Today you heard Christ’s continuing commentary upon the Christian’s life of salt and light. Christ said, “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…. [L]et him have your cloak as well…. [G]o with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you…. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….” You heard that and said, “Really? Really!?!” And Christ says, “Yes, really.”
Christians radically depart from the way the world operates. Christians abandon traditional ways of thinking. Christians abandon even the ways that governments function. This isn’t to say that you rebel against government or declare yourself no longer a citizen of any nation. So far as you are in the world, you operate under their rules. It is to say, that where you have no call or office to punish or revenge, as the government has, then you do none of those things. Christ removes the right of personal revenge from you. So far as you are a Christian living in this world, you put up with all things. You even renounce hatred towards your enemies. Paul writes: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”
This surpasses the Pharisees. This is being perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, holy as the LORD is holy. And it is Christ’s way. It’s the way of the One who did not work to overthrow the king who murdered the children of Bethlehem to get Him. It’s the way of the One who stood silent throughout the most heinous of trials. It is the way of the One who “offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.”
In Christ you see the paragon of non-resistance. He resisted the devil when the devil tried to make the sinless One sinful in the desert, or, when He removed the devil from those bewitched by His minions, mercifully exorcising demon after demon. But when struck by the devil’s tools, He put up no fight. When brought to court for His preaching, He offered up His life. When forced to endure beatings and scourging, He went the next mile to bloody death on the cross. When asked to give, He gave everything, as the apostle told the Corinthians: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Even though the punishment did not fit the crime, He did this. Though He had committed no sin and no deceit was found in His mouth, He did this. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
Christ did this not for friends, but enemies. Paul: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” You were not good. You were born in sin. You were not and, apart from Christ and faith in Him, are not perfect and holy. Every inclination of your heart is evil from childhood. Paul: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” You were, by definition, an enemy of God, of Christ. And had Christ been a pagan like so much of the world around you, He would have done nothing extraordinary for you. Recall Jesus’ words today: “If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the pagans do that?” But Christ is no pagan. Christ is the eternal Son of the eternal God who defines Himself as love, the love that loved a world of enemies so “that He gave up His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” And so "because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
While you were an enemy, Christ loved you. He prayed for you throughout His ministry. Even in the hours before His own cruel death, He found the energy and the desire to pray for you, as John 17 records: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.” That’s you, believer in Christ, even before you were conceived and born in all your glorious sinfulness, Christ prayed for you, Christ knew you. He prayed for the faith that God the Father determined in eternity to work in His elected believers, in the Christians whom He chose from all eternity to belong to Him. He prayed for the Word of Christ to be brought to you in time, to graft you into the vine of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.
And while you were still an enemy of His, Christ didn’t just die for you. He called you. The blessed apostle wrote to Pastor Titus: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” He who “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” rained His grace upon you in a baptismal font, and right then and right there He saved you and He recreated you, when He gave you the riches that Christ abandoned.
On account of this death made yours through the external Word of Baptism and through the preaching of the Word into your heart, Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Now, in Christ, because of Christ, you are a new creation, just as Christ showed when He displayed the pierced hands and side and those wounds no longer fatal, wounds that now mark His victory over death, which at your Baptism God made your victory over death.
In Christ, and on account of Christ, you, who were unholy and imperfect, God declares holy and perfect. The sainted Dr. Luther confessed for you what you confess still: “Although sin in the flesh has not yet been completely removed or become dead, yet He will not punish or remember it…. What is still sinful or imperfect in them will not be counted as sin or defect, for Christ’s sake.” God made the sinless Christ the bearer of your sin. He made Christ sin itself, so that you are now righteous and holy by faith in Christ; perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect, by a righteousness and holiness that God gives to you and declares upon you for Christ’s sake as we heard in our study of Galatians last week: Jesus “gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.”
Yet the stain has not been completely removed, has it? These words of Christ elicit that expression of unbelief, “Really?!” It is not easy, nor desirable, to let evil go unresisted. It is not easy, nor desirable, to love enemies and pray for enemies. You are weak.
But when you are weak, then you are strong. In your weakness you creep and crawl to Christ, Christ who strengthens you with His perfection and holiness, who gives you His holy body to eat and His holy blood to drink, the fountain of youth and life in every celebration of His holy sacrament. The cleansing flood of Christ’s blood making its way down your throat and into your soul beats back the sickness of sin; the very same blood that you wear as your daily clothing, now that you are baptized. The blood that the Spirit reapplies to you when you take your sins and lay them before God, confessing them to a friend in Christ or to your pastor, and hearing the beautiful proclamation, “Your transgressions are forgiven. Your sins are covered. The LORD does not count them against you anymore. Because Christ made you His friend. Because Christ has made you perfect.” Amen.