White Horse, Red Horse, Black Horse, Pale. Loving your enemies, till Love prevails.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27–36)This week I want to continue from where we left off last week and hover over these verses for a bit more. But I want to take a slightly different tack and come at this from maybe what some would say is an unconventional, angle.

I want to look at a related passage in the Book of Revelation. Now, if you’re like me, the moment “Revelation” is mentioned, your eyes roll so far into the back of your head that you can actually see your brain. So, I’m making a promise to those who have suffered religious abuse by the manner in which some have used this book: what I’m about to share will be dramatically different.

What does the Book of Revelation have to show us about the teachings of Jesus, especially the love-your-enemy element? Everything! I’m convinced that unless we embrace the nonviolence of Jesus’ peace teachings, we can never truly begin to understand what the book of Revelation is really all about. (There are two ways to look at Revelation. The most common way over the last fifty years has been to obsess about the meaning and direction of history and to treat Revelation as a series of detailed predictions. I contest that version and argue that Revelation is much more concerned with how to move history in the direction of the Kingdom [and how not to—with which historically, Christianity has, sadly, been quite proficient].) Unless we do this, we have missed the whole point of the book and have ended up doing exactly what it warns us against; but that is an entirely different study for an entirely different time.

Let’s jump in.

What does the Book of Revelation have to do with the love-your-enemy and peace teachings of Jesus? Everything.

There is absolutely no consensus about the seven seals of the Revelation within Christianity today, so what better place to start that right there in Revelation 6 (white horse, red horse, black horse, pale horse). Remember, I promised you that this will be different. Hang in there.

With the breaking of the first seal in verse one, it’s as if all hades breaks loose. There are some (Kuper, Ladd, and Morris) who see this rider on the white horse in verse two as Christ. White, they argue, is always a symbol of Christ, or something associated with Christ, or of spiritual victory. F. A. Jennings rejects this adamantly:

“The whole context and character of these seals absolutely forbid our thinking of this rider being the Lord Jesus, as so many affirm. His reign shall not bring war, famine, and strife in its train.” (Studies in Revelation, p. 201)

But, I want to be quick to add, where many (including Jennings) then interpret this white rider as a false Christ, I want to ask that we stop and first place ourselves in the sandals of the original audience by asking what these images would have brought to their minds. If you were a part of one of the seven churches, who were the originally intended audience of this letter, how would you, back then, have understood these seals? What would you, in your culture, have initially associated with this image we see in this first seal of Revelation? Once we establish that, then maybe we can extrapolate principles that apply to Jesus’ followers in every generation.

But before we get there, let’s return to Luke 6. Any time I present the love-your-enemy chore of the teachings of Jesus (Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence), I am, without fail, met with the objection, “What about the threat of a foreign invasion.” It comes in one of two forms, one more personal: “What would you do if someone broke into your home,” and the other national: “What about national threats today such as Al-Qaida, or what would you have done with Hitler in World War II?” (For more information on these, please see the 11 part series on nonviolence at https://renewedheartministries.com/Esights/05-27-2012.)

What I want you to notice is that this has been the objection in every age when the teachings of Jesus on this subject are encountered. In the sixteenth century, it was the Turks. Protestants used the threat of the Turks to reject Anabaptist teachings on the necessity for Jesus’ followers to actually follow His teachings on peace and nonviolence. They used this “foreign threat” (the Turks) to incite fear of the Anabaptists in the masses. (“If we follow what those Anabaptists are saying, the Turks will overrun Europe and our way of life as we know it will be over.”) This very same “foreign threat” argument was used to turn the populace against such Anabaptists as Michael Sattler, a significant contributor to the Schleitheim Confession, and to have Sattler arrested by Count Joachim von Zollern, regent of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. Sattler was severely tortured and then executed on May 20, 1527.

