Now we're turning to Matthew's gospel again and chapter 5 - Matthew chapter 5, and we're reading today from verse 38 through to 42. These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away".
Let's bow our heads for a moment's prayer: Our Father, we come before Thee and before the words of Thy blessed Son, our Lord Jesus. Lord, these words are hard to read, let alone meditate upon and implement into our sinful lives. Therefore to that end we pray that You'll give us grace today to understand the word of God and, indeed, to apply it and implement it into our lives. Lord, we believe that this sermon is not meant to be preached as much as meant to be lived. Therefore we pray that the preaching of it would add to the living of it in the life of the people gathered here today. Fill me with Thy Spirit I pray, and come by Thy Holy Spirit to minister to us and speak to us. For Christ's sake, and for His glory alone. Amen.
A successful Irish boxer on one occasion was converted, and he grew in faith and became a preacher of the gospel. He happened to be in a new town setting up his evangelistic tent, and a couple of tough thugs noticed what he was doing. Knowing nothing of the evangelist's background, they made a few insulting remarks to him. The Irishman merely turned and looked at them. Pressing his luck, one of the bullies took a swing and struck a glancing blow on one side of the ex-boxer's face. He shook it off and said nothing as he stuck out his jaw to him again. The fellow took another glance and blew him on the side of the cheek. At that point, the preacher swiftly took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and announced: 'The Lord gave me no further instructions' - bang!
Now believe it or not, that is the way many people view the Sermon on the Mount and, indeed, view these verses that we read together today. I would say that nowhere is the challenge greater in this sermon than in these few verses that we have read today. In verse 38 the Lord again, as He does right throughout this sermon, goes back to the Old Testament law. He quotes these words that we know all too well - even proverbially in society - 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'. If you go to Exodus 21, Leviticus 24 and Deuteronomy 19 you will find there in the law those words. Those words that the Lord quoted from the Old Testament were both a command to punish, but I want you also to see that it was a limitation on punishment. 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' was telling people that punishment was necessary. If you pluck out someone's eye, your eye should be plucked out. If you knock out their teeth, your tooth should be knocked out. So it was a command to punish.
But you see, what people often miss - Christians and, indeed, society at large that scorns this law: 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' - is that not only is it a command to punish, but it is a limitation on punishment. What God is saying in the Old Testament is: 'The penalty must not exceed the crime'. So in order to command to punish, it also says you mustn't punish too hard, over and above the crime that has been committed. You see, what happened in Old Testament times, or what ought to have happened, is that this law kept people from forcing the offender to pay a greater price than the offence he committed deserved. Another thing it did was it prevented people from taking personal revenge. So don't scorn this law in the Old Testament too quickly. But what I want you to note, before we go on any further, is that according to the Old Testament scriptures and the law, authority for punishment was vested in government. That is important!
You must remember that the first five books of the Bible are not just a spiritual Old Testament, like we have our spiritual New Testament. The Pentateuch was the law of the land that was to be implemented in that Jewish Israelite society. It is not given to the individual. Therefore this law: 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth', was not for private vengeance. It wasn't for you as an individual, or me as an individual, living in Judaism in the Old Testament society. But rather it was a direction for the magistrates and for the judges and the leaders in Israel. But what I want you to see is: what the Scribes and the Pharisees in the Lord Jesus' day did with these verses of Old Testament writ. They took them - meant to be applied to the authorities and society - and they extended those principles of just retribution to individuals. I hope you can see that transition. They extended these principles of just retribution from the law courts, where it belonged, to the realm of personal relationships, where it did not belong.
