Matthew 5:38-42

“I will put My Law within them, and on their heart I will write it; And I will be their God and they shall be My people.”

That is what our Lord promised us through the prophet Jeremiah.  You will notice that, when I quoted that verse, the collective singular was used.  “...and on their heart I will write it....”  “Heart” is singular!  His people as a whole – the collective heart – will have His Law written in them.  In other words we, as a separated people, will know His Law, will love His Law, will delight in His Law, will understand His Law, will love to be disciplined by His Law, and will love Him enough to be obedient to His Law!

And we will be recognized, by all others, by that distinguishing factor!  “They shall be My people!” He says.  This is a distinguishing and recognition factor!

But, as we read these six Pharisaical perversions of God’s Holy Law-Word, we do not find a description of a people with the Law written on its collective heart!  We do not find a people living in expectation and anticipation of the incarnation of the Word of God!  We certainly do not find a people who knew that Word when He came.  And, as carefully as He was described in the Law and the Prophets, we don’t find a people who had His nature as it is described in the beatitudes.

What we do find is an entire people living under a man-made law system, which was perceived to have its foundation in the Mosaic legislation; enough, at least, to give the Scribes and Pharisees some control over the population.  It was a system which gave no attention to the perverted heart of the people, but had its application to the external functions of life.  God’s Law was taken out of context and added to and subtracted from for the purpose of giving the lawyers and the court system control over the nation.  They became the elite of the nation, and the country’s law-givers!

It was to this distorted, man-made law that the Pharisees gave their allegiance.  And it was in this law that the Pharisees elevated themselves publicly.  God’s chosen people had gone full-swing.  It began as a Theocracy, and the Pharisees made it an aristocracy – an elitist, showy, externally religious system, with no understanding of the degenerate heart of the people, and no teaching of the full intent and content of the Law.

And, since the people had no teaching of their own heart depravity, the sacrificial and ceremonial system had no meaning.  And they were not driven to the coming Messiah as the perfect atonement for sin!  You see, if they were not dead in sin, then they do not have a need for atonement.

And I hope that all of us here today understand, now, the great need in today’s churches.  The need for preaching the Law!  For, if the people don’t hear the Law preached, then, like ancient Israel, they will not understand their own depravity!  God works, through the terror of His Holy Law, to convict men of their own heart perversity.  And it causes them to flee to the One Covering, the only covering, which is available to them.

But men will not preach the Law.  Instead, it is the positive, love-filled presentation that is in vogue in our churches!  But men will never see the horror of their own conditions from that – and they will not see God’s terrible anger from that – and they will not cry out and plead for God’s mercy – and they will not flee to the bloody sacrifice for their covering – and they will not turn from the world order and live in the body of the Savior!

That is why we have an external, superficial religion today!  Much like that of the Pharisees!

But, in opposition to what most preachers do today, we have the example of Jesus, Who began His earthly ministry by preaching God’s Law and man’s depravity!  And, since that is the case, why on earth would ministers want to do otherwise?

And, in our text this morning, Jesus, again, exposes the rotten hearts of all men as He challenges the humanistic law of the Pharisees.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth….’”

Now, as with the former four cases of Pharisaical perversion of the Law, this quote comes directly from the Mosaic Scriptures.  But again, as with the former four, the Pharisees had put a different spin on it in their tradition.

It appears three times in the Law of Moses – Exodus twenty-one, verse twenty-four; Leviticus twenty-four, verse twenty; and Deuteronomy chapter nineteen, verse twenty-one.  And in all three cases, the context is very plain.  All three have to do with the control of public sin and disorder – the control of which is placed in the hands of the civil magistrate!

Moses is simply saying that, in case of injury, whether that injury be bodily harm, or injury to property, or theft, or any other kind of depreciation of what God has given to your neighbor, then the punishment for that is to be fair and equitable.

In some pagan societies, where there is anarchy, there is very little punishment at all for causing loss to one’s neighbor.  And in others, such as the ones which surrounded the nation of Israel, there was heavy-handed rulership.  And punishment for those who broke the law of the local tyrant was very harsh!

But God said that His people were to be just and fair.  All crimes were to be punished with a suitable and equitable punishment.  People were not to be treated like animals.  Men were not to be degraded and publicly humiliated and treated with utter contempt by the magistrates – but all, rich or poor, were to receive a just and appropriate sentence for injuries caused to their neighbor.  That is what “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” means, an appropriate sanction for a particular sin.

And God gives many examples throughout Scripture of what a fair and just recommence is.  And magistrates were held responsible for wise judgment.  The barbarian people around the nation of Israel would cut off a man’s hand if he stole; and kill him if he stole something valuable!

But God’s Law does not allow for degrading the image of God!  It doesn’t allow for humiliation and crushing and shaming and abasing.  Men are not to be maimed and treated as animals in public.  God Himself sets the standards for sanctions.  Not only does He pronounce what is right, but He also sets the standard for punishing what is wrong!

