The Upside-Down Kingdom

The Upside-Down Kingdom

June 28, 2020
Jeffrey M. Lindsay

Luke 6:27-38

27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.javascript:void(0); Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

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Good morning friends, a couple of weeks ago we started a series called Kingdom People. I thought today we should learn a bit more about the kingdom in which the Kingdom People reside. I think you will find this kingdom seems to be a bit upside down.

The story is told of an Irish boxer who became a Christian evangelist. One day, as he set up his tent for meetings, some local thugs came and began to heckle him. One of them took a swing at the preacher and hit him on the cheek knocking him to the ground. He got up, pointed to his other cheek, and said, “Jesus told me to offer you this one also.” So, the guy clobbered him again, knocking him to the ground. The boxer turned preacher rose slowly to his feet, took off his jacket, and said, “but Jesus gave me no further instructions.”

Soooo…. In the kingdom I currently live in, I know how this story ends. But in the Upside-Down Kingdom Jesus ushered in, the rules are different. The rules are to be lived and experienced for our good and others. They are not meant to be a measure of how we have failed God yet again but a guide to how our relationships with others can be.

The intent of today’s passage is summarized in verse 29, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.”

At the time of Jesus, striking a person on the cheek was a form of insult like a physical expression of cursing or reviling. What do you do when you turn the other cheek, and it gets slapped? Are we really willing to perpetuate the myth that” sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me? ” I’m not!

So are we to love those who hurt us who we might call our enemy? To even pray for those who mistreat us.

“Clarence Darrow, the famed criminal lawyer once said, hedging his comments: “Everyone is a potential murderer. I have not killed anyone, but I frequently get satisfaction out of obituary notices.” I’m quite sure that this is not what Jesus was suggesting, either.

So, what does it, indeed, mean to be Kingdom People truly? What do they look like? How do they think? How do they act? Is the way of the Kingdom way off base? Does it expect too much of us?

Theologian N.T. Wright says the following about these instructions from Jesus: “This list is all about which God you believe in—and about the way of life that follows as a result.” He says, “We must admit with shame that large sections of Christianity down the years seem to have known little or nothing of the God Jesus was talking about.”

That is a hard accusation to hear. I want to believe I am following the God revealed in Scripture and the life of Jesus, too, don’t you?

As Kingdom people, our calling is to follow God. The invitation is to be like God. But there is nothing easy about loving enemies. There is nothing easy about loving people who are hard on you or offering love to people who don’t like you. There is nothing easy about the call to pick up our cross and carry it. It is probably because the Kingdom of God is upside down from the kingdom in which we reside. Is it time for us to move?

It is hard for us to think about being the initiators, to be those who have to lead the way. But this is what Jesus invites us into, His Upside-Down Kingdom. It is hard not to want to get ours first. It is hard to trust that in following Jesus example, we will receive. To accept the notion that If we want others to treat us with love, respect, honor, compassion, and generosity, we will have to act the same way towards them first.

Will our actions magically make others treat us the same way? Are there any guarantees in this directive from the Upside-Down Kingdom? Maybe or maybe not, but we will never change our “enemies'” hearts if we respond to evil with evil.

The Greek word used here for the “love” of our enemies is Agapan. It is a word not used in classical Greek. It is used only in a religious context. When Jesus uses the word Agapan, he is not using it in the context of what is deserved but of loving our enemies who do not deserve it.

In his Luke commentary, William Barkley writes, “Agapan describes an active feeling of benevolence towards the other person. It means that no matter what that person does to us, we will never allow ourselves to desire anything but their highest good, and we will deliberately and of set purpose go out of our way to be good and kind to them. The suggestion here is that we cannot love our enemies as we love our nearest and dearest. To do so would be unnatural, impossible, and even wrong. But we can see to it that, no matter what a person does to us, even if they insult, ill-treat, and injures us, we will seek nothing but their highest good.”

Barkley goes on to say, “One thing this suggests then is that the love we bear to our most dear ones is something we cannot help. We talk about it as falling in love; it is something that just happens to us. But this love towards our enemies is not just something of the heart; it is something of the will. It is something which by the grace of Christ, we may will ourselves to do.”

Do you know the name Corrie Ten Boom? She wrote the book, “The Hiding Place.”
I have read it a couple of times. It had a profound impact on me as a young person.
I was privileged to hear her speak at the Urbana Missionary Conference in 1979. Her words offered some of the earliest ideas, for me, about this Upside-Down Kingdom we are talking about today.

Corrie’s family helped hide Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. Eventually, they got caught, and they were all sent to a concentration camp. As the only one in her family to survive, Corrie writes her book to describe her experiences in that camp. Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were especially close. And they were together for much of the time in the concentration camp. Eventually, though, Betsie lost her life.

Corrie became a bit famous for what she had lived through and spoke about her experiences at churches and other events. She would often talk about God’s love and forgiveness.

On one such night, at a Church in Munich, Corrie was shocked to see one of the former S.S. men who had stood guard at the shower room doors at the concentration camp. He had been one of the cruel men who had mocked Corrie, Betsie, and the other prisoners in the processing center. He was the first of their actual jailers that Corrie had seen since that horrible time.

Corrie writes: “And suddenly it was all there, the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message,’ he said ‘To think that, as you say, Jesus has washed my sins away!'” Corrie continues: “His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people about the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?” So, Corrie prayed: “forgive me and help me to forgive him.” Corrie writes: “I tried to smile. I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity.

And so again, I breathed a silent prayer. “Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.” And then she says: “As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this man that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that “it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on God’s. When God tells us to love our enemies, God gives, along with the command, the love itself.” Amazing the call and the means both come from God.

Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great…” This is our passage for today?

Could this great reward be who we become “in the process” of asking Jesus for His forgiveness and seeking to follow Him? Again, reminding ourselves that this is not a destination but a journey.

