SIGNS OF THE TIMES SERMON SERIES
“GO AHEAD, MAKE MY DAY” – RESISTING REVENGE
FEBRUARY 11, 1996
When you are driving on Route 635 and the guy in the white Bronco will not let you merge with traffic, what do you do? You are late for an 8 o’clock movie at the AMC Grand and you find the perfect parking spot right up front. You put your blinker on and wait for the car to back out and suddenly, out of nowhere, a person coming the opposite direction steals your parking spot. What do you do about it? An individual you have been in business with for the last five years, someone you trusted, someone you poured your life into, overnight, in a clandestine fashion steals your client base and starts a brand new company. What do you do about it? A girl you have been dating for the last six months, someone you think you are going to marry, leaves you, drops you with no explanation whatsoever. What do you do when every fiber of your being screams within you to seek revenge, to pay the person back? What do you do to the individual on the freeway, in the parking lot, over the client base, in the relationship? What do you do? Revenge is such an interesting and inviting and tantalizing response. We love revenge.
This past week a friend of mine who is working on his doctoral studies did some research for me on the subject of revenge. He looked up revenge in all the periodicals offered. He told me something very interesting. Eighty-five percent of all articles written on revenge appear in women’s magazines. I won’t touch that one. Guys, you are not out of the woods. Women’s magazines write about it, we picture it, for instance, the guy in a business suit standing on top of someone in front of a skyline in Fortune magazine. So we can’t just get on the women. But I want to contrast this whole aspect of revenge in our society, which applauds revenge, by asking you to think about a man standing on a hill with thousands and thousands of people listening to every word because He was talking about our subject matter today. Listen to what Jesus said on this occasion.
Picture yourself walking down the streets of Jerusalem, of J town, and you see some friends talking. They are your good friends and you walk up and join them. At first they are talking about typical guy stuff, sports, business but suddenly the conversation turns to politics. One friend mentions what he believes and asks for your opinion. You respond by sharing your views on the political scene in Jerusalem and while you are talking you see your friend’s face become red with anger and he backhands you across the face, two or three times right in front of your friends. Your manhood is at stake. Your anger is skyrocketing. You know you could knock this guy to the middle of next week if you wanted to. You just want to take this person out. Jesus said in the greatest sermon ever preached, this is the moment of truth. What are you going to do? Jesus says you should exhibit a supernatural, satisfying, non-revengeful type attitude to this person who has just slapped you in front of your friends. Dig down deep and be a true man. Absorb the slap, take the insult and exhibit to him a supernatural, satisfying, non-revengeful type attitude. Jesus says that if you do that, it can mark a person for life. So Christ instructs you to look at the man who has insulted you and realize that he matters to God, realize that he was bought with a price, realize that God needs someone to love him through and that person is you and do it. Do it. Don’t seek revenge.
Now can’t you imagine the response of the disciples and His largely Jewish audience. They lived in a revenge oriented society. If you don’t believe me, travel to the Middle East. And don’t point your finger too quickly because we live in a revenge oriented society today, in sports, in business, in politics, in family relationships. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I will get you back.
A couple of verses later Jesus gives another word picture to His audience. He talks about a subject matter that was so sensitive that I am sure eyebrows were raised and palms became sweaty once he began talking about the subject. The subject was impressment. You see, Rome ruled Israel. It was law for a Jewish boy, a Jewish girl, a Jewish man, a Jewish woman to serve the Roman soldier at a moment’s notice. In other words, the soldier could say, “Shine my Ferragamo sandals.” They would have to do it. A Roman soldier could say, “Do my laundry.” and they would have to go to the laundromat and do his laundry. But the practice that the Jewish people despised the most was when they would be working out in the field and feel a tap on their shoulder. They would look up and see a cocky Roman soldier looking down at them and he would say these words. “Hey, boy, carry my duffle bag for me.” And he would take the duffle bag and slam it into their stomach. And the law said that the Jews had to carry the luggage of the Roman soldier for at least a mile. Jewish historians tell us that religious persons and those who really wanted to obey the law, had a peg on the road leading out from their property that marked a mile.
So Jesus said, “Hey, men and women, when a Roman soldier grabs you up by the cloak, when he throws his duffle bag into your ribs, and you are straining under its weight in the blistering sun, I know that when you hit that mile marker you want to take that bag and slam it into the ground and hopefully break some cologne or deodorant or something and ruin the guy’s clothes. But don’t do it. Why not exhibit some supernatural, satisfying, second mile, non-revengeful type love to this person. Lock eyes with this Roman soldier. Realize what a privilege it is to serve him because he was made in the image of God and you can show him what it truly means not to seek revenge.”
