Jesus stunned his auditors, saying, “I tell you who hear me, ‘Love your enemies, do good to them…’” (Luke 6:27). To our natural way of thinking, this is all turned around: “Hate your enemies; do them harm” makes more sense and is eminently doable, too. And the reason it comes so naturally is that it is self-justifying. They are the problem. If it weren’t for them. Vilification of the other is married to the justification of the self.
But again, Jesus takes things to a whole different level with his, “But I tell you.” That “I” makes all the difference because he is the all-authoritative One (Matt. 28:18). He is the king. By his dictum, he establishes new states of affairs. Here he opens the door to a new world, indeed, to the very kingdom of God itself — a kingdom of mercy: love your enemies. Those who oppose you, who repudiate your life: love them; pray for your persecutors — pray for their conversion, for their salvation: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Be impossibly merciful like God, because it is now the Spirit of God that possesses you, you who are baptized. Don’t be like the world that loves the friend and hates the enemy. Be like your Father in heaven who causes the sun to rise on good and evil, on his friends and his foes, who sends rain on the just and the unjust, saint and sinner alike. Even more than that: who sent his Son to take away the sin of the world, to redeem and justify the world in his own death, who came to save sinners and to die for the ungodly.
Love your haters. Pray for your persecutors. Go beyond the circle of those who like you and praise you and affirm you to those who despise you, slap you in the face, steal from you. When you go that extra mile with your enemy, then you are venturing into Jesus-Territory – a frontier where love is for the loveless, mercy for the merciless, redemption for the unredeemable, salvation for the unsalvageable. And venturing there, you will find just how deep the corruption of sin goes through you and how high the demands of the law are to you, and how utterly dependent we are upon the grace of God and that his grace is truly sufficient for us; his mercies new each morning. Step by step, law by law, jot by tittle, Jesus has raised the bar of the law to insurmountable heights. From murder and divorce and adultery of the heart to love for enemy and a second cheek to one who would slap your face. And as impossibly high as the bar made be for us, the Gospel of God’s mercy toward us in Christ Jesus is even higher.
Luke 6:27-36 is a lesson on the magnitude of divine grace set in stark polarity to our inabilities outside of his grace.
Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.
The law can’t get you there. The law can hold out the standard, but it can’t help you meet it. It can raise the bar, but it can’t lift you over it. It can declare to you what is necessary for life with God, but it can only deliver you dead at his doorstep. Were you a sinless saint, well then, this law would be automatic to you, second nature. You would do it without thought or struggle. You would do it as naturally as breathing. You would automatically turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give to beggar and borrower, love your enemy, pray for your persecutor. You would be Adam before the Fall, the image of God who made you. You would be merciful as the Lord your God is merciful, perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. You would be his Son. But that is not how we are by nature. Instead, we need perfection, a righteousness that is supernatural — alien to our nature. We need grace and mercy to be manifest in the flesh for us.
The gospel of Luke 6:27-36 declares that there is one who is merciful as the Lord our God. There is one who is perfect as his Father in heaven, who is the very image or icon of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). There is one man who embodies all people, who strides through the frontier of human impossibility and does the law down to the least little jot and the smallest tittle of detail.
He loves his enemies.
He prays for his persecutors.
He gives his cheeks to those who slap him.
He carries his cross the extra mile.
He dies for his enemies.
He dies for imperfect you to render you perfectly righteous before his Father.
Jesus came to do the law and so saves us by fulfilling our obligations before the law. He left his Father’s glory; He emptied himself of all the perks and privileges of being the eternal Son of God. He took up our humanity, our flesh and blood. He humbled himself and became obedient to his own law. He did it perfectly, and it killed him. The law that always accuses, always demands, always kills. The wages of sin is death. The power of sin to kill is the law. Jesus became sin for us so that the law would kill him. The King, the Christ, can represent his people, and so he became us under the law to bear the penalty of the law, though he himself was without sin. Sin was put to death in his flesh in your place, and so the law is satisfied. Perfect justice is attained.
The law drops us dead at the feet of Jesus so that Jesus can raise us from the dead.
The law still kills, and that means it kills you. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Because sin must be put to death, but the law is not the last word. Christ is, for he is the Word — the Word made flesh and given for the life of the world (John 6). And now the law brings you to Christ. Not as a living saint but as a dead sinner. And the law drops you down dead at the feet of Jesus—and it is just where you need to be. Just where every sinner needs to be. Dead at the feet of Jesus. “You were dead in your trespasses and sin, but God made you alive in Christ Jesus.” “He became sin for us who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The law drops us dead at the feet of Jesus so that Jesus can raise us from the dead. And in raising us, Jesus does two things for us.
First, he forgives. He has taken your sin from you and placed it as far from you as the east is from the west. He has buried all your murders, adulteries, divorces, anger, resentments, bitterness, your failure to love your enemy and to give to him who asks. You are forgiven in Christ. He has washed you in his blood and buried you in his death. You are baptized, a reborn child of God.
Second, he gives you something you don’t have: his holiness, his righteousness, his perfection, his Holy Spirit, under the law. They’re yours in him. In him, you are holy. In him, you are righteous. In him, you are innocent, blameless, perfect. Not in yourself, but only in Christ are you these things. He takes the law into his own hands and gives it to you as a fulfilled gift. He is your holiness, your righteousness, your innocence and perfection under the law so that when the devil, the world, or your conscience accuse you with the law and say, “Look at you! How can you call yourself a child of God?” you stand in Jesus with your baptism and say, “Nevertheless, I am baptized! And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.”
“Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
And in Christ, you are by faith. So we walk with him in the Spirit, and we watch him fulfill the law and die our death and rise to raise us with his life in the recounting of the holy gospel. And now, for us, both come in a meal, for both are but qualities, properties of Christ Jesus himself. Put your mind at rest concerning this impossible law. Put it to rest by a graphic communion with him who is holy and perfect: This is the Holy Communion for you. This is the meal of perfection that perfects the imperfect. For as he is, so shall we be — by this Word and by this meal.