By Pastor Glenn Pease
Almost everybody agrees with the Sermon on the Mount in general, but almost nobody can agree to the specifics of the last part of chapter 5. Even Nikita Krushev, an atheist, when he was the leader of Russia, could say he agreed with the Sermon on the Mount, for even in Russia they do not consider murder, adultery, divorce, and all kinds of broken relationships as beneficial to society. Krushev said, "I only disagree on one point and that was when Christ said, 'If I am struck on the one cheek I will turn the other.' I believe in another principle: If I am hit on the left cheek, I hit back on the right cheek so strongly that the head may fall off."
Krushev was representing the vast majority of the world, for most of the religions of the world can buy into the wisdom of this great sermon, but at this point they draw back and refuse to follow. Only one non-Christian ever had the nerve to try and apply these teachings of Christ in a world of conflict, and that was Gandhi. He changed the course of history for many millions of people because he proved that the way of Christ can work. In one of the closing scenes of the movie Gandhi, a Hindu leader comes to the bedside of Gandhi, and he pleads for him to stop his fasting. He reaffirms that he will not stop until Hindus and Moslems stop fighting.
The Hindu says he hates them and cannot stop, and he explains the basis for his hatred. Moslems took his little boy and crushed his head. He in turn captured a Moslem boy and killed him by the same method. Revenge reigned in their hearts, and though everyone was miserable there was no way out of this living hell of endless retaliation. Gandhi said that there was a way out. He said to go and find another boy like the one you killed, and the one the Moslem killed, and take him into your home and raise him as a Moslem. Gandhi was saying that the only hope is to love your enemy, and he proved that even pagans can be part of the answer if they live by these principles of Christ. Unfortunately, Gandhi was one in a billion.
We are dealing with that part of the Sermon on the Mount that really separates the men from the boys. The Jews have done enormous research to show that their Rabbis, through the centuries, have come up with similar ideas to those of Jesus, but they cannot find anything to match this idea of loving your enemy. The religious leaders of the world can quote their wise and holy men in ways that show they too have many of the values of the Sermon on the Mount. But they have nothing to match the teachings of Christ on the love of one's enemies. After all, enemies by very definition are not to be loved.
E. Stanley Jones, author of dozens of marvelous books, writes of these verses we are looking at: "When I come to the following verses I breath a little faster, for we now have reached the very crux of the whole Sermon on the Mount. This refusal to retaliate, the turning of the other cheek, and the loving of one's enemies are the center of the whole. If this principle is not workable, then the heart of the sermon does not beat-it is a carcass, a dead body of doctrine. If it is workable and every other way that cuts across it is unworkable, then its heart does beat, and beating it pumps its warm life blood into every portion of the Christian soul and of Christian society and makes them live." It is hard to believe these verses can be of such great significance, but the evidence is very strong that they represent the only hope for man to escape from his own self-destruction.
Billy Graham's book Approaching Hoofbeats deals with the four horseman in the book of Revelation. In it he makes clear that the next war will be the only truly World War, for it will involve the whole world. All other wars leave millions of people detached, and they can talk about the war going on someplace else. Graham quotes the president of the United Nations General Assembly. "What have the governments of the world to respond to the fervent demand of the people's of the world that this insane arms race be stopped?" He gave his own reply by saying, "You and I know that answer, but I want to state it for the world to hear-nothing!" Things have changed since Graham wrote his book, but the fact remains that there are enough nuclear weapons to destroy the whole world many times over.
Graham knows that the end will come someday, but he feels that Christians can delay the end for generations by being the peacemakers God wants them to be. He regrets that he did not get active for world peace sooner, but he feels it is still not to late. The problem is that governments are so impersonal, and they tend to operate on the level of the legalistic, and that is not good enough. Only people can love, and it is people who will make the difference. Graham quotes Dwight Eisenhower, "I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than are governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of their way and let them have it."