God is always Good – and justice is fair and equitable.  And fairness and appropriateness are summed up in this verse quoted by Jesus – “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”  No more – no less than the right punishment.  Anything more is injustice.  Anything less is injustice.  “My people will be punished with an eye for an eye, and only an eye for an eye.”  And only the duly elected or appointed magistrates will do that.  The system is very carefully laid out in the Law, and evildoers will be dealt with only after all the facts are heard – and the magistrate will deal with him fairly and equitably and humanely!

Well, what’s wrong with all of this?  Did not the Pharisees teach these things?  Didn’t the lawyers know all of this and put it into practice?  Of course they did!  They didn’t do it right, but they had the system in place.  And it is the same system that the civil government ought to practice today! 

Paul, the New Testament prophet of the Law, says, in Romans thirteen, that the civil magistrate has been put in place by God to wield the sword for the public good – to punish wrongdoers.  That is the constitutional duty!  And many times he urges officials to be righteous and just before God in their duties!

But that is not the point!  Even though the Pharisees had the system in place – and even if they did pervert the system of public justice, often for their own benefit, that is still not the point!

Jesus’ condemnation of the leaders of Israel rested in the fact that they had no understanding of the desperate condition of their own hearts and those of the people!  And, therefore, they taught that the court system and public justice was the full intent and content of the Law!

The Pharisees had built up this voluminous law code, much like that which our congress churns out, covering the details of every crime, and the particular punishments that might be applied for each one, all having to do with public justice.  But they never taught what man’s heart was like, and what God’s Law intended that it ought to be!  They never taught that God’s Law commanded that a man be poor in spirit before God, and merciful – as God is merciful – and meek, and hungry for righteousness, and joyful in persecution!  They never taught that God’s Holy Law demanded those things!

And, therefore public justice became the standard for personal piety!  The controls on public disorder became the measurement for the individual’s adherence to God’s Law!  The public justice system became the model for a person’s dealing with his neighbors!

The Law of God taught these things: that the condition of man’s heart is degeneracy – that he must humble himself before God and confess his sin – that he must turn from his wickedness – that he must love his neighbor, and seek his neighbor’s best – that he must promote his neighbor’s welfare, build his neighbor’s reputation, refrain from doing any harm – help his neighbor’s marriage to succeed – help raise his neighbor’s children in the Lord – protect his neighbor’s property – and love him enough to correct him when he strays – and to be merciful when his neighbor acts in an ungodly manner!  In fact, the Law of God prophesied the nature of the coming Messiah Who was its fullness!

But the public justice system through the Pharisees, replaced all of that.  “An eye for an eye…” became the standard for interpersonal relationships.  Everyone was basically in an adversary relationship with all others!  The public justice system became the moral standard for personal relationships!  The code which God had given to the civil magistrate for the control of public evil became the standard which was used by men in dealing with their neighbors!  Do you see the distortion of God’s Law by the Pharisees?  They even went so far as to teach that retaliation was acceptable as long as it was fair!

And Jesus comes down on them hard, and says that is what you have done!  He says that the public justice system was given by God to control the evil and disorder of the public, and that was its specific purpose!  “But I say to you…” that it was not so, from the beginning, for my people to use the public justice system as their standard for personal piety!  He says that the Pharisees have distorted His Own words, and their righteousness is no righteousness at all!  And He tells His Own people that their righteousness must, in every way, exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees or they shall not enter the Kingdom!

And He says to His people that it is not their place to render evil for evil.  It is not their place to give blow for blow and stripe for stripe!  It is not their place to give an equitable punishment for sin.  That is the magistrates’ sole purpose for existing!  It is not the purpose of individual believers!

He says, verse thirty-nine, “But I say to you, resist not evil.”  Paul repeats it in Romans chapter thirteen.  We must not render evil for evil.  We must not avenge ourselves.  We must not bear grudges.  We must not plan to get even with those who treat us unjustly or unkindly.

Do you see the nature of Christ in this?  “Blessed those who are merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  Return mercy for unkindness!  The writer of the Proverbs interpreted the Law correctly when he wrote, in chapter twenty, “Say not ‘I will repay evil,’ but wait on the Lord, and He shall save you.”  God’s people must give way to God’s revenge and not repay it ourselves.  We are commanded to receive unkindness and return mercy!

A great man, whom I admire much, once wrote, “The first blow doesn’t start a fight.  It is the second one in return.  It takes two.”  And it does not justify us, when we quarrel and fight, to say, “You started it!”  Every time some unkindness is done to us we have an opportunity not to injure our neighbor – but to show ourselves as true disciples of Christ in showing mercy and forgiveness.  Jesus did that.  And we must put on His nature.

