What does it look like to follow Christ? What does the life of one who has left everything to follow Jesus Christ look like? That is the question I think this next section in Luke’s gospel answers. After describing to us the call and response of Jesus’ disciples in 5:1-6:16, a section ending with a summary of the twelve, Luke now moves us to a scene in which Jesus addresses his disciples. And as he addresses them he focuses on what discipleship before him looks like. What does it mean for their status in this world in the next? What will characterize their lives now, and what will characterize their lives in eternity? And what is demanded of them? How must they live? This is what Jesus teaches us as he teaches in Luke 6:17-49.
With that said, I should also note that this is a hard text, and I mean that in two senses. First, it is hard to understand. I have wrestled with what Jesus means in some of these commands. It’s hard to figure out exactly how to work these things out in our lives, as we’ll as we look into the text. It’s an extremely hard text to understand. I was excited as I studied numerous biblical scholars looking at the text this week that all of them agreed on the structure of the text. It’s simply a consensus that you can break down this text in four sections: 17-19, 20-26, 27-38, and 39-49. However, somewhat disappointed to find that these scholars seemed to have as much trouble as I’ve had in understanding how that last section fits together.
An additional element that makes this text hard to understand is that much of this teaching by Jesus is mentioned in Matthew’s gospel. Now, at first, it might seem that this would make interpretation easier. However, it appears that throughout this sermon it is common for Luke to apply Jesus’ teaching in a different (and equally accurate) way, oftentimes mentioning a portion of what Matthew records and at other times inserting Jesus’ teaching in a different context. Simply put, it appears both men had access to Jesus’ teaching but took pieces of it and applied them at times differently as they were led by the Spirit in compiling their gospel. Again, it is a hard text, and by that I mean hard to understand.
However, I also mean something else by it. It is a hard text to obey. As I’ve read this text this week and meditated on it I have been awakened to the fact that my life has not been shaped by these commands that we find specifically in verses 27-38. They are hard to understand, as I’ve already said. But if I explain them in such a way this morning so that you are not challenged by them, then I know I have failed to communicate them accurately and you will need to think on them and pray over this text until my puny explanation has melted from your mind and you see the weight of these commands. I say that because though I’ve wrestled in understanding this text, it is crystal clear to me that these are radical commands that are far beyond the standards the world communicates to us. With that said, then, let’s turn to consider the text.
Luke begins this section by setting the stage. He gives us the setting in which Jesus delivers this sermon. Having just mentioned that Jesus called the disciples to himself after having prayed on a mountain all night, Luke begins this section with the disciples coming down with Jesus from the mountain as he stands and begins to teach. However, by this point the crowd is filled with more than just the twelve. There are a great crowd of his disciples as well as a multitude from all over the area who had come to hear Jesus teach and to be healed of their diseases. In fact, the power coming from Jesus was so apparent that people were seeking to touch him that they might be healed and delivered from unclean demons. And so it is to this crowd of disciples and others that Jesus begins teaching. And he begins in verses 20-26 addressing the status and condition of men as they respond to Jesus. Specifically he notes that those who follow Christ will be blessed some day while those who see no need for Christ will know condemnation.
Those who accept the cost of following Christ will be blessed in eternity (20-23)
Now we must consider what these men who are following Jesus have done. Peter, Andrew, James, and John have left their business of fishing, and Matthew has left his career as a tax collector. They have left everything, even their livelihood, to follow Christ. They are men who have realized they have great need and can only find the answer in Christ, as we saw last week. Therefore, Jesus addresses them in verses 20-23 saying that though following Christ will mean difficulty and suffering in this life, there will be a day when they will be blessed.
First, Jesus declares, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied” (20-21). Now, I think we first need to see that this is not simply a blessing on those who don’t have any money or much to eat. Such a person could theoretically hate the Lord and would not be blessed. Nor is there any gain in ridding oneself of money and food necessarily. At first glance we might think such a text is a command to go put all our money and food in a big pile and set it on fire. But I think we all know that that would accomplish no good. Rather, to be poor and hungry appear to represent spiritual realities. The poor and hungry appear to represent those in society who realize their need to depend on God, realizing their lack, and turning to God to help them. In essence, Jesus is saying, “Blessed are those who refuse to see themselves as sufficient but who know their need to depend on God to meet their need.” For such people who turn to God in faith as their only hope, those people will be a part of Christ’s kingdom and will know satisfaction in eternity. It may be that they appear weak and are easily despised in this life, but they will be blessed in the next because their obvious sense of need has led them to turn to Christ. This would have been descriptive of those early disciples.