Grahams favorite basis for hope is the story of Ninevah. It was a doomed city, for God had already sentenced them. It looked as hopeless as anything could be, for judgement was sure. But because of the repentance of the people when Jonah preached of God's wrath, God altered His plan for history. The response of the people so moved God that He postponed their destruction for 150 years. Graham was convinced that people can still change history today by repentance. We have taken a detour to look at the views of Billy Graham, but now we want to get back on the main road. It is the road that Jesus says is narrow, and it is not very widely traveled. It is not a popular road because most everybody is convinced it is a dead end, and will not get you anywhere.
Jesus, however, says it is the only road that will get you anywhere worth going, for it is the road that takes you to that level of living where you relate to people like God does. Only those who travel this road can be part of the answer to local and world peace. Only as Christians prove by their life that they Prince of Peace really has a strategy that works will there be any hope of the world noticing the light. One of the most important thing we can do for world peace is to learn to understand and obey these crucial teachings of our Lord.
Look at verse 39 where Jesus says, "Do not resist an evil person." The number of things this doesn't mean could fill volumes. It does not mean that if some mad man is coming at you, or your family, with a knife that you should not find a weapon to defend yourself. There is nothing spiritual about dying or suffering for such a meaningless cause. There are all kinds of evil we are to resist. Resist the devil and he will flee from you is the advice of James. Jesus resisted the evils of the Pharisees by His words and His actions as He cleansed the temple of their racketeering.
Only once do we have a record of Jesus actually taking a fist to the face, and though He did not swing back, neither did He say, "Thanks, I needed that," or turn His other cheek. He rebuked the striker. In John 18:22-23 we read, "...One of the officials near by struck Him in the face. "Is that anyway to answer the high priest? he demanded." Jesus replied, "If I said something wrong testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?" Jesus protested the unjust hit. You are obviously going the wrong direction if you think Jesus means we are to let evil have its own way, and not resist it. This leads to the totally unrealistic view of Tolstoy who said we should not have policemen, for they resist evil men, nor armies for they do the same.
Jesus did not come to abolish the law, and so the law will be needed for all time. Without force to resist evil the world would already be long pass judgment. The only reason it is not totally rotten is because of the salt and light that Christians bring to it, plus the rule of law that prevents man from being his worst. The whole purpose of law is to resist evil.
What then does Jesus mean by not resisting an evil person? Is He saying, shame on all the Christians who resisted Hitler, and who threw enough monkey wrenches into his plans so that he could not move at the speed that could have made him a world ruler? Jesus is certainly not condemning the resistance movements of history, which have been the cause of so many evil leaders to fail. Thank God for those who have and do resist evil men, and all of their satanic plots to destroy man's liberty. It was resistance to all of the evils that Britain imposed on the colonies that led to the Revolutionary War, and the birth of our great nation. Resistance to evil is what the history of Christian heroism is all about. Like I said, there is a endless number of things Jesus could not have meant by this statement.
What he meant has to do with a very specific situation, and that is one where you have been insulted, and your pride is injured, and you feel the inner compulsion to retaliate and get revenge. The being struck on the right cheek is the slap of insult. It is the strike of the offenders right hand turned over, and so you are being slapped with the back of his hand in contempt. Early Jesus taught us not to treat others with contempt. Now he is telling us how to deal with it when we are treated with contempt. Jesus says, do not add fuel to that fire in the offender. He is angry at you for some reason, and in his evil state of mind he is challenging your ego, and he insults you with his slap. You have two choices. You do back to him what he has done to you, which is the eye for eye response of the Old Testament. The problem with this is that the evil action, and the evil person doing it, sets the tone of the relationship. By reacting to evil with evil you are only feeding the negative and magnifying it, and you are becoming part of the problem.
I have another choice, however, which will make me part of the answer, and this is the one Jesus says is the way of superior righteousness. Instead of reacting to his agenda, you have an agenda of your own. I will not strike back, but turn an offer the other cheek. We are not talking about telling some big lug to knock our head off. We are talking refusal to retaliate to an insult, and instead showing our willingness to endure the insult without hatred, and a desire to get even. The turning of the other cheek is to say, "I have no intention of challenging you to a duel. Consider yourself to be the winner if that is what your ego demands." You thereby, defuse the bomb of hostility in the other. This makes you the one in control, and now the offender is forced to make a decision. He is forced to be rotten and reject this response of love, or respect you and be open to the spirit of reconciliation.
