Sermon: Crazy Love Like Our Father (Lk. 6:27-36)
Kevin P. Larson, 06.01.08,
My son and I, after much anticipation, had the opportunity to see the new Indiana Jones flick last Sunday afternoon, and we really enjoyed it. But, for the past year or two, at the Larson house, we have watched the other three films repetitively, especially recently, readying ourselves for the new installment. A scene from the second one, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, came to mind when studying today’s passage. Dr. Jones’ has a sidekick named Short-Round. He’s a young boy of Asian descent. He has a number of great one-liners throughout the film, but a memorable one is found at the end. Indy and his girl, Willie, along with Short-Round, find themselves trapped on a flimsy bridge suspended far above a river infested with alligators. They have bad guys on each side, and there’s no where to go. Jones takes his sword and holds it in the air as the enemies close in on them. He motions to Short-Round to hold on, and the kid begins to wrap his arms and legs with the ropes of the bridge. He says to Willie, “Hang on lady; we going for a ride!” Willie starts to freak out, and says, “Is he nuts?” Short-Round responds, “He no nuts; he’s crazy!” Indiana Jones cuts the bridge in half, they smash into the side of the cliff, and the climactic fight ensues.
My question for us this morning is this: are we doing anything crazy? I’d argue that, if we’re not, we’re not seeking the Lord. Now some people have watched the latest Indy flick and have said, “This is goofy. This couldn’t happen in real life.” Obviously those people haven’t seen the original films, because, yeah, he’s Indiana Jones, and he does a lot of crazy things, and hanging out with him could certainly get you killed. Not really real life stuff. But we could say the same thing, even more so, of being close to Jesus. The closer we are to Him, the crazier the things we do. We go on mission trips to places that could blow up any minute in fighting, like
The craziest thing we do, that gets expressed in those types of missions, is extend love. Because we’re humans, made in His image, we have this longing to love and be loved. But because we’re fallen humans, we struggle to do it well. What characterizes redeemed humans, those who are being remade into His image again, is a distinctive love. As we gather together, as His people, we experience a bit of what it was like for Adam and Eve in the garden in perfect community. And that’s crazy. But it gets crazier than that.
Have you seen the movie Hotel Rwanda? That gripping film shows a glimpse of the conflict between the warring Tutsi and Hutu tribes in that African country that left as many as 800,000 Tutsis dead. The true story shows how a hotel manager named Paul saves a group of people packed in his hotel, including some of his own family. But there’s a new film out entitled As We Forgive. It follows two Rwandan women who, as their website states, come “face-to-face with the men who slaughtered their families during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.” Apparently the film tracks a reconciliation project in the country where ex-prisoners, as many as 50,000 of them, are released back into the communities they destroyed and are building homes for those that survived, and even family members of those they killed. There, in the midst of that situation, people like the women in the movie are choosing to forgive. That, my friends, is crazy love. In this fallen world, we have enemies, people that oppose us. Jesus calls us to love them. And it’s crazy, friends. But, by His grace, it can happen in real life.
We continue our series today through the gospel of Luke entitled “Jesus in the Margins.” Jesus in Luke reaches out to people we want to push out of the center of life. He also speaks to parts of our lives that we want pushed to the edges, outside of His authority. Today Jesus calls us to love people we want to marginalize—our enemies. And he’s calling us to deal with a key aspect of life that we try to push to the edges—how we treat those who oppose us. Let’s begin with prayer.
We see here a transition from last week’s passage that Jeremy handled quite well. Jesus moves from talking about the nature of those that are His disciples, to speaking of the conduct of those people in relationship to Him. How should we live? That comprises the rest of this section of Christ’s teaching here in Luke. We ended last week with v. 26, which reads, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” In the verse parallel to it, up in v. 22, Christ speaks of people excluding us and reviling us and spurning our names as evil on account of Him. People will persecute us. Here our Lord tells us how to handle such people. We are called to love them, and again, that’s crazy.
Notice four aspects of this passage. In vv. 27-28, we see some commands, or, rather, one command that is restated and explained three more ways. In vv. 29-30, we see illustrations of how this love looks in practice. V. 31 seems to summarize it all, giving us a principle by which we should live. Vv. 32-36 gives an explanation of why this love is needed. Let’s take each of those sections in turn.