Yet Jesus continues. He declares, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (21-23).
He wants them to know that following him not only means you will see your need for him in this life and inability to rely on yourself; it also means that you will suffer on account of following him. They will weep because of the scorn and suffering they face. Because of their association with Jesus they will be excluded reviled and spurned. They will suffer. However, they can rejoice, knowing that they will one day laugh and that they will have great reward in heaven. In addition, they can take comfort in the fact that they are in good company as those prophets in the Old Testament who faithfully preached God’s Word suffered greatly.
Those who deny Christ will be lacking and know condemnation in eternity (24-26)
Then, in verses 24-26 Jesus gives us the reverse picture. Instead of speaking of those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and reviled, he now addresses those who are rich, full, laughing, and have everyone speaking well of them. He tells us that such people have their blessing in this life. They are rich now, full now, laugh now, and receive acceptance now. But in eternity they will be without, will hunger, will mourn and weep, and will know condemnation. Even as the first group can identify themselves with those prophets blessed of God, this group can identify themselves with those false prophets who were under God’s condemnation. Those who refuse to see their need for God and turn from him, relying only on themselves and seeking only blessing in this world will know need and condemnation in the next.
And so the question for us is, which group are we in? Are we those who say, “I will follow Christ, knowing my need for him and knowing the suffering it will cost me, because I know that eternity awaits me” or will we be those who see no need for Christ and seek blessing in this life, knowing it will mean condemnation in the next? Is your answer to that obvious in the way you live?
But before answering that question, let’s move on to the next section of Jesus’ teaching because it is here he lays out what following him will look like. It’s easy for us to read verses 20-26 and say, “I’ll choose group one” but the answer is not that easy. After all, I’m sure that all of us would say, “I’ll choose treasure and greatness that will last for eternity rather than temporary treasure and passing praise in this short life” but how many of us truly display that by pouring our treasures into God’s service and using our lives not to seek our own ambitious prestige but to serve others? This question is harder than it appears at first glance. Therefore, in verses 27-38 Jesus outlines what following him looks like. And we might sum it up in saying it is a radical and extremely difficult calling.
Jesus’ followers must love and do good to those who hate and abuse them (27-31)
Jesus begins this section of teaching saying, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (27-31).
It seems as we walk through these statements, Jesus’ commands get more outrageous. We are first commanded to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us. I think these commands might not come across as shocking to us because we don’t understand enemies to well in our culture. We might think here of someone who is a brother in Christ who unintentionally offended us with him words, and we respond saying, “Well, it’s hard, but I’ll love him. I want good for him. I’ll even pray for God to do him good.” But that is not an enemy.
Christ had enemies as people cursed him, beat him, and killed him. Christians around the world have enemies as men come and take their families and murder them before them for following Christ. The wife of Michael Sattler had enemies as she was forced to watch as they stripped her husband, tied him to an ox cart, and ripped out pieces of his flesh with hot tongs before they burned him at the stake. And they did it because he would not disobey the commands of Christ. Those are enemies. That’s what an enemy is. And the reality that we have so few if any true enemies who would seek our harm and would abuse us is a great exception in the history of the church. We strain to feel the weight of this text not because we’re not in some extreme and odd situations of persecutions but because our situation is odd and extreme in the history of the church. We might even find it hard to believe that heaven is greater than this life and definitely struggle to long for the return of Christ.
But thinking for a second about true enemies who abuse and curse Christ’s followers, Jesus says to love them, do them good, bless them, and pray for them. How do you respond to that man whose action brings about true hatred in your heart? You love him. You do good to him. You ask God to bless him, and you pray for him. That’s the kind of radical response that is demanded of a follower of Christ.
But it doesn’t stop there. We must sacrificially give of ourselves for the good of others. Jesus shows this in four examples. He says that if one strikes us on one cheek we should offer the other also, if takes our cloak, we should give him our tunic as well, if one asks for something give it to him, and if one takes from you, do not demand your goods returned. We must do to others as we would desire them to do to us.
