- In 1956 Johnny Cash wrote the lyrics to the song, “I Walk the Line”. He then recorded the song, and as they say the rest is history. The record sold over 2 million copies and was Johnny’s first Billboard #1 hit. It was on the charts for 43wks. The song was rereleased again in 1964 and became a hit a second time.
- To quote Johnny on the meaning of the song, “I wrote the song one night in June 1956 in Gladewater, Texas. I was newly married at the time, and I suppose I was laying out my pledge of devotion … The lyrics came as fast as I could write. In 20 minutes, I had it finished.”
- Johnny was concerned about being faithful to his new bride, the former Vivian Liberto. Johnny loved Vivian and didn’t want to mess up a good thing with her. However, Johnny had sobriety and fidelity issues which led to the break up with Vivian in 1961 after only 5yrs of marriage.
- Our text for consideration today has a short list of ways to keep from falling into sinfulness. The list comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. I chose probably the toughest of the ways noted in our text on how to follow all of the beatitudes – be merciful as Jesus was merciful to you. Jesus gave us examples of how to be merciful in Luke Ch#6, but I’m going to borrow from the lyrics of Johnny Cash’s song, “I Walk the Line” to provide practical examples on why we should live Jesus’ words spoken in the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Plain.
Let us pray
- Lord God, Heavenly Father, we thank you for the mercy you have shown to mankind, and to us specifically. In Your divine providence, You have allowed us to suffer the consequences of our sins, but You have also blessed us beyond our ability to comprehend. Send Your Spirit to work in our soul to appreciate the mercy You have shown to us. Bless us that we may in turn be merciful to others for the mercy you have shown to us. We come before You through Your one and only Son, the Lord Jesus, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forevermore. Amen.
- Before we get into Johnny Cash, the Beatitudes, and everything else, let’s get into the background of the Luke text for today
- Much of Luke Ch#6 is what is referred to as the Sermon on the Plain. We draw this conclusion from Luke 6:17-19 - 17 And he (Jesus) came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.
- Beatitudes are basically statements on a state of being blessed
- For example, before our text for today in Luke 6:22-23, we read - 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
- I’m sure when you are persecuted, you are not really feeling all that blessed. We feel very blessed when we have money in the bank, all our bills are paid, and there are no conflicts in our life. Life is good! It is easy to give thanks to the Lord in circumstances like these.
- However, Jesus is saying in verse 22 that we are blessed when we really do not feel blessed. Does anyone here feel blessed when they are hated? The saying goes, “if looks could kill…” I can tell you I would be dead a few times over by now.
- This seemingly backward thinking by the Lord is something theologians refer to as the “Great Reversal”. The Great Reversal is a language of exaltation and humiliation. Being blessed when hated is an example of the Great Reversal.
- Another example is Luke 6:21 - 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
- The ultimate Great Reversal is suffering in this Age of sinfulness, but becoming worry-free when we enter into heaven, a place where death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
- God spoke to Moses who in turn wrote the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The seminary course I just finished was a study of the books of Moses. Deuteronomy is sort of like a catechism in that it is a book of teaching. If you are ever interested in a summary of God’s love for His people and what to do in response to His love, take the time to read through Deuteronomy.
- Deuteronomy is a book which taught the Israelites what they needed to do once they enter into the Promised Land, present day Israel. God pronounced blessings and curses on the people; blessings upon those who follow God’s word, and curses upon those who chase after other gods as we see clearly in Deu 11:26-28 - 26 “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, 28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known. The beatitudes of Luke Ch#6 have that same flow of blessings and curses.
- Jesus was catechizing the crowd in the Sermon on the Plain with the blessings and curses, and equipping His disciples for mission journeys such as the sending of the 72 in Luke 10
- There is an interesting parallel between Jesus imploring us to be merciful even as your Father is merciful and the Psalmody for today. Verse 8 of Psalm 103 - 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Let’s get back to our friend, Johnny Cash, to see an example of people in Johnny’s life being merciful as well as our Lord being merciful:
- Johnny loved booze. He would drink alcohol excessively when on tour.
- Johnny loved women who made themselves available while he was on the road. Jerry Lee Lewis wrote about traveling with Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins - Wasn’t no problem, finding a beautiful girl. Look, I’d say to myself, there’s a couple. I’d say, Look, there in the third row.” In Quebec, he almost fell in love. “They pulled them dresses up, and I hollered, ‘Pull it up a little bit higher, baby,’ and they did. Man, they just laid it on you. And they kept on just layin’ it on you, night after night, city after city.”
- We see what Johnny Cash’s pet sins were, and what his new bride and family had to endure. What sins are you regularly committing on which the Lord show you mercy?
- Lord has had mercy upon you! We read from Psalm 103 - 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
- Sometimes it is our own sinful self we have to be merciful to. We as friends and family can forgive a person who is remorseful for what they have done and seek forgiveness. How does that work when the person to forgive is you? If God can be merciful to you by separating you from your sins as far as the east is from the west, then it is time to let go of past sins you have repented of, isn’t it?
- As I mentioned a moment ago, Johnny Cash wrote “I Walk the Line” as a pledge of faithfulness to his wife Vivian.
