Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Those are the words of Jesus in Matt 5:44. The entire sermon on the mount can be read in Matt 5-7, but let’s deal right now with just this one command. Like everything Jesus taught, he not only gave the instruction but provided us with his example to follow. Jesus loved his enemies.
1. John 3 Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees and a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night. The Pharisees are generally considered to be the enemies of Jesus. Thanks to the teaching of one Michael Spencer, I no longer think of the Pharisees as the bad guys in the Gospel story. They were seriously committed to following the Law, and getting other Jews to do the same. They wanted to prove to God they were serious about keeping those commands and being His people. Nevertheless, they often went about things the wrong way, and many times Jesus declares woe unto them. It is the Pharisees who would conspire against Jesus at his arrest and trial, and even in Matthew 5 he says that “your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.”
John 3 is not about the Pharisees, though, it is about one particular Pharisee. There is a difference. Nicodemus sincerely came to Jesus with honest questions, and Jesus has a long conversation with him, answering his questions and sharing the Gospel. John 3:16 is the most well known verse of the Bible period, and where is it found? In this dialogue between Jesus and a Pharisee. Even though Nicodemus would eventually publicly identify himself with Jesus and his followers (after the crucifixion, he helps carry away the body) at this point of the story he comes under the veil of darkness. He has questions, and even calls Jesus rabbi, but doesn’t want to be seen meeting with him. Even though the Pharisees are Jesus’ most vocal and active critics, he takes time to share the Gospel with this one.
2. Luke 10:25-37 In the parable of the good Samaritan, a Jewish man has been left for dead on the side of the road. One of his own kind, a priest even, simply stepped to the other side of the road and passed by. Imagine your church pastor doing that! A Levite later does the same. The men in the tribe of Levi were the keepers of the tabernacle/Temple, so it would be to us like a church deacon, elder or presbyter. Finally, it is a Samaritan who gives the man aid. Samaritans were black sheep of the Jewish faith. Think of it as something akin to a church split, and half the congregation pulls out. Jews and Samaritans didn’t speak to each other, do business, worship in the same place, etc. Now this was a parable; Jesus told this little story in response the question “Who is my neighbor?” He had just finished sharing the two greatest commandments – love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and also love your neighbor as yourself – when he was asked to explain just who one’s neighbor is. Some clever person in the audience was looking for a way out of loving everybody. He wanted a shortcut. He didn’t get one from Jesus. Whoever happens to need you, that’s your neighbor. Now, Jesus could talk the talk, but did he walk the walk?
In John 4, Jesus and his disciples are passing through Samaria. Jesus sits alone by a well while the others go to find food. Along comes a Samaritan woman; not just any woman, but one that has to come to the well by herself. She has a certain reputation, and the other women of this village do not associate with her. She has had 5 husbands, Jesus later tells her, and now lives with a man who is not her husbands. This woman was not a good Samaritan. Not only does Jesus talk to a woman (which a good Jewish man would not have done), it is a Samaritan woman. And a disreputable one at that. He talks to her, gives her comfort, and shares the Gospel. Jews and Samaritans were enemies; he was supposed to hate her.
3. Luke 23:24 Jesus was hung on the cross by the Romans, at the insistence of an angry mob, after a false trial by the Jewish Sanhedrin (leaders). As he hangs on the cross to die, he prays for the people who are killing him. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus loved his enemies; and even as he hung on the cross, prayed for those that persecuted him. He lived out, even with his dying breath, the perfect example of his teaching. The Bible tells us that seldom will a man die for his friends, but that Christ loved us and died while we were still sinners.
A couple of years ago, national attention was given to a school shooting. This shooting was not in Chicago or Las Angeles, but in Amish country. A gunman entered an Amish schoolhouse and started shooting, eventually taking his own life. The Amish community extended forgiveness, even inviting the family members of the shooter to attend the funeral of his victims. The Amish are usually in the background of American society; they have no t.v. preachers, they certainly aren’t blogging! They are usually easy to ignore. But in this case, it seemed like the whole country – perhaps the whole world- was paying attention. Why? Because they lived out in a very real way Jesus’ commandment to love. When we do that, the way that Jesus did, it is impossible to ignore.