Introduction I’m was so glad to have my mom at church with me Sunday. It’s been over a year since she’s been able to come visit with us because of COVID. But she’s been vaccinated and she’s here today (along with my mother-in-law and my daughter who is home from college). Actually, Mom has been worshipping with us almost every week. Since COVID forced us to innovate and ramp up or online worship experience, she has been able to join us for worship online—even though she lives all the way down in Hawkinsville, GA—4 hours away. We’ve had other worship with us like this, who are too far away to join us. That's one of the blessings the pandemic has brought to our church. We now have a good online broadcasting capability.
My mom was a great mom. She was my primary care giver, nurturer, teacher, and disciplinarian. One of her rules was not to fight at school. In fact, I can remember several times I refused to fight someone simply because my mom told me not to. I was too afraid of the consequences I would face when I got home if I fought while I was a school.
But sometimes, not often, but sometimes, my mom would decide not punish me herself. Instead, she would say something that I would dread. She would pull out the ultimate punishment card when she said, “You just wait until your dad gets home and I tell him what you did.” That was enough to send ice through your veins! You didn’t want Dad to punish you. That was the worst!
Parents are responsible for disciplining their kids. It’s a heavy burden. As a parent, those times when I had to discipline my own children were some of the most difficult, heart-breaking moments of parenting. You have to set aside your anger and disappointment and try to teach and “encourage” your kids to do better, even if it “hurts you worse than it hurts them”. That’s why I’m so thankful I am NOT responsible for disciplining everyone. Taking care of my own kids is enough responsibility for me.
In this series, we’re comparing the world’s conventional wisdom to what Jesus said. One thing the world says is: “Revenge is sweet!” Along those lines, people say things like, “When someone does you wrong, don’t get mad; get even!” It seems like the most natural thing in the world. If someone pushes you, you push them back. Right? You don’t even think about it. If you don’t get back at them right away, you might wait for bit until they forget about it because another thing people say is: “Revenge is a dish best served cold!”
We’ve heard these expressions, but what does Jesus say?
God and Revenge
People today expect to hear Jesus say something like this. We know Jesus is supposed to be merciful and forgiving. However, Jesus message was revolutionary to the people of his day. They;d never heard anything like it. People want revenge. They want to get even with those who’ve wrong them.
Most primitive societies were very vengeful. Every wrong had to be avenged. In fact, the biblical command to take “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was originally given to calm people down. In the ancient middle east, if you attacked my son and poked out his eye, I might come after you and take revenge by killing you and your whole family. That was the world’s type of “justice”; really it was just evil vengeance. So God said, “Only take and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That's fair. That's justice."
Left to our own devices, people are incredibly vengeful and vindictive. In fact, have you ever thought maybe we think God is vengeful because we are so vengeful? The fact that we see God as being an angry, vengeful God may be more of a reflection of our own attitudes than the attitude of God Himself. Think about it. If there’s anyone in the universe who has a right to be angry and seek revenge, it’s God. He created this beautiful world where everything was absolutely perfect and then he made human beings as the crown jewel of His creation. Then God put people in charge of it all and we screwed the whole thing up! No matter what God has done to fix it, His rebellious human creatures disobey Him time and time again and have turned the world into an incredibly ugly place full of evil. If anyone has a right to be angry and vengeful it is God.
However, when God comes down to the earth and puts on human flesh as Jesus Christ, instead of being vengeful, He is incredibly merciful! In fact, he’s patient with our sin—even though so many misunderstood or rejected Him. Even through all his suffering and people disrespecting him or cursing him, Jesus does nothing but good to people while He’s on earth. And ultimately, Jesus doesn’t even resist when they falsely accuse Him and crucify Him. As he is hanging on the cross, this God everyone thought was so “vengeful” prays, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus on the Cross
I think so much of the blood lust for vengeance we perceive in God may actually be our own sinful attitudes we transfer onto God. Because throughout the Bible, God speaks out against taking revenge. Leviticus 19:18 - “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” Romans 12:19 – “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 1 Peter 3:9 – “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
Is it possible to give up on revenge? There is something in us—a divine spark—that cries out for justice. We know in our heart of hearts that wrongs need to be made right. Justice is required. That’s not a bad thing. Justice is part of God’s original design and ultimately justice must be served.
The issue is, we are not the ones to bring Ultimate Justice. God is responsible for seeing that true Justice is served. Too often, our judgment is clouded—especially if we or someone we really care about has been wronged. Our anger and resentments, our hurts distort our view of Justice. Furthermore, we don’t see the big picture. Things may be at play behind the scenes that we don’t understand (or even care about if we’re the one who’s been wronged). God is the only one who has the wisdom to institute the right kind of justice. Furthermore, He’s the only innocent party beyond reproach who has the right to pass ultimate judgment, because we're all guilty of something. Lastly, God is the only one with the unlimited power necessary to bring true evil to justice.
Let me share a little secret with you. It is a great relief to let go of revenge. You don’t have to carry the burden of exacting revenge anymore. It’s almost like what my mom used to say to me when I was a kid and I got in really bad trouble. She would say, “You just wait until your Father gets home!” Can you look at the person who wronged you and say, “I’m done with this. It’s not my job to get you back. This is in God’s hands. Just wait until your Heavenly Father comes back!” Can you trust in your heart of hearts that vengeance is indeed the Lord’s? Let me tell you something, God can punish people in ways you can’t even imagine. Think about that for a minute…
(Also know, God will never punish someone in ways they don’t deserve, but you might…)
Love Your Enemies
Jesus goes even further. Not only does he tell us not to seek revenge. He says, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” As followers of Christ, we follow His example. Jesus was merciful and forgiving. Even when people crucified Him, He forgave. We should too.
I understand that is incredibly hard to do. In fact, we can't do it by ourselves. We need God’s Holy Spirit to help us. As the Holy Spirit helps us love people who have done us wrong, the Holy Spirit heals us. So when you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, it actually helps you. You’re opening up your wounded heart to the healing touch of God. And He will heal you and make you stronger and better.
Now, forgiveness doesn’t mean you pretend the way someone hurt you is no big deal. It is. You’ve been hurt. It may even be necessary to hold someone accountable. They may need to be legally prosecuted and face human justice though our legal system. That in itself can be a loving thing to do—to hold someone accountable. (The most unloving thing to do might be to just let them keep on running wild). So don't confuse forgiveness with a lack of accountability. Forgiveness simply frees you from the burden of expecting payback when payback can never or will never be made.
As I close, I would like to guide you in a meditation. Open your heart to the Holy Spirit and consider:
Who has wronged you and how? Thin about that for a minute...
Have you forgiven them? Why or why not? Can you forgive them? Are you still expecting payback? Can they make it right? Will they? Talk to God about this...
Finally, how could you actually love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?