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Sermon 7/30/06
Matthew 5:39-41 – The Second Mile


   Audio Sermon

The Second Mile

“But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:39-41)

Can you “turn the other cheek" to somebody? Do you even WANT to? If someone hits you, the human response is to want them to find out how it feels! Have you ever been sued? I have, and I remember my response from decades ago quite well – I wanted to win the case! It was not simply about the money, though that was important; it was about the truth, I thought – even if I lost, I wanted the TRUTH to be told, that I wasn’t driving on the shoulder as the other witness said, but was right in the middle of the lane where I was supposed to be! I wanted JUSTICE, and even though I recognized that I was at least partly at fault, it wasn’t the way the other witness had said it was! That’s the way people are.

The words in our Scriptures for today were told to a group of people, the Jews, who had been under the heel of Roman dominance for a long time. The Jews wanted JUSTICE, by which it was meant that they wanted to get rid of the Romans and live by their OWN rules! It was a custom of conquering soldiers of the time (not just the Romans) to pick anyone they met among the conquered people and demand that they carry the soldier’s pack – for a mile. It is true that the Roman “mile” was only a thousand paces, which wasn’t quite so far, but it was humiliating to the Jew who had to leave his work (or whatever he was doing) and bow to foreign authority. Would you have STOPPED at precisely 1000 paces? About this, Jesus said, “Go the second mile.” Go “two” miles, He said, instead of merely the “one” that was demanded of them. He was telling His listeners and He is telling us – be different! Do the unexpected! Love the Lord so much that it overflows out of you into the lives of those who are around you in surprising ways, as led by the Spirit of God.

Have you heard of Billy Bray? He was a tin miner, in Cornwall, England. He had been a drunk, and he was a “pugilist” as they called the fist fighters of that time - a very good one. He eventually came to Christ, and he later told this story: “In an instant the Lord made me so happy that I cannot express what I felt. I shouted for joy. I praised God with my whole heart for what he had done for a poor sinner like me: for I could say, the Lord hath pardoned all my sins. I think this was in November, 1823, but what day of the month I do not know. I remember this, that everything looked new to me; the people, the fields, the cattle, the trees. I was like a man in a new world. I spent the greater part of my time in praising the Lord. I could say with David, 'The Lord hath brought me up out of a horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings, and hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto my God.' I was a new man altogether.”

One day, down in the mine, another man who knew about Billy Bray’s conversion decided he had found his opportunity. With revenge on his mind and with no provocation at all, he simply hit Billy Bray in the face, and, as Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones relates, Billy “could very easily have laid (the man) unconscious on the ground.” He was that good a fighter. But instead, Billy Bray looked at him and said, “May God forgive you, even as I forgive you,” and that’s all he did. The man then “spent days of agony of mind and spirit,” as reported by Lloyd-Jones, “which led directly to his own conversion

Lloyd-Jones concluded: The man “knew what Billy Bray could do, and he knew what the natural man in Billy Bray wanted to do, but Billy Bray did not do it; and that is how God used him.” And that’s the point of our Scriptures for today. We are not merely following rules of behavior, we are following the Spirit of God, who leads us to the NEED of the person who has done us wrong. The enemy will bring upon us unexpected and shocking attacks, and the Lord leads us to respond in surprising ways. He reaches through us to others with the intention that our human attackers will come to Christ.

Oswald Chambers said that our verses for today reveal “the humiliation of being a Christian.” He continued, “In the natural realm, if a person does not hit back, it is because he is a coward. But in the spiritual realm, it is the very evidence of the Son of God in him if he does not hit back. When you are insulted, you must not only NOT resent it, but you must make it an opportunity to exhibit the Son of God in your life.” And all this is not in your own strength. It is in the power and for the purposes of – God. Only He knows when and how it is right to not hit back. There are times when He WILL speak to your heart, “Stop him,” as in the defense of someone who is being attacked, or it may be you are called to be a soldier or police officer in uniform and you act in defense of society. There are indeed times to ACT!

Our verses for today do not express some kind of New Testament Law that governs our behavior. If we attempt to follow them slavishly, it simply places us under the Law, and “by the works of the Law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16). It’s interesting that when Jesus was slapped in the face by an officer of the high priest of Israel, He did NOT turn the other cheek. Instead He rebuked the officer, saying, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?” (John 18:22-23). And Paul the Apostle, when HE was on trial, was struck “on the mouth” by someone ordered to do so by the high priest. Paul’s response was to shout, “God will strike YOU, you whitewashed wall!” (Acts 23:2 & forward). Paul subsequently apologized, but ONLY because he learned that the man who gave the order was the high priest of Israel, acknowledging that “You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people” (Acts 23:5 and Exodus 22:28). Jesus did not retaliate, though He could have destroyed the man with a Word, but responded gently, pointing out that His accuser was lawless in what he did. Jesus and Paul respected the law, but they were not under law. They followed God’s Spirit like ALL of us should.

To not “resist an evil person,” to “turn the other (cheek) to him,” to “let him have your cloak;” and to “go with him two” miles instead of “one” (Matthew 5:39-41) – these are not some kind of natural acts that you can do in your human ability. These are acts that are wrought in us by the power of God. And the reason for such actions is found in His love. Just like the forgiveness of Billy Bray led to the conversion of the other man, our “different” behavior is intended to bring others to Christ. The very “oddness” of our response catches their attention, and because what we have done was not designed by us at all, it will draw them to the Lord. Oswald Chambers said, “Never look for justice, but never cease to give it.” He also said, “You cannot imitate the nature of (the Lord) – it is either in you or not. A personal insult becomes an opportunity… to reveal… the Lord Jesus.”

Lord, let us not be afraid of people, or be worried about defending ourselves. Instead, let our lives be led by the Spirit of God. Let us trust in You. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries
"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)

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