Also, I believe that “foreign threat” was genuinely why Constantine allegedly embraced “Christianity.” Christianity was growing at such an exponential rate that if everybody in the Roman Empire became Christian (at this time in Christian history, that meant becoming a pacifist), then there would be no one to defend Rome’s borders and Rome would be overthrown. Christianity must be infiltrated and changed from within; thus, Constantine’s alleged vision and conversion and the Constantinian shift that changed everything within Christianity for the last 1,700 years.

“Foreign threat” was the basis for the original rejection of Jesus and His peace teachings by the Jews as well. In this case it was not a potential foreign threat but the current foreign threat of the Romans, by whom they were already oppressed and from whom they desperately desired to be liberated. The argument in Jesus’ day was that if they followed Jesus’ teaching on “loving our enemies,” they would never escape from the oppression of the Romans. This in turn caused them to reject the teachings of Jesus for a messiah who would be willing to take up the sword, and look much more like “The Hammer,” Judas Maccabaeus of old.

Now, let’s look at this first seal again, this white horse, which is followed by the red (bloody) horse with a sword. (This four-horse imagery was originally used in the prophecies of Zechariah.) This first seal is of a mounted archer on a white horse, crowned from conquest! What image would this have conjured up in the minds of the original audience of the Book of Revelation? The dreaded Parthian Empire was the “foreign threat” of the day when Revelation was delivered to the seven churches. The Parthian Empire was the most dreaded enemy of the Roman Empire at the time when Revelation was penned. The Parthians were to Roman citizens what Al-Qaida is to American Christians today, what Hitler was to the Allies in the twentieth century, and what the Turks were to Europe in the sixteenth century. They were the resident “foreign threat” of the day for the original audience of this vision. The Parthian Empire resided beyond the eastern borders of Rome’s dominion. And they were “the only mounted archers in the first century; white horses were their trademark” (Boring 1989: 122).

One possible interpretation or application of this vision of the seals could be that foreign threats from our enemies (first seal, whether Parthians, Turks, Hitler, or someone breaking into our home) in any era will cause us to question whether or not to follow Jesus’ teachings of nonviolence, and if we reject Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, it will always lead to a red horse and all that this horse brings (6:3–4), which produces the next two horses and all that they bring (6:5–8), in any and every era. The question for us today is, will we, as Jesus followers, be found crying out from under the altar (6:9–11), or will we find ourselves mounting the red horse, and sometimes, even in Jesus’ name? I’m hoping the lights for some have just turned on.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”— Jesus (Luke 9.23,24)

Again, the greatest significant objection from those to whom I present Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence is “foreign threat” from our enemies. Just last night after a presentation, I received this question, written on a piece of paper and handed to me:

“By living as Jesus did, we become vulnerable to being used or manipulated or deceived by others. Should we be “on guard” for this, and if so, how do we live generously and still protect ourselves from manipulations that can seriously hurt us?”

I’ll answer this question this week in a balanced way, but please notice the psychology of what took place in the heart and mind of the listener as we looked at the teachings of Jesus. Immediately, we most often move to the emotionally charged possibility of “foreign threat.” This has always been the “white horse” (or “foreign threat”) which has historically always led a red horse, which has led to a black horse, and then a pale horse.

If this is correct, then the white horse isn’t, as some would say, a false messiah; it’s the “wars and rumors of wars” that threaten us and make us choose a false messiah (which is actually the red horse) that will use the sword to protect us, rather than embracing the true Messiah and the way of the cross. The white horse rides through every day in each of our lives.

Will we choose the red horse, which leads to the black and then the pale? Or will we be found crying out from under an altar, having been slain for putting on display the beauty of the Father as seen in the teachings of Jesus. The relevance of our message concerning our God and the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 6:9) is dependent on answering this question correctly.

Israel chose the red horse, took up the sword, and died by the sword. Western Christianity, with only one exception that I am aware of historically, has done the same.

Something to ponder.

HeartGroup Application

1) Prayerfully and honestly consider what is your “foreign threat,” right now in your life, that causes you to be reluctant about following Jesus’ peace teachings in a practical way.

