Sons of the Most High (Luke 6:27-38)
7th Sunday after Epiphany (Feb 20, 2022)
Don’t you just love it! Everyone today acts as a preacher of righteousness. Whether it is a politician lecturing us all about what our values should be, or a news pundit skewering someone else for their bad behavior or wrongheaded opinions, or even some tweeter on Twitter sharing some passage of Holy Scripture completely out of context and with no idea what it is really saying, everyone suddenly is an expert in preaching God’s Word to the rest of us.
This is nothing new, of course. We have all witnessed how the world always seems to know how you and I as Christians ought to think, behave and live more than we do! And they are not a bit bashful about telling us, either! “Aren’t you Christians supposed to love everyone!” They’ll charge. “How can you be so judgmental toward others, like adulterers, homosexuals, or people of other religions? If you love them you would live and let live. Who do you think you are?”
Now, of course, as Christians we can be quick to rightly reply that they have no clue what God’s definition of love actually is nor what He has to say about believing wrong and false things, whether that be about Him or the way He wants us to live. But, I’m also afraid that the criticism that we don’t always live in ways consistent with Biblical teaching could also be spot on.
Why is this? First, it is true that as fallen creatures, we all are prone to misusing and abusing the clear word of God to suit our own desires. But what Jesus is here helping us to see is that the heart of the problem for us Christians is that all too often we forget who we are in Jesus Christ. We have been born of God (Jn 1:13). We are in the world but not of the world (Jn 17:16). We are but strangers here (Heb. 11:8-10). Yet, we often act as if we do belong here and that we share the same values as the world.
Let’s, then, give ear to what our Lord, our Savior, our God, tells us about our true identity in Him and how it ought to affect and influence our thoughts, our attitudes, our concerns, and our interactions with each other and even with our fellow human beings who are not of God.
After all, the specific words from Jesus this morning are directed pointedly, as He says most clearly, “to you who hear.” Who are those who hear? They are those who already are born of God, who have been given ears to hear and hearts to believe (Matt. 13:10-15); that is, Christians.
These particular words of Jesus to us this morning are from Luke chapter 6 and are a portion of what is often termed Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, to differentiate it from another sermon Jesus preached on a separate occasion called The Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.
Jesus begins by highlighting that there are two entirely different standards at work in the hearts and lives of people on this earth. They are diametrically opposed to each other. One is at work in the hearts and minds of true believers, His children, and another totally opposite working in the minds and hearts of nonbelievers… children of the world… those under the influence and control of the evil one.
He says, “I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them’” (6:27-31).
Now, let me ask you, is there anything here in Jesus’ words that isn’t perfectly clear about what is Christian behavior? Jesus has not shrouded anything in metaphoric language. He has not painted some kind of word picture that requires you and me to read between the lines. He has not spoken in soaring theological rhetoric that would require years of study just to decipher. Jesus has spoken in clear, simple, language. He has described Christian behavior in concrete, down to earth, terms. At the same time, without specifically spelling it out, He has also done so in such a way that we can easily recognize just how contrary all this is to the world’s way of thinking and acting.
Jesus says that if someone hates you, it’s not Christian to hate them in return. Returning hatred with hatred is definitely the standard of the world, the devil and our sinful flesh. It is that same standard that says that one is to repay evil with more evil. Contrarily, the standard of God and, accordingly, that of those born of God, is to repay evil with good. Similarly, if someone has nothing good to say about and to you, but always bad mouths you and even curses you, God’s will is for your words to bless them. If someone treats you abusively, you and I are to be praying for them. In fact, even if they slap us on the face, we are to be resisting the urge to respond in kind. Jesus goes so far as to say that you are to allow them to hit you on the other side.
But, let’s also be clear. Jesus is not saying Christians can’t take evasive actions to avoid being made the verbal and physical punching bags of others. Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus’ often avoided certain venues He knew would be hostile toward Him and, even on one occasion that we know of, He walked right through the crowds to get away from those who were seeking to stone Him and throw Him over a cliff. But what He is saying is that the marked difference in Christian behavior is that it does not react to wicked behavior by behaving wickedly in return. Christian behavior does not use someone else’s wicked behavior toward you to justify you acting in kind. One wicked deed does not deserve another.
In fact, Jesus goes on to say, that any kind of vindictiveness has no place in Christian behavior. If someone forcefully takes your coat, or demands it from you, or anything else that is in your possession, allow them to have it without even so much as asking for it back. In fact, see what you have as means to help others with their needs.
