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August 18, 2019

Sermon Matthew 5:44 . . .“Jesus said:  “Love your enemies”

“Jesus said:  “Love your enemies”

Matthew 5:44

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

A truck driver was sitting in a crowded roadside diner, waiting to eat his lunch.  But it wasn’t just any diner and any lunch.  It was his favorite diner and his favorite lunch.  

But it just so happened that, just as the waitress brought out his heaping plate of meatloaf, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, a motorcycle gang swaggered through the door.  Most of them sat at the table next to the trucker, but there wasn’t enough room for all of them.  So some of the gang members turned to the man and said, “Move!  We want your table!”

Calmly, the man said, “But I haven’t finished eating my dinner.”  That’s when one of the members took his dirty finger, swiped it through his mashed potatoes and gravy, then stuck his finger in his mouth and said, “Hey, not bad grub.”  Another one took the man’s cup of coffee and slowly poured it over his remaining food.  Then he snarled, “Looks like you’re finished now!”

Silently, the trucker stood up, took his napkin, wiped his mouth, walked over to the cash register, paid for his meal, then walked out the door.  All the bikers were laughing now.

One of them said, “Ain’t much of a man, is he?”

The waitress said, “Ain’t much of a truck driver, either.  He just backed his rig over all your motorcycles.”

Or think of a man named John who wrote:  “My dearest Susan, sweetie of my heart.  I’ve been so desolate since I broke off our engagement.  Simply devastated.  Won’t you please consider coming back to me?  You hold a place in my heart no other woman can fill.  I can never marry another woman quite like you.  I need you so much!  Won’t you please forgive me and let us make a new beginning?  I love you so.  Yours always and truly, John.”

Then he wrote:  “P.S.  Congratulations on winning the lottery.”

It’s not always easy to love.  In fact, sometimes it’s the hardest thing we could ever do.  But in the words of Matthew chapter 5, it’s exactly what our Lord Jesus asks us to do.

If you wish to follow along, please turn in your Bible to page 1030.  I’ll start where it says, “Love Your Enemies.”  Matthew chapter 5, 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, 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.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  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.”

As I mentioned last week, it’s been said that this sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, is the greatest sermon anyone has ever preached.  It’s the Magna Carta, the “great charter” of the kingdom of God.  It’s in this sermon that we find words like these:  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted...Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth...You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?”  And later, in chapter 6, Jesus even taught them how to pray, saying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”

Even more, not only did Jesus speak, He spoke with authority!  Look at chapter 5, verse 21:  “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you…”  Verse 27:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you…”  And verse 38:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you…”

No wonder that, when His sermon was over, the Bible says:  “The crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”

So it was in the words of our text.  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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

It’s easy to say that if there’s any one of Jesus’ teachings that sums up what Christianity is all about, it’s this one--”Love your enemies.”

Take, for example, a man named Mosab Hassan Yousef who grew up as a Muslim.  From as early as he could remember, he studied the Quran, memorized its teachings, said his daily prayers, and followed the way of Islam as faithfully as he could.  He was, with one important exception, just like any other young man growing up in the West Bank.

The one exception?  His father was a founder of Hamas, a militant terrorist organization.

Until one day, a man gave him a New Testament.  And because he was so interested in religion, he decided to read it, to see for himself what Christianity was all about.  Naturally, he started with Matthew.  Then when he came to the Sermon on the Mount, he got his first unfiltered exposure to the pure teachings of Jesus.

He said:  “I was thunderstruck!  This was the message I had been looking for.”

And do you know which three words made all the difference?  It wasn’t, “Love your friends” or even “Love your neighbors.”  Instead, as Jesus said in chapter 5, verse 44:  “Love your enemies.”

But how can we love those who hate us, who would do anything they could to hurt us?

Think about it!  While the world says, “Get even,” God says, “Seek the good of those who have harmed you.”  While the world says, “Get angry,” God says, “Pray for them.”  And while the world says, “Don’t waste time loving bad people,” God says, “Love them anyway.”

And who are our enemies?  You’d be surprised.  When we hear the word “enemy,” we often think of someone who lives far away, somewhere on the other side of the world.  But oftentimes, our enemies can be much closer to home.