2) Prayerfully consider Part 3 and Part 8 of the eSight series, The Active Nonviolence of Jesus at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/series

3) Write down and be prepared to share any concerns, fears, convictions or paradigm shifts Jesus is leading you through on this subject currently. Be respectful of where each person is. And remember we are all in process. It’s a journey, and we are all at a different place.

Lastly for all, if you are interested in more information on this subject and answers to many frequently asked questions regarding the love-your-enemy teachings of Jesus, please see the series that begins at

https://renewedheartministries.com/Esights/05-27-2012

We’ll take one more swipe at this passage in Luke 6 again next week.

Keep living in love and loving like Christ till a world where love reigns is the only world that remains. Now, go enlarge the Kingdom.

I love you guys!

I’ll see you next week.

Herb

A Seven Day Challenge

“But to you who are listening, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” –Luke 6.27–36I want to hover over these verses a bit for the next few e-Sights. Jesus’ teaching here is critical. The “love your enemy” ethic of Jesus was the deal breaker for many who initially desired to be His followers. Let’s look at some background first this week and then wrap up with a seven day challenge.

Let’s go back to Luke 4, which we covered a few weeks ago, where Jesus first began to teach “love your enemies” in the Gospel of Luke, and take another look. This will be from Luke 4.16–28:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

What I find profound is that if you go back and look at the original statement in Isaiah 61.1-2, Jesus was virtually saying, “I will be announcing the favor of God and leaving off all that ‘vengeful God’ stuff.” But what those in Jesus’ audience did not catch yet was that Jesus would be proclaiming God’s favor on all . . . even their enemies. Follow closely:

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “prophets are not accepted in their hometowns. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

Initially, everyone was speaking well of Jesus at this stage, but it’s as if Jesus was saying, “You guys aren’t getting what I’m saying. Let me make it a little more clear.” So he dropped two stories from their history that, because of their location, were loaded: the widow of Sidon and Naaman the Syrian.

To really get the importance of what Jesus was doing here, we have to take into account what this was saying to those present. This was not so much about Elijah and Elisha as it was about Sidon and Syria. Jesus was referring to the history surrounding the Maccabean revolt. Here is just a little bit of history:

Judas Maccabeus’ father was Mattathias. Mattathias’ dying words to his sons were, “Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.” (1 Maccabees 2.68). Judas Maccabeus, in standing up to the Seleucids (Greeks), earns the nickname “The Hammer” for the very reason that he is fulfilling his father’s dying wish. A messiah, “Judas Maccabeus’” style was the expectation when Jesus arrived on the scene. Sidon was a significant city under the Seleucid Empire, and the memory of the torture of Hebrews by the hands of the Seleucids was recent history (Read 1 and 2 Maccabees). In addition, the gentiles of Sidon would have been associated with the history of the Seleucid tortures (1 Maccabees 5.15); Syria was where the Seleucid Empire was based. Rome simply referred to the Seleucid Empire as “Syria.” In Luke 4, when Jesus announced he would proclaim God’s favor but not God’s vengeance, and then drove it home by mentioning that it included even their tormentors, it was too much for them to take.

It was like telling Cubans that God’s favor applied to Fidel Castro, too. Or to Venezuelans that God’s favor applied to Hugo Chaves, too. Or to Israel that God’s favor applies to the Palestinians, too. Or to Americans that God’s favor applied to Bin Laden and Al-Qaida, too.

NO WONDER they wanted to throw him off the cliff.

“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him off the cliff.”

At the heart of Jesus’ teaching about God, ourselves, and others (as well as how we are to live), was a loud cry to now love your enemies. It was as if Jesus were saying, “I know you’ve been taught to love your neighbor. Now I’m going to teach you how to love your enemies. I know it’s new. But then you’ll be like Him who sent me,” (Lev 19.18; Matthew 5.43–45; John 13.34).

