For an exegesis course in seminary, I was assigned R.T. France’s Mark in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) series. The assignment was to read the entire commentary that semester, and I read every one of its 700+ pages. It was that good.
Like the rest of the NIGTC series, France’s volume focuses first on the Greek text, including textual variants where they arise. France is a careful interpreter and keeps the other synoptic gospels in view throughout the commentary. This is not, however, to the exclusion of a keen awareness of and sensitivity to the literary context of Mark as its own book. Even as he unpacks the lexical range of a Greek word, he keeps the larger contour of Mark in view.
As I mentioned in another France review, despite the technical nature of Mark, France moved me deeply with his interaction with the text. He helped me to know and love Jesus more deeply, using the Greek text of Mark as a means to that end. You can find France’s commentary on Amazon (affiliate link) here. It’s in Logos here, where it is well-produced and thoroughly hyperlinked.
For as much as I’ve reviewed Logos Bible Software, I’ve barely mentioned Biblia.com. It’s a Web-based way of accessing Logos resources you own. This is especially helpful for those times when I just need to pull up a commentary (like France’s) but don’t want to wait for Logos to open, load, or index. It looks like this (click on image to enlarge):
I haven’t found a way to make the ads at lower left disappear. Nor is Biblia intended to be as full-bodied as Logos (note that it’s in Beta). Since you can access it through any Web browser, it’s fairly universally accessible. Only real downside I’ve experienced: unlike Logos on iOS, Mac, and PC, you can’t highlight or take notes in any resources. But for reading texts–two at a time, as shown above–it’s pretty handy.
You can see above how I’m reading France’s Mark on the right, with a Bible open on the left. Regarding the way that Mark introduces John the Baptist at Mark 1:9, France writes:
(ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις has an equally formal, ‘biblical’ ring; Mark stands in the tradition of the great chroniclers of the acts of God in the OT.) It introduces a new phase in the story and, in this case, a new actor in the drama.
This is one of many examples of France’s using Greek to help the reader better understand what Mark is up to in his Gospel. His command of Greek and obvious love for God make this the first commentary to reach for when reading, teaching, or preaching on Mark.
Thanks to Logos for the review copy of the NIGTC series. See also my post about NIGTC Matthew in Logos here.
In early February I finished reading Steve Moyise’s Jesus and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. You can read what I wrote about it here. Here is the concluding portion of that review:
Jesus and Scripture would be perfect for a seminary course on the Gospels, or on the NT use of the OT. An advanced undergrad course would also do well to adopt this book. I’d also recommend it to a serious Bible reader–no biblical languages are needed here, and I found that even with my own knowledge gaps in historical Jesus studies, Moyise explained everything I needed to know.
Though this survey is short (less than 150 pages), Moyise gives plenty of sample passages and insights that have challenged me. I know this is a book I will come back to and want to read again in the future.
This month Logos Bible Software is offering their edition of the book for free. It’s a fantastic book, and I look forward to being able to use it now electronically (with keyword searchability and hyperlinked Scripture references throughout). You can get the book here.
My wife recently checked out a Bonhoeffer DVD for me, which we started watching the other night. We’re halfway through, and it’s already quite moving. First Run Features put it out, called Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist, Nazi Resister (pictured above).
Here is the film synopsis:
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the first, and strongest, voices of resistance to Adolf Hitler. An acclaimed preacher, pacifist and author, Bonhoeffer came to the famed Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem on a teaching fellowship. When Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in 1932 he had a new awareness of racial prejudice and challenged Christian churches to stand with the Jews in their moment of need. Bonhoeffer eventually joined the unsuccessful plots to assassinate Hitler and was executed three weeks before the end of the war.
Here’s part of the movie, “Bonhoeffer Speaks Out Against Hitler”:
You can find the DVD here (affiliate link) or, most likely, at your local library. With how much Bonhoeffer I’ve been reading lately, it’s been nice to watch a filmic representation of his life–although further study of his life and struggle against Nazism is not for the faint of heart.
In 1932 Dietrich Bonhoeffer co-wrote a draft for a catechism called, “As You Believe, So You Receive.” The catechism is “for students in a confirmation class and yet is intended not only for them.” Bonhoeffer and his co-writing friend Franz Hildebrandt wrote it as a Lutheran catechism, but almost all of it is ecumenically appropriate.