Now, my first response to this is to say that this can’t be right. The first isn’t greatly challenging. To strike the cheek was probably a reference to an insult, slapping one with the back of the hand. Jesus is telling us that his followers must not hurl insults back but must be willing to receive them continually without response. But the other commands seem ridiculous.
To translate it into our day, if someone takes my jacket, I should give him my shirt as well? If someone takes something from me, I should not demand that my goods be returned? And I must give to anyone who asks for something of me? These commands have caused me great struggle this week. For on the one hand, I say, “These can’t be meant to be taken literally.” After all, if we followed these exactly would it not result in us eventually having no houses, being unable to care for our families, and constantly being abused by others. It might mean that we ultimately have no clothes (which would obviously limit our lives). It could mean that we take our paychecks, cash them, and give them to the man next door who delights in taking advantage of us. Therefore, I want to conclude (as do most commentators) that these are hyperbolic commands, exaggerated exhortations meant to shock us and move us but not to be followed literally.
On the other hand, I don’t want to us to hear these commands as something that is easily received by us. I don’t want to be as one who says that the command Jesus gave the rich young ruler was not really to sell everything he had and give it away but just when the decision comes to by the fifty-four or seventy inch television to choose the smaller of the two. If I end of taking Jesus’ commands and presenting them to us in a very palatable way, then I believe I have failed to accurately present his teaching.
Therefore, here is what I will say. Jesus expects us to demonstrate our love for others (even our enemies) in such a way that our response to them continually puts us in a position of getting abused by them. We must love others enough and long for their good enough that we are willing to put ourselves in positions again and again that we are likely to be abused, taken advantage of, and even greatly persecuted. I don’t think it means I must simply dish out every cent of cash to anyone who comes by the church and asks for money, but I believe I must seek to discern how I might best meet their need and aid them. For some it will mean giving to them. For others it will mean giving them nothing but a lesson in how not to arrive in such a place again. But I must love them enough to do good to them, even as a risk of being abused myself. I simply don’t think we can get away from the fact that Jesus expects obedience to him to expose us to the constant risk of abuse at the world’s hands.
As I read this text I think of Nathan and Susan Young who give of their time and energy and their very lives to do what is best for people who might take it, run, and be not an ounce better for it. I think of their stories of fighting alongside a girl to break drug addictions when she could simply be wanting to steal from them, run, and get right back on drugs. And before we say, “Wow, what an amazing couple” I want to say that I think that’s normal Christianity according to this text. Before we all marvel and praise Elizabeth Elliott and others who went back to a tribe of people who murdered their husbands and fathers so that they might hear the gospel, I want to say, how is that special when these are Jesus’ commands? Could it be that we have so demoted our understanding of Christ’s commands that when someone obeys them we see it as the most exceptional and strange act in history? Now, I’m not saying that to diminish their actions but simply to point out that these seem to be modeling for us the simple expectations of following Christ. This is to be normal Christianity.
Jesus’ followers must surpass the world’s standards, knowing Christ will bless them (32-35)
Jesus makes clear in verses 32-35 that he expects something much greater than what the world does. If our response is, “But Jesus, this is not how the world operates,” it appears from verses 32-35 that his answer is, “I know. I want you to operate on a much higher standard than the world does.”
He tells us that if we love those who love us, we’re doing nothing more than sinners do. If we do good to those who do good to us, we’re doing nothing more than sinners do. If we lend to those only whom we know will pay back, we’re doing nothing more than sinners do. Implication: he is calling us to do much more and love much more than sinners do. Again, he sums up his command in verse 35 saying, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
How do we find the strength to live such a way when it means we will lose so much and life will be so difficult? We know two things. First, we will have great reward in eternity. We will know that God sees us, is taking an account of these things, and will reward us. It might looks like no one praises you as you’ve poured into someone and given to them and they’ve only taken from you, ridiculed you, and abused you. But God sees that, and he’ll reward you in heaven. And, second, we can know that as we live that way we are demonstrating that we are sons of God. We are showing that we belong to God by living like him. After all, he is kind to the ungrateful and evil, and anyone who is his true followers must do the same.
