The Teachings of Jesus: Who Are We to Love?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 ESV)

As I have stated over and over again in this series, Jesus did not merely come to show us how to get to heaven when we die. He did not come simply to be killed on a cross to pay for our sins. While this is a great part of what He came to do, it make no sense theologically to say that this was the only reason that He came. If this was His only reason for coming, why did He do all that teaching? Why did He live life? Why didn’t God just send Him to earth and instantly have Him sacrificed in some supernatural event that instantly changed the course of history?

Jesus came and was a part of human history. I am willing to state that He made a bigger impact on individual human history than His Father did in the Old Testament. Not because Jesus was better, but because Jesus was finishing something.

Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures— either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working. Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom. (Matthew 5:17-20 The Message Emphasis mine)

Jesus came to complete that which His Father had started. That is why Jesus made a greater impact on individual human history than His Father. Jesus intimately completed what He had started many thousands of years before. Which brings us to today’s text.

Jesus is in the midst of speaking what we call “The Sermon on the Mount.” In this “sermon”, He uses a theme of “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…” to make His point. He is showing through the method of discourse how a follower of God (and Himself, Jesus, specifically) is supposed to live life here on earth. This is all a matter of making God’s kingdom a reality in the here and now. Shortly after this, Jesus teaches us how to pray by having us say to God,

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10 ESV)

The Lord’s Prayer is intended to express a heartfelt desire for God to come and establish His kingdom in the world now. The life that Jesus exhorts us to live in this sermon is meant to usher in the kingdom of God. We are to become the fulfillment of our own prayer.

In this particular section of the sermon, the section I quoted above, Jesus is dealing with our hearts in the matter of love and hate. Jesus begins by giving us the “you have heard that it was said”. He says,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”

This is a very true statement even today. We love those people who live right next door in our own little secluded communities. We love those people who are just like us. But we hate those who are different. We hate those who do bad things to us. In fact, the law given by God long before Jesus came, in the book of Deuteronomy, made clear that there were some people who the Israelites were not to have anything to do with. But Jesus does something to this law when He gives us His “but I say to you…”

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Jesus doesn’t remove the existence of those who are “enemies”, but He shows us a better way to live. No longer are we to hate our enemies, but we are to love them.

Love our enemies? What is Jesus saying? This man is crazy! He’s got to be. Why is He telling us to do something so outlandish?

so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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.

Oh…Jesus’ statement is not so outlandish after all.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus is telling us here that when we love our enemies that we bear resemblance to our Father. We look like God when we love those who hate us.

Isn’t that the point of seeking to follow Jesus?

We don’t do what Jesus commands us to do simply to make it to heaven when we die. We do what Jesus commands us to do for the purpose of being holy as God is holy. Jesus is saying to us in this passage, in essence,

Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. (Matthew 5:48 The Message)

[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

If we, as Christians, are to be like God; if Jesus came to earth to do more than just see to it that we get to heaven when we die; if Jesus came to show us what God was like, then doesn’t it make sense that we should follow Jesus’ teachings which show us how to live in a manner as God would live if He were a man? Since Jesus is God, and Jesus abided by the very words that He taught, doesn’t that mean that, to be a “Christian” in the literal sense of the word, we must love our enemies and be gracious to them?

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