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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

70 - Faith and Mercy - Matthew 5:33-48

1)      Following the beatitudes Jesus then spends some time adding some other concepts around Christian living as well as expanding on the Beatitudes. Later in this book in Mathew 23:23 Jesus says this: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. Last week we discussed how murder, unjust accusations, adultery and coveting were all under the heading of Justice.

2)      Today in verses 33-48 we will see Jesus expand on the faith and mercy portions of this statement beginning with faith.

3)      Jesus Forbids Oaths 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

a.       The Jehovah’s witnesses have a policy of not saying the pledge of allegiance. So do some Amish and other Christian groups. They take this verse in a literal sense. While I don’t agree with these groups, I admire people who are willing to live out their convictions. Some of these will apply this to military service, the swearing to defend the constitution from all enemies foreign or domestic. Some think that this means they can’t take an oath of office or an oath to tell the truth while on the stand. Others have seen it as a reason not to take an oath of ordination for a religious organization.

b.       I believe these groups have it wrong. The idea here is not this. These oaths may be valuable in the sense that they demonstrate and verbalize a commitment to a cause. My own belief is that the best way to understand this is that we are to have no loyalties above our loyalty to God. I’m sure you’ve known people who are loyal to a company, to an organization or to a person in such a way that God is in second place. Ultimately this is a call against idolatry. Here are some relevant verses:

                                                               i.      Exodus 20:3 You shall have no other gods before Me

                                                             ii.      Matthew 10:32-33 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

                                                           iii.      Matthew 10: 35-36 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

c.       I know of two families who have kids who are confused about their sexuality thanks to our current cultural situation. One family has chosen to entertain their daughter’s gender confusion by calling her by their preferred name which is a male name. They are supporting hormone replacement therapy and even surgery. In this case they have chosen a loyalty to their daughter over God. They are worshipping at the altar of family unity. The other family has rejected their son’s claims of homosexuality as an unbiblical position and has suffered a fracture that only seems to grow wider. But this family is committed to putting God first.

d.       Sometimes people put money or fame or position on the altar and worship at the foot of those things instead of the foot of the cross. I’m in the car business and while I work for an ethical dealership where we tell the truth and treat our customers with respect, this is not the norm in our industry and the opportunity and temptation to lie to customers is strong. In other places in the industry I’ve been asked to do unethical things. Sometimes I even did them. Finally, about 15 years ago, I left one business over the owner’s insistence on taking advantage of a customer. I was an instrument of his opportunism that I’m convinced was hurting his customers and his team members. I had to leave, but I’m ashamed that my concern for my job and my position overruled my Christian standards for a time.

e.       Sometimes it’s sex that is on the altar. Politics, business, celebrities and yes, the church have had no shortage of those who worship at the altar of their sexuality and are driven by this over loyalty to Jesus.

4)      Now Jesus turns his attention to Mercy:

a.       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.

                                                               i.      The old law in Exodus 21:24 directed judges to inflict penalties precisely equivalent to offences “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. That was not for the guidance of individuals, but for the judicial process. It was suited for the stage of civilization in which it was given, and more likely it was a restriction, rather than a sanction. It was to keep judges from disproportionate retaliatory sentences and in the case where a man took justice into his own hands, to judge the action. Jesus does away with this restriction and restricts it even further. For He forbids not only retaliation but even resistance.

                                                             ii.      Jesus begins by urging His followers “not to resist an evil person. The concept of non-resistance was totally foreign to this audience. This isn’t passive acceptance; rather, it’s a call to relinquish the desire for revenge or retaliation. Instead of seeking retribution, we’re to respond differently.

                                                           iii.      Imagine someone slapping you on the right cheek. In the cultural context of Jesus’ time, this was more than a physical act—it was an insult, a demeaning gesture. Rather than retaliating, Jesus instructs us to offer the other cheek as well. This response defies our natural instincts.

                                                           iv.      Jesus isn’t advocating for passivity or weakness. He’s revealing a heart posture—one that refuses to perpetuate cycles of violence or hatred. Turning the other cheek isn’t about endorsing abuse; it’s about breaking the cycle and demonstrating love even in the face of mistreatment.

                                                             v.      When wronged, our instinct is often to retaliate. But Jesus calls us to forgive—to release the desire for payback. This doesn’t mean we ignore injustice; rather, we entrust it to God’s justice.

                                                           vi.      Turning the other cheek isn’t about weakness; it’s about love. It’s saying, “I won’t perpetuate this violence. I won’t take justice into my own hands. I choose to respond with grace and to allow the justice of God to prevail” It’s about taking the long view and trusting God for the ultimate justice and punishment of evildoers.

