Summary: Jesus redefines the new righteousness by redefining sin itself: beyond the concrete act, sin begins with the intention of the heart. (Michael Card - The Gospel of Identity, P. 57)
Title: A New Righteousness Part III
Text: Matthew 5:38-42
Thesis: Jesus redefines the new righteousness by redefining sin itself: beyond the concrete act, sin begins with the intention of the heart. (Michael Card, Matthew – The Gospel of Identity, P. 57)
Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” Matthew 5:20
I have always wondered why some people seem to be so predisposed to be so bitter, vengeful and out to get revenge. I have assumed they were miserable people as they wallowed in their perceived slights and wrongs and plotted their revenge. But now I’m told revenge is sweet. It feels good to get revenge. It feels good to get even and even better to get a little more than even. That explains a lot doesn’t it?
While seeking to better understand the nature of aggression, David Chester of Virginia Commonwealth University, along with Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky, started studying revenge. They discovered that a person who is insulted or socially rejected feels an emotional pain. The area in the brain associated with pain was most active in participants who went on to react with an aggressive response after feeling rejected. Chester said, “It’s tapping into an ancient … tendency to respond to threats and harm with aggressive retaliation.”
In a follow-up study he was surprised to find that emotional pain was intricately yoked with pleasure. That is, while rejection initially feels painful, it can quickly be masked by pleasure when presented with the opportunity to get revenge. It even activates the brain's known reward circuit, the nucleus accumbens. People who are provoked behave aggressively precisely because it can be a rewarding experience. Revenge really can be sweet. I suppose you might compare the buzz a person gets from getting sweet revenge to a runner’s high or the release of endorphins.
I suppose there are in all honesty there are many sins that when acted upon may feel good, if that is the criteria judged to be most important by the hedonist… however, being good is the criteria judged to be most important by Jesus and the Christ-like person.
So we are not surprised this morning to see that Jesus took exception to the practice of “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” and the whole concept of revenge and getting back at someone and getting even with someone.
I. Followers of Christ are not to be people known for harboring vengeance and practicing retaliation.
Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you one the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.” Matthew 5:38-39
If you have not said it you’ve heard it, “I don’t get mad, I just get even.” But Jesus says, “Don’t get mad and don’t plan to get even.”
So we see the pattern unfolding in this teaching as in the preceding vignettes.
The Pattern of Jesus’ Teaching
1. Jesus made a Statement: “You have heard what the law says…”
2. Jesus made a Contradiction: “But I tell you that anyone…”
3. Jesus gave an Explanation: “Turn the other cheek.”
One Sunday the pastor was speaking on the subject of “turning the other cheek.” It so happened that a family with four rambunctious boys was attending and all seemed to be paying attention to the sermon as the minister pressed home the thought that “we should never try to get even” when someone hurts us. That afternoon the youngest of the boys came into the house sobbing to his mother. He had kicked one of his older brothers and his older brother had kicked him back. His mother tried to reason with him. She said, “I’m sorry you’re hurt but you shouldn’t go around kicking people.” To which the little boy replied, “But the preacher said that he isn’t supposed to kick me back.” (Jane Vajnar, “Lite Fare,” Christian Reader, 12/01/97)
When Jesus spoke of turning the other cheek he was telling his followers that we live by an even higher standard than the old law that assured those who had been wronged of at least limited damages. Jesus wanted his followers to be better! Jesus said that his followers should forego their rights rather than engage in conflicted relationships And in using the example of turning the other cheek, he is saying that even if someone back-hand, slaps you, which is a grievous personal insult, we are not to retaliate. We are not to put on the gloves. We are not to invite them to step outside. We are not to challenge them to a duel to defend our honor. We are to turn the other cheek. In the mind of Jesus, it is better to be doubly insulted than to retaliate. His followers do not harbor resentment or seek retaliation. In the mind of Jesus, a non-violent response is the best way to make an impression on people.