This teaching of Jesus has, ever since the “conversion of Constantine” in the fourth century, never proven to be popular. Following Jesus has become tamed, domesticated, and conventional. But the picture we get of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is of an itinerant going around and gathering those who will join him in a revolutionary way of living life that he calls “the Kingdom of God.” The “Kingdom of God” is not some place out in the heavens, nor is it a place some go to when they die. This “Kingdom of God” is a radical rearrangement of how we see God, ourselves, and everyone else that leads to a radical rearrangement of how we do life in the here and now. It is a radical rearrangement of how human beings arrange their society that is “of God” or “from God” . . . to us . . . through this person Jesus. To enter THIS is entirely revolutionary. It is a radical break with life as we have known it, as it has been given to us as we have been told; as we have been instructed is the natural way of life. It is a call to go against how we have been indoctrinated, to go against the scripts we have been handed, the rules we have been given on how to play the game (personal rights, tit for tat, etc.). To “follow Jesus” is to break with all of that and say, “I want to live by an entirely different evaluation of what is important.” It’s radical. It’s revolutionary.

Today, Jesus is still extending an ongoing invitation to join his revolution. He is looking for those who are weak but daring, afraid but believing, unsure but willing to take a risk; people who are simply crazy enough to go for it with Him. To follow Jesus and live the Jesus way is the most revolutionary thing a human being can do. It is not about a ticket to go to Heaven (how boring, tame, and domesticated). It is not about saying a simple prayer, going to church once a week, and then simply going back to the way things have always been done. To follow Jesus IS radical and revolutionary. It is to adopt a completely counterintuitive way of doing life called “The Way,” of which Jesus is the template. The “Kingdom of God,” rightly understood, is an alternate society formed around Jesus, His picture of God, and His teachings. It is about leaning to follow the Jesus practice of love, forgiveness, restorative justice, mercy, and fidelity to self-sacrificial, other-centeredness.

We are too skilled at taming revolutions and making them conventional. Too skilled at turning things like the Sermon on the Mount and the teachings of enemy love into a blasé blessing of the conventional life we have always known.

As Brian Zahnd was recently quoted as saying, “The seeds of revolution will always be present as long as the Jesus story is always around, and you just never know when someone might leap.”

HeartGroup Application

1)Prayerfully and thoughtfully reread Luke 6.27–36. Since I want to add something extracurricular, so to speak, I would like you to read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous Christmas sermon from 1967. You can find it at http://endsandmeans.org/2010/01/18/martin-luther-king-jrs-christmas-sermon-1967/

What I find interesting about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is that as a Baptist minister, Christianity had so domesticated the teachings of Jesus that he had to go to India and meet Gandhi to encounter the Jesus teachings of enemy love. Wow.

2) A Seven Day Challenge:

This part will not be easy for you. I want you to picture in your minds eye the person on this planet you like the least. Do you have them in your mind? Good. Now, I want you to simply pray for them for the next seven days. That is all. Once a day, for the next seven days, pray for them, sincerely. Pray blessings on them for just seven days. And then make sure you do number 3 next.

3)Prepare to share with your HeartGroup this week your struggles, your challenges, your insights, your convictions, and your commitments with regard to this aspect of Jesus’ teachings this week. Then, as a group, spend some time in prayer over what it truly means to follow Jesus.

Last, for everyone, I want to recommend the 11-part series from RHM that we did last year on the active non-violence (or enemy love) of Jesus. If you would like to listen to them, the title you will be looking for is The Active, Non-Violence of Jesus, Parts 1-11. You can find this podcast series at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Podcasts.aspx

Or, if you would like to simply read through the series, you can find the same E-sight series at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Esights/05-27-2012

through

https://renewedheartministries.com/Esights/10-03-2012

Today, wherever this finds you, love subversively and dedicatedly. Do not wax cold until a world where love reigns is the only world that remains. Vive la resistance. LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION!

Sharing a window.

