July 14, 2019
In this lesson Jesus tells us what God is like and what we his disciples should be like. God is merciful. What does it mean that God is merciful? It means that he does not judge or condemn us, but instead condemned his Son Jesus in our place. It means that he forgives us our sins for the sake of Jesus’ suffering and death. It means that he gives both to those who hate him and those who love him in extraordinary abundance, so that they have enough to share with anyone in need. God pours until our cup runs over and assures us that it will never be empty. That is what it means that God is merciful. He is compassionate and he deals with us according to his compassion instead of according to our sins as the Psalmist says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8-12)
And so, when Jesus tells us to judge not, condemn not, forgive, and give, he is telling us to be like our heavenly Father. But this lesson is greatly misunderstood. Many if not most people think that you must do acts of mercy in order to receive God’s mercy. They think if you try really hard to become like God, God will be pleased with you and show you mercy. They think that you must do the works of the law to earn God’s grace and be accepted by him. Yet, this is impossible. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jesus says immediately after our lesson, “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Luke 6:43) If you’re a bad tree, you cannot become a good tree by trying really hard to bear good fruit. You must be a good tree before you can bear good fruit.
Not only is it impossible for us to do enough works of mercy to become children of God, that is not what Jesus teaches us. Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” If Jesus meant that we must prove ourselves merciful before our Father in heaven will be merciful to us, then that would mean that we wouldn’t need to show mercy to our neighbor until he first proved himself worthy of our mercy, since Jesus tells us to be merciful as our Father is merciful. But Jesus doesn’t teach us to be merciful to our neighbor only after he deserves it, but to be merciful even to those, who do not deserve it. That is because God is merciful to you, even before you deserve it.
This sermon is for Christians. Be merciful, even as your Father in heaven is merciful to you. Jesus says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) If you have evil in your heart, you can only speak evil. Yet, if you have good in your heart, you will produce good. Well, who puts the good in your heart? God does, when he shows mercy to you. God pours out the good measure, presses it down and shakes it together and then keeps pouring until it overflows. God gives you such a great measure of his grace and mercy, so that you can share it with others without worrying about lacking anything.
In 1 Kings 17 the Lord worked a miracle through his prophet Elijah. He caused a jar of flour and a jar of oil, which belonged to a starving widow and her son, to never run empty. No matter how much bread the woman made from the flour and oil, the jars were always full. And so, it is with those who receive God’s mercy. When God forgives your sins, he fills you with his grace so that it pours out of you. God’s mercy changes you to be merciful.
In Ephesians chapter 2 St. Paul writes that when we were dead in our trespasses God made us alive again in Christ Jesus, for by grace we have been saved. And later on, he says, “for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, that we might walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) St. Paul teaches us that when we have faith in God’s mercy, we don’t just carry around dull knowledge like what some egghead learned from a textbook. He teaches us that we carry Jesus himself in our hearts, as St. Paul elsewhere also says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) And Jesus is always busy doing good works.
Jesus also says in his sermon, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” This is known as the Golden Rule. And would that it were inscribed in gold over the entrance of every school, public building, place of work, and home in the country. Yet, Jesus means much more with these words than to do good to those who do good to you. He means that we should love those who are mean to us. Again, Jesus says in his sermon, “But I say to you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.” (Luke 6:27-29)
This of course is what Jesus did. He blessed those who cursed him and prayed for those who nailed him to the cross. He did not revile those who struck him on the cheek, but suffered willingly. And as he died on the cross, those who nailed him there divided his garments and cast lots for his tunic. And in doing all this he proved himself to be the Son of God. And so, it is no surprise that Jesus would say, “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.” (Luke 6:35)
Jesus makes a similar statement about becoming sons of the Most High in Matthew’s Gospel. He says, “Blessed are those who are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) And again, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45) And so, again, it seems that if you want to become children of your Father in heaven, you must show such love to your enemies. Yet, St. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
Does St. Paul contradict Jesus? By no means. Rather, it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that you can receive God’s mercy and then pour God’s mercy out on even your enemies. Jesus says in John chapter 15, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (vss. 4-5)
When you have faith that God blessed you while you were his enemy by sending Jesus to die for you to forgive you and give you new life, then you are able to love those who hate you and patiently bear their hatred, even as Christ was patient with you. When you do unto others as you would have them do unto you, you prove that you abide in Christ and he in you; you prove yourself to be a son of God through faith in Christ.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40) We are Jesus’ disciples. We learn from him what we should be like, or rather, what he is making us to be like. We do not reach perfection in this life, yet we remain forgiven. We desire to do as he teaches us. And we can only do as he teaches when we have faith that he has done so to us.
Those who judge and condemn feel like they are being judged and condemned. Those who refuse to forgive don’t believe that they are forgiven, or perhaps that they need to be forgiven. Those who refuse to give generously deny that all they have is given to them by God. This is changed only through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus, you can teach these things, but they will always fail.
When Jesus teaches us to not judge or condemn, he obviously does not mean that we should not judge or condemn anything. We should judge between what is true and false. Scripture says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” (Isaiah 5:20) And Jesus says, “Judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24) Christians are to distinguish between right and wrong, true teaching and false teaching. This is good and right. It defends us from false prophets, of whom Jesus warns us. And it keeps us from sin and leads us to repentance when we do sin.
So, what does Jesus mean when he says do not judge? He means do not pass judgment on others when you have no right to do so. Scripture forbids anyone to be condemned except by two or three witnesses. So, if you think your neighbor is doing something wrong, then confront him. If you have no evidence, then be quiet. And put the best construction on everything, always assuming the best out of every situation. It would be better to be wronged than to falsely accuse your brother. Your desire should be to cover up your neighbor’s faults, not expose them.
So often we live as if we had no faults of our own, and we judge others with the severest judgment. This is wrong and we should repent. With the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Do you want God to judge you with such severe judgment? How does he judge you? Does he not cast your sins into the depths of the sea? So, seek to do that for your neighbor. Yes, we should condemn sin for sin. It is shameful the way the current world and many false teachers have twisted these words of Jesus to mean that we should accept every sin that can be imagined. But Jesus’ words do mean that you should give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt and where it is not your business to leave it alone.
Christ does teach us how to deal with sin. He says, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Notice that Jesus does not say, “Leave the speck in your brother’s eye.” But first he tells you to take care of the log in your own eye. Repent of your own sins first. And believe in the mercy God has shown to you, that he foregoes judgement against you for Christ’s sake and forgives your sins. Then, with the light of Christ you will see clearly to show the same mercy to your brother, to restore him in a spirit of gentleness, so that he too may know God’s mercy from the heart.
Yes, Jesus’ disciples should behave in a certain way. They should behave like their teacher. Jesus teaches us to show mercy even to those who show no mercy to us. He does this by filling us with God’s mercy that can only be received through faith. When you believe that you have a merciful Father, then will you be empowered to be merciful. Amen.