Chapter 5:43-48 (ESV) - “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Question to consider: Who did the people consider their enemies?
After commanding the crowds to show mercy, even to Roman soldiers who mistreated them, Jesus added today’s shocker to it. Jesus recognized that the Law could be summed up as “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) However, He doesn’t leave it there because the scribes and religious leaders inevitably began to debate about who was to be considered their neighbor. The full verse in Leviticus 19:18 was, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” So, they used “sons of your own people” to limit the idea of “neighbor” to the circumcised. It was then okay to call the uncircumcised “enemy,” and hate them.
The very one who wrote the Law was standing before the people of Israel in flesh and giving them His intention behind the word neighbor: it included their enemies. It should not have been a shock to them, for God’s promise to Abraham was a plan to bless “all nations.” Israel was always meant to be a light to the Gentiles and not consider them their enemy.
Praise God for this because at one time, we were all His enemies, and if we lived long enough before coming to Christ, chances are we persecuted those who belonged to Christ and cursed Christ Himself. While Jesus was being nailed to a cross, He continually prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” while they drove in the nails, cast lots for His clothes, and mocked Him as the king of the Jews.
Those who listened to this sermon would definitely be understanding at this point that one must be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees to be worthy to enter the Messiah’s kingdom. I know I have fallen short of this command. I have not been perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus was the only one in history who was worthy of the kingdom of heaven. He was perfect as His heavenly Father is perfect. This is why salvation belongs to Him alone, and the people to which He gives it. He came to take our sin and pay its cost on the cross in order that we may receive the gift of His righteousness. This is the cost of our citizenship in His kingdom.
Dear Lord, thank You for paying the price for us to be citizens in Your kingdom. Now that we have received Your righteousness, we ask Your Holy Spirit to help us grow into it. Help us to love those who are enemies of the cross and pray for them even though they may persecute us so that one day, they may praise Your holy name. Amen.