There is no guarantee that the offender will choose the way of peace, but that, at least, becomes a choice you have made possible for him. If you retaliate, there is only one choice open, and that is the way of conflict. Your choice of not resisting leaves the way clear for the choice of peace. This is how the Christian is to be a peacemaker. It is a principle that can be applied by the Christian in situations that effect races, and whole nations. Tom Skinner, the black evangelist, was converted after being the leader of the Harlem Lords in New York City. He was a tough dude. He was playing football after his conversion, and a white boy that he was blocking got very angry and slammed him in the stomach. As he bent over in pain the boy knocked him to the ground by a blow to his back. Then the boy kicked him and called him a dirty black nigger.
Tom, as a non-Christian, had pulverized many a man for far less. He got up and said, "You know that because of Jesus Christ I love you anyway." This guy was so shocked by that response that he later said, "Tom did more to rid me of prejudice than anything that has ever happened to me." Tom could have struck back and won a battle, but he would have lost the war, and that boy would have gone on hating blacks the rest of his life. Does the way of Jesus work? It is the only way that does work.
Pride is what leads to the conflicts of the world. We can't take an offense from our mate, our neighbor, our friends, or strangers, and so we retaliate and start a conflict. This same thing happens with nations. Everybody is trying to play God and respond in wrath when they are offended. God is the only one who can take offenses and not destroy the offender. He is patient until all means of peace are rejected. Jesus is saying that if you really want to be like God you will shallow your pride, and respond to offense with love rather than wrath. God gives rain and sunshine even to those who despise Him. God is in the business of redemption and not retaliation. Billy Graham points out in his book that there is a final day of judgment coming, but God hates that day, and He postpones it every chance He gets in order that more might be saved.
God gladly seeks for every possible reason to continue history. If there would have been as few as 10 righteous men in Sodom, He would have held back His judgment, and let even that very wicked culture survive. If God was only interested in judgment, He would have wrapped up the show of history long ago, but God is long suffering not willing that any shall perish. How many obedient Christians will it take to keep our nation from judgment? How many will it take to prevent the whole world from a terrible judgment? We do not know, but we do know that everyone of us plays a role in whether or not the judgment comes in our generation, or is postponed to a later generation.
The spirit of love for our enemies is basic to the survival of our world. So that millions more can be won to Christ. Not to be a peacemaker is to not care that the day of judgment could come and end the chance for the lost to find Christ. This is a spirit of contempt for mankind that is opposite of the spirit of Christ. To be like Christ we must develop a spirit of love and respect for even those who do not deserve it, because they have contempt for us and God. To develop such a spirit is more significant than we can really grasp. It gives your life meaning and purpose like nothing else can do, for it makes you part of the answer that keeps this world going so that the Gospel can keep changing the hearts of men. We feel so small, and we know we cannot save the world, but by having the spirit of Christ toward offenders we are deeply involved in saving the world.
When Christians stop being the salt and the light of world the end is sure, for the rottenness of the world will be severe that God will have to judge it. This day of judgment is sure, but it is constantly postponed due to the salt and light of those who strive to obey Jesus. Billy Graham uses the analogy of death. Death is certain for all of us, but when we get sick we do not say, "Well, I'm going to die anyway, so why fight it?" No! We say, "I will fight it with everything I know, for death can be postponed and put off for years. Many battles can be fought and won, and so I will keep fighting." Some have escaped death many times by means of medicine, diet, surgery, etc. Death can be postponed, and so can the day of judgment if people do what has to be done. The point is, turning the other cheek is just another pill of prevention that can hold back the day of judgment, and give others a chance to live forever.
The whole idea here is to be flexible, and not be locked into the legalistic mold that says an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth. The Christian goal is to save the lost, and not get even with them. God is willing to bend. His grace is universal. He gives many blessings to those who despise and reject Him. He is not stubborn and saying, "I refuse to show grace to those who will not show me respect." This would be legalism, and judgment would come swiftly to the world if that was God's spirit. Love has to be flexible, and be willing to put up with a great deal of rejection for the sake of the offender. Contempt for the offender is only concerned about judgment of the offender. Love is concerned about eliminating the offense by winning the offender.