First, the commands. Do these seem crazy to you? Listen to them again:
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
Think how countercultural and how difficult these are as fallen humans to pull off. Don’t we naturally want to harm our enemies? Don’t we want to do bad to those who hate us? Don’t we want to curse back at those who curse us? Don’t we want to do anything but pray for those who abuse us? I was watching this documentary on the History Channel the other night that described the gang culture in L.A. in the 80s and 90s. Apparently at one point in the 90s, around the time that Tupac Shakur got killed, there was a truce between the Crips and the Bloods. But it only lasted 3 months before the bloodshed resumed.
It was too hard to be friends with someone that had gunned down your family. It was too crazy. By definition, enemies are those that hate us. And it’s not easy at all to do.
But let some truths help us in this calling. First, if you were a member of the Crips trying to live out this truce, it would be helpful if you had an example—an older, more experienced gang member to follow. We have, my friends, our Lord Jesus Christ, who showed remarkable love to those who hated Him. The ultimate expression of this, of course, was on the cross. As recorded in Luke 23:34, Christ, while hanging there, cries out to His Father, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Jesus, the second Adam, the one who came to live perfectly and undo everything that first man did, shows us what it looks like to be truly human. And that gets displayed in this kind of love. We are called to follow Him in this.
But, second, if you were a Crip again, it would help to know that any further violence would be dealt with. Maybe you’d count on the police to be there to right any further wrongs that happened. Also available to us is the truth that God is our avenger. As much as we want to get revenge against our enemies when they harm us, it’s not our job. Listen to Rom. 12:19-20.
Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."
The Lord again is the one who will judge at the last day. And He will right all wrongs then. Also, He is the one who punished Jesus on the cross. We can be confident, friends, that whoever we encounter will either, first, if an unbeliever, suffer for their sins on the last day at the judgment, or, if they do know Him, second, Jesus suffered on their behalf on the cross. Either way, vengeance is not our job. It’s either already been taken care of, or it will be taken care of in the future. And inflicting double-jeopardy on people isn’t cool.
Because of our sin, we could never administer justice rightly. We’re not the holy, divine Judge. So, it’s our calling to love. But, again, that’s crazy. Either we follow the example of someone who always showed love but ended up getting crucified. Or we trust for some future day of judgment when a God we can’t see will right all wrongs. He handles justice. We show mercy. It’s crazy. But it’s our calling as Christians.
Well, what does this look like in practice? This is not just some feeling in the heart. It shows up in our actions. There, again, in vv. 29-30, we second see two illustrations of what this looks like.
First, in verse 29, Christ says, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” This love leads away from retaliation. We’re not to hit back. But this is more about insult than assault here. It likely refers to a blow with the back of the hand, which was seen as grossly insulting in those days and still is today in that part of the world.
Now there may be times where we take this quite literally and, if punched in the face, we give someone the opportunity to do it again. But more likely, we will be insulted by the words of others. Then we must choose to respond in retaliation or love. When someone at work looks at a school project you’ve worked on and calls you a failure, what will you do? Or when someone tells you how to do something that you learned about months ago, what will you do? When someone talks to the boss behind your back, will you hit back? Will you tolerate being insulted?
This reminds me of the hilarious Seinfeld episode entitled, “The Revenge.” There Jerry thinks he leaves a large sum of cash in his laundry bag and when it doesn’t turn up, he thinks it’s the launderer. He with Kramer end up pouring cement into one of his washing machines. They get caught, the repair ends up costing $1200, and they find the money, the same amount, in Kramer’s laundry bag.
Meanwhile, George gets fired from his job and resolves to get revenge on his boss. He decides to get Elaine’s help and “slip a mickey” into his drink at an office hangout at a bar. Elaine does the deed, and just before he drinks it, George gets his job back. The boss drinks it, gets sick, and George is fired again. What Jerry and George do here is normal. But what do we do? Do we do go that way or be crazy and love?
Second, in verse 29, our Lord also says, “And from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.” This love leads to generosity. Know that for the Jew, your coat couldn’t be taken away. The poor needed it to keep them warm at night and function as somewhat of a bed, so God made sure they would be protected. Exodus 22:26-27 says this:
Exodus 22:26 If ever you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, 27 for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
The point is that we shouldn’t even cling to our “rights.” We should be ready to be taken advantage of. And Jesus goes beyond this, saying, “Don’t just give up your coat. Give them your undershirt, as well!” Now getting mugged may not be a regular occurrence for us. But what do we do when taken advantage of? What do we do when we’re at the auto shop, and we know the guy fixed something that didn’t need fixed? What do we do when someone seems to steal a promotion from us at work? What will we do when someone we’re ministering with doesn’t pull his own weight? Will we tolerate having our rights violated? Will we fight back or love?