Journal entry, February 14, 2013:The picture we get of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is of an itinerant, going around gathering those who will join him in a revolutionary way of doing life that he calls “the kingdom of God.” The “kingdom of God” is not some place out in the heavens, nor is it a place some go to when they die. This “kingdom of God” is a radical rearrangement of how we see God, ourselves and everyone else that leads to a radical rearrangement of how we do life in the here and now. It’s a radical rearrangement of how human beings arrange their society that is “of God” or “from” God . . . to us . . . through this person Jesus. To enter THIS is entirely revolutionary. It is a radical break with life as we have known it, as it has been given to us, as we have been told, as we have been instructed is the natural way of life. It is a call to go against how we have been indoctrinated, to go against the scripts we have been handed, the rules we have been given on how to play the game. (Personal rights, tit or tat, etc.) To “follow Jesus” is to break with all of that, and say, “I want to live by an entirely different evaluation of what is important.” It’s radical. It’s revolutionary.

Today, Jesus is still extending the ongoing invitation to join his revolution. He is looking for those who are weak but daring, afraid but believing, unsure but willing to take a risk, people who are simply crazy enough to go for it with him. To follow Jesus and live the Jesus way is the most revolutionary thing a human being can do. It’s not about a ticket to go to heaven. (How boring, tame, and domesticated.) It’s not about saying a simple prayer, going to church once a week and then simply going back to the way things have always been done. To follow Jesus IS radical and revolutionary. It is to adopt a completely counter intuitive way of doing life called The Way, of which Jesus is the template. The “kingdom of God,” rightly understood, is an alternate society formed around Jesus and his teachings. It’s about leaning to follow the Jesus practice of love, forgiveness, restorative justice, mercy, and fidelity to self-sacrificial, other-centeredness.

We are too skilled at taming revolutions and making them conventional. Too skilled at turning things like the sermon on the mount into a blasé blessing of the conventional life we’ve always known.

“The Seeds of revolution will always be present as long as the Jesus story is always around, and you just never know when someone might leap.” – Brian Zahnd

Today Herb, love subversively and dedicatedly. Don’t wax cold, till a world where love reigns is the only world that remains. Vive la resistance. LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION!

The Good News of the Kingdom wasn’t “Good News” to the “Religious”

“He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. Looking at his disciples, he said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.’” (Luke 6.17-26)My two daughters, and I are presently going through the teachings of Jesus every morning as I drive them to school. I love hearing their thoughts, love to hear them openly share what Jesus must have meant to those in the culture of Jesus’ day as well as what he could mean to us today. Both my daughters go to our local public schools and it is exciting to let loose “little Jesuses” each morning onto a hurting world. I can’t help but be proud of them.

This week, we have been looking at Jesus’ sermon on the plain in Luke 6. What we’ve decided is that the good news of the Kingdom (as we looked at two eSights ago from Mark) wasn’t good news to everyone. Let me explain.

In this passage, Jesus is uttering both blessings AND woes! Let’s break this down.

When you look at the two groups that Jesus contrasts, what you begin to see—if you understand the contrast—is that these two groups are the “religious” of his day versus those whom the religious of his day have marginalized, that is:

The Poor,

The Hungry,

The Weepers,

The Hated,

The Excluded,

The Insulted,

versus

The Rich,

The Well Fed,

The Laughers,

The Spoken Well Of.

You see, according to Deuteronomy 28, if you obey then God will bless you. If you disobey, then God will punish you. The rich, the well fed, and those whose lives were filled with laughter became so because they were blessed by God, because they were righteous. These people were spoken well of.

On the other hand, those who were poor, hungry, and mourning were not less fortunate, but were morally inferior. They were sinners. In their world view, they were being punished by God because they were sinners and therefore hated, excluded, and insulted. These were not those looked on as less fortunate and in need of compassion and help, but rather those that the religious of Jesus’ day felt morally superior to.

