“What if Jesus was Serious? – Love in Action” with Norman Garcia

Explore one of history’s most powerful messages, the Sermon on the Mount at Gateway Church in Austin.

Jesus unveils the essence of living in God’s Kingdom. This message isn’t mere idealism; it’s an invitation to live a life shaped by love, compassion, and righteousness. It’s not just a guide; it’s a transformational journey into the heart of humanity. Are you ready to step into this extraordinary way of living?

If Jesus was serious about heart transformation, then our thoughts, motives, and intentions are deeply significant.

Digging Deeper

Work through these discussion questions and do a deeper dive into the message with your family, roommates, or community group.

Discussion Questions

Watch Here:

Message Notes by Jesse Sampson:

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes six “statements” at odds with each other by stating..” You’ve heard that it was said, But I say this.” Rather than abolishing the Law, Jesus fulfills it, raising the bar and inviting the disciples and us to a higher standard than the law states.

Throughout history, people have tried to twist, minimize, manipulate, or explain away the teachings of Jesus. Many still believe that his teachings were geared towards “social revolutions” and not meant for everyday life. 

As we heard from the Scripture reading, two of those teachings are on violence and loving your enemies.  Because anger and violence like many of Jesus’ examples are a universal struggle. And the devastation they cause can be apocalyptic in nature.

Unsurprisingly, every nation has experienced violence, revolution, and a proclivity towards independence—this nation included. More people have lost their lives in war over the past hundred years than the past 2000 years….to the tune of 3.5 million…..

The only thing guaranteed in war is violence and the loss of life. The taking of life has fueled the downward spiral of humanity ever since Cain, the first earth-born murderer, took the life of his brother, Abel.

Cain and Abel were the first earth-born humans…..Cain murders his brother…..Abel. We hear this in Genesis 4:
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen 4:8-9

Abel’s blood is spilled on the ground, and Cain dodges God’s question, “Where is your brother Abel? He lies in an attempt to absolve himself of “responsibility” for his brother’s life.  His father, Adam, was appointed “keeper” of the “garden” in Genesis (2:15), but for Cain, to be a “keeper” does not involve a garden; it involves another human being.

This not only points to the sanctity of life but also to our responsibility to be “keepers’ of our brothers and sisters.

To answer Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yes. But not just “keepers.”  Jesus, in his upside-down Kingdom, is calling us to a higher standard; we are no longer only called to be keepers; we’re called to love others with a radical countercultural love.

But maybe you’re rolling your spiritual eyes, thinking, “Yeah, but… “Jesus didn’t live in 2023 in Texas (or wherever you’re watching from).”

True, but we tend to forget that when Jesus was born, King Herod ordered the infanticide of all male babies, putting his family on the run and throwing Jesus right into oppression under the brutal, ruthless superpower of Rome. 

The Roman power structure stole land and property and hiked taxes, resulting in socioeconomic starvation; it was a generation ripe with desperation and anger. And if you are a first century Jew you want nothing more than to end the reign of these vicious people by any means necessary.

And it’s within this context that Jesus says, “Face your adversary by showing them your humanity, and, oh, by the way, love your enemies.”

These truths would anchor many “nonviolent revolutions” in history, from Gandhi to MLK to Nelson Mandela.

But Jesus doesn’t just call us to “nonviolence.” The standard is actually higher than that.

The standard is to:

  • Break the cycle of violence and vengeance. 
  • Love our enemies
  • And allow his words to transform our character. 

If Jesus was serious, then you and I CAN break the cycle of violence and vengeance in our world.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. – Matthew 6:38-42

“Eye for eye” and “tooth for tooth” were legal language, which is a shame because I have bad vision and two cavities right now, and I would gladly take a good eye and maybe a couple of nice molars. (North, you’ve got some nice teeth; we’ve got hard water down in Buda.) 

But Eye for Eye, tooth for tooth, ensured justice was served legally regarding retribution to ban both extremely harsh punishments that didn’t fit the crime and to ban self-appointed vigilantes.

And, The principle still exists in every legal system today (e..g, You steal a TV you pay back its worth) . However, the problem with self-appointed vigilantes is that they don’t follow guidelines, rules, or laws, so what was designed to keep order and fairness became people taking justice and vengeance into their own hands for just about anything.

Now, Jesus teaches with authority that ‘kindness” should go beyond simple payback.

 If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. – Matthew 6:39

Contextually speaking, the slap Jesus was referring to is the “backhanded slap” with the right hand. Most people then and today are right-handed and rightfully so; right-handed people also wipe with their right hand.  So to backhand someone with the right hand was the ultimate form of humiliation. 

So, Jesus implicitly communicates, “Don’t just sit and take it when you’re slapped, saying, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?  No, he says, “Turn the other cheek.” In other words, look them in the eye and force them to see your humanity.

How different from today’s typical response, which is not just to get even; it’s to get revenge—Jesus says, Break the cycle.

If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. – Matthew 6:40

Again, Jesus completely changes what this means.