These verses are misunderstood today because many people think that the Lord Jesus is prohibiting the administration of justice in society. That is not what the Lord is prohibiting here by bringing us His new law in the Sermon on the Mount. What the Lord is saying is, indeed, the spirit of the law in the Old Testament: 'You are not to take the law into your own hands'. So He says: 'Resist not evil'. Now, He is not thinking - let me implore you to understand this - He is not thinking of judicially or nationally, but He's thinking individually. Now why am I emphasising that? Simply this: the Lord Jesus is not teaching that nations are to discard their armies, or their navies, or their police forces, or their judges, or to open the gates of all the prisons and let people out. Nations as nations are not yet in the Kingdom of God! Therefore the laws of the Kingdom do not apply to them as nations. It would do you well to, in your life as you read the word of God and understand the word of God, not to apply Christian principles to a non-Christian world, because then you have confusion.
The Lord Jesus is teaching this sermon, and if any nation in this world - I'd vouch to say to you - implemented these laws as national laws in the society that we live in, filled with sin and not under the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ, there would be absolute collapse of all institutions and chaos within society! Thank God there's a day coming when all nations will be members of the Kingdom of God, and the kingdoms of this world shall become the Kingdom of our God and His Christ. But I want you to see the distinction here: the Lord Jesus is speaking to His disciples. He is not speaking of national laws, but He is speaking of individual responsibilities of believers in Christ.
Now, in order that you don't misunderstand me when I say that, and in order that we lay a proper foundation I want you to turn to Romans chapter 12. Romans chapter 12 and verses 19 to 20, and we'll not take time to read them but if you just glance down at them you will see that Paul illuminates on the principles that I've just been speaking about. He says, instead of avenging ourselves for any wrong that's been done to us we are to 'give place unto wrath'. That means 'let way' and 'give way' for God's wrath. God's word says in this passage, Paul quoting the Old Testament: 'I will repay'. He will deal with a person and with a matter that we have been wronged in. Our part, Paul says, is to act kindly and generously toward our enemy. By doing so we 'heap coals of fire' on his head, or maybe we cause his mind to burn with shame - but we are not allowed, ourselves, to overcome by evil the evil that has been done to us. Quite the contrary, we are to overcome evil by good! Now, that is the sentiment of individual responsibility between you and your brother, between you and another.
But then if you know the word of God and are familiar with it, if you go to Romans chapter 13 this time, you will see how Paul doesn't want us to misunderstand who this applies to. Now, we have to realise that many people - Christians - take the words of the Authorised Version in Matthew 5 where the Lord says: 'Resist not evil', and they take it to awful literal extremes. They take it to the extremes of uncompromising pacifism, where it's never ever right to take up force in any shape or form - whether it be a government or whether it be from the point of freedom fighting. In fact, Luther says one of the most absurd instances of this was seen in a man who he calls 'the crazy man'. He describes him like this: 'This man let the lice nibble at him and refused to kill any of them on account of this text, maintaining that he had to suffer and could not resist evil'.
Now, I hope none of you would say that that is what this passage teaches! But in Romans chapter 13, if you take time to read it when you go home, you will see that God has invested authority in the law courts. God has invested authority in the state that you live in. He sets up one ruler; He brings down another ruler. In the law of the land it is the responsibility of the judicial system to resist evil. This is important, and we looked at this when we were looking at oaths - that the Lord doesn't say that it's never, on any occasion, right to take an oath. What He is talking about here is individual responsibility. He is not applying it to an unbelieving, unregenerate world. The reason I'm labouring this is that the duties and the functions of the state are quite different from those of the individual. God's purpose in the Sermon on the Mount is to express individual responsibility. Romans 13 - we are not to take out vengeance on another but the state is to do it, and indeed the sword, if you like, the gun of the policeman in society today is ordained by God.
