[April 26, 2009] Today we come to the end of the first section of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. This section began in chapter 4 when Jesus read from the Scriptures in the synagogue of Nazareth and announced the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to announce the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and to send away in release those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, [the Year of Jubilee].” He then proceeded to carry out this commission, liberating people and gathering them to Himself. And now, at the end of His first apostolic tour of Galilee, His disciples are gathered and He proclaims them blessèd, because they have come to Him.
Now, for the first time since He began, He gives His disciples instructions about how He wants them to act. This is the second sermon in Luke and corresponds to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, except that it is quite a bit shorter. Nevertheless, it is instructive that until now He has never told His disciples how they should act, since this is usually the only concern that modern Christians seem to have. “Just tell me what to do.” Religious people are obsessed with individual morality and with justice in society. After hearing this sermon, we will realize that our obedience is very important, though it has less to do with individual morality and social justice than we might expect. It has to do, primarily, with discipleship to Jesus. In any case, notice that it only comes at this point.
It comes after Jesus has liberated a synagogue; restored Peter’s household; liberated Peter from his preoccupation, a leper from his uncleanness, a paralytic from his sin, Levi from his ostracism; and restored the Sabbath. It comes after Jesus, then, gathered His disciples—poor, hungry and weeping—to Himself (after appointing Twelve to be apostles) and pronounced them “blessèd” with the blessedness originally promised to the seed of Abraham, and through Moses to those who would be faithful to God, and failing that, who would repent and turn back to God in the days of their exile. Jesus says they are blessèd because they have responded to His call and come to Him. He makes them blessèd: His own person, who He is. Blessedness is not the result of our spiritual self-sufficiency, our self-righteousness, but of God’s grace. It is a gift.
Jesus came on the scene in Nazareth, announcing Jubilee, and from there He presented Himself as the Shepherd of Israel, caring for and gathering the poor, the sick, the demonized, and the lost. His compassion and grace and generosity were the compassion and grace and generosity of God. God, who had chosen Abraham and called Israel out of bondage in Egypt, has now come again to Israel to call them anew, to fulfill the promises He made to their ancestors.
Be Compassionate (Luke 6:36)
So the first instruction Jesus gives, the first description of discipleship is this: “Be full of compassion even as your Father also is full of compassion” (verse 36). In the verse before, Jesus said that if you act this way “you will be sons of the Most High.” The word “sons” implies maturity in the likeness of the father. Jesus speaks of God as “your Father.” He never speaks this way to His opponents. He only speaks this way of His disciples. He addresses His disciples not as subjects of a ruler, but as children of the Father. If we are Jesus’ disciples, we are the Father’s children. We do not earn this right. It is His gift.
Nor can we throw it away. As children we need to act as sons. If we have this gift, it should express itself in our acting like the Father. When we are obedient to this gift, then we are compassionate like the Father. Some people have it in their head that the Father is stern and wrathful. There is undoubtedly a side of the divine nature that is like a fire; we are, after all, speaking of divinity. Divinity as the source and sustainer of life, goodness, truth and beauty, and as active, free and powerful, has no tolerance for sin in the long run. But the Fatherhood of God speaks of the face of God. The way we know the Father is as the Father of the Son. The Son reveals God’s face. There is the Son’s relationship to the Father, but also the Son—as Son—expresses the Father. What is the Father like? He is like the Son. In the coming of Jesus, we see that the Father is full of compassion and overflowing with generosity.
Love Your Enemies (Luke 6:27-35)
Jesus has met opposition from the very beginning. In Nazareth the people tried to throw Him down a cliff. The demoniac in the synagogue verbally attacked Him. The Pharisees and their scribes accused Him of blasphemy when He forgave the paralytic of sins that he had committed against God; they murmured against Him when He dined with Levi and his friends; they called Him into question for not having His disciples fast and for allowing them to pick and eat grain on the Sabbath; and they were filled with rage when He healed a man on the Sabbath. How did Jesus react? He walked away from Nazareth (we will find that withdrawal is often an option) but that was only so He could continue His work elsewhere. Jesus did not give in or give up His work. Nothing would stop Him from demonstrating the love and compassion of God to the poor, the sick, and the lost.