I read this story recently on the NPR site of a man named Julio Diaz. The 31-year-old New York man gets off the subway each night after work and eats at his favorite diner. One night, he got off the subway and ran into a teenager pulling a knife on him. What did Diaz do? Listen:
He handed him his wallet. And, as the kid was walking away, he said, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm." The kid looked at him funny, so he said, Diaz replied: "If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me ... hey, you're more than welcome.” They then proceeded to go to the diner and sit down and eat. "The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi," Diaz says. "The kid was like, 'You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'" "No, I just eat here a lot," Diaz says he told the teen. "He says, 'But you're even nice to the dishwasher.'" Diaz replied, "Well, haven't you been taught you should be nice to everybody?" "Yea, but I didn't think people actually behaved that way," the teen said. Sometime later, the bill arrived. Diaz told the teen, "Look, I guess you're going to have to pay for this bill 'cause you have my money and I can't pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I'll gladly treat you." He then gave the kid $20 back and asked just one thing in return: the knife. And the kid gave it to him. Diaz said this: "I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world."
Punching the kid in the face and running off is normal. But Julio Diaz is crazy in his love. What do we do?
Jesus seems to make a summary point in v. 30. He says, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods, do not demand them back.” What is our default mode? Do we retaliate? Do we give freely?
In all of this, again, Jesus is our example. Jesus didn’t retaliate or resist. 1 Peter 2:23 says, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” He did this, again, because He trusted God to right all wrongs. And our Lord was and is generous. As 2 Cor. 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Are we showing crazy love like our Lord?
Let’s turn third to the principle given in v. 31. Remember what Julio Diaz said? "I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right."
This sounds like Jesus here. Our Lord says, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” This is what has been called the “Golden Rule.” Now people before Jesus had said things similar to what he says here. Apparently the well-known Rabbi Hillel was challenged by a Gentile just before the time of Jesus to summarize the whole law in the amount of time he could stand on one leg. Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it” (Carson, 187). Confucius apparently said, “Do not to others what you would not wish done to yourself.”
Now this amounts to saying this: if you don’t like being punched in the face, don’t punch someone else in the face. But notice, however, that Jesus goes beyond that. He says, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Always before, this idea had been worded in the negative—don’t do to someone what you wouldn’t want done to you. Here it’s worded in the positive—do do to someone what you would want done to you. Jesus gives us a principle for living that sums up this teaching to “love your enemies” that is also illustrated as we have just seen. And it’s crazy.
Let me amplify this in several quick ways. This love is expressed through activity. We are not to just sit around and wait for happy thoughts about our enemies. Again, those don’t come easily. Rather, we’re supposed to get up and serve them. The key word here is “do.”
But this love is not limited to activity. Love is also more than action. In 1 Corinthians 13:3, Paul says, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” One can certainly do actions—give to the poor and submit to martyrdom—and not truly love. One can feasibly do things on the outside that don’t reflect the inside; the Pharisees did this a lot. The Lord wants to change our hearts so that we truly feel kindness toward our enemies.
This love is not qualified by lovability. Obviously, if these people are our enemies, it’s assumed that it won’t be the easiest to love them emotionally. If we wait for people to be lovable before we love them, we never will.
This love is not preceded by charity. Again, if these people are our enemies, we should not expect them to love us before we love them. If we wait for them to love us first, then we’ll never get to loving them.
This love is not contingent upon reciprocity. If these people are our enemies, we shouldn’t expect them to return our love with love. We don’t care for them expecting anything in return. That isn’t Jesus’s point. We should, in fact, assume they’ll never appreciate it. If we wait until the point when that is guaranteed, we will never love.
This love is not realized through folly. There are two errors we can make in the church based on these passages. On one hand, we can ignore it, saying, “We’re not to take this literally. Jesus didn’t really mean this.” But on the other hand, we can take it overly literally. I don’t think he wanted us all to walk around naked, not wearing even underwear. I don’t think he just wanted us to give our wallet to the first person we saw. The second person we saw might need it more. I don’t think Jesus wants women beaten by their husbands to just stand there like punching bags. Jesus here is using hyperbole. He’s using shocking, exaggerated language to wake us up. And his point is this: what’s our default mode? Do we jump to retaliate? Do we tend toward generosity? What do we wake up in the morning ready to show? Love or vengeance?
This love must begin in community. We can talk about loving our enemies, but what can be hard is to love the church. People can see, if we love one another, the glory of that, think we’re crazy, and be drawn to us. But, sometimes, we can think about loving our enemies, and get all excited about that, but we can’t love those in front of our face.
The people around us, His people, we want to stick in the eye. Yes, we’re to love our enemies. But let’s start by loving our brothers and sisters.
