Thursday, May 2, 2024

Perfected Disciples

Jesus instructed us to become “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” yet how can we emulate the perfect righteousness of God? His explanation was clear - By performing acts of mercy, ESPECIALLY to our enemies. Self-sacrificial love goes to the heart of his message and the nature of the merciful God. Was he not the Messiah who submitted to an undeserved death for us even when we were the “enemies of God”?

Performing acts of kindness is how we “fulfill the Law and the Prophets,” and thus achieve a level of righteousness that “exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.” In the preceding clause, Jesus used a Greek term that meant “superabounding,” that is, in this case, “more than” the righteousness of even the strictest religious interpretations, an impossible goal for imperfect human beings - (Matthew 5:17-20).

Downpour - Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash
[Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash]

For us, lavishing mercy on opponents and persecutors is
NOT optional but pivotal. This is what it means to take up the Cross and follow Jesus “wherever he leads.”

Despite the extreme difficulty, Jesus declared, “Therefore, you shall become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The conjunction “therefore” connects the exhortation to what preceded it, the summons for his followers to love their enemies. By doing so, we become “perfect as his heavenly Father” - (Matthew 5:43-48).

The paragraph concludes the larger literary unit that began with the declaration that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. What was germinal under the Law came to fruition in his life and teachings, and what he required of his disciples exceeded the requirements of the Mosaic Law and the “traditions of the elders” imposed on Israel.

Unless our “righteousness superabounded more than the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees” we cannot hope to enter the Kingdom of God.

His declaration concerning the “Law and Prophets” was followed by six examples of how our “righteousness” surpasses that of the “Scribes and Pharisees.” Jesus did not simply reaffirm the statutes of the Law - he pierced through to their true intent. This surfaces in how we treat others, especially our “enemy.”

He extrapolated from the prohibition against murder to the principle that one should not even harbor anger toward another. Hatred leads to bitterness, and bitterness to murder. Instead of just refusing to kill an opponent, we must seek reconciliation with anyone who offends us, and we must pray for our enemies and do good to them. Evil is overcome by positive actions - (Matthew 5:21-26).

Likewise, we must do more than just abstain from adultery, lying, or murder. Life in his Kingdom demands something more than just following the letter of the Law. It is insufficient not to lie. We must become truth-tellers in every interaction with others.

Jesus turned the idea of an “eye for an eye” into the moral principle of “turning the other cheek.” He repudiated the popular interpretation that added the clause, “and hates his enemy” to the original love commandment. Since the Law explicitly commanded love for fellow Israelites but omitted any mention of Gentiles, so the logic went, hatred of enemies was permissible - (Leviticus 19:18).

SHOWING MERCY


Jesus rejected that wrongheaded interpretation. Since the commandment of God prohibited any act of vengeance, the Law does not allow us to hate anyone, whether Jew, Gentile, friend, or foe, let alone commit evil against them.

Men are conditioned to think as the world does and therefore choose to retaliate against anyone who acts against their interests. In contrast, we are summoned to love our enemies, to pray for everyone who abuses us, and to do them only “good.”

Does God not send His rain on the just and the unjust? This statement is derived from the final clause of Leviticus 19:18. After commanding Israel not to take vengeance, God stressed His identity: “I am Yahweh.” He shows mercy to the deserving and the undeserving, which is fundamental to His nature. He is “Yahweh,” the one who keeps His promises, the same God who “desires mercy, not sacrifice,” and He rejoices in mercy and the merciful!

If we limit His love to friends and family, how are we any better than tax collectors or Gentiles, let alone the outwardly devout “Scribes or Pharisees”? We naturally love those who do us good, but loving our mortal enemies is something altogether different and foreign to our sin-dominated natures.

L0ve is much more than an emotion or an abstract concept. It is demonstrated in concrete acts of mercy. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”

Jesus engaged in the ultimate act of mercy when he “gave his life as a ransom for many.” Included under the term “many” were his friends AND his “enemies”:

  • For if BEING ENEMIES we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” – (Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 5:10, 12:20, 1 John 3:18).

Righteousness is not demonstrated by restraining ourselves from committing sin or conforming to someone else’s concept of morality. It is manifested by the good we do to others, especially our opponents and persecutors!

Finally, the simple command of Jesus to love our enemies demonstrates eloquently that in his Kingdom there is no place for hatred, violence, or retaliation. It is through proactive love and concrete deeds of mercy that our righteousness superabounds, and our abundance overflows to others.



SEE ALSO:
  • Servant of Yahweh - (Paul summons believers to adopt the same mind that Jesus had when he poured out his life unto death for others – Philippians 2:5-11)
  • Royal Servant - (Following his baptism in the Jordan River, the voice from Heaven identified Jesus as the Son of God and the Servant of the LORD)