Here are a few excerpts:
What is the gospel?
This is the message of God’s salvation that has appeared to us in Jesus Christ and has been conveyed to us through his Spirit. This is the message of the kingdom of God that is contested in the world and intended for God’s righteous. This is the message of God’s will, which speaks today and decides over life and death.
How does Jesus of Nazareth help me today?
To know about Jesus does not yet mean to believe in him. Merely considering him to be true is, of course, lifeless. Faith depends not on lifeless letters but rather on the living Lord who stands commandingly before us, above all doubt about the Bible and its stories.
Why is actually Jesus the Lord?
He is the answer to every human question. He is the salvation in all the sufferings of the world. He is the victory over all our sins. In him, you have God himself in his power and the human being in complete powerlessness.
Does the church, then, act according to the will of Christ?
The church knows today more than ever how little it obeys the Sermon on the Mount. Yet the greater the discord in the world becomes, the more Christ wants to have proclaimed the peace of God that reigns in his kingdom. The church still continues daily in prayer for the return of its divine Lord, and he lays his hand upon it, until he leads the church to its fulfillment.
What do we know of eternal life?
Whether we want it or not—as truly as God lives—our life has come under God’s judgment and has been sustained by God’s hand. Not flesh and blood, but rather spirit, soul, and body are to rise up from the dead. We know not when the hour will come, but the church looks forward with all creation to a new earth and a new heaven.
The catechism is short–barely 10 pages in volume 11 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. (This particular catechism is also included in The Bonhoeffer Reader.) But even in its brevity there is much to take in, and the “carefully focused reading” that the introduction to the catechism calls for is greatly rewarded.
Scot McKnight just released a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. I’ll post a review in due time, but as I prepare my sermon for our church’s last Sunday in the Sermon on the Mount, I wanted to give props here to what is a really good commentary! McKnight blends careful exegesis with relevant application, and isn’t afraid to really wrestle with some of the challenges Jesus issues in the S.Mount. Highly recommended.
Until recently I haven’t known much about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life, let alone his early years. I’m working my way through Eberhard Bethge’s thousand-page biography of Bonhoeffer. I’ve just finished reading about his early years and his first year as a university student.
Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906. He was a twin (Sabine was his twin sister). Including Dietrich, there were eight (!) Bonhoeffer children. The death of his older brother Walter in World War I “left an indelible mark,” as Bethge tells it, on the 12-year-old Dietrich and his family–especially his mother.
Bethge describes a Bonhoeffer family who had money (servants, a summer home, a large house) but who were by no means ostentatious. Nor were the children spoiled, according to Bonhoeffer’s biographer. He writes:
The children’s day followed a disciplined pattern; they always knew where they were, and the routine never struck them as restrictive, for they also knew that their parents arranged happy surprises and outings every now and then.
Dietrich was a talented pianist and played the lute, so well that “for a time both he and his parents thought he might become a professional musician.”
At the age of 17, Bonhoeffer went to the University of Tübingen for a year, where his father had gone. Bethge notes that Bonhoeffer’s “priority was philosophy.” The prologue of the Gospel of John especially interested Bonhoeffer, who also took classes on the Psalms and Old Testament theology, among others. But primarily his foundation in that first year was philosophical:
That indeed summed up Dietrich’s year in Tübingen. It was characterized by his wide range of interest, without a firm commitment to any particular area, and by a persistent exploration of the epistemological field.
Bonhoeffer would continue his education at Berlin, beginning his dissertation at the age of 19 and completing it in a year and a half. He successfully defended that work at the age of 21.
This is the second post in “Tuesdays in Lent with Bonhoeffer.” See the first one (on forgiveness) here. I describe the series more here. Bethge’s biography of Bonhoeffer can be found here (Amazon affiliate link) or here.
[A]nalysis of the social-historical contexts of Matthew and his traditions on one hand, and pericope-by-pericope suggestions concerning the nature of Matthew’s exhortations to his Christian audience on the other.
Keener is behind the ever-useful IVP Bible Background Commentary, now in a revised edition. And his exegetical commentary on the first two chapters ofActs is more than 1,000 pages, not counting the bibliography and indeces. Quantity does not always mean quality–it’s harder to write less than more, most of the time–but one can rightly expect Keener to be both thorough and insightful.
Let me jump right in with why I like (and trust) his Matthew commentary.