Some Christians have missed the whole point, and they have made this another system of law. Like the man who came back to his hometown from the army, and he was greeted by an old enemy. "I heard you became a Christian in the army," he said. "And you know what the good book says about turning the other cheek." And he then gave him a blow. The guy turned the other cheek and got the second one. That fulfilled the letter of the law. So he took off his coat and gave the guy a severe thrashing. His legalism missed the whole point. If the only difference between Christ's righteousness and that of the law is one extra punch before you retaliate, then it is truly much ado about nothing. The real issue is, can the Christian prevent the confrontation from leading to a war? Can you take the steam out of the pressure situation that threatens to blow up?
The natural response is to resist evil by force. We want to smack it back when it smacks us. When we do that we are voting for the day of judgment to come now. We want evil to pay now, and reap what it has sown. Love, however, says, I want to put off the day of judgment, so I vote for postponement of it by absorbing the blow. I will suffer the pain, and seek revenge, for I prefer to see the offender saved rather than judged. The legalist says, I want to see evil men get what is coming to them, and the sooner the better. The loving Christian says, I want to see evil men escape judgment by the grace of Christ, and experience the same salvation I have experienced by God's grace.
Choosing this way is choosing the way of the cross. It is taking up the cross and following Christ. It could very well lead to scars as you turn the other cheek, and it does not always work. On the other hand, your temporary suffering may prevent the permanent suffering of the offender. Like produces like. Retaliation will bring retaliation, and love will stimulate love. Of course, it will not always work. Loving people get clobbered all the time, just as Jesus did. But the point is, hate never works, and when love doesn't work it is still pleasing to God that you choose His way.
Billy Graham had a large crusade going in McCormick Palace in Chicago. Three hundred Satan worshipers marched in to take over and stop the crusade. George Beverly Shea had just finished his Gospel song, and Cliff Borrows was about to lead the mass choir when a policeman ran to the stage and whispered to the mayor of Chicago who was there to give a welcome.
The Satan worshipers had forced their way past the ushers, and they were proceeding down the isles. The mayor said to Dr. Graham, "We'll let the police handle these intruders." Graham said, "Let me handle it another way." Graham went to the microphone and interrupted the choir. He addressed the 30 thousand Christian young people and said, "There are about 300 Satan worshipers coming to take over the platform. I am going to ask you Christian young people to love them, pray for them, and sing to them, and gradually ease them back toward the entrance." Hundreds of them responded and held hands as they blocked the isles. They put their arms around the Satan worshipers and prayed for them. They were so confounded that they moved slowly back out of the auditorium, and the service was continued. Graham got a letter from one of the leaders thanking him, for he was convinced that lives had been saved by the way he handled the situation in love. Even the messengers of Satan himself are best handled by love, and not by hate and violence, for that just provides them with the fuel they need to explode into evil action.
There are times for anger, and the Christian has to fight back in some situations, but only when forced into it because the evil person rejects all love. Evil men are often evil because they feel rejected and unloved. Your first task as a Christian is to do what Jesus did and show them respect. Will this save the world? Probably not, but it is the only way we can be part of the answer. Not doing it on a grand scale is what is leading us to the final revenge. I choose to stand with Graham, and believe that every step of obedience to Jesus we take will help postpone the day of judgment
so that many others can be saved.
There is a well known soap opera called As The World Turns. I have no idea what it is all about, but there is a drama going on far more significant for all the world, and for each of us to have a part. We could call it, As The Cheek Turns, for how each of us obeys this specific teaching of Jesus could determine, to some degree, how the world turns, or how the world burns. The more who turn the other cheek, the more they will turn others to Christ. The more who say this is unrealistic, the more who will burn in the wrath of both God and man. Do yourself a favor; do the world a favor, and do God a favor by seeking to be filled with the Spirit of Christ, that you might learn to turn, and even yearn to turn, and by this attitude lead people to Christ, who alone can save the world.