Matthew 5:38-48 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 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. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” Those are the words of Alice to her cat, Dinah, in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Wonderland is most certainly an upside-down, inside-out, topsy-turvy world.
The story is about a girl named Alice who is bored while sitting on the riverbank with her sister. She notices a talking, clothed White Rabbit with a pocket watch fun past her. She follows it down a rabbit hole and into Wonderland where nothing seems to make sense. Alice drinks from a bottle that shrinks her size and eats a cake that increases her size. She receives advice from a blue caterpillar sitting on a mushroom. She talks to a disappearing Cheshire Cat. She has a tea party with a hare, a Hatter and a Dormouse. She plays croquet with the Queen of Hearts while using flamingos as mallets and hedgehogs as balls.
It is a most curious tale.
The story of Alice in Wonderland plays with logic. It is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre.
The words of Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount appear to be nonsense. They are bewildering. Curious. Illogical, especially to our human nature. But that’s what happens when you live in Jesus’ perfect upside-down Kingdom.
Jesus uses some examples that everything is totally different in His Kingdom compared to how we live in this world. He has to teach us differently because God’s ways are totally unnatural to us. You see, it is natural for us to take Jesus’ words: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:22) and twist them to say, “Do it unto others before they can do it unto you.” Whether we like it or not, we keep score. We get even. We pay back as good as we get.
Jesus explains, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.” We want retaliation. Jesus teaches resistance.
Jesus explains, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” If you work out the geometry for a right-handed individual to strike the right cheek of someone else, this means a backhanded slap – an insult, not an assault. We want retaliation. Jesus teaches acceptance.
Jesus explains, “If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Living under Roman occupation, a Jewish person could be compelled by a Roman soldier to surrender his resources for the good of the soldier. He could also be commanded to carry any burden up to a mile for the soldier. We want retribution. Jesus teaches extra effort.
All of this is bewildering. None of this makes sense. It is illogical. Going out of our way to forgive. Helping out someone who is bullying us. Accepting hardship and heartache. Instead of defending our own rights, we are to sacrifice our rights for the benefit of others.
But Jesus goes even further. He explains, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Even though your enemies hate you and want nothing but your harm, you are to do what is best for them.
How crazy does all of this sound? Doesn’t it feel like you have fallen down the rabbit hole? Don’t you just want to ask Jesus, “Are you serious?!”
Jesus is serious. And His words are truth.
So, if you are really a Christian, then you need to follow Christ’s words and truths, no matter how upside-down they seem.
How’s that working out for you? No retaliation. No pound of flesh. No resistance. No rationalizing or searching for loopholes.
If someone strikes you on the right cheek, you give him a body blow to the stomach, and then maybe a kick to the head. If someone hurts your reputation, you destroy theirs. If your ex-spouse hurts you in the divorce, you hurt them even more. If your neighbor is angry with you, you purposely let your dog do his business on your neighbor’s front yard. If your boss requires you to work on a holiday, you put in the minimal effort to show your displeasure. Instead of taking our friends words and actions in the kindest possible way, we look for the worst. We speed along gossip instead of defending a reputation.
Our way is natural. It feels right. It feels good. It feeds our pride. It strokes our ego. It protects our reputation. But our way is sinful.
Our way is to fight evil and kill the evildoers. But Christ’s ways are totally opposite. They are unnatural. Christ’s way is to drown evil with love and save the evildoers. God is concerned with His reputation. He is concerned with humility. With righteousness. With forgiveness.
Sadly, we struggle with these difficult words from Jesus. When we compare the words of the Bible to the words of this world, we are struck by how different the Bible is. God has high expectations for how we live, but we’re just trying to get by. God has a plan to save us, but we tend not to think we even need saving. Because God’s Word is so different, we find ourselves wanting to set it aside. Even when we know God’s Word is good for us, we neglect it.
Jesus tells us: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Jesus calls for us to follow the example of His Father by loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. He calls for us to set aside insults and offenses – to willingly submit to inconveniences and trials. He calls for us to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus calls for these things … and we fail miserably. It’s just too hard. It’s too unnatural. It’s too completely opposite of our way of thinking and acting.
