Pastor James Preus
June 27, 2021
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” With these words, our Lord Jesus simply teaches us to behave like Christians. Christians are children of their heavenly Father. Children imitate their fathers. Christians are disciples of their teacher, Jesus Christ. If a disciple is like his teacher, he is perfect. And so, we should recognize that in order for us to be merciful, as Jesus here commands us, we ought to first know how our Father in heaven is merciful.
People commonly think that in order for God to show mercy to us, we must become worthy of his mercy (quite a strange concept of mercy, indeed). But if that were the case, if God waited until we showed ourselves worthy of his mercy, then what would it mean to be merciful as our Father is merciful? We would wait around for other people to show themselves worthy of our mercy! We would judge them to determine whether they deserved our mercy. We would condemn them for their failings. We would withhold our compassion and love. In short, we would be a miserable lot of judgmental, self-righteous hypocrites!
But how is our Father merciful? While we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Romans 5:8) When we were still enemies with God, the Father sent his Son to make satisfaction for our sins with his blood. Before we believed, Christ died for us. Before we were sorry for our sins, God forgave us for Christ’s sake. While we hated him, God loved us. This means that when Jesus tells you to be merciful as your Father is merciful, he is telling you not only to love your neighbor, but to love your enemies and pray for those who hate you. Forgive in your heart those who have sinned against you and have not said sorry. Do not judge them. Do not condemn them. Rather, give without expecting anything in return. You can only do this if you have faith in the mercy your heavenly Father has shown to you.
This helps us understand Jesus’ words, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” We do not judge, because God has not judged us. Rather, he laid all our sins upon Jesus and passed judgment on him in our stead. God did not condemn us, but rather condemned Jesus on the cross. When we do not judge, we always do so in light of Jesus.
But Jesus’ words, “Judge not” have been greatly abused. Satan has purposefully twisted these words to promote sin, and so the true meaning of these words is ignored. People use the commandment, “Judge not” to defend their own sinful desires. “Don’t judge me! I have the right to live this way. Jesus said, not to judge.” Or people will use these words to defend being silent against false teaching and damaging sins. “I’m not going to say that that religion is wrong, because Jesus said not to judge.” Or “I’m not going to confront my brother or sister in Christ with his sin, because Jesus said not to judge.” But this is not what our Lord is teaching us. And those who use Jesus’ words to avoid confessing the truth become increasingly intolerant to correct teaching, so that they pass judgment in the exact way Jesus forbids us.
When Jesus tells us not to judge, he is not saying that we should not speak the truth or confront sin. In John 7, Jesus tells us to judge with right judgment. Rather, when Jesus tells us not to judge, he is telling us to be merciful, to seek to forgive, to seek to restore your brother to Christ. When your neighbor annoys you, don’t judge him for it. We all have annoying traits. We all sin every day, sins of weakness. You certainly would hope that others wouldn’t nit-pick you for every mistake you make. So don’t nit-pick others for their failings. However, when sin becomes more brazen and persistent, so that it cannot be ignored, such as when people openly fornicate or commit adultery, lie, cheat, and steal, it is required of a Christian to confront these sins. St. Paul writes, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” So, we learn that we can confront sin without breaking Jesus’ command not to judge. Indeed, we must confront sin.
There are two sides of the horse we should be careful not to fall off of in regard to this commandment, both of which result in judging and condemning our neighbor. The first is to pass judgment on your neighbor for his sin and condemn him to hell, to not try to restore him to repentance and faith, but to call him a lost cause and to decide that he can’t be saved, or even, that you don’t want him to be saved. This certainly is the judgment Jesus forbids. We have no right to judge or condemn others. Only God does. And God desires all sinners to repent and be saved. By judging and condemning others, we do not help them. Yet, the other side is to refuse to judge what is right and wrong and so to refuse to speak the truth. This side usually thinks they are following Jesus’ commandment not to judge, but they are doing the opposite. Because, if you do not repent of your sins, then you will go to hell. So, to ignore sin is actually to condemn your neighbor! It is not loving if you know that your brother is in great danger of damnation, because he’s trapped in a sin and to not warn him. That is to pass judgment upon him, by neglecting to warn him and tell him how to escape judgment through faith in Christ, who forgives all sins.