I'll illustrate it for you. It's a ridiculous illustration, but I think it brings home to you the sentiment here - the difference between individual responsibility and the responsibility of the law of the land. If I went home and found that my house was being burgled, and I catch the thief, it may well be my duty individually as a Christian to set him down and give him a glass of milk and a chocolate chip biscuit, but also ring the police for them to come and collect him! Now, I know that's ridiculous, but that is keeping in tandem the two ideas of individual responsibility but also a responsibility to the law of the land. Now, think of it! If you take this verse to its literal extreme, as many believers do, we will not only be resisting evil but we would be letting loose evil in our society. If I go home and find a burglar there I say: 'Look son, that's OK. You've done something wrong but I'm not going to phone the police because the Lord Jesus said, 'Don't resist evil'. So you just go away and rob Sadie down the road, and take all her silver'. Is that what the Lord is teaching? Of course it's not! Let me encourage you, there is some literalistic nonsense that is taught from many portions of scripture that do not weigh up with the whole counsel of God; and we've got to get down to what God teaches.
What is the Lord really teaching? I'll tell you what He's teaching. Four illustrations: the first tells us that as believers we are to choose insults. Choose being insulted over not being insulted. Look at verse 39: 'Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also'. Now, to the Eastern mind it wasn't the pain of the slap on the cheek that was the problem. It was the absolute insult and indignity that it brought. What's being spoken of here is a slap from the back of your hand, which was ten times more indignant than a slap with the palm of your hand. Now, what happens? If you were slapped across the face all our instincts incline us hotly to return a blow for a blow. What's the Lord saying? If there is a second blow, we as God's people are not to be the ones to throw it. We are to take it!
Now, don't miss the wood for the trees, because week after week as I study these verses, you know what people sometimes do? They get taken up with the actualities of the passage about what it means: 'Now, is it the back of his hand or is it the front of his hand? Or what way did he slap him? With the right hand or the left hand?'. They miss the principle behind what the Lord is saying. Don't miss the principle, because if you do that you do what the Pharisees do! What is the principle? Did the Lord do this? Well, He didn't do it literally. In John 18 and verses 22 to 23 we read this: 'One of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand...and Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?'. Now, in a literal sense the Lord perhaps didn't jut out His other cheek, but in the most real way He did so.
Does it pay to do this? This is an attitude. It's not a literal action. It doesn't matter if you put your other cheek out and the attitude within you is hate and revenge, and you want to get this person one way or another - we'll follow them and we'll get them somehow, whether with our tongue or with our fist. The Lord is speaking of the attitude deep in our hearts.
Now, does it work? Does it work? There's a famous story that goes around about Billy Bray who was an eccentric Methodist preacher, and he was once an ex-miner. He tells in his biography of his remarkable conversion, and also the disgust of his fellow miners of the fact that he had got saved and given up his evil ways. One day in sheer annoyance one of them struck him in the face saying: 'Take that for turning to Methody!'. Billy turned and looked at him and said: 'May God forgive you man, as I do'. He didn't turn the other cheek, but it was his attitude, isn't that right? And that attitude actually brought that rough individual to Christ!
I'll tell you another story of a keen young soldier determined to nail his colours to the mast right away in his corp. He found himself in a very rough regiment and he was on his knees one evening. They often gave him a hard time, jibing at him as he was on his knees in prayer. One night, as he was kneeling at his bedside, a particularly brutal man threw a boot at his head, and it bounced off his head. That young man continued praying through all the cursing and all the abuse. He didn't do anything. He didn't say anything. Nothing more was done, and night fell and they all went to bed; but when that ruffian got out of his bed that morning, there was a new polished clean pair of boots beside his bed. That man too came to Christ. He was turning the other cheek, wasn't he, the young soldier? Billy Bray - he didn't do it in a literal sense. It's what the Lord is encapsulating in these parables and, indeed, in these illustrations: 'Turn the other cheek' - it's an attitude. Now listen, people mightn't get saved. Whether they get saved or not, it's our duty to do this, but let me say this: much of it has fruit! Much of it has fruit! The bottom line is that we have to choose insults, as the people of God. We may lose our dignity. We may lose our pride, and that wouldn't be a bad thing to lose, but we may gain a soul.