The Gospel of Matthew is one of the best laid out commentaries I’ve used. The section on the Lord’s Prayer (“The Kingdom Prayer,” as Keener has it) is a good example. There’s a bold heading with an introduction to the prayer. Here Keener compares the prayer in Matthew to the version in Luke, while offering explanations as to why the two forms differ slightly. Then Keener goes through the passage phrase-by-phrase in eight parts, with the summary statement for each of the parts in bold.
For example, he writes, “Second, the prayer seeks first God’s glory, not the petitioner’s own needs….” Then he uses italics for key questions or insights in each of the eight parts of the prayer. As here: “What did it mean in a first-century Jewish context for God’s name to be hallowed in the future?”
The result is a commentary that is highly scannable and readable. Just the simple use of bold and italics, throughout the book, helps orient the reader to what Keener is doing–not to mention offers some really good ideas for how to preach or teach on the text. The layout also makes it easy to get a quick, cursory overview of how Keener understands a given passage.
Matthew, According to Keener
Keener’s humility is refreshing, as he writes that, “in contrast to [his] earlier opinion,” he is:
therefore presently inclined to accept the possibility of Matthean authorship on some level, although with admitted uncertainty. Perhaps the most probable scenario that incorporates the best of all the currently available evidence is the presence of at least a significant deposit of Matthean tradition in this Gospel, edited by the sort of Matthean school scholars have often suggested (though I believe the final product is the work of a single author, not a “committee”).
His judicious weighing of the consideration for and against actual Matthean authorship will allow the reader to have an informed opinion. Does it matter?
Yet what we do conclude about the author does affect our understanding of the Gospel. Matthew is clearly Jewish, in dialogue with contemporary Jewish thought, and skilled in traditional Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament…. Matthew also knows the context of his citations much better than many modern readers have supposed…, and he demonstrates familiarity with a variety of text-types….
On author and intended audience, Keener concludes:
Concurring with the perspectives of what is still probably the minority view, I find in the Gospel an author and audience intensely committed to their heritage in Judaism while struggling with those they believe to be its illegitimate spokespersons. On this reading, Matthew writes to Jewish Christians who, in addition to being part of their assemblies as believers in Jesus, are fighting to remain part of their local synagogue communities.
The introductory material covers the rest of the expected territory: dating, rhetoric, social settings, Gospel sources, the use of narratives in the early church, structure, and more. I found the introductory sections on Jesus (as teacher, as prophet-healer, as Messiah/King, as Son of God) especially illuminating for understanding Matthew as a whole. Keener also has a couple pages upfront about Matthew’s important “Kingdom of Heaven” theme, including this gem:
In short, the present significance of the future kingdom in early Christian teaching was thus that God’s people in the present age were citizens of the coming age, people whose identity was determined by what Jesus had done and what they would be, not by what they had been or by their status in the world.
Though the commentary is academic in nature, it also “will preach” pretty well, as Keener’s lines above make clear.
A Few More Highlights
As soon as picking up the commentary, one will want to read the Excursus on Pharisees (p. 538) and Excursus: Was Jesus Executed on Passover? (p. 622).
One should not expect to find lexical or grammatical comments on each keyword or phrase in Matthew. The comments on Matthew 6:25-34, for example, do not address the meaning of the oft-repeated “worry.” Keener points out that Jesus utilizes the Jewish qal wahomer (“How much more?”) argument to show God’s care for “people in his image and for his own beloved children.” That insight itself is in most commentaries already, but Keener goes further and covers yet more rhetorical territory:
Greek philosophers sometimes disdained such bodily needs altogether, complaining that their bodies were prisons because they were dependent on food and drink (Epict. Disc. 1.9.12) and advising that one turn one’s mind to higher pursuits (Marc. Aur. 7.16). …Jesus never condemns people for recognizing these basic needs…. Yet he calls them to depend on God for their daily sustenance, a provision that Jewish people considered one of God’s greatest miracles….
Keener consistently breaks passages down into main points, which helped me see both the flow of Matthew’s narrative and think about how I could apply each passage. For example, in Matthew 20:29-34 (“Persistent Prayer”) two blind men receive their sight when Jesus’ compassion leads him to heal them. Keener’s four sentences in bold (with a paragraph explanation after each) are:
First, these suppliants recognized the identity and authority of the one whose help they entreated (20:30).
