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SERMON ON THE MOUNT
Living in the Kingdom

11. Kingdom Response

(video audio page)

Kingdom Response

Scriptures: Matthew 5:38, Leviticus 24:19, Leviticus 24:20, Matthew 5:39-42

How do we respond when someone challenges us? How do we respond at work when the supervisor instructs us to do a job that isn't our job to do? What about when we do something nice for people? Do we want something in return? God forbid, but what if you were sued and lost the case? How long would we look for a way to "get even?" These will be the points of the fifth standard of kingdom righteousness Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount. How is a Christ follower supposed to respond to negative circumstances? Do we respond the same as everyone else? Let's see what Jesus had to say.

Matthew 5:38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth'

Jesus began this fifth standard of righteousness just as he had the previous four saying, "You have heard . . ." Jesus gave a quote found in Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. It is called Lex (Law) Talionis (retaliation). Let's take a look at one of those passages.

Leviticus 24:19 If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him:

Leviticus 24:20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.

The purpose of Lex Talionis was to limit retaliation. It was for fair and just retribution. But within each of us resides a desire to give back just a little more injury than we were injured. It's something like you dent my finder and I want a new car. Or, you commit adultery and I get to run over you in my Mercedes three times. Today's civil, penal, and international laws have their roots in Lex Talionis. That aspect of the Jewish legal system had worked well for two thousand years. Then along came Jesus with his revolutionary teaching. Here is what he said.

Matthew 5:39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

Matthew 5:41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

Matthew 5:42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

They had to have very strange looks on their faces as they heard Jesus say this that day. It would be similar to the first time we heard this "turn the cheek" statement. What did Jesus mean? Are we to be total pacifists rolling over and playing dead when evil people take advantage of us? What about capital punishment for murder? Should we allow murderers to go free? If so, then what about Romans 13 which talks about the need for those who uphold the law? Jesus gave four examples to help us understand what he said. Let's look at each of these in the light of Lex Talionis.

1. Responding to malicious insult.

Matthew 5:39 . . . If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Jesus was not speaking about a physical attack or murder. A physical attack or murder is far more than a slap. A slap is a malicious insult - a challenge. It's not life threatening. It's only ego threatening. Jesus said simply don't respond. That's tough. At least, it is for me. We want Lex Talionis with just a little more force behind the slap that we deliver. Or we want our verbal slap to be a little louder and more stinging than the verbal slap we received. Jesus said to leave it alone. Don't respond when insulted or challenged.

Let's take this home. How do we respond when our spouse - the person we love the most in the whole world - verbally slaps us? Usually, something inside begins to boil and we cook up words to perform Lex Talionis, except our words are a little more pungent than were their words. Then they cook up more words and slap back and so on and so forth. The next thing we know is that we are in a full-blown argument yelling and saying things that we would have never said had we "turned the cheek." Instead of it all being over in a few minutes, it goes on for days, weeks, or who knows?

How about you students? When one of your friends says something about you, how do you respond? Usually you say something bad about them. That's Lex Talionis. The gossiping begins. We say things we know we should not say. We go for months not speaking to dear friends. We harbor bad feelings. What if we had just let it go? If what was said was not true, you know it wasn't and people know it wasn't true. Let it go.

I remember years ago in by BC days (before Christ) my father-in-law said something negative about me and made a threat out of true concern. I loved him and he me, but big bad me had to challenge him and it wasn't pretty. Words were exchanged and even though I apologized, he did not come to our home for years. That hurt my wife and my children because my wife's dad and children's Grand Daddy would not come see them. What if I had simply let it go? The thing he had said wasn't accurate and everyone knew it. I should have simply turned the cheek. Instead, I allowed something that should have never begun to go on and on for two years.

What if someone maliciously insults us that we really don't care for. Can we let it go or do we want Lex Talionis? It's tough when someone we love verbally slaps us, but when someone we really don't care for verbally slaps us, it's nearly impossible to turn the cheek. How are we supposed to handle that one? If we can keep ourselves from retaliating until we can calm down, we can do it. We really need the help of the Holy Spirit. We must get away and calm down.

The greatest thing about turning the cheek is what it does within the believer. Initially, we all experience the anger and desire to retaliate. However, if we can overcome the anger and calm down, we look at ourselves afterwards with a smile and say, "I did it! I did it right! I am in the kingdom of heaven and blessed am I."

In the ministry, we are attacked - slapped - nearly every day. My entire ministry has been that way. People wack me with this and smack me with that. I normally turn the cheek, but once I didn't and went after Lex Talionis. That was a bad decision. I took myself right out of the kingdom and the Lord's protection and I did it my way. It was ugly. I was the most embarrassed I have ever been in my life, but I learned. Leave it alone. What good is it if we respond to insults anyway? We are forced to deal with their next response. We can take that possibility out of the opponent's hand. Let it go.

