Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church

English Worship, August 06, 2023

Message: The Radical Nature of Our Contentment (Pt 2) | Scripture: Matthew 5:38-42 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy

The Radical Nature of Our Contentment (Pt 2) | Matthew 5:38-42 | August 06, 2023

Worship Songs: Come, Behold The Wondrous Mystery; He Will Hold Me Fast; Turn Your Eyes

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If able, would you please stand with me as I read our passage to you – Matt 5:38-42.  TWoL: 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. 

I have to admit that when I was considering whether or not to take up this position as your pastor, one of the things I had to think long and hard about was how I would handle the driving here.  You see, I grew up in a big city, so I know that with big cities comes a lot of bad driving, and with a lot of bad driving, comes a lot of road rage, and I am no exception to that rule.  I’ve always struggled with road rage—yelling at cars from inside my car, staring at drivers when they do something dangerous or dumb, flashing my high beams and honking manically when I’m cut off. 

But perhaps the dumbest thing I’ve done over the years is holding up a tailgater.  You know the situation.  Some guy cuts you off and goes and cuts off another bunch of cars only to get caught in traffic, and because your lane is moving smoothly, you end up passing him.  But instead of continuing on, just as you pass him, you slow down and match the speed of the car blocking the offending driver so that no matter what that driver does, he or she is stuck. 

I had to consider this—seriously, because I feel personally offended when people drive in such dangerous ways, but the problem, I hope you can see, is that by taking things into my own hands, I increase, not decrease, the danger on the road.  Not only to all the people whom this driver is trying to get around but to myself and whoever’s sitting in the car with me.  There hasn’t been a single time where I’ve done this where that driver did not figure out, by hook or by crook, a way to get around me—to cut me off, again—and to risk potentially getting both of us in a severe accident.

What’s more is that I’ve probably been that driver before in my life.  I’ve definitely angered others on the road.  I’ve definitely, both intentionally and unintentionally, broken traffic laws and driving etiquette before.  And yet, in those moments where I feel most offended by someone’s misbehaviour on the road, I’m not thinking of all the times I’ve offended other drivers.  Rather, I’m thinking about my right to put that person in their place when doing so is not only a bad idea but is based upon a lie because I never had the right to begin with.  Vengeance belongs to God, even when it comes to driving. 

Now, this may seem like a trivial and small example of retaliatory behaviour, but I hope you’ve learned, as I have these past weeks, that the way your heart is reflected in your actions in those small situations is no different than a heart that leads you to terrible deeds in larger, more significant ones.  And what Christ is probing at over and over again in these antitheses—in this Sermon on the Mount, in general—isn’t the situation that’s going on with your hands but with what’s happening in your heart.  And if that is your heart, then, Jesus says you don’t belong to the kingdom. 

In these verses—all the way from laws against murder to our passage today on retribution—Christ is teaching us that the heart is duplicitous—that it lies to you.  It tells you that you can be one thing in front of others—well-to-do, respectable, admired or liked—while being something else altogether when no one is looking—something that would look a lot less likable if seen for what it is. 

And like we unpacked in our study on adultery and lust, my desire is that in our duplicity—in the hopelessness of the lies that our hearts tell us—we might see how desperate we are to be saved from ourselves.  My prayer is that our duplicity drives us not to the despair that inevitably awaits those who are unwilling to expose it, but that it might drive us to hopelessness in ourselves, and then, when we are at our lowest, my second prayer is that it might drive us to find endless hope in Jesus.  That shall be our focus, once again, this morning as we look at our text: let the heart’s natural duplicity drive you to hope in Jesus, and let it first do that by …

1) Give/Giving Up Your Rights

Like I was saying, our passage in Matthew 5:38-42 is the other side of the coin from our passage two weeks ago on adultery and lust.  Where adultery deals with how you take advantage of people for your personal, sinful pleasure, our passage—a passage on retaliation—deals with how you take advantage of people for your personal vindication and justice.  Both have to deal with your contentment—how content you are with what you think you are owed either in using people to get what you don’t have or in exercising your right over someone to take back what you’ve lost—or what you believe you’ve lost. 

In both of these instances, Christ says you not only have an obligation not to commit adultery and not to seek your own vengeance—that is true by virtue of the abiding authority of the law, but, in his coming, he transforms the law so that you are now obligated and called to do more—to be more.  It’s not sufficient simply to refrain from adultery; you must cleanse your heart even of the thought of being with a woman who is not your wife or a man who is not your husband.  And it’s not sufficient to avoid what is legally called retribution—an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; you must exceed the notion for personal justice. 