Second, they refused to let others’ priorities deter them (20:31).
Third, Jesus’ compassion was the ultimate motivation for his acting (20:34).
Finally, recipients of Jesus’ gifts should follow him (20:34).
This 2009 edition is not essentially different from Keener’s 1999 Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (I.e., the Socio-Rhetorical Commentary is not a revised edition, per se.) There is, however, an addendum at the front of the commentary called, “Matthew and Greco-Roman Rhetoric.” Here Keener goes chapter-by-chapter through the book of Matthew and adds his recent insights into how Jesus and Matthew make use of known rhetorical practices in their teaching and writing, respectively. In the end, though, Keener finds that Jewish rhetoric offers “much closer analogies…than Greek or Roman rhetorical handbooks do.”
Finally, if you’ll permit me one more quotation of Prof. Keener, here is an example of the inspiring nature of his commentary:
But above all the teaching towers the figure of Jesus himself: King, Messiah, Son of Man, the rightful Lord of Israel whom their people would one day acknowledge (1:21; 23:39). The final judge, the true revelation of the Father (11:27), was the meek and lowly One who had walked among the first disciples and died for his people (11:29; 20:28; 21:5), the One who would also empower Matthew’s readers to fulfill the task he had given them (10:19-20; 11:28-30).
Bonus: The Bibliography
It may be strange to praise a book for its bibliography, but Keener offers 150 pages of bibliography on Matthew. Keener seems to not leave any stone unturned, whether it’s another commentary, monographs, or journal articles. He writes, “The purpose of this commentary does not allow me to summarize and interact in detail with all secondary sources on Matthean research.” And yet one would be hard-pressed to find a more thorough list of secondary sources for Matthew elsewhere. In this regard, Keener is successful in offering a commentary that “will contribute to further research.”
The reader should realize that, as noted above, though this commentary was published in 2009, it was not really a revision of the 1999 volume, so the bibliography has not been brought into the 21st century with any updates. (So Nolland and France, for example, are not listed.)
The commentary’s Index of Ancient Sources is 142 pages, taken “from a variety of narrative genres to illustrate Matthew’s narrative techniques, with special attention to ancient biography and historiography.” Copious references throughout the commentary give the researcher multiple good leads.
For all of Keener’s thoroughness, the use of bold and italics for main points keeps the commentary well-organized, so that the research does not become overwhelming. Keener’s heart seems to be pastoral, and his reverence toward the Jesus of Matthew is clear and an inspiration throughout the commentary.
You don’t need any Greek to use this commentary, but a good cup of coffee and a full night’s rest might help, as it can be dense and detailed (but not impenetrable) in places. The reader of Matthew who is willing to work at Keener’s commentary will be rewarded. This volume has already vaulted its way into my top four Matthew commentaries.
Thanks to Eerdmans for the review copy. You can find the book’s product page here. It is on Amazon here. Amazon links above are affiliate links, described further here.
On November 17, 1935, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached at the gymnasium-turned-chapel of the Finkenwalde Preachers’ Seminary. His text was Matthew 18:21-35. In this “Parable of the Unmerciful Servant,” Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive the person who sins against him. I imagine Peter is already mustering all he can, and maybe even now proud of himself, when he asks, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Seven times to forgive the same person! Peter thinks that’s a lot and we probably do, too. (Haven’t they figured out by now how to stop hurting me?) But if God has forgiven us our “debts,” as Jesus’ parable shows, we are to forgive others their debts. Though this is 12 chapters removed from the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t some sort of extended riffing on “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Both this parable and the Lord’s Prayer conclude with fairly stern words. Here’s Matthew 18:
34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.
Here’s the conclusion Matthew has Jesus making from the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
I don’t know whether Bonhoeffer did this deliberately or not, but I’m struck that in his sermon on Matthew 18, he adopts a similarly direct tone. He begins invitingly enough:
Right here at the beginning of this sermon, let us quietly and honestly ask whether we know anyone from our own circle of friends and family whom we have not forgiven for some wrong that person might have done us; a person from whom we once separated ourselves in anger—perhaps not even in open anger, but in quiet bitterness, thinking: I cannot stand it any longer; I can no longer have anything to do with this person.