But He did not retaliate. The opposition would only get worse. Jesus faced His biggest opposition, the priestly establishment in Jerusalem, head on. He did not retaliate; instead, in obedience to the Father, He offered Himself up as a sin-offering on their behalf. Paul says in Romans, “While we were yet weak, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Then he says, “God commends His own love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And then, “If we, being enemies, were reconciled to God through the death of His Son …” (5:6, 8, 10). Each time we get worse. The ultimate act of Jesus’ obedience to the Father, the form of His “whole-burnt-offering,” was to love His enemies unto His own death—to not only be a “whole-burnt-offering” to the Father, but to be a “sin-offering” for His enemies, that they might be reconciled to God. “Walk in love, even as Christ also loved us and gave Himself up FOR us, an offering and a sacrifice TO God for a sweet-smelling savor” (Ephesians 5:2).
Discipleship means to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1), and the first mark of discipleship is that we love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. According to Jesus’ instructions here, we are to treat our enemies as though they were our friends. When they hurt us, we are to treat them as though they are doing us a favor. And they are, for they are giving us an opportunity to react.
But we do so, giving up our goods and possibly our life, because we have placed ourselves in the hands of the Father who cares for us. We are the Father’s children. If we act in obedience to the Father, He will not leave us or forsake us. We can afford to be generous because we have a generous Father. If we hold onto things, anything, we betray our lack of faith in the providence of the Father.
People, weak Christians and our enemies both, treat these words as a prescription for self-abuse, as a command to let others take advantage of us, to walk all over us, to hinder our discipleship. We must not be so simplistic. Jesus followed His own instructions here, yet He did not let others manipulate Him, take advantage of Him, walk all over Him, or in any way prevent Him from being faithful to the Father. Jesus always stood up to His opponents, and though He would not retaliate, He did not let anyone bully Him. Obviously to LOVE does not mean that you do what other people want. Jesus paid attention to what people needed, according to His own judgment, not what they wanted. For Jesus, what was first was always the Father’s will. For His sake, He says that we must “hate” even those within our own household—obviously not in opposition to the love that we owe them, but He means that we must deny them what they want. We must, if we are to be disciples of Jesus. Because being His disciples means that we constantly must cut across the grain and run the risk of making many people upset with us. Jesus accumulated enemies as fast as He accumulated friends. It was because He was steadfast. When you let people manipulate you and take advantage of you, are you loving your enemies? Or are you letting them control you and prevent you from being faithful to God?
Jesus allowed His enemies to arrest Him, to unjustly try Him and put Him to death on the cross. But He did it with a great deal of freedom, surrendering Himself to the Father’s will. He never allowed others to compromise His obedience to the Father.
Let us love our enemies, but let us not be lazy about it. Jesus stood up to His enemies. He did not give in to verbal abuse. Sometimes He answered them and sometimes He remained silent because to answer them would be to cooperate in their bullying. He did not resist His enemies, but He also did not cooperate with them. Nor did He ever retaliate with abuse of His own. He did not act like they did. He always acted from His own center. He gave in to physical coercion because He would not retaliate in kind.
When we love our enemies, we do it with the strength that God gives us. We put God first, we put discipleship first, and we do it not relying on ourselves and our resources but trust in the generosity of the Father. To love means that we have the freedom to treat our enemies as our friends, in spite of their own intentions, and that we respond to what they actually need, not just what they want.
Under the Father’s Discipline (6:37-42)
These verses are an admonition to humility. Because we are the Father’s children, we are not under the wrath of God. But we do come under the Father’s discipline. Jesus had said in verse 31, “Just as you want men to do to you, do to them likewise.” Now He says that we should treat others the way we want the Father to treat us. “With what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you in return” (verse 38). Do we not know how often we fail? Do we not want the Father to be generous in His judgment? Then we should overlook the faults of others, even forgive them when they hurt us, as if their faults were our own (they probably are, which is why they irk us so much). Do not be so critical of others. Give others LOTS of room. Even materially, if we are generous to others, the Father will take care of our own needs.
When we are very critical, as the Pharisees who attacked Jesus and His disciples were, it is because we are blinded by the beam in our own eye. Do not follow people who are self-righteous. They are blind. Also do not assume that you know more than your teacher.
It Is Not Your Words But Your Fruit that Matters (6:43-49)
Self-righteous people confuse their high opinions and their ability to scrutinize the behavior of others with their own achievement. Use discernment, but do not measure others for size. Instead, pay attention to your own actual condition. It is not our ideas or our ideals that are our measure, but rather the “treasure of our hearts.” God looks at the heart. We can be deluded about our fidelity to God. If we can work up some feelings, get excited, become proud of our learning or the admiration of others, our heart may still be cold. Feelings matter in different ways, but they are not the measure of our heart. Our love of God is expressed by the love and generosity and humility with which we treat others.
We need to come to Jesus, hear His words AND do them (verse 47). This is the only way to lay a foundation on which to build your life.