But that’s what Jesus expects in His perfect upside-down Kingdom. He expects followers who are perfect like Him, forgiving like Him, humble like Him, righteous like Him.
To show you just how upside-down, inside-out and topsy-turvy Jesus’ Kingdom is, Jesus fulfilled every one of these crazy-sounding instructions.
When Jesus was arrested, He had legions of angels at His command, yet He did not resist. When the Roman soldiers struck Jesus in the face and fell on their knees paying false homage to their king, Jesus did not retaliate. He turned the other cheek to them to have another whack. When the soldiers took Jesus’ cloak to raffle it off, He hung naked on the cross. When the soldiers forced Him to carry His own cross to Golgotha, He not only carried His cross – He carried the sins of those soldiers on His shoulders as well.
Jesus loved both His neighbors and His enemies. By nature, we are all enemies of Jesus. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ died for sinners – for those who are by nature His enemies. Jesus gave to all who asked of Him. He gave a son to His mother. He gave paradise to the repentant thief. He gave forgiveness by praying for His persecutors: “Father, forgive them for the do not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He gave faith to the Roman centurion who confessed, “Surely this man was the Son of God” (Luke 23:47).
Because of our sins we are enemies of Jesus. Yet Jesus fulfilled His own upside-down directive by loving us. By carrying all of our gossip, all our hatred, all our jealousies, all our vengeance to the cross. By going the extra mile to die for enemies like us who hated Him and persecuted Him and killed Him. By giving us God’s forgiveness, new life in Him and eternal salvation through Him. By exchanging our filthy, sin-covered tunics with the white-cloak of His righteousness.
Now, doesn’t that sound crazy?! God living in His fallen world! God suffering at the hands of His disobedient creatures! God dying for His enemies!
It was summer and the door to the inn in Ragenbach, Germany, was open to let in a breeze, as well as the lunchtime clientele. The open door also provided an easy means of entry for a snarling dog, a mad dog. Sitting near the entrance, the village blacksmith quickly grabbed the dog. “Get out while I hold him,” the smithy shouted. The dog’s teeth tore the arms and thighs of the smith, but he refused to loosen his hold.
When all the people had escaped, he flung the half-strangled beast from him against the wall, left the room, and locked the door. The dog was shot, but what about the man? To his crying friends and family the blacksmith said, “Be quiet, don’t weep. I’ve only done my duty. When I am dead, think of me with love. Before then, pray that I will not suffer long or too much. I know I shall become mad, but I will take care that no harm comes to you.”
The blacksmith went to his shop, took a strong chain, and riveted one end around his body; the other end he fastened around the anvil. Turning to his friends, he said, “It’s done! You are safe. I can’t hurt you. Bring me food while I am well, and keep out of my reach when I am mad. The rest I leave with God.” In nine days he was dead; he had died to save his friends. That was love.
That is the kind of love Jesus had – and showed – to the world, except Jesus showed that kind of love for His enemies. When we were threatened by a painful, eternal death, the Savior grabbed hold of it, reached out to it, and throttled it. Sin, Satan and death snapped and tore at Him. But He offered Himself so we might be saved.
We say it so easily, but the truth is such an action was done not without cost. Jesus had to suffer, so we might be saved. He was crucified, so we might be cleared from the curse of sin. He did all this so that we – the damned – might be delivered, and those who once had been destined for hell would be given heaven. He saved sinners. He loved the unlovable. He died for enemies.
Now Jesus invites you to do the same. Swallow your pride. Demonstrate humility. Turn the other cheek. Pray for bullies. Share the Gospel with atheists. Reach out to those of non-Christian faiths. Give the shirt and coat off your back. Forgive those who have hurt you. Love the unlovable.
How crazy is that? It’s sounds like you fell down the rabbit hole.
But that’s what it’s like living in the perfect, upside-down world of Jesus. Amen.