One of the first principles of a proper interpretation of Scripture is to determine what the genre is. There are many types of literary methods in the Bible: Narrative, Poetry, Apocalyptic, Parable, Prophetic, Proverb, etc. Within each of these different genres, there are different rhetorical devices or figures of speech, of which one is hyperbole. Hyperbole is an exaggeration used to produce strong feelings and strong impressions but not to be taken literally.

Jesus often used extreme exaggerations to drive home a point to get his hearers to ask questions and see their world from a new perspective. In perhaps the hardest teaching of the New Testament, Jesus lays out what the Upside-Down Kingdom practices look like and is probably the most radical teaching in this passage. It seems impossible. It goes against the very fiber of our being.

What did Lisa read for us today?
27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

About this passage author, John MacArthur writes:
“He (Jesus) is saying, ‘Your tradition tells you,’ verse 43, ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ That’s what you’ve learned. You have learned that there is a justification for hatred. You’ve learned that there is a place for vilification, and hate, and bitterness, and revenge, and resentment. You’ve been told that your pride is justified, and your prejudice is allowable. You’ve been told that there are some people you well should hate.”

Then Jesus undoes all that thinking and says, “But I tell you: Love your enemies…”

Jesus often said tough things, so hard in fact that after teaching that He was the bread of life in John 6, it reads, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

I don’t want to turn back, do you? But it is not going to be easy, is it?

We sometimes try to make it easier, don’t we? To the Jew, their neighbor was their fellow Jew. The more strictly defined and narrow the definition, the better. We do that sometimes, don’t we? Jesus wanting to change the norm and raise the bar, says, “I tell you ‘Love your enemies!”

In his Upside-Down Kingdom, Jesus is raising the bar and expecting much more from his followers than they realized. His call to love your enemies is still a call to love those we find unlovable. Who do we find unlovable? Is it those who don’t agree with our beliefs? Is it those who don’t look like us? Those who reject us. Or maybe those who attack those things we hold dear.

Let me remind you what William Barkley said about this love we are to offer others:
Agapan describes an active feeling of benevolence towards the other person; it means that no matter what that person does to us we will never allow ourselves to desire anything but their highest good, and we will deliberately and of set purpose go out of our way to be good and kind to them.” We cannot love our enemies as we love our nearest and dearest. To do so would be unnatural, impossible and even wrong. But we can see to it that, no matter what a person does to us, even if they insult, ill-treat, and injures us, we will seek nothing but their highest good.”

How are we to do this? Our scripture for today offers us a how.

Bless those who curse you, our scripture says. Consider, “Ancient greetings for both Jews and Gentiles expressed some kind of blessing. The Hebrew greeting shalom wished the peace from divine favor on the one being greeted. Some Jews did not want to pronounce a greeting to their enemy since they feared it might result in the enemy’s success and prosperity.” It appears that Jesus says to bless them anyway.

Pray for those who abuse you. Jews had many foreign enemies such as Samaritans and Gentiles, and of course, Rome. They would not entertain the idea of praying anything good for them. Yet, in Jesus’ kingdom, even those who mistreat us, we should pray for them. We should pray for changed hearts concerning them. Let’s get practical because if we can pray for those we don’t like, we disagree with, and maybe are a bit afraid of, there is no one for whom we can’t pray.

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. This invitation has nothing to do with a physical attack; instead, it speaks to a common practice among the Jews and has to do with being insulted. To strike the right cheek, one used the back of the right hand. This act was the highest insult and brought public humiliation. If we took this to be literal, we would be encouraging further abuse. But understanding it as hyperbole, we see that it merely means NOT to retaliate when insulted. It does mean you can’t defend yourself from an accusation. It means you do not exchange insults or seek revenge.

Peter uses Jesus as an example when in I Peter he writes: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate;”

Today, we don’t insult someone by slapping them on the cheek; we do it in texts and on social media or a full-out rejection of others! In the Upside-Down Kingdom, Jesus tells us to turn away from it, not engage with such tactics, and not stoop to that level.

Our passage goes on to “If anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” Is this hyperbole again?

In Leon Morris’ commentary he suggests:
“If Christians took this command literally, there would soon be a class of saintly paupers, owning nothing, and another of prosperous idlers and thieves. It is not this that Jesus is seeking, but a readiness among his followers to give and give and give.”

Remember the great Broadway play Les Misérables? The main character, Jean Valjean, being released from prison after 19 years for stealing bread, is taken in by a priest, fed a hot meal, and invited to stay the night in the church. During the night, he steals all the church silverware and runs off. He is captured and brought to the priest. The guards say, “This man said you gave him this silverware?” At this critical moment, the priest puts this teaching into practice. He says, ‘Yes, I did, and thank you for returning for you forgot these two candlesticks as well, and he hands the silver candlesticks to him, and he is released. In the story, this expression of love turns Valjean’s life around.

In the Upside-Down Kingdom, we don’t find a soft spot in our hearts for a few we allow God to enlarge our hearts to embrace the many.

Jesus finally summarizes our points in the one, great statement known as the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

There is something extraordinary about this rule. This rule offered in a positive,
pro-active manner is not another list of don’ts but an Upside-down list of dos. In the Upside-Down Kingdom, the kingdom where people look and behave differently.

Author John Stott wrote, “No comment could be more hurtful to the Christian than the words, ‘But you are no different from anybody else.’

Kingdom people are to look and act differently aren’t we?

Martin Luther King, Jr., writing from jail made a point:
“Hate multiplies hate…love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

By seeking to practice these Upside-Down Kingdom teachings, we will draw closer to the likeness of Jesus, that God desires for us.

By putting these kingdom teachings into practice, we will become the change the world desperately needs. Amen.