that if he ever saw him again, he would break his neck. A few months later, Daniel became a Christian. Even so, he couldn’t forgive his brother. One day, the inevitable encounter took place on a busy avenue. Here’s how Daniel describes what happened:

I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I felt my fists clench and my face get hot. My initial impulse was to grab him around the throat and choke the life out of him. But as I looked into his face, my anger began to melt. For as I saw him, I saw the image of my father. I saw my father’s eyes. I saw my father’s look. I saw my father’s expression. And as I saw my father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.

The brother found himself wrapped in those big arms – but in a hug. The two stood in the middle of the river of people and wept. Daniel’s words bear repeating: “When I saw the image of my father in his face, my enemy became my brother.” – Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven (Word, 1990), pp. 114-116

We don’t often notice that do we? But every person in the world – including those who insult and injure us – including those who hurt us and ignite our rage – even those we’d like to teach a lesson – are children of GOD! If we could see the image of God in their faces, maybe we could begin to see our enemies as our sisters & brothers.

I know it isn’t easy. I know how you feel about the people who treat you badly, I know how you feel about your enemies. Because I have felt the very same way. I know like you know, sisters & brothers, that it isn’t easy to live as Jesus calls us to live. So maybe you wonder, how in the world can I find it in my heart to even want to try! My best answer is that I am inspired by the example of others who have taken to heart what Jesus expects of his followers – I am inspired and encouraged by the way sisters & brothers in faith are living and acting like Jesus in our world, even today!!

Here’s an example from Christian author and speaker Beth More that really helps me answer the how and why:

In her book Living Beyond Yourself: Exploring the Fruit of the Spirit, (19) author and speaker Beth Moore recalls a particularly insightful moment in her life:

I will never forget seeing a talk show featuring the story of the parents and the killer of their college student son. The killer was his best friend. The weapon was high alcohol content inside a speeding automobile…

What made this particular feature prime-time viewing? The parents had forgiven the young driver… And if that was not enough, they had taken him in as their own. This young man sat at the table in the chair which was once occupied by their only son. He slept in the son’s bed. He worked with the victim’s father, teaching seminars on safety. He shared their fortune and supported their causes. He spoke about the one he had slain in ways only someone who knew him intimately could have…

Why did these parents do such a thing? Because it gave them peace. The interviewer was amazed; I was amazed. I kept trying to put myself in the parents’ position – but I could not. Then, as the tears streamed down my cheeks, I heard the Spirit of God whisper to my heart and say: “No wonder you cannot relate. You have put yourself in the wrong position. You, my child, are the driver.” (20) God was the parent who not only forgave, but also invited me to sit at His table in the space my Savior left for me.  As a result, I have peace. – Beth Moore, Living Beyond Yourself: Exploring the Fruit of the Spirit (LifeWay Press, 1998)

Did you “get” that sisters & brothers? Every one of us is the driver at the wheel when the son of GOD dies!..  Oh, how ready we are to notice every insult, every injury, every hurt. How quick we are to see ourselves the victim. How easily we forget the one who died for us, who died a death we deserve. The one who calls us to turn the other cheek, to walk the second mile, to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us is the Christ who did all those things for us. How can we possibly live the Kingdom life to which Jesus calls us? We can read the gospels regularly and remember everything that Jesus did for us. We can remember the death he died for us. Then, with broken-hearted gratitude, we can ask Jesus moment by moment, day by day, again and again ask Jesus to come into our hearts and live his life through us. AMEN!