texts: Romans 12:9-21 & Matthew 16:21-28
How do we respond to evil in our lives and world? Jesus and Paul teach us how to respond without letter evil motivate or control us.
Peter has just correctly identified Jesus as God’s Son, our Messiah, Savior of the world. A confession that Jesus says comes from God’s revelation. In Matthew 16:21-28 Jesus is turning his focus on going to Jerusalem where He will endure suffering and death at the hands of religious leaders. Peter chides Jesus and says in effect, “no way, Jesus!”
The journey to the cross and the cross itself is God’s plan for defeating sin and evil. Our world’s way of defeating evil is matching it with more evil. Retaliation. Pay back. Revenge. Get even. “Do to others before they do it to you.”
Jesus is God’s answer to evil. And it stymies us that God would choose the foolishness and weakness of the cross as the best way to defeat evil. Peter certainly didn’t agree with Jesus.
Jesus’ answer to Peter, you are looking at solving the problem of evil and sin from a human vantage point. God’s perspective is totally different. If you want to follow Me you must deny yourself daily, pick up your cross and follow Me.
Paul, in Romans 12:9-18 repeats that message and unpacks it. In effect Paul is saying this is what it looks like for Christians to follow Jesus.
Pastor Peter Marty tells the story of a woman named Martha who had a terrible upbringing. Her mother beat her regularly with a strap. “She was mean even though I never did anything wrong,” says Martha. Her father was no better. He would fix her school lunch, and instead of a sandwich he would put a rock!
Pastor Marty asked how it was that Martha and her husband were able to raise such a beautiful daughter after such a horrible upbringing. Victims often times become abusers themselves, repeating the cycle of violence. Martha’s response was, “I was determined to do the complete opposite of what my parents did to me.”
Do the opposite. Love, not hate. Bless, not curse. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” says the Apostle Paul (Romans 12:17). Rise above the wrong. Do the right thing.
That is diametrically opposed to how our world functions! We compete. The one with the most money and toys wins. The one who climbs to the top at the hurt and harm of those in the way is the one who is successful. Money and fame, influence and power. That is what counts.
God’s kingdom values are completely different. Let love be genuine—not a put on. Hate evil and hold on to what is good. Out do each other in honoring and respecting each other. Let hope give you joy. Be patient even when circumstances and people are against you. Pray. Be generous and hospitable even to strangers. If someone hurts you, bless them instead of cursing them. Let God take charge of getting even. Your soul cannot handle the hatred, anger and desire to get revenge. When they go low, go high!
When we are wronged we tend to let that wrong control our thoughts and motivate us in becoming evil and aggressive ourselves. Then instead of being part of the solution we perpetuate the painful cycle.
Jesus and His follower Paul tell us to break the cycle. Don’t be overcome by evil. Overcome evil with goodness!
In the summer of 1985, professor Henri Nouwen left his prestigious position at Harvard Divinity School and joined a movement called L’Arche (the Ark) in France. He served there for nine months living among individuals with disabilities. Then he moved to Canada and joined the L’Arche Daybreak community there. He served as pastor there until he died in 1996.
Nouwen lived Paul’s unpacking of Jesus’ teaching. He associated with the low and unimportant nobodies. He did unimportant things in the eyes of the world and by doing that he discovered he drew closer to the heart of God!
Do you want to know how to conquer evil? Do you want to know how to gain freedom from anger and thoughts of revenge? Do something totally different—bless your enemy. If they are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. By focusing on the needs of those we are angry with we humanize them. By praying for them and blessing them we take their power to hurt and harm us away from them. They may not change, but we do! We hold on to our humanity. We claim our identity in Christ and live under His Spirit and grace. That is much better than being controlled and manipulated by evil ourselves.
Robert Greene, in his book, The 48 Laws of Power, tells about a speech that President Lincoln gave while the Civil War was still raging. Lincoln makes a reference to Southerners as fellow humans who are in error. A woman present at his speech scolds him for not cursing the southern slave holders, calling them irreconcilable enemies and calling for their destruction.
Lincoln responded, “Why, madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
Do the opposite! Be different. Maybe it is time for us to do something totally different. Be kind. Be hospitable. Be hopeful. Overcome evil with good. Take care of the physical needs of our enemy and befriend them. Let God take care of vengeance.
Jesus taught us the Golden Rule, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
Paul invites us to live according to the values of the kingdom of heaven rather than by the standards of this world. Evil is present. All of us experience it in various forms. The way to defeat evil and not let it get the upper hand is to follow Jesus’ example—deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.
God give us the grace and courage to do so. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Marty, Peter W. “Loved as is.” The Christian Century, January 29, 2020, 3.
“Henri Nouwen,” L’Arche Manchester, 222.larchemanchester.org.uk
Greene, Robert. The 48 Laws of Power, http://www.goodreads.com