Those are pretty difficult words aren’t they? That is a tall order for you and me. And as I read this text this past week, I thought to myself that I was certainly glad that Rome was not ruling us. I would have a tough time carrying someone’s backpack a mile, or absorbing some slap. “But that doesn’t not relate to where I am.” I want to stop right now and ask you to do something. I want you to think about the person against whom you would like to seek revenge, that ex-spouse, that wayward son or daughter, that former co-worker, that so-called trusted friend. Think about that person just for a second. Do you have someone in your mind? I do. Now, I want to show you, based on God’s word, how we should respond to them. Don’t get me wrong. Don’t misread the Bible. Jesus is not asking us to have some meek, mild, weak response. It takes a true man, a true woman to do this stuff. And if we are going to do this stuff, it will radically transform our lives and also the people we connect with.
How do I resist revenge? Look at I Peter 3:9, because this text is an amazing supernatural verse. “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t snap back at those who say unkind things about you…” Now I hope you didn’t miss the reference here. This was penned by Peter. Simon Peter. An earlier Simon Peter we could have called Captain Revenge. When they tried to arrest Jesus in the Garden, what did Peter do? He did the Zorro thing and choped the guy’s ear off. Peter loved revenge. Peter loved to repay people, evil for evil. And now, after the Holy Spirit has softened his life, he can pen these words from the Holy Spirit of God. “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t snap back at those who say unkind things to you. Instead, pray for God’s help for them,for we are to be kind to others, and God will bless us for it.” Now you have got to remember something. Peter is talking to those people who are Christ followers. If you are outside the family of God, you cannot have this kind response. You can’t muster it up. You can’t force it. You can’t do it. Only Christians can do this.
Here is the first response we are to have when someone has done us wrong. We are to talk to God about it. Pray for the person. Is that other worldly or what? Someone has just spread a rumor about you, someone has just stabbed you in the back, someone has done you wrong yet you are to pray for that individual. We would rather get mad. Usually anger is the second emotion we feel, not the first emotion. Paul told Timothy, study yourselves, unravel your complex emotions. For example, we are in a relationship. Oftentimes the first feeling that we experience is jealousy or hurt, instead of really dealing with jealousy or hurt, what do we do? We skip that emotion and we get angry. And then we get revengeful because we don’t want to feel the way we should feel concerning first emotion. Talk to God about it.
The second response is found in Romans 12:19. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” The second response after someone has done you wrong is to leave room for God to act.
This past week I was driving north on MacArthur and I heard a faint sound over the radio, the sound of a fire truck. I looked in the rear view mirror and there it was, the fire truck. What did everybody do in the 5:30 traffic? They pulled over. They were being courteous drivers to make room for the fire truck. What if I had blocked the fire truck off? What if I had said, “Hey, I’ve got a cup of coffee here. You stay there fire truck and I will take care of the fire. I have enough liquid right here in my coffee cup. I can take care of it. You stay there.” I find the fire and I try to fight the fire alone, by myself, with my coffee cup half full. That would be stupid, crazy. I have got to let the truck, which is equipped to deal with the fire, take it. I have got to make room for the truck. Why do I in my life, and you in your life say, “God, You stay right here. I know You are equipped to handle it, I know You said You would take care of it. But let me put out this relational fire.” Leave room for God to act.
The third response is found in Jeremiah 51:36. “And the Lord replies: ‘I will be your lawyer…” Don’t worry, God does not bill hourly. “…I will plead your case; I will avenge you…'” You see there is a difference between revenge and avenge. Revenge is when I take it myself and get back at a person. Avenge is when I make room for someone, like God, and He takes it. Here is the third response. Let God be your lawyer. Let God be your lawyer, He will take care of it. He will deal with it. The Bible says there will be a payday some day. We are to pray for the person, we are to leave room for God and then let God be our lawyer. That’s it.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. We have some hardened, revengeful-type people out there. We do because we are all that way. We are thinking this to ourselves. “Ed, that is great. I really learned something about the illustrations that Christ used in Matthew 5. Those are three cute little responses but, hey, I’m still going to go after this person. I am still going to repay them, I am still going to seek revenge. How would it benefit me not to seek revenge? How does it help others to have this non-revengeful, supernatural, satisfying, second mile type attitude?” I am going to share with you some reasons why Jesus challenges you and me to be a person who focuses on love and service and not revenge and retaliation.
Number one. If I have this non-revengeful attitude, it will break the deadly cycle of relational hostility. If I mirror this non-revengeful attitude, it will break the cycle, the deadly cycle, of relational hostility. Relational hostility started years ago in the book of Genesis when Cain killed Abel. That got the ball rolling. Now it escalates. A relationship starts off with so much promise, there is a misunderstanding, ego gets involved, feelings are hurt and then fists fly, assault weapons are pulled, knives come out and we call the paramedics to pick up the pieces. You say that is what happens most of the time in the inner city. In the suburbs, we don’t do that, do we? Maybe not with fists, knives and assault weapons but we use attorneys to fight, we use mud slinging, we use cold wars. And the cycle continues, over and over and over again. And most of us have a little plot out back that is our relational cemetery. These relationships had so much promise, so much potential. “I remember my relationship with Laura from 1993 ’til 1994. But Laura said one bad thing to me, and now she is buried. Here is another grave stone. There is Jim. Jim was a good guy, but he was just a jerk at work. We hung out together for about six years, we even played golf about once a month. I knew his family. He had a great wife. He ripped me off one time in business and now he is buried.” All of us have this little plot of land called our relational cemetery. Most of the time, instead of breaking the deadly cycle of hostility, we just perpetuate it. Jesus is looking for some hard-core, radical followers to say, “I am going to be the one. I am going to break this cycle. It starts with me. I am going to be the one to break the icy silence in the marriage. I am going to be the one to bring the two parties together in the board room. I am going to be the one to reconcile the family. I am going to be the one to change the relationship. I want to be the one, Jesus.” Because, folks, if it doesn’t start with us, it is not going to start anywhere and it will continue to escalate. The cycle will be bigger and badder and meaner and leaner. That is one reason Jesus challenges us to exhibit the supernatural, other worldly, second mile, non-revengeful type attitude.