The Lord Jesus was called a glutton, a winebibber, a drunkard. He was called a friend of tax-collectors, and harlots, and sinners. The reason why men called Him this, was that they were accusing Him of the same sins because of who He was hanging around with every day. The early Christians, if you read early church history, were called cannibals because they broke bread, which symbolised the body of Christ, and they drank wine, which symbolised the blood of Christ. They were accused of immorality of the grossest and shameless kind, because they called the Breaking of Bread 'The Love Feast' - and people accused them of having an orgy! When Lord Shaftsbury undertook the cause of the poor and the oppressed he was warned that it would mean that - I quote - 'He would become unpopular with his friends and people of his class, and that he would have to give up all hopes of ever being a cabinet minister'. When Wilberforce began his crusade to free the slaves the slanderous rumour went around that he was a cruel husband, he was a wife-beater, and they even said that he was married to a black woman. But none of those men, especially our Lord Jesus Christ - now please, let the spirit of this teaching infuse your heart - 'When He was reviled He reviled not again. He made Himself of no reputation'. Do you know what that means? He chose to be insulted rather than to be praised. What's the Lord saying with 'turn the other cheek'? Choose the insults!
Secondly, He says 'choose injustice'. Look at verse 40, the second illustration: 'If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also'. We don't have time to go into all this, but if you were to go Exodus 22 you would find under Jewish law that if you didn't pay your debt your creditor was entitled to take your coat as a guarantee until you did pay the debt. What the Lord is speaking of here is a false accusation. This man was falsely accusing this other man of not paying his debt, and he sues him for his coat. It's an unjust claim. It's this man's right to keep his coat, to have his coat as his own. The law laid down that even if it was a just claim, and he took his coat rightly, he couldn't keep his coat forever. You weren't allowed to keep another man's coat permanently. What would you do if someone sued you? What would you do if a man falsely accused you? I think in your innermost old man that it would arouse a resentment, a tenacity to cling onto your name, to cling onto your rights, your reputation. What does the Lord say? The Lord says 'No!'. Whether it's an unjust claim, whether you did it or you didn't do it, whether he takes away your cloak permanently, and that's another injustice, you've got to choose injustice! But more than that, the Lord says it's far greater than that: if he takes away your coat, you give him your cloak!
The Lord is saying the Christian is a person that never stands up for his rights. He never disputes about his legal rights. He does not consider himself to have any legal rights at all! Don't water it down! That's what people do with this - they water it down to get their rights. We live in a land that is full of proud, pompous, Protestant rights. The believer doesn't have any. The believer is to fight for rights, but fight for others' rights! Tenaciously, you're to fight for the right of your brother or sister, or the right of those in poverty or in famine, but you are not to make yourself of any reputation. These are hard words, aren't they?
The church, I think, is especial in having people who are caricatured forever standing on their rights, who clutch to their privileges, who will have to be pried lose from them, who will militantly go to the law rather than to suffer what they regard as the slightest infringement upon their rights. Sadly, churches are tragically filled with such people! A Christian - now listen to this - a Christian is a man who has forgotten that he has any rights at all!
You're to choose insults and choose injustice and, thirdly, His illustration tells us, in verse 41, you're to choose inconvenience: 'Whosoever shall compel you to walk a mile, go with him two'. What the Lord is referring to here is in Roman custom - remember the Jews are in the Roman empire at this moment - there was a custom that you could put your hand on someone suddenly and force him to do something for you. If you were a Roman citizen or a Roman leader you could impress someone for imperial business - a sort of press gang. In other words, if there was a Roman official going down the road and you were minding your own business in the corner; if he wanted he could impress you to carry his bags and go wherever he was going. If he so decided, he had the power to compel you for service in accompanying him and aiding him for the next stage of his journey. That's what the Lord means when He says: 'If he compels you to go a mile'. The only other occasion when we have a reference of this is in Matthew 27 and Mark 15 where Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry the cross of the Lord Jesus. That's the idea here.