Now, let me provide you with some context.  Moses gives these retributive laws for their legal system.  We find them in multiple places throughout Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, yet what we need to understand is that these are judicial rules, and as such, they were meant to be governed by the elders of Israel in formal contexts. 

This is in contrast to personal relationships between people.  Such laws were never to be applied in those personal situations to foster vendettas or schemes for vengeance.  Like in the laws discussed last week, regarding divorce and the making of oaths, retribution was allowed under the supervision of the judicial system so that you didn’t have people running around exacting unsupervised revenge.  They were meant to curb the hardness of man’s heart, in that, God allowed this kind of justice to take place on earth in order to stem further violence from erupting—violence that would unquestionably come from a place of evil—from a self-righteousness and bias, rather than a heart of purity and objectivity.  Israel was to be distinct from the nations in how they dealt with internal conflict, and, knowing that they weren’t able to forgive and to carry on with their lives when something wrong had been done to them—knowing they’d forget their own history and the grace they had received, God instituted a way to deal with their bloodlust.  He gave them a system to bring order into the midst of chaos. 

But what was happening by Christ’s time was that Israel was applying this formal, judicial code to their personal lives, seeking for themselves personal vindication apart from court oversight, and the religious leaders of Israel weren’t only permitting such things to take place, they were encouraging it—making it a proper right of their people to take matters into their own hands. 

The thing is, this kind of made sense, especially in that day because the occupying power of Jerusalem wasn’t Jewish law or authority, but Roman rule, which meant if you went to court, you’d be subject to Roman law.  As a Jew, if you wanted vindication, you’d likely be prejudiced against by the judge if the person who wronged you was a Roman citizen.  Justice, then, for the Jews, was not an easy thing to grasp.  Yes, there were still forums and judicial bodies that dealt with internal, Jewish matters, but enforceability was dependent upon Rome’s cooperation and permission.  Thus, if you wanted things done, as a Jew, you’d have to do it yourself. 

But as Jesus steps into the picture, we have to remember that he’s not trying to comment on or destroy appropriate legal rules.  Rather, he’s trying to reveal what the people of God look like as future citizens of heaven, and how it is that they’re to be radically set apart from the rest of the world.  He’s trying to show them how the law itself—how this principle of retribution—points us to him.  Because, at the end of the day, if God permitted an eye for an eye in order to curtail and control human evil, then that means it wasn’t something he intended for his creation in the first place if only they had done things as he does things.

In other words, the people of God were to be characterized in such a way where their personal ethics—their personal devotion to the kingdom of God, exceeded the need for them to demand their personal satisfaction on earth because God had not demanded his own satisfaction from them in heaven.  They were supposed to be a merciful people, as he is merciful.  And although Jesus concedes this point—that the world needed, and still needs, laws for retribution to reign in chaos and rampant sin, those who belong to the house of heaven are to be quite different.  Christ says they’re to be blessed—happy—in being dealt with unjustly. 

Why?  Because the giver of happiness, himself, has come.  As Jesus stands before them, proclaiming that he comes not only to keep the law but to fulfill it in all the ways that we were blind to it, we recognize, firstly, that it was never about us, though in the gift of this law, our duplicitous hearts instantly made it about just that.  It was never about our need for satisfaction from other, broken, sinful people.  Nor was the law meant to highlight and make us self-pitying for the ways in which we’re victims—it’s not intended to point to us.  It points to him—to the one calling us to stop thinking about ourselves!  And in so doing, we’re made happy because no matter what the world does to us, they cannot rob us of what all of this—what the law, our lives, our hope—are all about.

The law wasn’t given to us so that we might establish our rights and those circumstances where we can prosecute those who violate our rights but so that we might see, first, that we are its primary violators—that we are the evil ones doing evil to others.  And then, secondly, to show us that we need redemption from our own evil.  We need the one to whom it points. 

This antithesis on retaliation is meant to be an indictment upon us just like the rest of the antitheses, they’re meant to weigh heavily on our consciences, because when Jesus says, “do not resist the one who is evil,” he’s not telling us to point our finger and turn our minds to our victimizers, but to tell us, “don’t resist—don’t seek vengeance against those whom you label as evil—because you are the victimizer.” To expose the evil of another person is to expose your blindness to your own as one who is worse than any accusation you can make of them. 