Most people in the first-century context only had two garments, the inner (shirt) and the outer (robe), making garments expensive and tradable items, like salt, which cost something… It would be like Someone suing you for your shirt, and Jesus says, Give it to them… But then He  says, “Hand over your coat, too.” …and you’re like…  No, not the Levi’s jacket, Lord…

What Jesus is getting at is, “Right there in the courtroom, do something so radical like stripping naked and giving everything you have, so once again, the shock value can radically shake a person awake into seeing others with dignity, compassion, and perhaps repentance.”

Jesus then shares this absurd idea of going the extra mile. We often miss the context. In the midst of being occupid and oppressed intheir land Roman soldiers could utterly humiliate someone by forcing them legally to carry out a task like carrying a backpack for a mile. It was a gut punch if you were demanded to do something like this. And once again Jesus goes against the idea of fight or flight and he presents us with a 3rd option. He’s telling them- “Do something as radical as literally going farther than demanded and maybe on your journey you get to here their story, how they’re far from family, the trauma they’ve witnessed and maybe youll see their humanity and they will see yours.”

In these examples, Jesus is not saying, “Don’t seek justice.” Scripture is redemptive and, by all accounts, points towards seeking justice for the oppressed, hungry, and hurting. But we must be careful not to confuse our form of justice with God’s. Ultimately, God is just, and while we partner with God in bringing justice, our need for vengeance can cloud our motives. 

Jesus asks us to practice “Love in action” in all situations. 

When we act in Love and reconciliation instead of vengeance, it changes everything. 

But what is “love in action?”

Loving God? Certainly. Loving Others? Absolutely. Loving our Enemies? Yes. 

If Jesus was serious, then loving God means loving your enemies.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? – Matt 5:43-47 

God commanded the People of Israel to love their neighbor and the foreigner , because they too were “foreigners” while enslaved in Egypt, but over time, the religious leaders (the Pharisees)  turned that into… Love Jews, and  “hate” the “foreigner”….. Forgetting their history, they twisted what God commanded….and turned “the foreigner” into their enemy….

And because of that, “the Pharisees” are the “antagonists,” they’re criticized….in sermons every Sunday….worldwide.

But It’s easy to criticize people from 2000 years ago, saying, “Those Jews, I can’t believe they didn’t love the “foreigner”..and made them their enemies….

But let me ask you, 2000 years later… Who have you turned into an enemy? Who have you NOT Loved? 

The Republicans, the Democrats, Joe Biden? Donald Trump? People who insulted you, persecuted you, falsely accused you? Many of you are probably answering “Yea, I tolerate everyone” but that’s not what Jesus is saying. He’s saying “do you go above and beyond even for those who you can’t stand, who even oppose you?”…

Do something radical…invite them over for dinner….and don’t just order pizza, cook your best meal for them, be intentional about it….let it cost you something. Love them with a sacrificial love. A sacrificial love that lays down your opinions and your objectives, and agendas…..the same type of love that drove Jesus to the cross, to lay down his life for all who would choose it? 

And when you come up short, because you will, keep loving them anyway. God’s common grace falls on all of humanity. So, when you think that the rain only falls on the “just,” it also falls on your enemies, so pray for them. 

I believe Jesus would say to you and me, “Do you love people as if I died for them?  Or do you just love yourself because you believe I only died for you?” 

Maybe you’re convinced you can’t love your enemies, but let me ask you this: can you pray for them? I mean, really pray for them—not for God to change the person, but to ask God to help you see what you don’t. 

You may be thinking: “You don’t know what they did to me, how they hurt me. I can never talk to them again…”
I get it, but can you at least Pray for them?

Jesus understands that prayer shifts our view of people so that we begin to see them as God sees them. To gain an understanding that every abuser, they were likely abused, that every toxic relationship stems from being raised in toxic environments…  We don’t pray to excuse away what was done; we pray for healing and understanding.

“A Christian fellowship exists because its members pray for each other. If they don’t, the fellowship falls apart.” No matter how much trouble he gives me, I can’t judge or hate a brother for whom I pray. Through prayer, his face, which may have seemed strange and unbearable to me before, changes into the face of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a sinner who has been forgiven.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.

Bonhoeffer is certainly speaking to the church here, but I believe Jesus wants us to reach beyond the walls of the church, and love those who are not in the church as well….

The love that Christ offers from the cross is manifold in the world. It is unlimited…  Love, like grace and mercy, flows from the cross in abundance…. But It’s easy to love those who love us– Jesus said, “Even pagans and tax collectors do that” 

What’s difficult is loving people who vote, think, express, dress, live, and act differently than us, and it’s even more difficult to love people who flat out insult, persecute, and falsely accuse us. Loving those opposed to our views, theologically, socially, or politically, does not mean that we have to agree with them. We have believed for way too long that if we hang out, associate with, and love people we disagree with, then we by default are aligning with everything they believe. Nonsene. 

Robert George and Cornel West set a real-life example of men who oppose each other’s views but who also love each other dearly. 

Robert George is known for his conservative views on issues like– abortion and same-sex marriage, and believes there are moral standards that govern human behavior.

