Jesus’ Subversive Kingdom – Part Ten

“He needs to pay for what he did…” she said almost under her breath. Others in the room nodded in agreement. I just sat there dumbfounded. This was a very difficult counseling session about 15 years ago concerning a young adult man who had inappropriately touched a 17 year-old girl after taking her home from youth group.

What he did was a very wrong and foolish thing and, yes, it needed to be “dealt with” appropriately…but that’s not what was going on here. This was an angry lynch mob looking for a pound of flesh. And these people were “mature” Christians!

I should also mention, the girl and young man were related by marriage, which added another layer to the drama.

What this was revealing was a deep-seated need for revenge. As believers, this also reveals glaring cognitive dissonance—ignoring Jesus’ teachings while thinking we’re serving Him. It’s the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matt.5:20).

Jesus’ teachings we don’t really believe

Following Jesus forces us to confront and change our thinking (called repentance) and go totally counter-cultural in our response to wrongs done to us. But we generally don’t do what we really don’t believe. And we really don’t believe this particular teaching of Jesus:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. (Matt.5:38-42 *)

This is one passage we ignore or dismiss as too unrealistic. Jesus didn’t really mean that, did He? Well, He did, and when we don’t follow His teachings, we’re not following Him, so we suffer the consequences (Matt.7:26-27).

Here are the main points of the passage:

When the Law said, “an eye for an eye…” (Lev.24:17-21; Deut.19:14-21), it was actually a restraint on violent retaliation. It was common at the time to go way overboard to avenge wrongs.  For instance, Lamech said…”If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (Gen.4:23-24). But from our perspective today, Jesus is telling us that Lamech had issues!

Offering “the other cheek” is not talking about being a doormat for abuse. It’s dealing with our perverse need for retaliation and with stopping the escalation of violence. When someone slaps you and you don’t return the favor, it creates a “hostility vacuum,” where the offender automatically senses that they’ve gone too far. A healthy person will apologize and the hostility ends.

Jesus is revealing a systemic problem in us: we hate grace! We would rather turn somebody else’s cheek!

“Going the extra mile” speaks of our willingness to go “beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees,” which includes showing grace where none has been afforded us. I will do the right thing regardless of how I’m treated by others. This is what other-centered, self-giving love looks like.

Finally, we can show this grace toward others because we understand the perpetrator is blind and broken just like us, and what Jesus meant when He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” But the question God is asking us is, do we know what we do? I don’t think we really do.

The escalation of retaliatory violence is the norm in our culture. Gangs “hit back” at what’s done to them so they don’t appear weak. And nations aren’t much different. I remember the orgy of revenge we all had against Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attack. Even we Christians seemed drunk on the dregs of bloody violence and retaliation. The spirit of murder and hate wasn’t just running rampant in our culture, but also in our churches. Not that he wasn’t a criminal who should be removed from society, but it revealed something dark and sinister in us (We will look at “enemy hatred” next time).

Theologian, Walter Wink, coined the term: “The myth of redemptive violence.” And this is one BIG myth! History should’ve taught us that retaliation never solved anything, it only perpetuates it.

Will we let Jesus deal with our “iceberg” with this issue?

What’s really going on in our soul when we need revenge? Why don’t we trust what Jesus says? What are we afraid of? Are we allowing the “Word of God” to expose the motives of our heart?

12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Heb.4:12 NLT *)

Beloved, regardless of what you think spiritual maturity is, letting God expose these things in you is what following Jesus actually looks like. Let’s not deceive ourselves; the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Gal.5:22-23).

And it should be instructive to us what’s not on this list.

* New King James Version unless otherwise noted. All emphasis added.
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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 37 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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10 Responses to Jesus’ Subversive Kingdom – Part Ten

  1. Well said, Mel.

    When we start getting into abuse issues, things can get complex, because that is an evil we have denied and failed to name for so long, people’s hearts are crying out for justice. Revenge yes, but really it’s mostly just a desperate need for validation. There’s a theft that happened, theft of trust, theft of innocence, theft of safety, so, so many things stolen. Name the evil first, then we work on forgiveness and grace.

    Nothing is too big for Christ, it is not as if there is an exemption or something when it comes to abuse, but what there often is, is a complete denial of how serious it is. So you cannot really begin to forgive until you have fully explored the nature of the offense you are forgiving.

    • Mel Wild says:

      “When we start getting into abuse issues, things can get complex, because that is an evil we have denied and failed to name for so long, people’s hearts are crying out for justice.”

      Very true. There’s some history behind these kinds of things which is why there’s so much anger. The problem is, revenge is equally evil, which only makes it worse, not better. As you said, it’s better to work through the issue, helping the perpetrator understand the gravity of the offense, seeking ultimately to restore both the perpetrator and the victim.

      We tend to automatically equate justice with punishment (retributive), but Jesus gives us a higher form of justice, which is restorative. It brings healing to all parties involved.

  2. The quickest way to really find out what is in our heart is to have someone tromp all over it. To be honest, it really concerns me that I might not find what I like.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Very true, Patrick. I don’t think any of us would fare well. But that’s the point. The problem is not that we failed the test, but that we didn’t learn anything about ourselves from the failure. Not that God causes the abuse, but it’s better to fail and learn what’s inside of us than to not risk failure and stay the same.

      As the 12-step people say, coming out of denial is the first step to recovery. Realizing what’s in our heart is a vital first step to freedom. The only change I would make with the 12-step program is that Jesus allows what’s in our heart to be revealed in order to heal us and transform us. That’s real freedom.

  3. Cindy Powell says:

    This whole series has been so good, Mel…and thought provoking. Interesting that you brought up the whole thing with Osama bin Laden. Like you inferred, it’s not that our military didn’t bravely do exactly what they needed to do, but the amount of celebrating over his death disturbed me deeply. My sentiments over that issue were NOT shared by many. It was almost as if I was being “anti-American” by remembering that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. I was genuinely shocked that so many believers thought throwing a party was the right thing to do. Then again, I daily find those places in my own heart that don’t reflect His–so I’m glad there is enough grace for all of us!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Cindy. And, yes, it’s not that criminals and terrorists shouldn’t be stopped, Stopping Osama bin Laden was definitely the right thing to do. What I’m talking about is what was going on in our heart. Our hatred and need for revenge.

      You said: “Then again, I daily find those places in my own heart that don’t reflect His–so I’m glad there is enough grace for all of us!”
      Exactly! This “revelation” is not meant to condemn us, or point the finger, but to reveal something in us so that God’s grace can heal what’s going on in our hearts. It’s a very healthy and positive thing.

      This is an example of what “taking up our cross and following Jesus” actually means. We must honestly look at our heart and, in this case, submit our need for revenge to His will. The things we typically focus on (not breaking any laws, looking like a good Christian, etc.) can been done without grace or following Jesus. Loving our enemies and giving up revenge require His empowering grace!

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