Now.  Having said, “don’t return evil for evil,” Jesus then gives us three examples to show that Christians must patiently yield to those who might be hard on us.  And please remember, as we examine these, that Jesus is not requiring something of all of us that we cannot attain to!  He commands that all of His people have this nature!  This is the description of a new creation on Christ – a new heart – which lives in the body of the Perfect Law-Keeper.  And in that body is the Power of all of His virtues and perfection!  And contention with our neighbors is a lust of the flesh.  It is a result of an angry and retaliatory nature – the old nature – and it is foreign to the Holiness of a new creation in Christ!  And the power to mortify the sin of retaliation – and replace it with mercy – is in Christ’s Spirit.  He is in us, and we are in Him!

And the first thing that is noticed in these three examples is the fact that the injustices are done to my person, my possessions and my liberty, or freedom.  Striking me, suing me and requiring me to be a servant in some way.   

In the first one Jesus says that if we – Christians, His disciples, Holy people, separate people - receive a blow we are not to strike back!  Look at verse thirty-nine.  Now, that is the ultimate indignity – to be struck by an angry person.  Especially if it is in public where other people can see what happened and witness your reaction!  It is embarrassing to be jeered at as a coward.

But our Lord was struck and whipped, and He did not strike back.  He bore it patiently for a purpose.  And for us to be in conformity to His example, and to suffer in His Name, we are to do the same!  We are to forgive the offense – not only endure it, but forgive it and show mercy in return!  Leave the recompense to Christ Who will reward us with eternal glory for the shame we endure in His Name.  And please be aware here that the purpose of this reaction is not to convert the one who has done this to us!  The purpose is to have the nature of Christ and to suffer indignity and humiliation with Him and in Him.  To show mercy is obedience to the Law of God, as was its content from the beginning.

In the second example, verse forty, Jesus says, “To the one wishing to take you to court and take your tunic, yield the mantle to him also.”  This is an attempt to take what is mine.  And it is a hard case.  And it is common that the legal system be used to injure somebody – especially in today’s litigious society.  And even if the judges are fair-minded and wise, many men are liars and forgers.  And the will take the coat off a man’s back to play out their anger and greed and perversity!

But we have to remember that our Lord was taken to court and sued for His life.  And He gave them what they wanted – for us.  And to be like Him, we must not render evil for evil, but show mercy and forgiveness.  Give the evil man what he wants – and more – to suffer loss in Christ.  And bring peace instead of counter suits and litigation.  It is much better to suffer a loss of personal possessions and to suffer with Christ, than it is to enter into a retaliatory law suit in an attempt to protect that which is only temporal!  We have to avoid the evil in every way we can, but refrain from resisting it when it does come.  Suffer the wrong and bring peace as a Christ-like peace-maker.  God is the One who avenges the wrath of angry and desperate men.

Then, thirdly, Christ brings up the constraint of our liberty!  This is a subject precious to many.  “And whoever shall compel you one mile, go two together with him.”  It may be a government – it may be a neighbor.  But the Pharisees taught that they were privileged.  And they were not to be pressed into service by any government or by any king like an ordinary citizen might be.  But our Lord will not have His disciples to insist upon this privilege, but to comply rather than offend the government.

We all have the tendency, when compelled to do something, to resist it with anger and pride.  But the regenerate heart will seek to serve rather than quarrel.  It will seek peace rather than enmity – and will do more than is required in order to accomplish that.

You might be saying, at this point, that human beings cannot do these things!  Flesh and blood is not like that!  But just remember that Scripture says that the flesh does not inherit the Kingdom!  The poor in spirit inherit it!  The persecuted inherit it!

Lastly, Jesus says we must be charitable and we must lend to those who wish to borrow.  Now this is set in the context of the seventh year and the Jubilee year, which the Pharisees were big on.  And the seventh year jubilee year required the release of all debt.  So when one needed or wanted to borrow, and it was close to the end of the sixth year, then the Pharisaical mind-set suspected the motives of the borrower!  And the natural reaction was to retaliate with a denial of the loan!

In fact, the more natural reaction is to stay away from someone when you know they are in great need of a loan, or gift!  And that way you will not be put into a position of saying no!

But God says, “Ask and it shall be given to you.”  And our Lord was merciful and pure in heart.  We should be ready, if we have something, to relieve suffering at the first word – without giving conditions and restrictions!

And a loan is sometimes as great a piece of charity as giving!  It not only relieves the present difficulties, but it also obliges the borrower to industry, thrift and honesty!  So, at first when you hear of the need, and you have that which you can lend, then be quick about it and relieve your brother!  Do not avoid him!  Remember, our Lord said that before we ask, God anticipates us with the blessings of His goodness.  And it is His image we seek to have.

People this is the heart of Christ’s people.  Not the heart of the Pharisee.  No retaliation to the evil-doer, and a giving spirit to those in need.  We need softer hearts – giving hearts.  Not hard, retaliatory hearts!