However, here Jesus has turned the old order of things on its head! He has challenged people’s preconceived pictures of God and what God’s Kingdom is really all about. He has challenged the “boxed in” opinions people have about what type of a being God is. He has portrayed God in a way completely and utterly outside of their boxes. And for those who were poor, hungry, heartbroken, hated, excluded, and insulted, the coming of Jesus’ Kingdom WAS going to be good news. But those who were rich were going to be called to share with those they felt to be sinners. Those who were well fed, would be called to feed those whom they felt to be morally inferior. Those whose life was filled with laughter and celebration would be confronted with their judgment and condemnation of those they were now called to weep with. And those spoken well of would have to disregard the value they placed on people’s opinions of them, as they too were now called to eat with tax collectors and sinners.

Please remember, again, these woes were not words of condemnation. Jesus realized those who would reject him; he was lamenting their condition, not judging them. There is nothing wrong with being rich, having food to eat, and a life filled with laughter. Jesus wasn’t condemning people with those things. He was simply lamenting that they were going to be the ones hardest hit by the kingdom he had come to establish. His heart was breaking for those who had misunderstood what Deuteronomy 28 was all about. They would not understand, and they would reject him. They would claim his teachings to be too radical and dangerous, challenging the status quo and the way things had always been.

From the very beginning, Jesus stood in the shadow of the cross, knowing full well that the God he has come to demonstrate to us (John 14.9) would have him killed. But he goes through with it anyway, lamenting all along for those who are his enemies. (He speaks of these next in Luke 6.)

All of this leads me to the central point. If God looks like Jesus, then it changes everything for us today just as much as it did for people back then. But ultimately, it means that if any are “tossed out”, in the end it will because they have rejected God’s love for others. This applies even for those whom we deem are not living or believing the way we think they should. In reality this is a rejection of God’s unconditional love for themselves as well.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. AS I HAVE LOVED YOU, so you must love one another.” (John 13.34)

When Jesus said “new” he meant it. It was new because they had never—even through Moses—been taught to love the way Jesus was going to teach them. It was all rooted and grounded in a radically different picture of God than what they had gotten through Moses and Elijah.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 17.1-8)

When Jesus said “new”, he meant it. Again, he meant it. He presented a God, who, contrary to everything they had been taught, didn’t look at them as transgressors deserving of punishment (contrary to the religion of both Jesus’ day and ours), but as victims who had been deceived, taken captive, and were in need of a Savior. He taught us to see others (as well as ourselves) the way God sees us. He revealed a God whose love was not only unconditional and indiscriminatory but—most importantly—non-condemning. This was a God whose justice was restorative rather than retributive; a God who, rather than demanding the death of his enemies, would rather die at their hands to set them free. The religiously superior, both in Jesus’ day and ours, will always have objections to this way of viewing God. It’s dangerous, they say, and they’ll crucify it every time if they can. But those who are poor, hungry, heartbroken, hated, insulted, judged, condemned, pushed down, and marginalized . . . well . . . they get it.

Nothing destroys one’s empathy for others more completely than seeing them as “hellbound,” under the judgment of God. Jesus would challenge their most cherished assumptions about their God. It was a time of deep upheaval for people, religiously. The kingdom Jesus had come to establish would be filled with paradigm shift after paradigm shift concerning God, themselves and others. It would not be a time of peace for some, but deep questioning and change as everything, again, was being turned on its head. (John the Baptist, in warning the religious leaders of this day, referred to the powder keg Jesus was about to light as “the wrath to come.” Matthew 3.7-12). Again, Jesus would challenge their most cherished beliefs. . . and the risen Jesus is still doing the very same thing . . . today.

HeartGroup Application:

1)Prayerfully and thoughtfully read through Matthew 5.1-11 and Luke 6.17-26.

2)Take some time and write down how Jesus had changed your own preconceived pictures of God, yourself and others since the time you began following Him.

3)Share at least one of the most significant changes Jesus has brought to your picture of God with the group this next week.

As always, keep living in love, loving like Christ, enlarging the Kingdom, till a world where love reigns is the only world that remains. (see Luke 13.18-19)

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.