July 5, 2020
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray this whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer. With our lesson today, Jesus is trying to get us to understand what we pray for every day. When we pray that our Father in heaven would forgive our trespasses, we are asking that he would have mercy on us, not judge us, not condemn us, but rather forgive us. And we also promise that we will likewise show such mercy on others. This is what it means to be merciful, even as our Father in heaven is merciful.
This lesson can only be understood through the light of the Gospel. “Judge not,” Jesus says. Why? Because God did not judge you. “Condemn not.” Why? Because God did not condemn you, but rather condemned sin in the flesh of his own Son, Jesus Christ who committed no sin (Romans 8:3). “Forgive.” Why? Because God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32). We love, because God first loved us. We have mercy, because God has shown mercy to us.
Yet, when you remove the light of the Gospel from these words, they become distorted into devilish teachings. Few words have been so grossly misapplied than Jesus’ words, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” These words of Jesus have been used by unbelievers and false teachers to rebuke Christians for holding to the teachings of the Christian faith. You must not say that Jesus is the only way to heaven, because that is being judgmental toward other religions and Jesus says, do not judge. You must not say that the sexual revolution was evil and that sex belongs only between a husband and wife in marriage and that all other sexual relations are sinful. That is being judgmental and Jesus said not to judge. You must not condemn false teaching or sinful behavior of any kind, because Jesus says not to judge. And many Christians have fallen for this lie. Christians remain silent and even condone false teachings like universalism and unionism, and sinful activities like fornication, homosexuality, and abortion, because unbelievers tell them that their Lord tells them not to judge.
But when Jesus tells us not to judge, he obviously is not telling us to condone what is evil or believe what is false. In fact, there are times when Jesus tells us to judge. In John chapter 7, Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” And when Jesus tells us to beware of false prophets, who come to us in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves, he is teaching us to judge our teachers and preachers, so that we will know whether they are true or false teachers. Christians are commanded by Jesus to judge between false teachings and the one true teaching, and to make distinctions between the fruits of the Spirit and the sinful works of the flesh.
Likewise, parents must make judgments concerning their children, otherwise they cannot discipline them or raise them in the fear and love of the Lord. And governments must make judgments in the court of law. This is why Scripture teaches that no charge should be established except by two or three witnesses and that all people should obey the governing authorities. And Scripture teaches that if anyone is caught in any transgression, those who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1), which of course is impossible, if you do not make a judgment between what is and is not a transgression. And to forego making that judgment and leaving someone to perish in his sin is neither merciful nor loving.
So, it is clear, unless Jesus is going to contradict Scripture, which is impossible, that when Jesus says, “Judge not,” he does not mean do not ever judge. Rather, Jesus is warning against unauthorized and loveless judging. Do not pass judgment when you have not been given the job to pass judgment in that situation. And when you must pass judgment, do it in love. When you see your brother or sister sinning, do not seek to destroy them, but try to save them!
Despite its great abuse that has led many astray, this lesson from Jesus still needs to be heard and learned. We all need to hear that we should not judge!
As we celebrate our nation’s independence and feelings of patriotism rise with every crack of a firework exploding in the distance, many of us are noticing how many of our national monuments and historical figures are under attack. Many are demanding the removal of statues while others are vandalizing them or tearing them down themselves; not just statues of confederate soldiers down south, but of Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt, as well as notable abolitionists and even saints. Those attempting to tear down these statues argue that the men they depict represent great evils, because of things they did or said in their lifetime. Now obviously, all these men did do bad things in their lifetime, but their effigies were not erected for the bad things, but for the monumental things they did for our nation.
And those who are condemning these men for their real or perceived flaws, would do well to remove the log out of their own eyes before they point out the speck in the eyes of these historical figures, who cannot defend themselves. For surely, future generations will have more than enough to condemn them if they ever do anything worthy of a monument. Our generation has been complacent in the face of evil just as much as previous generations, as we put up with the harm done to unborn babies and the innocence stolen from children. We Christians should see clearly enough to know that as we pray, “God, bless America” we should also remember to pray, “Lord, have mercy on America for her many sins.” For ultimately, it is not history that will judge us, but Almighty God.
Yet, it is not for the sake of statues or dead historical titans that Jesus says these words, but for your husband or wife, brother or sister, co-worker and fellow Christian. No talking heads on the television will debate whether the character assassination you committed against your sister or neighbor is justified. No one is going to write his congressman about whether you judged your wife’s tone of voice too harshly or whether you were too dismissive of your father’s words. When we deal with one another, we need to keep these words of Jesus in our mind. Remove the log out of your own eye before you point out the speck in your neighbor’s.
This means that we should repent of our own sins and recognize that we live by grace. God paid the debt you owed him for your sins, so be quick to forgive any debt that someone might owe against you. This does not mean that we condone sin. Rather, it means that with our interactions with one another, we always have the goal to forgive and be reconciled, not to destroy and condemn.
Christians should be more equipped to pass judgment than unbelievers, because we have been taught by Jesus Christ himself what is right and wrong. We should be able to identify sin, so to avoid it and to recognize good, so to pursue it. Yet, Christians should be the last ones to pass judgment and condemn, because we live in the light of the Gospel. God has forgiven us our great trespasses. When we recognize sin, we see sins for which Jesus shed his blood. When we recognize sinners, we see sinners for whom Christ died to save. When we see sin, we see our own sin and show humility and penitent hearts and thank God who has forgiven us for Christ’s sake.
Be merciful, even as your Father in heaven is merciful. These words are often interpreted to mean that you must show yourself merciful in order for God to show mercy on you. Yet, that is a distortion of Jesus’ words. If that were so, you would only be required to show mercy upon those who had likewise proven themselves to be merciful or otherwise deserving of your mercy. But the point is that God our Father in heaven shows mercy upon us when we do not deserve it. While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. God does not forgive those who deserve it, but those who do not deserve forgiveness. And that is how merciful you should be. Forgive those, who do not deserve to forgiven.
You can only give mercy if you yourself have received mercy. It is by the renewing power of the Gospel that you are able to show the love of God, which he shows to you. Unless you are motivated by the Gospel with a renewed spirit within you, your motivation will be tainted with sin and your mercy will be sinful. Jesus says, a good tree cannot bear bad fruit nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Unless God make you a good tree, you cannot bear good fruit. Unless God make you merciful, you cannot show mercy.
A student is not greater than his teacher, but every student, when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. We will never be more merciful than God. Those who claim a mercy greater than that revealed to us in Jesus often are revealed to have a deeply cruel mercy; a mercy that does not forgive; does not protect; does not seek after good, but judges and condemns the righteous. And we Christians will never be greater than our Lord in his mercy. But we will be like him. As he has shown mercy on us, so will we show mercy to others. Even as we do it in weakness; even as our sinful flesh fights against the renewed spirit within us; God will cultivate good fruit in us by his grace revealed in his Son.
The words, “Be merciful” are a command. Yet, they also reveal a promise. As we groan inwardly eager to be revealed as God’s son and heirs with redeemed bodies, the Spirit bears witness to us that we are children of our Father in heaven. What has been shown to us and what our renewed selves desire to be is what we will be when that final Day shall come. We shall be like him even as we see him as he is. Amen.