Our relationship with God is always connected to our horizontal, our relationship with others. And when there is dis-harmony and dis-unity in one of those aspects, the other is affected. When there is this disruption in our relationship with others, in the horizontal, there's going to be disruption in our relationship with God. We cannot separate or segment those things.
And that's why vengeance is so dangerous and so powerful. First, it disrupts our worship. But it also ignores the reality of rejection. I don't know if this is a surprise to you, but following Jesus faithfully involves rejection. And there's this kind of almost sidebar or passage in Luke 9, in which Jesus is approaching Jerusalem, and His disciples see it as an opportunity for revenge.
And Jesus has something different in mind. It says,
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village. Luke 9:51-56
I think if I were in that moment as one of Jesus's disciples, I would be looking for the fireworks with Jesus. If I were with him I would ask the same question. You want us to, like, do something here? I mean, we're ready like Jesus's henchman, like gangster style.
But Jesus says, No, no, no. He rebukes them because ultimately the mission of Jesus was about expanding beyond Jerusalem to the Gentiles through Paul and and through his ministry, that the saving message of Jesus would be expanded. What harm would have been done had his disciples just gone all gangster and called down fire from heaven in that moment?
See, we ignore sometimes the reality of rejection. Vengeance is uncomfortable with rejection. Vengeance wants to fix the situation. That's what the word in Greek means. It literally means to fix something. And how often, and especially in relationships where we experience harm or hurt or something done to us, do we want to fix something? And Jesus here says, No, no, no, there's a bigger picture in mind.
You may want to just sort of fix this current situation right in front of you, but there's something bigger and more important for us ahead. And the reality of rejection is a part of following Jesus faithfully. And so we deal with rejection. But thirdly, in vengeance we seek to play God. This is perhaps the most destructive part of vengeance.
In vengeance, we want to trade places with God and do what is reserved for only God. The Lord tells us in Leviticus 19:18
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Christ followers in Rome who were under the severe oppression of the Roman Empire. They were basically trying to just huddle up in these small communities and and faithfully follow Jesus. That's the background of this text. And Paul writes,
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘it is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord. Romans 12:19
Often times we want to take into our own hands what is reserved for God.
And that phrase is so interesting to me to “leave room for God's wrath”, meaning that God will avenge evil. God will avenge what is wrong. God will make right all the things that have been wronged. But it is God's responsibility to do that. The reason why God says to leave room for God's wrath that He is the one that avenges is because we cannot handle the burden of seeking vengeance.
And is it that the wisdom of the Lord says that vengeance is mine, I will repay? Because you and I, in our frailty and our sin, in our brokenness, cannot possibly take on the way of vengeance. Maybe you've experienced this where you sought vengeance and you let that vengeance or that desire to seek vengeance sort of dwell and linger for maybe months or even years.
You are broken by the weight of that, crushed by it. You're having a conversation with someone and you could just see on their face maybe the burden of something they were carrying. There is no more clear sign of that than when we are carrying vengeance. I mean, vengeance literally changes our disposition. And maybe, just maybe, God in his wisdom knows that we cannot possibly carry it with us.
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