How do you respond when someone maliciously insults you? I'm telling you. If at all possible, let it go.

2. Responding to a law suit.

Matthew 5:40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

Here we need to take a look at the culture to which this was spoken. Here is a quote from R. Kent Hughes.

"It was possible in that day to sue others for the very shirt on their backs. However, no one could take another's cloak for a permanent twenty-four hour-a-day possession. A cloak or outer robe was indispensable for living in Palestine. So even if you lost your shirt (or tunic) in court, and your opponent asked for your cloak and won it, he was required to return it every evening for you to sleep in. That was the law."(1)

How does this apply today? Again, we are not told to roll over and play dead to the demise of evil people. Jesus taught us how to respond. The analogy was a lost lawsuit. There had obviously been a court hearing. The analogy was that the Christ follower was sued, went to court to project their case, but lost. He or she was not to make it rough on the winner of the legal action by making him bring the cloak to them every day. Jesus said it's over. Let it go. Don't allow it to be an ugly place in the heart that you must daily open in an attempt to get Lex Talionis. You lost. After you have done all you can do legally in court, let it go. The condition of the heart is the essential item in the kingdom of heaven.

3. Responding to unhappy labor.

Matthew 5:41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

Again, understanding their culture plays a part in understanding the passage. By law a Roman soldier could command any person in the Roman Empire to carry his backpack for one mile - one thousand paces. It is this to which Jesus spoke. This commonly happened and, needless to say, the Jews hated it. Remember Simon of Cyrene. The Roman soldier commanded him to carry Christ's cross (Mat 27:32). Refusing to do it would result in arrest or a lashing on the spot.

How do we respond when our supervisor requires us to do a job we don't want to do? What is our attitude? Often it is something like, "Pay me more." Or, "That's not my job and I won't do it." This attitude is what Jesus is addressing. Jesus said that if a Christ follower was asked to carry a burden one mile, instead, the Christ followers should take it two miles. Do more than is required.

Though I don't respond well when slapped, I do very well with this one. After college, I went to work training for supervision with a textile manufacturer. Basically, I had to learn every job in the plant. There were several of us young college kids going through that training and we all wanted the first available supervision position offered. Some of the jobs in the plant were really hard. Some were really nasty. It was difficult to get people to run those hard nasty jobs when the regular worker was absent. So, I would run the job. I wouldn't wait to be asked. In fact, they never asked us college kids to run jobs. We were there to learn about the jobs.

People didn't like me because I was this young kid training to be their boss and they knew it. But when I would do the jobs that they would not do, they respected me. In addition, when the first supervision came open, it was awarded to me. Also, my personal knowledge about the job kept me at the top on production which provided job security.

We can labor with one of two types of attitudes. We can do a job with a despising hating attitude. Or we can do a job with a joyful attitude. We can awake to go to work and disdain going. Or, we can go to work with a cheerful anticipation and purpose. We can go the one mile and do just enough to get by as we build hate and anger in our hearts - eye for an eye - looking for a way to get back at the boss. Or we can have the correct attitude, go the two miles and be blessed.

What is it that you abhor doing, but you must do? Take a picture of your heart. How does the picture look? Is it a good picture or an ugly picture? Do you have a smile on your face, or is that a frown you see? Often people want a job change thinking that will change how they feel about their job. Usually that never helps until the attitude is changed.

4. Responding in giving.

Matthew 5:42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

In this fourth example of proper kingdom response, Jesus talked about giving and lending. Did Jesus mean that I give to everyone and anything to which I am asked? No. If that were the case, we would be guilty of aiding the alcoholic and drug addict in their demise. We are told to be good stewards of our possessions. Then what is Jesus saying?

The Christ follower is called to generosity without looking for something in return. When someone needs help and we can help, then we should help. If we only help when there is something in it for us, then that is Lex Talionis. In this case, we give, but want more back. There are hidden motives and hidden agendas? Do we give help so others will be indebted to us? That'sLex Talionis.

I knew a man who outwardly seemed extremely giving. It appeared he loved to walk up and while shaking hands with a person, pass off a hundred-dollar bill. But then their phone would ring and, to me, the request for what he asked far exceeded the gift. I watched this happen again and again. It was giving with Lex Talionis. It is the very thing that Jesus refuted. If we are going to give, then give to the one who asks you with nothing expected in return.

How about us? Can we, and do we, give without hidden agendas? If so, then we have a kingdom response to giving. God will bless us.

I can't help but think how this teaching of Jesus went over. He was changing everything. Had you been on the Mount that day, you would have had severe questions. Isn't it strange that two thousand years later we continue to question this teaching? We haven't gotten it correct yet. We continue to live Lex Talionis - "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth" just as does the world. There is no Lex Talionis in the kingdom.

That's kingdom response and that's living in the kingdom of heaven.

1. R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 134

 

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