Have you ever paid the penalty for someone else’s crime or mistake? Perhaps someone rear-ended you and you chose to pay for your car repairs yourself. Maybe your coworker forgot to send vital paperwork to a customer and you chose to take care of the matter without letting him know his mistake. Maybe a guest in your home broke a lamp or vase that you had on display and you said nothing but fixed it on your own dime.
It is a rare occurrence that we have the opportunity to pardon someone’s mistake and take it. Usually our feelings of justice and fairness bubble up, while our desire for vengeance burns beneath the surface. If we are able to fight back our anger when something goes awry, we typically default to our culture’s peace-keeping system. We have car insurance to help when there is a car accident, and police to determine fault. We have hierarchies within the work place so that the boss can keep the employees accountable for their work. And our expectation of common decency demands that we pay for what we have used and fix what we have broken. We have built peace-keeping systems in order to mediate our personal wrath and vengeance.
But Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to give more to the one who steals from us.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not 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 your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
– Matt 5.38-48
This is an incredibly difficult teaching to grasp and to obey. Few of us have ever been in a situation in which we have a true enemy who is seeking our demise. It is not a daily occurrence that someone slaps us, steals from us, or forces us into physical labor to serve him. But we have all been in a situation where we have been wronged, or a simple mistake has happened, and we should test ourselves in how we have, do and would react. Do you turn the other cheek? Do you go the extra mile? Do you show love, as God shows love, to those who hate you?
Jesus taught this extremely difficult principle and then lived it out. He served and loved those who were killing Him, until the very moment He died. Peter teaches us to love our enemies by following Jesus’ example:
For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
– 1 Peter 2.19-24
Jesus bore our sins in his very body. Imagine a man having multiple affairs and giving to his wife, who has been faithful, an STD. This wife is now bearing the sins of her husband in her physical body. She has the illness, the consequences and the pain of His sin affecting her very health – above and beyond the emotional scarring of unfaithfulness. But even this is minuscule in comparison to what Jesus did. Jesus willingly took our sin, while the wife unknowingly was given the disease. Jesus bore the punishment and wrath in our place so that we would not have to, and the wife is only a co-sufferer with the husband who also has the disease. Jesus took the Spiritual death along with the physical.
Jesus willfully and lovingly took in His body our sin. In fact, Paul says that Jesus actually became our sin.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
– 2 Cor 5.21
There is no injustice that you will suffer that can compare to that which Jesus suffered, and that for your sake. Let us remember this the next time we are wronged, taken advantage of, wrongfully accused, or simply inconvenienced. Jesus became sin for us, He loved us while we were His enemies so that we might be saved. And He commanded us to do the same. It is by loving our enemies that we set ourselves apart and prove ourselves to be His disciples, because everyone loves those who love him. Only those who are in Jesus love those who hate them.
We can trust God that He will handle every sin rightly. “‘Vengeance is mine’, declares the Lord, ‘I will repay'” (Deut 32.35). He is not mocked, He does not take sin lightly, and He will handle it. Let’s trust Him to do so!