And Christ comes saying that the man who is a part of the kingdom of heaven is not blind to the bankruptcy of his own spirit.  The man who is a part the kingdom of heaven doesn’t demand his own way when he’s slighted, instead he mourns his own foolishness—he mourns how many eyes and teeth he owes everyone else, and he is made meek—so much so that he turns his cheek whenever he’s struck because he knows he deserves worse.

And this, dear citizen, is the beginning of a greater righteousness—it is seen in a man or woman who is not ruled by a self-righteous need for vengeance or personal vindication, but by the fact that we are morally bankrupt under the law—that we’ve misunderstood and misapplied it all along.  That it wasn’t meant to help us play the victim.  Rather, it was meant to show us our criminality—that we are the criminal who so badly misperceived what the law was about that when its Maker came to rectify our understanding of it, we crucified him, thinking that he came to do us harm—that he was evil—that he came to strip us of our rights. 

But, church, he can’t strip us of something that was never ours in the first place.  The law wasn’t given for us to grasp what we deserve.  It was given to show us what God deserves, and that when anyone slights him, he is accorded the right to seek and meet out justice. 

And in these verses, he calls us to give up this fabricated notion—the misperception of our own self-worth—of our own self-proclaimed ability to stand in condemnation of others.  He calls us to lay ourselves down, but he doesn’t do it without purpose.  He doesn’t come to leave us as those with nothing in our hands.  Instead, he comes to give us something—the holy, omnipotent God of the universe—the one who stands as the only righteous judge of the universe—he comes to give us something more and undeserved.  He comes to offer us forgiveness, which leads us to our second point: let the heart’s natural duplicity drive you to hope in Jesus by going …

2) Go the Unexpected, Extra Mile

Here in verses 39b to 42, Christ gives us four examples of what he means when he says, “do not resist the one who is evil.”  But perhaps you’ll notice that what he goes on to say as an appropriate response isn’t merely a lack of resistance.  He doesn’t just tell us to be passive towards evil; he tells us to actively repay that evil with good.  Instead of ignoring someone’s maliciousness, we’re to be intentionally benevolent. 

And the level to which we are called to benevolence is entirely unexpected and beyond what any sane person would think is reasonable.  Just look at these examples.  In the first case, if you’re slapped across the right cheek, you’re to turn to him the other—assumedly to be slapped.  Now, in that day, everyone was presumed to be right-handed, which means any slapping done would be with that right hand. 

The problem, however, is when you stand across from someone and go to slap them, the open palm and natural motion of your arm would strike them against their left cheek, which means for a right-handed person to slap another individual across their right cheek, you’d either have to do it with the back of your hand or, like a coward, when the person you’re slapping is standing with his back towards you so that you can hit him when he’s not looking.  In both cases, to be struck these ways was far more insulting and embarrassing than how one might expect to be struck, and it would entail that you’re entitled to double damages—double compensation—not just for the pain caused but for the ego and honour that’s been bruised.  Christ says you may suffer this, but greater righteousness doesn’t slap back or demand double damages, it demands that you offer your aggressor the other cheek.

Or take the next example.  A person brings you to court to take your tunic.  Jesus says, in response, offer him your outer garment as well, leaving you naked in your shame and exposed to the dangers of the world.  I’ll come back to the third example in a moment, but then there’s the fourth.  If someone asks you [in this context, for money], give it to him—don’t refuse him—risking your potential financial bankruptcy.  It’s utter lunacy isn’t it—the depth to which Jesus calls you to be humiliated? 

It’s bad enough that you don’t get to find vindication for yourself.  It’s bad enough that you’re not supposed to exact justice in a world where justice is already so hard to come by for people like the Jews—for people like us, Christians.  No, Christ is telling us not to stop at that but to go beyond the pale—don’t just die to self, die to everyone else as well.  And you can imagine the hearers of this scathing command to be standing in utter shock—aghast at the thought that Christ might ask them to do this.  In fact, if they hadn’t already, most of the people on that hill would have begun turning their backs with the intention of walking away. 

But remember, he means not to push us away but to hold onto us, and he does that through Matthew with his third example.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.  I want to point out this particular example not only for the audaciousness of the command—no one, apart from Deborah, in this room, is willing to walk an extra mile when only one is required. 

3) Gaze Upon the Crucified King

But more astounding than the command is the verb that Matthew uses.  It’s a verb that gives a picture to the times that the Jews were living in.  It’s used in a lot of Roman documents to talk about the people whom Roman officers would enslave into forced labour, and this word refers specifically to the victimization of their non-Roman subjects—to the Jews. 

