Summary: In this lesson we learn that Jesus calls his disciples to love our enemies.
Jesus opened his “Sermon on the Plain” with a description of the blessings that belong to those who have entered the kingdom of God, and he also warned those who have not yet entered the kingdom of God.
Then Jesus described how his disciples were to live as citizens of the kingdom of God. Unlike many preachers, Jesus did not soft-peddle his message. He did not try to sugar coat what he was about to say. He did not ease into his message with a funny story aimed to set his disciples at ease. No. Jesus immediately gave his disciples what commentator Philip Graham Ryken calls “The Hardest Commandment.”
Let’s read Luke 6:27-36, which is the section of Jesus’ sermon where he teaches disciples to “Love Your Enemies”:
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)
All of us find some people easy to love and others more difficult to love. And, if we probed deep enough, we would discover that there are some people we really don’t like at all. In fact, some of us might even admit to hating them.
In his outstanding commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Philip Ryken tells the story of Ernest Gordon who wrestled with the question of loving our enemies. Ernest Gordon was a prisoner of war in the infamous Japanese work camp on the River Kwai during World War II. Extremely harsh conditions brought Gordon to the verge of death. Finally, Gordon writes,
I was headed for the Death House. I was so ill that I didn’t much care. But I was hardly prepared for what I found there. The Death House had been built at one of the lowest points of the camp. The monsoon was on, and, as a result, the floor of the hut was a sea of mud. And there were the smells: tropical ulcers eating into flesh and bone; latrines overflowed; unwashed men, untended men, sick men, humanity gone sour, humanity rotting . . . . The last shreds of my numbed sensibilities rebelled against my surroundings – against the bed bugs, the lice, the stenches, the blood-mucous-excrement-stained sleeping platforms, the dying and the dead bedmates, the victory of corruption. This was the lowest level of life.
In the providence of God, and through the compassion of some of his army friends, Gordon did not die, but survived. More than that, he and many of the men in his camp came to faith in Jesus Christ. They learned to love each other.
Yet they still found it impossible to love their enemies. As Gordon writes,
We had learned from the gospels that Jesus had his enemies just as we had ours. But there was a difference: he loved his enemies. He prayed for them. Even as the nails were being hammered through his hands and feet, he cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We hated our enemies. We could see how wonderful it was that Jesus forgave in this way. Yet for us to do the same seemed beyond our attainment.
Whether it seems beyond attainment or not, Jesus commands all his disciples to love their enemies.
If you are a Christian here today, if you are a disciple of Jesus, then today’s message is aimed directly at you and me.