You are not sinning against Jesus’ command not to judge when you confess the truth from God’s Word, even if the word you speak itself passes judgment. Jesus says in John chapter 12, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (vss. 47-48) So, Jesus, who will in fact return to judge the living and the dead, even says that he does not judge, but rather the word he speaks will judge them. What this means is that when you speak God’s word with the intention of your sinning brother or sister returning to Christ for forgiveness, you are not passing judgment. A sinner may receive judgment from those words, but it is God judging them for rejecting his word.
Jesus says a blind man can’t lead a blind man. Who are the blind? They are those who do not know God’s mercy. Last week we heard about how the Pharisees grumbled that Jesus received sinners. They should have rejoiced. But they were blind. They did not know God’s mercy for sinners. They did not recognize their own sin. They were hypocrites with logs in their eyes, criticizing those who were getting their eyes healed. A person who does not know God’s mercy cannot show mercy. Unless the light of God’s grace has shone on you, you cannot see. Unless your cup runs over, then you won’t be able to pour into your brother’s cup.
So, the question is, how can you not be blind? How can you remove the log out of your eye? Through repentance and faith in Christ, that is, by turning from your sin and asking God for forgiveness. Then the log is removed. Then you can see clearly God’s mercy. Then your aim for your brother or sister trapped in sin is not to lord it over them, but to lead them to Christ who heals the blind. You recognize the log is there when you recognize that you are a sinner. You remove the log by turning to Christ, who forgives. Then your desire for all people is for them also to receive this same forgiveness.
People often say, “I don’t want to go to church, because it is filled with hypocrites.” So, a common response is, “Well, there’s always room for one more.” But Christians shouldn’t call themselves hypocrites. Jesus doesn’t call his disciples hypocrites. He calls hypocrites those, who refuse to repent of their own sins, while condemning others for their sins. But Christians are not hypocrites. Christians recognize their own sin. They are sorry for their sins. And they go to church to receive forgiveness from him who receives sinners. Sure, there are going to be hypocrites and false Christians, who go to church. But true Christians are not hypocrites. True Christians are sorry for the sins they have committed against their God, and they gladly receive his forgiveness for Christ’s sake.
You won’t find a less judgmental church than a confessional Lutheran Church. You won’t find a less judgmental church than Trinity Lutheran Church in Ottumwa, IA. Now, how can that be? We teach that there are no other gods, but the Lord God, and that it is a sin to worship any other god. We teach that it is a sin to teach falsely and to neglect hearing God’s word. We teach that it is a sin to disobey your parents and other authorities. We teach that it is a sin to have an abortion, because it is killing a child made in God’s image. We teach that it is a sin not only to murder, but to hate someone in your heart. We teach that all sexual relations outside of that between a husband and wife within marriage is a sin, and even to lust after another person in your heart is a sin. We teach that stealing and cheating is a sin, along with gossiping. We even teach that it is a sin to covet your neighbor’s stuff. If we teach that all these are sins that cause a sinner to deserve damnation to hell, how can I tell you that you won’t find a less judgmental church?
Because we preach Christ crucified for sinners. The purpose of calling sin, sin is not to condemn, but to save. We preach the law, so that sinners know their need for a Savior; so that they know that without Jesus there is judgment for sin. And we preach the Gospel that Jesus saves sinners from judgment through his death and resurrection. And we want everyone to believe the Gospel and be saved. We want everyone to escape judgment and condemnation and to be given all that we have been given by our merciful Father.
You can’t get less judgmental than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus rescues sinners from judgment. When Jesus tells us to be merciful as our Father is merciful, he is telling us to confess him as our Savior by showing with our words and actions the mercy God has shown us through Jesus Christ; to forgive those who sin against us; to be patient and humble; and to confess the truth. Our hope is for everyone we meet to escape judgment through Christ. Our hope is for others to receive our Father’s mercy, just as we have received it.