- Volume 9 of Luther’s Works, p68, has a remarkable view of the Law that really brings the understanding of love for God. I want to repeat a particularly salient sentence: for when I love God truly, I want everything God wants; nor is anything sweeter than to hear and do what God wants, as also human love does with its beloved. Thus through oneness with God in faith we receive everything freely from God; through love, we do everything freely toward God.
- What Luther is saying here is when we truly love God, we look into His word to see what He finds pleasing so that we can apply that to our every day life. We will want to find out what God likes and do it. Johnny Cash wrote “I Walk The Line” in an effort to remind himself of his love for Vivian. He would sing that song at every concert he played, so it would be a reminder. I want to spend a moment going through each of the four lines of the chorus of “I Walk The Line” and see if we can see Luther’s principal at work in the Luke text for today.
I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
- “To keep a close watch” means to guard or follow carefully someone or something. This is good. However, keeping watch in order to guard yourself from opening up to others can be a problem. We have all been hurt by someone at times in our life. People tend to close off and say they will never show love or get close to anyone ever again.
- If this has happened to you, keep in mind something from Luke 6:38 - 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
- We tend to think the Bible is only theoretical and does not have practical advice or experiences to relate to 21st century life. But listen again to the second half of v38 - Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” When I fill our coffee jar near the coffee pot at home, I scoop in coffee grounds, but I periodically shake the jar so that the grounds compact and I can get more into the jar. This is the same concept Jesus is saying we will experience when we give out of what He has given to us! He will return to you good measure, pressed down, shaken together with the measure you have given to others!
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
- It was said Johnny wrote these words because he …keeps his eyes open, he’s striving his best to avoid conflict and is trying not to make reckless movements [which] could ruin his relationship.
- We would all benefit from keeping our eyes wide open to relationships with others. In our Luke text, we have the familiar Golden Rule: 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
- There is a saying what goes around, comes around. If you have a me first attitude, then guess what? Don’t be surprised if the Lord surrounds you with others having a me first attitude until you discover there are others in the world. The me first attitude can have a negative effect on a marriage and any kind of relationship.
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
- This is an interesting portion of the lyrics. There is a hymn entitled, Blest Be the Tie That Binds. It is Hymn 649 in our hymnal. According to what I have read in my research about this song, Johnny Cash *did* intend to include a portion of the hymn into this song. It is worth reading through the first stanza of “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” to get a feel for what Johnny had in mind in this portion of the song:
- I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
- We read from Luke 6 - 32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
- Jesus is telling us even sinners are capable of having ties with others. Don’t get me wrong, the hymn is clearly addressing the love that we should have for one another here at Christus Rex. The love ties that exist between us are like the ties, the bonds, that God has with us.
- What Johnny Cash was thinking about was the tie that bound him with Vivian in marriage. Johnny did sing Gospel music all his life and in fact left his first recording company because he wanted to record Gospel music. It is possible Johnny was aware of the marriage bond Jesus has with His bride – the church. This bond between Jesus and those of us in the holy Christian church on earth is spoken of throughout the OT & NT. The problem is, we like Johnny Cash, have been unfaithful to the bridegroom, the Lord Jesus. And yet, our groom still loves us and cares for us. He sends His Spirit to work in us repentance and faith.
- Anyone here who is married knows that there are times with your spouse when you love despite being angry. Hopefully, the anger is not to the point your spouse is an enemy! If so, then as the Luke text indicated, love your enemy! Remember, God has the sun rise and set even on the ungodly and those who deny Him. We certainly should be able to show love to our spouse and those around us.
Because you're mine, I walk the line
- Luke 6:36 & Psalm 103:8 share a common word in the Greek: οἰκτίρμων
- οἰκτίρμων is a greater degree of mercy than the Greek adjective ἐλεήμων. ἐλεήμων is also rendered into English as “merciful”. At this point, you are probably wondering how both words can mean the same thing! Verse 8 of Psalm 103 has both of these words next to each other making it even more of an adventure in translation! This is why the ESV translation reads - “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” However, οἰκτίρμων is often rendered as tender mercy or compassionate.
- Our Heavenly Father had to have had compassion on us in order to send His one and only Son to take on the punishment for our sins that we should have endured. There was no way any of us would make it into heaven on our own merits. We were born already with inherited sin, and that already disqualified us from entering heaven, muchless all the sins we committed since we were born. Yes, Jesus’ going to the cross and enduring a horrible death was more than just merciful. It was compassionately merciful! And that is what we really should understand of Psalm 103:8. God is compassionate and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
- It is this compassion and mercy Jesus was referring to when we read in Luke 6:36 - 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
- Luke 6:36 & Psalm 103:8 share a common word in the Greek: οἰκτίρμων
- Maybe we should change the lyrics from “Because you’re mine, I walk the line” to “Because I’m yours, I walk the line”? Jesus has asked us – not commanded us, just asked us - to be merciful and compassionate, even as our Father is compassionate with us. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. Jesus now asks us to not treat fellow sinners as their sins deserve. That my friends would be walking the line marked out for us.
- God has richly blessed us with His compassion, His tender mercy, and promised to continue to do so; now and throughout eternity. This is most certainly true!
 Rev 21:4 from the ESV