What does the Lord say? You'd say: 'Who do you think you are? Who do you think I am? Do you think I'm a second class citizen, asking me to do the like of this?'. The Lord doesn't even say that your attitude is to do it - He says that your attitude is to go an extra mile! Choose inconvenience! How many times are we - and I'm guilty of this - unexpectedly called upon to help or to serve, and it's a great inconvenience to me? How do I do it? It's hard even to get going that one mile, isn't it, let alone get going the extra mile? But do you know something? Our compulsion to do right is more stringent than the imperial Roman government had upon individuals in Judaism to do right, because the Lord Jesus says to us through His word: 'The love of Christ constraineth us. Go not grudgingly or of necessity for God loveth a cheerful giver'. Do you know what the Lord is saying? If you went out today and somebody asked you to do something, whether it was to carry a bag somewhere like the Roman government would, you're to grab the bag and you're to run on ahead of that man, singing and shouting in glory to God: 'For the Lord loveth a cheerful giver'.
It's hard, isn't it? - to choose insults, to choose injustice, to choose inconvenience, and then, fourthly, to choose indulgence. Verse 42, look at it: 'Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away'. Let me say a few things very quickly. This verse is not teaching that you've to give at the expense of your family, because the word of God teaches 'if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home and to requite their parents, for that is good and acceptable before the Lord; but if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel'. So you're not to rob Peter inside to pay Paul outside. Supply for your own home! So it's not just giving money 'willy-nilly'.
Secondly, it's not at the expense of your duty. Oliver Goldsmith said he was so liberal to beggars that he had nothing left for his tailor or for his butcher. Not at the expense of others! If you've bills to pay, you pay the bills, no matter how many people are coming to you and asking you for money.
Thirdly, not at the expense of the beggar himself. What I mean is this: a tramp comes up to you in the town and he asks you for a tenner or a fiver, or he asks you for a pound; if you can smell drink off his breath have the sense not to give it to him for he'll go and drink it! Here's a question: why do we always think of money? The Lord doesn't mention money. Give him a feed. Do whatever you like with him, as the Lord leads you but give him something. But don't give to the extent that you harm the person you're giving to. The best form of giving or lending is that which helps people to help themselves. There's provisos to these rules. But the Lord still says, and let's not water it down: 'Give to him that asketh thee'. Here's the real point - when we see somebody, and somebody comes up to us and says: 'I need money', what do we think? 'Does this man deserve it?' Isn't that what we think? What would you have done if the Lord had said when you came to Him and said: 'Lord, would you save me?', and He said: 'Does this man deserve it?'. That's not the question we're to ask, the question we are to ask is this: 'Does this man need it? Does he need it?'. If he needs it give it to him.
'As we therefore have opportunity let us do good unto all', and especially unto them who are of the household of faith. Especially the brethren and the sisters in Christ, we are to do this! As we close today, in the last five minutes, what is the teaching of the Lord? It's to choose insults - yes - it's to choose injustice, it's to choose inconvenience, it's to choose indulgence, but is that all? I mean, if we go out and follow this like the law of the Medes and Persians, and dot all our i's and cross all our t's with this, and when we're slapped across our face we turn the other side of the cheek and follow all His laws - is that what He really wants us to know? Of course it's not! I'll tell you what He is speaking of - He is saying that beyond the Old Testament law there is a higher righteousness that abolishes retaliation altogether. There is an attitude of the 'right cheek' in your heart. Listen to what Matthew Henry says about this: 'If any person says flesh and blood cannot pass by' - in other words, flesh and blood could never ever accomplish what you have in this sermon - 'remember that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God'.
What do you think when you look at this passage of scripture? Do you know what I think? 'That is impossible!' And do you know what? It is impossible! It is impossible without the divine life of God in your being. You need to know that flesh and blood - effort - cannot get into the Kingdom, let alone keep the laws of the Kingdom. Is it any wonder that the Lord says: 'Marvel not Nicodemus that I say unto you, ye must be born again'? You need the life of God! If you don't have it, my friend, don't follow these things because you're only heaping coals upon your head. You need to be saved!