I wish I could have been there. Because I really want to know how long he paused before he preached next:
Or are we really so inattentive that we say we do not know anyone like this? Are we so indifferent to other people that we do not even know whether we are living in peace or at odds with them? Whether one after another may not someday stand up and accuse us, saying: You separated yourself from me in discord—you could not tolerate me—you broke off fellowship with me—you found me unsympathetic and turned away from me—I once did you wrong, and you left me alone—I once wounded your honor, and you broke with me—and I could not find you again—I often looked for you, but you avoided me—and we never spoke frankly with each other again, but I wanted nothing more from you than your forgiveness, and yet you were never able to forgive me. Here I am now, and I am accusing you—do you still even know me?—Whether or not in that particular hour names will come back to us that we hardly recognize anymore— many, many wounded, rejected, poor souls whose sin we did not forgive. And among these people perhaps even a good friend, a brother or a sister, one of our parents?
Ahem. It’s getting awfully dusty in here! you can hear Bonhoeffer’s seminarians say.
From here Bonhoeffer unpacks the rest of the passage. We are to identify with the “roguish slave” of Jesus’ parable, he says. We can see other people’s sins, but we are blind to our own.
What hope do we have, then?
Here is a single sentence (at least in its English translation) in the sermon’s final paragraph. Its length would probably lead my erstwhile preaching professor to several uses of the proverbial red pen, but do read it slowly:
My dear friends, those who have experienced what it means for God to lift us up out of a great sin and to forgive us, those to whom God has in such an hour sent another brother or sister to whom we might then confess our sin, whoever knows how a sinner resists such help because the sinner simply does not want to be helped, and whoever nonetheless has experienced how a brother or sister genuinely can release us from our sin in God’s name and in prayer—that person will surely lose all inclination to judge or to hold grudges and will instead want but one thing: to help bear the distress of others, to serve, to help, to forgive—without measure, without qualification, without end—such a one can no longer hate sinful brothers and sisters, but will instead want only to love him all the more and to forgive them for everything, everything.
May God lead us, who have been forgiven so much, to be merciful toward others.
I’m late to the Bonhoeffer party, but now I see what everyone’s been talking about. What a guy. I’ve had his Discipleship before me as I’ve worked my way through the Sermon on the Mount (see here). I interacted with his thought at greater length here, wondering how he might read “turn the other cheek” in light of Russia’s occupation of Ukraine.
Fortress Press has sent me the above three volumes for review at Words on the Word. I will review them, in due time, but I’m posting now to say: on Tuesdays during Lent I’ll post something Bonhoeffer-related. It may be as short as a quotation, or it may be as long as a mini-essay in which I interact with some facet of his life or writing.
Tuesdays are my day off, so while Bonhoeffer has very much been informing my preaching on Matthew so far, what I post here in coming weeks will not necessarily relate to (my) preaching. One of his books I’ll interact with is his Collected Sermons, however.
If you scroll back up to the top of this post, to the right, just under the search bar, is a subscribe option you can select to receive notifications of new posts. Just type in your email address (it won’t get shared elsewhere) and then click Subscribe/Follow. You can also follow Words on the Word via Facebook here.
I’m looking forward to interacting with more Bonhoeffer in the coming weeks. Check back again tomorrow for the first Tuesday in Lent with Bonhoeffer.
UPDATE:Here is the first post, on Bonhoeffer on forgiveness.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
I find myself thoroughly challenged by Jesus’ words (Matthew 5:38-48). I hear in “love your enemies” a call to individuals. I am sure that at least that much is there. I know that “pray for those who persecute you” needs to shape our lives. When we pray for and seek the good of our adversaries–any with whom we have conflict–we inhabit a new and better Kingdom reality.
But is this portion of the Sermon on the Mount merely a private text, as Martin Luther and other interpreters have said? Is this call of Jesus just for the interpersonal domain?
Or–as a long line of Anabaptist thinkers and others are convinced–is it true that there really is no private vs. public distinction with Jesus? Jesus certainly doesn’t say in the Sermon on the Mount that loving enemies works differently at a corporate or national level. Many faithful Christians have inferred a difference, on various grounds, but it’s not explicitly stated, at least not in this text.
So Russia moves into Ukraine and today we hear Jesus say, “Don’t retaliate. Love your enemies.”
Turn the other cheek. Do not resist an evildoer. Pray for those who persecute you.