So, right off the bat, Jesus uses perhaps one of the most offensive words with his audience that he could use, especially when we remember who they thought he was—their Messianic, political liberator.  Here he stands telling them if a Roman officer forces you to go a mile, don’t kill them, don’t attack them, rather put your head down and go a second.  How dare he say something like this to a people starving for salvation?

But here Matthew is giving us a clue with this verb because he only uses it in one other place—in fact, these two instances of this word are the only times they’re used in the New Testament, and it’s found a second time in Matthew 27:32.  For those of you who don’t know this passage, it’s a reference to a man named Simon of Cyrene.  He was the man who, when Jesus was too weak to carry his own cross having been whipped and beaten so that his flesh and muscle no longer clung to his bones—Simon was the man who was forced by Roman soldiers to carry the cross up the hill to Golgotha where they would lay Jesus down upon it, wrap his arms and legs to its posts, then, unlike any other man who was crucified that day, they went the unexpected, extra mile and took three stakes, nailing two of them through his two hands and one of them through his two feet, as if he hadn’t suffered and bled enough.  Then they lifted him up for the world to see, and while they did it, they mocked him, gambled for his clothing, and left him for dead. 

This man, Jesus, who is speaking these words in our passage today—he did not resist.  He turned to offer us the other cheek.  He gave us the garment of brilliance and glory, when we spit on him.  He walked not just two miles, but all the way so-to-speak to the pit of hell.  And though we did not think to ask in our blindness, in our sinfulness, in our self-righteousness, he gave us that which is beyond our comprehension. 

And I believe Matthew uses this particular word once in our text this morning and once again in chapter 27:32 to remind us where to fix our gaze and focus our hearts—to remind us that the right for vengeance belongs to God alone because there before Simon stood the very one who possess the right—as he dragged that cross up the hill, as he placed it on the ground, as those Roman soldiers probably pushed him aside and grabbed the bloodied man who could barely walk, threw him on those pieces of splintered wood, nailed him to it as he screamed in utter agony—I am sure that Simon’s eyes were glued to that man, Jesus, asking in his Jewish, law-abiding mind, “what in the world did he do to deserve such retaliation?” 

The answer that Matthew wants to give us without doubt in our minds and, more importantly, in our hearts is that he’s done absolutely nothing to warrant that death, yet he’s taken it on for those who deserve even worse than it.  Brothers and sisters, this is the something he comes to offer us, and it’s more staggering than even Simon of Cyrene could have imagined because we not only deserved this death when Christ did not, but we deserved to receive it from Christ when, instead, he allowed us to crucify him. 

Timothy Keller, in the Prodigal God, puts it sort of like this: forgiveness isn’t only choosing to let go of something wrong that someone’s done to you because that’s not forgiveness—that’s delusion.  Forgiveness is knowing that someone has done something wrong to you, and yet, because of your love for them, you’re willing to absorb that wrongness, suffer their consequences yourself, and let them go free. 

Dear Christian and non-Christian, alike, Jesus doesn’t only suffer the retribution that we deserved to suffer, but he suffered it as the very person against whom the wrong was done—the King of kings—the Messiah come to dwell with us.  He had every right to retaliate—in fact, this would have made sense.  But, instead, he offers us forgiveness, and not merely forgiveness for one fault or on one occasion but for every fault on every occasion forever.  This is why he can offer us hope to do what we could not imagine doing in the sinfulness of our hearts.  This is why he now calls us to greater righteousness; it’s because his was the greatest sacrifice, and his was the final redemption. 

It is because of the insanity of the cross—a thing that puts all of the world’s scheming and pursuits of its own justice to shame—that we can now live as those who give up our perceived rights, who can go the extra mile, and who can overcome evil in our lives with good.  The cross is why we can reflect a greater, radical righteousness that looks distinct from and crazy to the world.

Let us, then, not take our eyes off of it, but rather, as the infinite grace of our Lord floods our lives, let us, in looking towards that cross, run from our duplicity—from our unholy and unequal demand for personal justice—and let us flee to the hope of forgiveness in Jesus who suffered our evil for us and who now enables us not only to suffer the evil of others sacrificially, but in so doing, point them to him who is our eternal joy. 

He is the author, perfector, and sustainer of our faith.  May our contentment and peace in this life be a profound response to that truth.  May it be because we are no longer ruled by the lusts and vengeance of our hearts—constantly watching our own backs, but because our eyes have been turned in utter shock and amazement away from ourselves to him.  To our Christ be all praise, honour, and glory from now and forevermore.  Amen.

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