The second reason is, when I exhibit this kind of attitude, it makes an indelible impression on other people’s lives for the cause of Christ. Let me stop here and have a pastoral word with those here who know Christ personally. If you are a seeker, listen, but I am talking to Christians right now. If you know Christ, you love Him. And there are those moments maybe during worship, maybe during a bible study, maybe during a prayer session when you feel the power of God in a supernatural way and you think to yourself that you would love for your neighbor to experience God like that. You would love for your relatives, this person or that person to experience that. You want to share with them. And some of you lie awake at night thinking how you can communicate Christ with others. Jesus says, exhibit a supernatural, satisfying, second mile, non-revengeful type attitude. That is what Jesus says.
You know when Jesus was being whipped before He was hung on the cross, He didn’t curse the people doing it. When He was being tortured, when they were hammering and pounding the nails through His hands and His feet, He didn’t fight back. He could have just winked at the heavenly hosts and they could have gotten Him out of it and made repayment for all of the trash those individuals were doing to our Savior. But He didn’t do it. You know what He said while He was hanging there suspended between heaven and earth? Jesus said these words. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And then right before He died He said, “It is finished.” The Bible says a hardened Roman, Clint Eastwood type, soldier, heard those words, saw this non-revengeful attitude and he hit the dirt and said, “Surely, this must be the Son of God.” He didn’t read a theology book. He didn’t go to a Bible conference. He saw this attitude portrayed. I ask you, who is your Roman soldier? Who is checking you out? Who is watching your attitude? Who is watching your response? “Is this person really going to do what he says, or is he going to be a hypocrite? Will he show some other-worldly love? Will he model what Christ said?” Who is your Roman soldier? You can mark someone for life when you exhibit this attitude.
The third reason we should have this attitude is that it increases our faith. If you are keeping score, it breaks the cycle of relational hostility, it marks someone for life and it increases our faith. You see for us to live this kind of life, it takes some on the edge prayer and on the edge conversations and on the edge love. We have to rely on God like we never have relied on Him, if we exhibit this attitude. When I think about this, I think about my man named Joseph. Joseph, one of my favorite Biblical characters, had a major bout with revenge. You know about Joseph. He was born into a family that had a lot of sons. He was the apple of his father’s eye. His father made a big time mistake and showed favoritism to him. He took him out to the Galleria and bought him a Gucci robe, multicolored. His brothers hated that. They were jealous. One day, while away from their father they decided to take care of the dreamer, the little Goody Two-shoes. They ripped his Gucci robe apart, poured lamb’s on it and sold Joseph as a slave. They run home and tell the father that a panther came out of nowhere and killed Joseph. His father believes his favorite son to be dead. Meanwhile, Joseph is down in Egypt, a slave, working in Potiphar’s household. The Bible says that he was handsome in form and appearance. Miss Egypt, 500 BC, Potiphar’s wife tempted him day in and day out to have sex with her. He said no. Finally he ran and she falsely accused him of a crime. He was thrown in prison, forgotten by men, remembered by God. He had a great faith. When you read the text about Joseph you don’t see any revenge stuff boiling over. You see someone who had a humble, loving relationship with the living Lord. Joseph helped a prison inmate out and when the man got released he promised Joseph that he would remember him. He forgot about him. Again, he is down. Again, he had every reason in the world from our perspective to jump back at his brothers.
Then he interrupted the King’s dream and he was elevated to second in command over the most powerful nation in the world. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, at his father’s home, a famine was sweeping the country. The brothers swallowed their pride and go all the way to Egypt and take a wild stab at who they had to talk to before they could get some food. You guessed it, Joseph. They didn’t recognize him. They thought he was gone. He had a beard and was wearing Egyptian clothing. The Bible says that Joseph recognized them and told them who he was. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph said these words. Are you ready for this? “You meant it for evil, God meant it for good.” What a perspective, what a view. Why did he have this view, why did he have this perspective? Because he exhibited a supernatural, satisfying, second mile, non-revengeful type attitude.
So the choice is up to you folks. The choice is up to me. We either do this stuff and grow and impact lives and break the cycle of relational hostility or we just blend in with the pack and become another face in the crowd.