Also, this love is characterized by mercy. Notice how Jesus sums up the whole passage, again showing us what this love for enemies entails. He says, in v. 36, “Be merciful even as your Father is merciful.” Mercy is not giving people what they deserve. Enemies, again, in our view, need a punch in the face. But mercy means not giving them that. It means entrusting God to take care of the situation. This is what love for enemies looks like.
Jesus here calls us to do to others what we would want done to us. He calls us to show mercy. That isn’t normal in our culture, friends. Are we living with crazy love?
Let’s conclude by seeing the explanations of why this kind of love is needed. First, we must love like this or we’re nothing special. Listen again to vv. 32-34.
Luke 6:32 "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.
What’s Christ’s point? It’s that such love isn’t crazy. This is what “sinners” or unbelievers do. They love their kids and are nice to their buddies and scratch the backs of those who scratch theirs. There is nothing supernatural about that. It’s nothing special at all. No greater power is needed. This is natural. Jesus calls us to something greater.
Second, we must love like this to receive the kingdom. V. 35 says, “Extend this kind of radical love and ‘your reward will be great.’” It’s not as if this kind of love earns the kingdom. Again, it shows that we’re part of the kingdom, that we’ll be with His people, in His place, under His rule forever one day.
Third, we must love like this to display our sonship. V. 35 goes on to say, “And you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Again, we don’t love like this to become His children, but, rather, behaving in this way shows that we’re His. In the latest Indiana Jones, we see the new character, a young man named Mutt, sword-fighting the bad guys while riding in the back of a Jeep. We see him swinging through the trees on vines like monkeys. We find out in the movie that he is Indiana Jones’ son from his old flame Marion. And it doesn’t surprise us, because, he had already acted like his old man. All the time, as I’m out in the community with my son, Hadley, people look at him and look at me, and say, “Wow. He looks like you.” As we love, we show we’re the children of our Heavenly Father.
We resemble Him because He displays crazy love. Recently actress Sharon Stone baffled some Chinese journalists at a French film festival by attributing the recent earthquake to “karma.” She said that the death of 67,000 people came about because of the way China is treating the people of Tibet. She said, “Is that karma? When you are not nice, bad things happen to you.” Well, truly God judges people at times in this world. And He will certainly do it in the next. But, by and large, God is, as the verse says, “kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” He’s nothing like she thinks. He is patient with us, broken, defiant sinners. He responds to a world of people who give Him the bird with kindness.
Do we see this as crazy? I don’t think we often do. We operate with the assumption that we’re basically good people and that God owes us something. But that’s not the biblical picture at all. I recently read of the minister that baptized former serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer asked him if heaven was for him, too, and the guy said, yes. He has endured some grief for baptizing him, although he’s convinced his conversion was genuine. People have said they didn’t want to go to any heaven that would have a place for a man like him. Jeffrey Dahmer, in heaven?
That’s crazy, they said. And it is. But hear this: Rom. 5:10 says, “For if while we were still enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Apart from Christ, in our sin, we are called enemies of God—not just sickos like Dahmer. The more and more we see His great holiness, and the more and more we see our great sin, the crazier and crazier it seems that God would love us. And that allows us to see the gospel of Jesus as that much bigger and that much glorious. And it gives us amazing joy. Simply put, God loves His enemies, people like us, and, if we’re His kids, we will, too. It’s crazy that God is merciful to bad people like Kevin Larson. And, if we keep that in the front of our minds, it doesn’t seem quite as crazy to love the mean people around us.
So, I’ll conclude with this: is your love crazy? This is what Jesus demands—love for enemies, something qualitatively different from that of the world around us. This is what must be evidenced to receive the rewards of the kingdom. This is what must be displayed to prove that we are His children. And it’s a love that is supernatural, that requires a power beyond us. It’s something we can’t do on our own. It’s something we desperately need help to do.
Again, Jesus is our example in doing this, but if you’re anything like me, I try to follow His example, and I fail—over and over again. We need more than an example. We need a Savior. The good news, what we call the gospel, is that Jesus came to earth and perfectly loved those around Him. And then He went to the cross and died for people who fail miserably at extending this kind of love, people like the thief on the cross next to Him, people like you and me. Jesus did all of this. And if we trust Him, seeing Him as supremely beautiful and valuable, that life and death is given to us. And, beyond that, He then works this kind of love in us. He enables us to crazily love our enemies by His Spirit. Does this gospel sound crazy? Yes. This is why we call it amazing grace. And it sounds really, really sweet.