Jesus’ followers must extend mercy and blessing, knowing God will extend it to them (36-38)
In the last part of this section Jesus commands us to be merciful as God is merciful. We must not judge and condemn others. By that he doesn’t mean we should not make assessments of others, for Scripture teaches us to discern what is good and what is not. It does not mean that we cannot tell another he is wrong and even warn him of judgment. After all, that is commanded by Christ and is loving. But I think Jesus is saying that we cannot judge someone to be under condemnation and unworthy of mercy. We cannot judge another to have put himself in a position that he is unworthy of mercy and forgiveness. We cannot judge him to be worthy only of us withholding mercy and forgiveness. If we do that we are expressing our desire for God to the same to us. While if we lavish mercy and forgiveness upon others we are demonstrating our desire for God to do the same to us.
And Jesus tells us that this is how things work. As we give, God gives to us. And he does not skimpily give to us. He gives, pressing it down, shaking it together, running it over, so that we have every bit that measure that we have measured out to others as well. In short, you cannot out-give or out-forgive God. You will not come close to blessing others in the way that God intends to bless his obedient followers.
And so the calling to us as Jesus’ followers is great. We are to love in such a way that we continually expose ourselves to the abuse of the world. We seek their good though it means we will suffer loss of time, energy, and finances. We seek to give them the gospel, though it means they might take our lives. We live with a willingness to expose ourselves to our own hurt for their good, knowing that God will reward and bless those who do so. Remember that Jesus Christ voluntarily gave his life for his enemies and even prayed for our forgiveness with his last breath. Should we expect to operate by the world’s standards as we follow him?
Then, as we turn to this final section (39-49), it seems a bit odd. How do these things connect to the rest of the sermon? What is he saying? Do these things relate to one another? I think they do. I think they are basically a warning concerning our obedience to these commands. Disobeying these commands will cause us to turn to a blind teacher, ignore foundational obedience in our lives, display our evil hearts, and build our lives on a shaky foundation.
We disobey Christ’s commands at great cost (39-49)
In verses 39-40 Christ tells a parable to illustrate the importance of obeying him as teacher. He points out that a blind man cannot lead a blind man. That is, to turn from someone who doesn’t know the commands of God is like turning to a blind man. Then, he points out that a disciple is not above his teacher and when he is truly trained will be like his teacher. Therefore, if we choose another as our teacher so that we may not obey Christ’s commands, we will limit ourselves to being like that one, who is below Christ. Therefore, though Christ’s commands are demanding and difficult, consider that there is no other teacher who has given to us the commands of God.
In addition, if we ignore these commands, we are choosing to ignore the foundational expectations of how a godly man should live. Thus, when we seek to correct others we will be noticing the speck in their eye while ignoring the beam in our own. We need first to ensure that we are obeying the commands we have received from Christ ourselves, then we can turn to address the speck in our brothers’ eyes.
In addition, our response to these commands will display the nature of our hearts and our treasure. If we turn from these commands and yet hope to display our goodness, our fruit will reveal that we are evil in our nature and treasure evil. Our lives will reveal our true selves.
And, finally, if we acknowledge Christ is Lord and the teacher from God, then how can we refuse to obey him. That is, you either must deny who he is or you must obey him. If you do obey him, you will build your life on a foundation that will stand through this life and in the next. But if you don’t you will build your house without a foundation which will be displayed in this life and exposed in judgment.
Therefore, I think it’s clear that Jesus does not stand and give us a list of suggestions. Only in living as he commands will you be blessed in eternity. And if you don’t obey them you will display that you are evil in your nature and will not stand at judgment. So, this is not a choice of, “Do whichever you like.” This sermon is a command that says, “Obey and be blessed, for if you don’t you’ll be judged as a wicked man before God.”
I would then ask all of us this morning. Will you obey Christ’s commands? Will you obey his radical commands of love in verses 27-38? Will you love and live at a standard that does not remotely resemble the standards of this world? Will you love to the point that you expose yourself to the abuse of others as we seek their good? I think nothing less is demanded of a follower of Christ. Therefore, let us consider as we answer what this means. If we refuse to obey these great commands that might leave us weeping and reviled and persecuted in this life, then we cannot claim to be a follower of Christ. We might call him “Lord, Lord” with our lips, but our lives, our response to his commands, will show if he really is our Lord. May we proclaim our obedience in faith as we come to the table, proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. Amen.