Think of the words of Matthew chapter 10.  It’s where Jesus said:  “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”  And He said:  “And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

So who are our enemies?  Sometimes it’s the ones who are nearest and dearest to us--the ones with whom we live and work.  We might even come to church and see people we would rather not see.  As someone once put it:  “Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate.”

Let me take you back, for a moment, to the mid-1800s, when Abraham Lincoln was running for president of our United States.  Quite a lot of people liked him.  Quite a lot hated him.  One of them was a man named Edwin Stanton.

The problem began years before when the two of them both served as lawyers on a court case in Cincinnati, Ohio, a case that didn’t go well at all.  Lincoln thought Stanton was unkind and rude, while Stanton described Lincoln as, (and I quote!), “a long, lank creature from Illinois, wearing a dirty linen duster for a coat, on the back of which perspiration had splotched wide stains that resembled a map of the continent.”  Later, a newspaper reporter described Stanton as “all dignity and sternness,” and Lincoln as “all simplicity and good nature.”  An aide wrote:  “No two men were ever more utterly and irreconcilably unlike.”

Then one day, after Stanton called him, “The original gorilla,” and said, “We’ve got to get rid of that baboon at the White House,” Lincoln replied, “That’s not an insult; it’s an expression of opinion.  What troubles me most about it is that Stanton said it, and Stanton is usually right.”

But after Lincoln was elected president, he had to fill his cabinet.  And when he was about to choose a Secretary of War, he looked out across the nation for one man who was smart enough and strong enough to lead.  Of all people, he chose Edwin Stanton.  Historians tell us that, in the years that followed, Stanton came to love him and respect him.  And they say that Lincoln spent more time with Stanton than with anyone else.

Then in April of 1865, when the unthinkable happened, when Lincoln was struck down by an assassin’s bullet, Stanton, barely able to hold back his tears, stood at the foot of his bed and said:  “There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen.  Now he belongs to the ages.”

As one author put it:  “Your enemy is a gift from God to you.  To say that is not to excuse evil or to condone mistreatment.  It doesn’t cancel the need for punishment when a crime has been committed.  It is to say exactly what Joseph meant when he said to his brothers, ‘You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.’”

Our enemies humble us, they keep us on our knees, they reveal our weaknesses, and they expose our desperate need for God.  If we didn’t need them, God wouldn’t send them.  So we thank God who knows best, and we love our enemies the best that we can.

How is all this possible?  Because of a tree that was once planted on a hill just outside of Jerusalem.  And on that tree hung the most powerful and influential person who ever came into this world.  

But His death on that cross was no meaningless drama that took place on the stage of history.  It was a lens through which we could gaze into eternity, to see the love of God breaking into time.  It was an eternal reminder to a world that lives and feeds on hate and revenge, that love is the only way.  In a world filled with distrust, bitterness, pain, mistreatment, and abuse, look at the cross and you’ll find what love is really all about.

One more thing.  Leonard Wilson first served as a pastor in England, then in 1943, was appointed bishop of Singapore.  The Japanese invaded four months later.  But while he was able to send his wife and children away to safety, he was captured and kept with three thousand other prisoners of war, where he was starved and beaten.

In the middle of his torture, when they asked if he still believed in God, he said, “I do.”  They asked, “Then why doesn’t He save you?”  He answered:  “God does save me.  He doesn’t free me from pain or punishment.  He gives me the spirit to bear it.”  Then when the beatings finally stopped, he said:  “There was one guard who was the worst of the lot.  His face kept coming to me in my dreams.”

When he was released, he returned to Singapore.  And one day, as he was teaching a confirmation class, one of the candidates came forward and knelt before him.  Wilson said:  “To my horror, I recognised that it was that terrible guard, coming to kneel before me.  I was filled with the most violent anger.  I said to God:  ‘I can’t do this.  I can’t forgive him for all he did to me.’  But God said, ‘I can, through you.’”  

Later, after the service, the guard said:  “YOU are the reason I’m here today.  I did everything I could to destroy you and your faith, but your courage challenged me.  I knew it couldn’t come from you, and, in the end, I surrendered to this God who had given you such strength.”

As Jesus said in Matthew chapter 5:  “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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

 

Sometimes, dear Father, forgiving those who hate us and hurt us can be the hardest thing we could ever do.  Help us to forgive.  Lead us to the cross.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen  

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