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There’s No Money in Revenge

Excerpt from a sermon titled “He Hit Me!” from November 2020

One week after our gathering a couple of kids were running around playing in the gym. While I didn’t see anything that went down, I overheard one of the parents stop the action, and say to one of the kids, “did you punch him?” as she pointed at another boy in the gym. And the child responded, “yes, because he kicked me in the stomach!”

Now, because I’m a parent as well, I’ve heard similar conversations over and over: Why did you hit him? Because he hit me first! Why did you take that from her? I’m only taking it back because she took it from me! And every Christian parent on the planet hopefully has tried to explain, “no, just because it’s done to you doesn’t make it right! You can’t act like that.” At our house, we get a little snarky with that attitude sometimes and say – “oh, good! You returned evil for evil, just like Jesus taught us.” 

But there is something about revenge that just gets our blood pumping. Even though the character, Inigo Montoya, from the movie Princess Bride says “There’s not a lot of money in revenge”, Hollywood would have to say very much otherwise. We absolutely LOVE revenge. We’re drawn to it. We love a good “get-even” story. If you hurt me and I cry, I want to see you cry. If you take something from me that causes me pain, I want to see you in pain. If you make me suffer, I want to know you’re suffering in return. 

And on one hand, we should celebrate the fact that we want justice to be served. Genesis 1:27 says we are made in the image of God, and that deep ache for justice is one of the ways we image him:

  • Psalm 37:28 – the Lord loves justice and will not abandon his faithful ones. They are kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked will be destroyed.
  • Isaiah 61:8 – for I the Lord love justice!

So for the kid who got kicked in the stomach, being eager for things to be made right is not the problem. The Lord is also eager for justice. The problem is where we often go for justice. The reality is we often find ways, like that young man last week, to take things into our own hands instead of trusting God to make things right. 

In 1 Peter we come to understand that there is a connection between our behavior and our beliefs. The kick in the stomach says what we believe about God, the cold shoulder to your spouse says what you believe about God, walking off the job after being mistreated says what you believe about God.

And yet Peter writes: you are to submit to your masters “...whether they are gentle and gracious, or if they are cruel.”  That word cruel means crooked. So it’s not just physical abuse. It’s inclusive of all kinds of employer/employee injustice – withheld funds, bad business practices, etc. 

Now what’s our normal tendency when we get kicked in the stomach? Get them back! You made me suffer, I want to see you suffer. And Peter says, no: Submit to them, whether they are generous or stingy; humble or arrogant; upright or crooked. 

But follow Peter’s reasoning here:

[19] For it brings favor if, because of a consciousness of God, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. [20] For what credit is there if when you do wrong and are beaten, you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure itthis brings favor with God

Peter is concerned that a hostile world is watching, and yet isn’t it interesting his concern is NOT that you earn FAVOR with the world, but with who? GOD! In James 4:4, we read “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God.” 

The goal for these parents up here today is not to have a watching secular culture say, “Okay, wow, you guys are great parents!” The goal is to have God say “well done, good and faithful servants!” This word “favor” means grace. In other words, as we endure hard times, mistreated or otherwise, as parents raise children who will likely rebel or make poor choices at some point like we all do, that God gives more grace for each moment. 

God doesn’t always take us out of hard times, but gives us more grace to endure them as we look to him. We love that saving grace, right? That amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. But that same grace that called us to salvation calls us to patience and trust when other people have wronged us. 

21 You were called to this because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 

Here are the steps:

  • [22] He did not commit sin, and 
  • no deceit was found in his mouth; 
  • [23] when he was insulted, he did not insult in return; 
  • when he suffered, he did not threaten but 
  • entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 

That’s the opposite of revenge. 

He patiently trusted himself to God even while people were making a mess of him. And what is the outcome?

[24] He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. [25] For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Look at Isaiah 53, starting in verse 3-6. There you see what Peter is quoting… this prophecy is about the Messiah who would suffer in our place, carrying our sin in his own body. 

You want to talk about unjust suffering? He wasn’t nailed through the hands and feet because of HIS rebellion – it was for mine! He wasn’t crushed because of HIS iniquities – it was for mine! He wasn’t punished because HE went astray – I was astray, headed for death! And who is this person suffering? Look down to verse 11 – He is “my righteous servant” that will justify many and carry their sin, therefore I will give him many as a portion because he willingly submitted to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet he bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels.”

The key to revenge is that you watch the other person suffer as much as you did, but Jesus willingly considered himself a slave to God, and when things got unjust, when he started getting treated in ways he didn’t deserve, when he started facing opposition for what he believed to be true about himself and about God, he didn’t call down an army of angels to give the Romans or the Pharisees what they deserved. When they mocked him, he didn’t mock them back; when they slapped him he didn’t slap them back; when they humiliated him, he didn’t humiliate them back – look at the end of v23: he continued to submit himself to his Heavenly Father, entrusting himself, Peter says, to the one who judges justly. 

He believed that his Father was a righteous judge that loves justice. Jesus believed that his Father would either repay these people through punishing them for their own sin, eternally separated from God, or that he would accomplish justice by putting their sin on the back of Jesus himself – humanity’s substitute – so that they could be forgiven. 

I had a situation at work a couple years back where I did the opposite of Jesus’ example. I was wronged, and I did all the things Jesus didn’t do – insulted that person in my head, threatened them in my head with all the things I would do to get even… my behavior also revealed what I believed. I didn’t believe God could handle it. He needed my help to make the wrongs right. 

Only when God showed me the cost of his grace toward me, could I see the power of verse 24, that Jesus was beaten for my rebellion, that Jesus suffered for my bitterness, so I could repent and be healed. I’ve been given the freedom as a slave of God, to submit instead of retaliate because I know my Shepherd’s got me and he’s carrying me back home to his presence and his all-encompassing love.