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Focal passages: Matthew 5:9, 38-48; Romans 12:21
Background passages: Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:21

Jesus begins his ministry by announcing that a new age is dawning. The Kingdom of God is breaking into human history. Jesus calls all people to repent and realign their lives with God’s rule and reign (Matthew 4:23-25). Matthew records that Jesus withdraws to the mountain to explain to his followers the practical implications of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God. These teachings are known as the Sermon on the Mount. 

The Sermon on the Mount begins with the section of verses known as the Beatitudes (verses 1-12). In the Beatitudes, Jesus declares a blessing on unlikely individuals who suffer in some way typically because of the standards of the worldly kingdoms. In the eyes of the world, none of these types of people would be considered blessed. They are weak and live in a hostile world who takes every advantage it can. But with his arrival, Jesus reverses the order of things, and turns the world upside down. In God’s Kingdom, those who recognize their dependency upon God, those who embrace the merciful and giving way of Jesus are blessed in the present. They will be also blessed in the future, when the rule and reign of Jesus is completely established for all eternity. 

Matthew 5:9 The rest of this lesson specifically focuses on what it means to be a peacemaker in the kingdom of God. 

Being a peacemaker is not being tolerant nor is it about being nice. Rather it is actively working between divided parties to bring about peace. Jesus gave his life on the cross in order to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Because we are reconciled with God by the blood of Jesus, we are also able to live in peace with one another. A peacemaker is one who will actively resemble Jesus through their thoughts and actions. Others will recognize the peacemaker as the son or daughter of God. Among other blessings, the life of a peacemaker will result in positive relationships and harmony with other people instead of violence and constant turmoil. 

Have you ever had the opportunity to “stand” between two factions and work for reconciliation? What was required of you in that moment? What was the result of your effort? What did you learn? 

Matthew 5: 38-42 In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a picture of what it looks like to live as a peacemaker. Modern readers may be dismayed at this seemingly harsh message of “an eye for an eye” and a “tooth for a tooth.” In fact, Jesus is quoting the Old Testament where in several passages, God gives this instruction to his people (See Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:21). 

For us to understand the teaching of Jesus in this passage, we first must know what the statement meant in its original context. Prior to God’s covenant with Israel and the laws that were a part of their relationship, the world operated in a much different manner. Vengeance was common and the result was an on-going cycle of violence. When God gave his people the law through Moses, he called them to a different way of living in exchange for his blessing. Punishments were to be given by the community and were always equal to the crime. The purpose of these laws was to restrain bad behavior. 

Jesus steps into history and limits violence even more. He says, don’t use violence to resist evil. Those who are shaped by the Kingdom ethic, will respond to injustice by offering mercy, grace and compassion instead of retribution. In Jesus, someone greater than Moses has arrived and his words are more significant that the words of Moses. Jesus’ commands do not contradict the law, but rather they go to the heart of the law. The one who puts into practice the teaching of Jesus will not violate the Old Testament law but will live according to the ultimate will of God. 

Verses 39-41.  In these verses, Jesus gives three specific examples of not opposing an aggressor: 
  1. Being slapped was a way to insult or shame another person. This act would normally elicit a response to react accordingly. 
  2. Being sued in court was a legal form of aggression. It was legal to ask for the inner garment or shirt, but a court would not require an individual to also surrender their outer garment or coat in payment. Jesus goes beyond what is legal and says to relinquish what you are not required nor expected to give. 
  3. Being forced to go one mile and then offering to go two signifies that Jesus also extends love to the Gentiles. A Roman soldier could compel a Jew to carry his pack or some other object for a distance of up to one mile. In actuality, the person would have to walk up to two miles total, since he would have to return to the place where the soldier commandeered him. The Jews hated this law, and for Jesus to tell his listeners to go a second mile was scandalous. 

Verse 42 Life in the Kingdom of God is also a generous life. Jesus calls upon his followers to give without thought of who can repay. Christians are not to determine who deserves our gifts but rather to give when there is opportunity. As we give, we also live as a peacemaker. In the face of hardship, we offer grace as opposed to judgment. 

How would you sum up the examples that Jesus used to illustrate the life of the peacemaker? Why is this teaching so difficult for us to obey? What might happen if you choose forgiveness instead of retaliation in a moment of conflict? What might happen if you respond with humility instead of pride? What happens to you when you give of your time or your possessions to someone who did not deserve your gift? Why do you think Jesus wants his followers to live in this way?

Verses 43-48
The phrase “love your neighbor” comes from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus would use it again as one of the two great commands in Matthew 22:34-40. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus linked the love of God with the love of neighbor, even saying that the way a person loves their neighbor will reveal how much that individual actually loves God. 

God demonstrated his love when he sent his Son to die on the cross for an undeserving world. Jesus calls his followers to love others in the way that they have been loved. The Jews considered tax collectors and Gentiles to be unbelievers. Jesus is calling on his followers to extend themselves on behalf of those who oppose their beliefs and way of life.

It is conceivable that a person might be want to love someone who is like them and who has been kind to them. When we love those who love us, we are no different than the pagan, for everyone loves the people who love them. What sets Christians apart is that we love people who aren’t like us. We love people who treat us badly. We love our enemies. 

Retaliation or even holding grudges only fuels the fire of division. It is forgiveness and love that ultimately defeats evil. Jesus was not a weak person nor a passive person. He gave his life and in doing so he overcame evil and defeated Satan. 

Do you have to feel love for an enemy in order to pray for them? What might happen if you begin to pray for those who irritate you or cause you real pain? How do you become the kind of person who keeps short accounts of the wrongs that have been committed? What is the difference between ignoring what has happened to you and true forgiveness of the sin against you? 

Romans 12:21
The Apostle Paul calls upon those who have been saved by the grace of God to pattern their lives after their Savior. 

            Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We overcome evil when we refuse to hold grudges and retaliate. We overcome evil when we forgive those who have harmed us and look for ways to make peace. When we do the hard work of doing good in the face of evil, we will surprise our enemies. Our response may even lead to a different way of relating, and we may actually discover that God is already at work in their lives. 

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