Cornel West on the other hand is known for his progressive views on abortion and same-sex marriage. He’s a big proponent for social justice, and the need to address issues of economic inequality and systemic racism. 

Despite their differences, George and West have engaged in public debates and discussions on a number of topics, including religion, politics, and the role of the university in society.

So, why does Jesus say to love our enemies? Because he knew what Robert George and Cornel West found out—when we love someone who is perceived to be our enemy, they are no longer our enemy. 

For some of us, we don’t like that. We are so geared towards “us vs. them,” thinking that we need an enemy. We need someone else to point to for all of our problems and hurts. We need drama, destruction, and violence.

We do have an enemy, but it is not each other…

And, let me say this, maybe you were abused, and harmed by the very people who you trusted to love you, care for you, and protect you, and right now there is no way you could ever “love them” because in your mind and heart they will always be an enemy. 

I understand. I have great compassion for you. But more importantly, Jesus has unlimited compassion and love for you.

But maybe you’re thinking—“Well where was Jesus when I was being abused? Which is a fair question, but I don’t doubt for one second that Jesus’s heart didn’t break in those moments of torment for you. Far too often, with our freedom people make terrible choices that have consequences that go beyond what the heart can imagine. And for some of us that meant traumatic and even evil things were done to us.

But, I want you to know, it has never been God’s desire for you to suffer at the hands of someone else. For that reason, Jesus paid the ultimate price of “suffering” for the entire human race, for all who would receive it. 

And as hard as this is to say, he wants you- as a follower and disciple of Jesus to pray for those who have hurt you. He wants you to be free from unforgiveness; he wants you to be able to receive and give love fully to others; and he wants you to be who you “truly are.” And that’s scary because you’re afraid that if you let go of all the pain, all the suffering, and all the unforgiveness, you won’t know who you really are.  That’s a lie. 

The truth is, when you forgive, love, and pray for your “enemies,” those who have abused you, hurt you, and stolen from you…  You will begin the process of knowing exactly who you are. 

Only the “enemy” wants us to have enemies because when we do, our focus is not on God…and that is Satan’s entire mission. 

But to be people who are transformed into the likeness and image of Christ, we must allow his words to pierce our hearts and define our character more than our traditions do. 

If Jesus was serious, then His words must define our character more than our traditions do.

 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:48

Wait, Jesus wants us to be perfect? Not really

The word is better described as being “perfected,” as we aim to be whole, complete, and mature believers in Christ. 

Luke 6 puts it in his version of Sermon on the Mount – Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. – Luke 6:36

While the word used by Luke is different, it still points us towards Matthew’s word of being perfected into mature, whole people. 

To extend “mercy” (not giving people what they deserve) is not only a part of God’s Character (Exodus 34:5-8) It is what God has desired from humanity since Cain stood over able to kill him. 

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. – Hosea 6:6

Cain had an opportunity to show his brother Able “Mercy” but instead considered him an enemy…and chose to “hate him.”  It wasn’t that Abel did anything wrong, but from Cain’s perspective, he did, and therefore, his life needed to end. 

And what we learn is this … .Our perceptions, those microagressions that go unresolved over time to the point that you’ve already made your mind up about someone, and what WE think is right, can lead to the persecution and hatred of others.

So what does this mean for us as we follow Jesus or maybe you’re in the room seeking?

For the seekers and the doubters in the room, I pray you would realize that virtually every nonviolent revolution in history has its origin right here in the SOTM. But the real revolution is the revolution of the heart. That the cycle of violence in our world, in our family history, and in us CAN BE BROKEN! Jesus offers freedom for you from this cycle.

Therefore, If we are going to be disciples of Jesus, His words must define our faith, conduct, and character-

We must be people who extend mercy, not vengeance, love, not retaliation, prayer, not persecution…

Did I love who was considered to be my enemy at the moment? No. And if you asked me, would I do anything different? Probably not. I was protecting my wife, which is my role as a husband. 

I think Jesus said pray for your enemies knowing that we naturally will have points of contention and division. But he offers us a path of restoration and reconciliation.

And so where do we land this thing? 

Well, as we said, Able’s blood was spilled on the ground, and it continued to cry out until another’s blood was spilled…from the cross… the blood of Jesus… sending a different message, a message of redemption, reconciliation, restoration, and forgiveness…

 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:24 

This means that for the life surrendered to Jesus, our sin and brokenness no longer have the final word. His blood does… His love does.

Is Jesus saying, Never use violence to protect your family or stand up for what is right? What does that mean about war? Capital punishment? Self-defense? I think this is where we all have to wrestle with it. But the point is He stand in the gap saying- “There’s a better way. I can cure your heart of the evil that comes with retaliation and vengeance.” 

What Jesus is calling us to do is to love others—the people who are easy to love and the people who are not. For the people we consider allies and the people we call enemies, we are to love the loveable and the unloveable with a love that transcends hate, bitterness, vengeance, etc. 

We’re called to love others as if Jesus died for them….because he did

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