Now, to know what kind of behavior toward others God expects of us doesn’t take a world class theologian to figure out. Jesus has clearly said, “…As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” This is genius! There is not one of us that is clueless when it comes to knowing how we wish, desire, to be treated by others. We come out of the womb expecting to be served by others, expecting to be treated nicely even if we haven’t been nice. We intuitively expect others to rationalize away our bonehead actions and harsh words as just temporary lapses in judgment and that they should not be taken seriously. We expect to be treated with respect even if we don’t always act respectfully. In short we expect others to always love us and forgive us no matter what. Therefore, Jesus is telling us, using our own standards, we know exactly how we ought to treat others.
The problem is, who of us actually does so? Our minds and hearts are want to say, “Come on! Abusive and unrighteous behavior on the behalf of others demands justice…An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth!” But that’s the whole point isn’t it! Do we expect the same for our own abusive and unrighteous behavior? Of course, not.
Accordingly, there is a marked difference in the Christian’s dealings with others. Jesus even tells us that how we deal with others can actually have a great impact on how they will deal with us. He says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
The Christian standard is not justice but it is mercy… It is not revenge it is forgiveness. It’s as Jesus says, “loving your enemies as you would like to be loved.”
But even when we try to love others, even our enemies, as we would like to be loved, we have a tendency to again follow the self-centeredness of our nature and follow the leading of the world to pervert it to say, “I’ll love them if there is something in it for me. Okay, Okay, I’ll do good to that guy who hurt me. It will look good on my resume’. And who knows, maybe he’ll be so indebted to me that I can use it to my advantage someday down the road. Besides, it surely will earn me some favor with God.”
There’s nothing distinctively Christian about such love. Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? (We might say, what feather in your cap is that for you?”) For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount” (6:32-34).
Looking for credit in everything we do for others, even our bending over backwards to respond kindly to those who abuse us, that’s nothing unique and special. No one should cheer us. Especially God should not reward us. You find that philosophy everywhere in our world. The Christian difference in loving others goes beyond “mere reciprocity into gift giving” (Just).
Christian love is marked by a unique characteristic of God Himself. It is giving to benefit of the underserving without expecting anything in return but simply doing so out of a heart of pure mercy and grace. Jesus adds: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (vs. 35,36).
As we can clearly see the love Jesus is speaking about here is not just any love. By that I mean, such love comes not from a love you might have for your pets, or a love you and I have for those who care for us, like our families or friends. In the Greek it is the term agape. This is the love God, our Father, has for our whole world of ungrateful and evil sinners which moved Him to give His only begotten Son to be the atoning sacrifice in our place under His righteous judgment against us (John 3:16, 1 John 4:10).
This love is distinctively Christian. The “only begotten Son of the Father,” Jesus Christ, has brought to our world this love. Only those who truly know Jesus Christ know of this love and have actually been born of this love themselves. That’s why Jesus calls them “sons of the Most High.”
Holy Scripture is also very clear that all of us humans have inherited from Adam a nature which has become void of this love. In its place is a love that is inverted in on itself. Concern for others welfare is only secondary if in us at all. Instead, we are lovers only of self, concerned with only self, always ready and willing to justify ourselves. Accordingly, it is impossible in and of ourselves to love our enemies… bless those who curse us…do good to those who hate us. Our hearts are far from Christ’s heart… far from God’s heart.
Christ-like love and actions cannot and do not simply happen out of thin air. They only stem from a heart that has been transformed and been infused with Christ’s love.
You who have been baptized into Christ and have been brought to faith in Jesus as Your God and Savior alone have been born of God and born of His love. Only you who have tasted the mercy of God through the forgiveness of your sins can forgive. Only you who have been loved from hell to heaven by God in Jesus Christ can love the unlovable as you have been loved. Only you who regularly feed on the loving kindness of the Lord toward sinners through the body and blood of Jesus are able to do good to those who sin against you. Only You have been given the underserved gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ can freely be gracious toward even your enemies. The apostle John wrote: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:7-11).
Dear Christian, do you have your ears on? Do you hear what Your Lord and Savior is telling you again this day? He says quite clearly, you alone can make a difference in this world and your family, your community, your country because you alone are Sons of the Most High. As those redeemed in Christ and born again of His love, you are not children of this world. The world needs you. As you remember and live out your true identity in this world, God will make a transforming difference in the lives of others. As you live out in word and action the true love of Him Who is God’s love in the flesh, the light of God’s love will shine brightly in the darkness of our world and the world will truly be transformed.