                                                          vii.      Jesus contrasts His teaching with the legal principle of “an eye for an eye.” While that principle served as a guide for judges, Jesus elevates love above mere justice. Our hearts should reflect His love, not just legal codes.

5)      Let’s explore the difference between forgiveness and non-resistance:

a.      Forgiveness:

                                                              i.      Forgiveness is the act of pardoning or releasing someone from the consequences of their wrongdoing. It involves letting go of resentment, anger, and the desire for revenge.

                                                             ii.      Forgiveness focuses your own internal state when you are wronged. It’s a choice to extend grace and mercy, even when justice might demand otherwise. In fact justice may demand otherwise, but it is the justice of God that is to deliver the consequences.

                                                           iii.      To forgive, we acknowledge the offense, empathize with the offender, and intentionally choose not to hold the offense against them.

                                                           iv.      Forgiveness leads to healing, restoration, and freedom from emotional bondage. It doesn’t necessarily erase the memory of the offense but changes our response to it.

b.      Non-Resistance:

                                                              i.      Non-resistance refers to refraining from retaliating or resisting evil or harm. It’s a deliberate choice to avoid responding with violence, hatred, or revenge.

                                                             ii.      Non-resistance focuses on external actions. It’s about refusing to perpetuate cycles of harm or violence, even when provoked.

                                                           iii.      Non-resistance can manifest in various ways, such as turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, or responding with love when mistreated.

                                                           iv.      Jesus taught non-resistance. He challenged His followers to break the cycle of retaliation and trust in God’s justice.

c.      Forgiveness deals with the heart and emotions. Non-resistance deals with practical actions and behavior. Both of these ideas rise above our natural inclinations and embrace a higher standard based on love, grace and the idea that God’s goodness will result in ultimate justice.

6)      Continuing the idea, Jesus provides additional examples in verses 40-42:

a.       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.

                                                              i.      The tunic was the more expensive, more ample outer garment. Many people only had one tunic because of the expense. Imagine having a coat so expensive that it was the target of a lawsuit. It was an important garment for protection from the weather, hot/cold or rainy, and from insects. To give up your tunic meant to be exposed and vulnerable.

                                                             ii.      If compelled to go one mile, willingly go two. This often happened in a society oppressed by unjust rulers, whether the Romans or the officials of the temple.

7)      In all these examples of the slap on the cheek, the lawsuit for your clothing and the second mile, the idea here is to do these things willingly. If you do them with a boiling anger inside, this is not the spirit of what Jesus is commanding. From within us is to flow streams of living water, not of hot, molten lava.

8)      Love your enemies

a.       43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

b.       Jesus begins by contrasting the prevailing teaching: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” The religious leaders had narrowed the definition of “neighbor” to their own people. But Jesus expands it to include everyone, even those considered enemies. Remember when Jesus is asked by the lawyer who is his neighbor, he responds with the story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritans and the Jews were enemies, yet the Samaritan didn’t care about this but demonstrated love for the Jew who had been beaten and robbed.

c.       He challenges us to love indiscriminately—to extend kindness, compassion, and goodwill to all, regardless of their status or actions.

d.       Jesus doesn’t stop at love; He goes further. We’re to pray for those who mistreat us. This is the radical love of God, who loves even those who hate Him.

e.       By praying for our enemies, we align ourselves with the heart of God. God blesses every person on earth. This what he means by the sun rising on the evil and on the good and the rain falling on the just and the unjust. As God blesses all, we are to bless all.

f.        Jesus connects love for enemies with our identity as children of God. When we love as He loves, we reflect our heavenly Father’s character.

g.       God’s love isn’t limited to the deserving; it’s lavish and all-encompassing. Our love should mirror His. If we only love those who love us, who doesn’t do that? Everyone does that. Jesus is calling us to a radical love that is totally different than our natural instinct.

h.       Jesus concludes by urging us toward perfection. Not a flawless performance, but maturity in love. Jesus is well aware of our inability to be perfect, yet he urges us toward this as a goal

i.         Our love should mirror God’s—unconditional, generous, and inclusive of all.

j.         Just as God’s love transcends boundaries, ours should too. We’re called to more than loving those who love us. We’re challenged to love those who oppose us, harm us, or hold different beliefs. It’s not easy, but it will change your life.

k.       Praying for enemies softens our hearts and aligns us with God’s purposes.


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