What is this? How can we sum all this up? How can we sum up the Sermon on the Mount? Do you know what it all is? Listen: it is death to self. Death to self! You take a slap on the cheek, you know what? You're dying; your body's dying to self. You're sued for your coat and you give your cloak. What does that mean? Your property has died to self. You're not materialist. Verse 41 - you're compelled to go the extra mile in your work, in your service, in your energy, in your efforts and strength - you've died to Christ! Now, here's the question the Lord is asking you and I today: will you choose to be a fool for Christ? Will you choose to suffer for Christ? It's a choice! You don't wait until the sovereign will of God brings you into suffering. It's a choice! When you choose insults and injustice and inconvenience and indulgence, the problem is we don't see it as God breaking us down - we see it as everybody else hammering us. We need to come in the spirit of the hymnwriter and say,
'Lord, bend that proud and stiff-necked I,
Help me to bow the head and die;
Beholding Him on Calvary,
Who bowed His head for me'.
Let me finish with this story. It's the choice between common sense and Kingdom sense. I've read recently the life of a martyr who laid down his life for Christ. That's what the Lord is speaking of here: spiritually laying down your life for Christ and others. It's the path of blessing and fulfilment, and you ought not to be afraid to step out by faith on it. His name was Jack Vincent, he was a widower and it happened in October 1931. He was a southern American Presbyterian, and he had been captured by bandits in China. The government forces had surrounded the building, and the bandits that he was captured by offered the missionary freedom if he would implore and persuade the forces of China to retreat and let them all out. Vincent agreed that he would do that on the condition that they would release not only him, but other captives. The bandits refused to do that and they tried to shoot their way out of the camp, and many bandits were killed. All the survivors that were in that camp fled with Vincent, but that old missionary couldn't run because he'd had recent surgery. One bandit shot him. Then another ran up to him and cut off his head. The daughter of a Chinese pastor was among the government troops and she recalled having heard a bandit tell him: 'I'm going to kill you. Are you afraid?'. Vincent replied simply: 'Kill me if you wish. I will go straight to God'.
One of his colleagues, E.H. Hamilton, was inspired to write this poem, and I believe it captures the attitude of what the Lord is teaching. Listen to this - you can be a martyr and not die. It's a martyr's attitude that the Lord is speaking of:
'Afraid of what?
To feel the Spirit's glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace?
The strife and strain of life to cease?
Afraid of that?
Afraid of what?
Afraid to see the Saviour's face?
To hear His welcome and to trace
The glory gleam from wounds of grace?
Afraid of that?
Afraid of what?
A flash, a crash, a pierced heart?
Darkness - light of Heaven's art?
A wound of His a counterpart,
Afraid of that?
Afraid of what?
To do by death what life could not?
Baptise with blood a stony plot
'Til souls shall blossom from the spot,
Afraid of that?'
'Except a corn of wheat fall in the ground and die, it abideth alone'.
Let's pray and bow our heads. Maybe you didn't know that when you chose to trust Christ that you chose to be insulted, you chose injustice, you chose inconvenience and you chose to be most indulgent. In fact, do you know what you chose? You chose to lose your life that you might find it in Heaven. Are you sure you chose Christ? Choose that narrow road today for it is the road of blessing.
Lord Jesus, help us. Who is sufficient for these things? We know that only the life of Christ satisfies the life of God. We pray that the life of Christ would be manifest in our bodies; that the dying and the living of the Lord Jesus would be seen in us; that men would see our good works and not glorify us, but our Father which is in Heaven. Give us grace, we pray, to be epistles written unto men. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tenth tape in his 'Sermon On The Mount' series, titled "Turn The Other Cheek" - Transcribed by Trevor Veale, Preach The Word.
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