Thy Kingdom Come: His Rule is Over All

Text: Matthew 5:38-48
Date: Epiphany VII + 2/19/17

How large is God’s Kingdom? Today Jesus says, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” In other words God’s Kingdom comes to all. It’s just that not all receive it aright. We say that God’s Kingdom comes to our benefit “when He gives His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” For the person who rejects God “Here in time” he needs to know that there still is time. God will give His Holy Spirit, His grace to all who hear and do not reject His Word or block Him out. “There in eternity” there will be no more need for all there will have come in repentance and faith.

This means that there is a difference between how we treat others “here in time” even our enemies. It is the grace of God that rules us and makes us channels of His saving invitation to all people. That means we will act out or display the grace of God to all.

Martin Luther famously spoke of two kingdoms, the kingdom of the left meaning God’s rule only through His law and the governments of the world, and the kingdom of the right meaning God’s rule of grace through His Church. Today, however, Jesus speaks of the one kingdom of God in its two realms, that is, in relation to believers and fellow Christians and in relation to those who reject God and even persecute us as their enemy. The first and most important realm is the spiritual kingdom where we are to be “perfect,” that is mature reflecting the love of Jesus’ Father and ours. As St. Paul writes in Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith,” our Christian brothers and sisters.

But there is also the temporal kingdom wherein we must endure the suffering and rejection of our enemies. Today we hear Jesus say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” In Exodus 21 the Lord says, “When men strive together” and “there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Ex 21:22-25). In Leviticus, a few chapters after today’s reading, it says clearly, “If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Lev 24:19-20). While this law sounds severe it actually intends that any punishment for evil not be any greater than the sin that took place. Again, in Deuteronomy the law says, “So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” “It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Dt 19:19, 21). Even in the secular government “retributive justice” holds that the best response to a crime is a proportionate punishment. So, yes, Jesus, we have heard that it was said.

But in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus reveals the heart of the matter saying, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.” Now many (and also something in each of us) make a little joke about this business of turning the other cheek, giving more than required to the one who begs from you. It’s not fair. Are we to let people take advantage of us? Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no.

The reality is that on the one hand we are made sons and daughters in the Kingdom of God’s grace yet still must live in the secular world around us. Martin Luther helps us understand this when he writes, “As a child of God the Christian is in subjection to no one but Christ, without any obligation either to the emperor or to any other man. But at least outwardly, according to his body and property, he is related by subjection and obligation to the emperor, inasmuch as he occupies some office or station in life or has a house and home, a wife and children; for all these are things that pertain to the emperor. Here he must necessarily do what he is told and what this outward life requires. If he has a house or a wife and children or servants and refuses to support them or, if need be, to protect them, he does wrong. It will not do for him to declare that he is a Christian and therefore has to forsake or relinquish everything. But he must be told: ‘Now you are under the emperor’s control. Here your name is not “Christian,” but “father” or “lord” or “prince.” According to your own person you are a Christian; but in relation to your servant you are a different person, and you are obliged to protect him.”[1] In a more humorous way he said, “What kind of crazy mother would it be who would refuse to defend and save her child from a dog or a wolf and who would say: ‘A Christian must not defend himself’? Should we not teach her a lesson with a good whipping and say: ‘Are you a mother? Then do your duty as a mother, as you are charged to do it. Christ did not abrogate this but rather confirmed it.’[2]

For what is our natural reaction when we are treated poorly. Do we not think retaliation is our right? We really do see the justice in “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” You strike me, I hit you back harder. It is not only very sad but even frightening what we see going on in our world today; disagreements elevated to mob conflicts of pure hatred and destruction of property and persons.

Jesus adds the following: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” Actually, nowhere in the Bible does it plainly say to hate your enemy. But we have heard it said from the world around us and from within our own fallen nature. And who can say that there wasn’t some form of righteous wrath in us against Germany or Japan or the old Soviet Union, our one time national enemies? Jesus says, “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.”

In this way do we give evidence that we are, in fact, sons of the heavenly Father because, as we heard, in the realm of creation, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” We will understand this to the extent that we remember that we were once evil and unjust, spiritually blind, dead and enemies of God ourselves. It was only when we discovered the love of God in the face of our sin that then “God gives His Holy Spirit” that we might come to faith in Him. So for us, so for our enemies.

“You therefore must be perfect.” Not sinless, at least for now in this world, but mature in your faith and love. In this way you reflect the love of your heavenly Father even for your enemies.

[1] Luther, M. 1999, c1956. Luther’s works, vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Words. vol 21 (Mt 5:43). Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis
[2]Luther, M. 1999, c1956. Luther’s works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Vol. 21 (Mt 5:43). Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis