Only the power of the cross, and the indwelling Spirit, can enable believers to turn the other cheek towards evil.
‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” 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.’ Matthew 5:38-39
It can often be hard for us to fully comprehend the weight of these words. ‘An eye for an eye’ was not only a law for the Jews as given in Leviticus, it is a principle that has passed down though generations and across cultures as an example of justice; revenge even. What he did to me I’ll do to him. What she took from me I’ll take from her. A life for a life.
Jesus’ words shattered this principle: do not resist an evil person. Turn the other cheek. Walk an extra mile. Give your coat as well as your shirt. These words were revolutionary to first century Jews, a nation under occupation of a brutal regime. The Romans were merciless in exerting their dominion, even using spying Jews in the temple, as well as in the tax office, to exercise their control. There was no freedom and no human rights.
Sound familiar? Probably not to most people reading this. The backdrop of first century Palestine may seem a long way from our experience in the West, raising our families in churches where these words are preached, but their weight of meaning never fully comprehended. But that setting, full of bitterness, hatred and political oppression, is everyday life for many of the people we work with in the Middle East today.
Almost every week I have the privilege of hearing first-hand stories of such suffering and sacrifice by Christians. I hear personal accounts from Chaldeans and Assyrians from Mosul, from Syrian Armenians from Aleppo, as well as new converts from Iran and Afghanistan.
Masoud, an Afghan brother, told me how he was detained in Iran when he was hung upside down and beaten until his knee shattered. Mahrous, an Iraqi from Baghdad, spent twelve years as a prisoner of war in Iran and was tortured to renounce his faith. Iranian convert Kurosh was sent to the infamous prison in Shiraz, where many have been tortured, because he loved Jesus more than his own life. Day in day out, believers in Iran are conscious that their every move is being monitored not only by the Iranian regime, but by their own spying neighbours ready to report them to the authorities.
It would be understandable, by the world’s standards, for any of these people to be full of bitterness and hatred, to be looking for revenge, to curse those who are persecuting them. And yet our Saviour tells us, ‘Do not resist an evil person,’ ‘Turn the other cheek.’ The Messiah, Jesus, who himself was unjustly beaten and abused; whose every step was watched by the religious rulers, ready to trap and accuse; who was betrayed by one of his closest followers and sentenced to the cruelest death the Roman empire could think of, and still he cried, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ He asks us too, to respond in mercy and sacrificial love. To pick up our cross and follow him, no matter the cost.
Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, Jesus lives amongst our suffering, washes our wounds and helps us to walk the path of forgiveness.
But how is this even possible? How can one’s heart be changed to such an extent that it is possible to forgive the perpetrators of evil?
Richard Wurmbrand, who suffered many years in a dungeon in Communist Romania, says, ‘Jesus taught that when you are slapped you should turn the other cheek. The probable result will be a second and a third slap. I had the experience myself… Jesus told us to walk the extra mile. He never promised that this would give us success in our enterprises, but only that we would become perfect in love. This is enough.’
The one who suggested the impossible, to turn the other cheek, not only leads us all in the Godly example of the cross, but through the indwelling Holy Spirit lives amongst our suffering, washes our wounds and helps us to walk the path of forgiveness. Only God can change the human heart, and unless God in His mercy changes hearts, evil and destruction will continue. As the mercy and grace of heaven touches mankind, feelings of revenge turn to forgiveness and love. This isn’t a role only for the ‘persecuted’ Church in a country far removed from our lives. Turning the other cheek is an act of obedience we are all called to. We will all experience persecution in some form, but responding with love and grace when we have been wilfully wronged, and even praying for the perpetrator is an act of obedience that the Holy Spirit enables us to walk in. Every time we turn the other cheek, choosing God’s way over our way, the enemy loses ground and the kingdom of God is ushered in.
Today, the Middle East is a place where the lavish grace of God from heaven is cutting through the stench of death from the gates of hell! As his people choose obedience to him, offering their lives as living sacrifices, the aroma of Christ fills the region.
Please join me in prayer for Iran and persecuted Christians in the surrounding area, that through the prayers and sacrificial life of believers in Jesus, the sweet aroma of Christ would change the atmosphere and advance his kingdom on earth.
Rev Lazarus Yeghnazar
President and Co-Founder
222 Ministries International