How does a Ukrainian read this text today? There were presumably churches in Ukraine who heard Matthew 5:38-48 last week, when it was the Revised Common Lectionary reading. These words from the Sermon on the Mount are still ringing in their ears, even as the sound of Putin’s tanks and soldiers try to drown it out.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Cost of Discipleship, adamantly defended this Gospel text in its fullness: he said it did not apply on a merely private level, but that it also applied at the level of those who hold office (i.e., corporately), because people are people, in whatever capacity they are acting…. If it’s wrong to retaliate with force in an interpersonal reaction, it’s wrong at a state level, too, Bonhoeffer argued. In an era in which Hitler had already come to power, Bonhoeffer would write in 1937:
The overcoming of others now occurs by allowing their evil to run its course. The evil does not find what it is seeking, namely, resistance and, therewith, new evil which will inflame it even more. Evil will become powerless when it finds no opposing object, no resistance, but, instead, is willingly borne and suffered….
And that sounds so good. I cling to that hope.
But Hitler, finding no opposing object, and no resistance, not even from much of the church in Germany, continued his rise to power. Evil became not “powerless,” but more powerful.
Bonhoeffer goes on:
There is no thinkable deed in which evil is so large and strong that it would require a different response from a Christian. The more terrible the evil, the more willing the disciple should be to suffer. Evil persons must be delivered to the hands of Jesus. Not I but Jesus must deal with them.
Critics were quick to call Bonhoeffer overly idealistic and impractical for this understanding of the Sermon on the Mount. But he was firm in his read of Jesus.
And then, something happened. Something happened in Bonhoeffer that led him to align himself with a group of folks who tried to overthrow Hitler, planning to use force if necessary. Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned and implicated in a plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer was hanged in 1945.
If we grant that “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” have to do with both individual and corporate domains, which Bonhoeffer was right? The one who wrote, “The more terrible the evil, the more willing the disciple should be to suffer. …. Not I but Jesus must deal with them”?
Or was it the Bonhoeffer who tried to make a plan to “deal with” Hitler in perhaps more physical ways?
Perhaps Bonhoeffer saw a distinction between evil done to him and evil done to another. You can turn your own cheek, but when it’s the cheek of another, and you see them being struck, it’s all you can do to run over and move (maybe even push?) the oppressor out of the way.
So I leave this text with questions and tensions. What seems a fairly straightforward statement, “Love your enemy,” is difficult. What does it mean to love enemies? In what spheres must that take place, and how should it happen, especially in the presence of an inordinately powerful evil? How categorical is Jesus in his forbidding of force? Was he speaking to disciples, or to disciples and states?
But even with the questions, there are two places I find myself landing. First, the one purpose statement in this passage is this: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
That you may win them over? Hopefully, but not necessarily. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” so that they might be converted and join the Kingdom of Heaven, turning from their ways of oppression? Yeah, that would be awesome, but it’s not always going to happen. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” for by so doing, you are called children of your Father in heaven. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” They are children who do the things they see their God doing.
Which brings me to my second landing point, amid the questions I still have of this passage. Jesus, Philippians says,
made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
In the end, Jesus submitted himself to death. He humbled himself in the ultimate manifestation of turning the other cheek: “by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!”
And yet in that defeat was the very stuff of victory.
In that death was the very stuff of life.
In that humbling was the very stuff of exaltation.
Philippians goes on:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
He knew full well what he was doing–he was going to that cross to die. He was accepting the unjust death penalty–even the torture–that had been set upon him. But he was also going to that cross to win. He was going to the cross to defeat death and evil. In the end he would rise again.
The Son of God endured suffering, and yet scorned its shame, unmasking the evil powers that put him on the cross, and razing them to the ground. Through death, through the cross, he made an offer of peace to even his enemies (including us!) so that we could love our enemies, too.
Jesus’ resistance to death was not violent, but neither was it passive. It was sure, deliberate, subversive, generous to all, and full of love, even to enemies.
There is power in Jesus’ going to the cross. It is the ultimate act of cheek-turning, self-giving love. The cross of Christ is an act of defiance that says:
No, suffering! You cannot warp me into a person I don’t want to be.
No, violence! You cannot seduce me to kill.
No, evil! You do not have the last word.
The above is adapted from the sermon I preached on Matthew 5:38-48 yesterday. Scripture quotations come from the NIV (1984 or 2011) or TNIV.