The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
July 14, 2019
“Living Under Mercy”
St. Luke 6:36-37
“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” St. Luke 6:36-37
When a portion of God’s word is twisted and distorted to teach lies, lies are accepted as truth and the truth that was twisted into lies is ignored.
The words of our Lord Jesus, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged,” are regularly twisted by the godless. They point these words against Christians. They judge Christians for judging. They judge Christians because Christians dare to confess as truth what God teaches. They take Christ’s words, “Judge not,” and direct them against Christ’s teaching.
Make no mistake. The Bible is Christ’s book. The authors of the New Testament were sent by Jesus Christ to preach the gospel and to write what became the New Testament. Jesus promised them that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. He did. The New Testament is God’s word. God wrote it. What this means is that when the New Testament identifies something as a sin, it is God who is saying so. When God says it we believe it. Faith agrees with God and holds to what God says in the Bible.
Jesus says: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) St. John writes: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) St. Paul said to the pastors in Ephesus, as recorded in Acts 20:29-31,
God requires pastors to identify false teaching and expose it. When St. Paul writes to Titus about the qualifications of a pastor he says he must “Hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9)
He writes to the Romans:
When God says what is right and wrong the Christian agrees with him. We are to call a spade a spade. God says what is true. The Christian agrees with him.
Those who accuse Christians of judging when they agree with God about matters of right and wrong will also take issue with what the Bible says about Jesus being the only way to heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) St. Peter said of Jesus, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) St John writes: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12)
God’s word repeatedly identifies sin as sin and repeatedly teaches that Jesus is the only Savior of sinners. But if a Christian dares to confess that those who do not repent of their sins and believe in Jesus will be condemned, you can be sure that the Christian will be condemned for saying so.
Clearly, Christ’s words, “Judge not,” may not be interpreted to contradict his words and his apostles’ words about judging false teaching and false teachers. Christ’s words, “Judge not,” may not be interpreted to mean that we may not judge false religions that teach a way to the Father and eternal life apart from faith in Christ.
Indeed, it is only those who believe in Jesus as their Savior from sin; it is only those who have received from God the forgiveness of sins that Christ alone can give; that can do what Jesus commands when he says:
When you know God as your merciful Father then, and only then, can you have a merciful heart. Only those who receive mercy can give it. You cannot give what you do not have. Oh, the unbelievers show what they call mercy. They do acts of kindness for their own: their children, spouse, parents, and friends. But Jesus calls for a deeper mercy than that! It’s easy to be kind to those who are kind to you. Jesus tells us to be merciful to those who wish us harm. A few verses before our text for today, Jesus says: “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
This is impossible for flesh and blood. The natural inclination of fallen humanity is to respond to hatred with hatred and cursing with cursing. Who do you know who prayed for those who spitefully mistreated him? You know Jesus. He prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” You know Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who delivered a powerful sermon to the Jewish leaders and when they stoned him to death, before he died he called on God saying, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” (Acts 7:60)
How could Stephen pray that prayer? God had shown mercy to him. God did not judge him. God did not condemn him. God forgave him. All Stephen did was to give what he had received. Stephen lived under God’s mercy. This enabled him to pray for forgiveness for those who murdered him. They murdered him for speaking the truth.
Brothers and sisters: let us take these words of Jesus to heart, for this is serious business! Jesus isn’t saying we may not criticize anybody. This isn’t a matter of being nice and not hurting anyone’s feelings. Sometimes the kind and loving thing to do is to hurt our neighbor’s feelings if those feelings will do harm to our neighbor! Jesus isn’t teaching us how to be winsome and personable. He is teaching us that when God delivers us sinners from judgment and condemnation and forgives us all our sins, he is also giving us a new life to live. “Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”
When the Bible uses the word teaching or doctrine it is usually in the singular. When the word is put in the plural form – doctrines – it is in reference to false teachings. True teaching. False teachings.
There is a reason why we use the singular when talking about the pure teaching and the plural when talking about false teachings. It is because there is only one truth while there are many errors. All of God’s teaching flows into and out of a fundamental truth, a life-giving, life-saving, life-changing truth. That truth is that God has delivered us poor, guilty, hell-bound sinners from our sins, from eternal death, and from Satan’s power, not because of anything good we have done or will do, but solely because of his great mercy in Christ our Redeemer and that we receive this salvation, this forgiveness, this mercy through faith alone.
God’s grace is greater than our sin. We deserve to be judged for what we have done wrong. We deserve to be condemned – that is to say, damned by God – for our sins. We don’t deserve to be forgiven. Hating when God told us to love, seeking revenge, wishing evil on those who have done us evil, and playing God as if we are better than our neighbors – what is this? This is sin, that’s what it is. What has God done with this sin? He has laid it on his Son. Jesus bore it. Jesus bore the guilt of it. Jesus bore the punishment for it. In his vicarious suffering and death, the pure and eternal love of God confronted the mass of human hatred. Love triumphed over hate. It triumphed on the cross.
We are sheltered by that cross. We are born again in Holy Baptism when joined to that death and with Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We have the power – given to us from God himself – to love sinners like ourselves, not to judge them for their failures, not to condemn them for their sins, but to forgive them as we have been forgiven.
The central truth of the Christian religion is confessed in these words from the Augsburg Confession:
This precious truth is no dead doctrine. It is a living word from God. We are righteous! Right now, we are righteous. Not by what we have done or were able to do, but freely by God for Christ’s sake through faith alone. We have been received into God’s favor for Christ’s sake. He, not we, has made satisfaction for our sins. Now we are free.
In freedom from God’s judgment we can look at our neighbor’s sins – even the sins that have done us harm – and we can set aside judgment. We can set aside condemnation. We can forgive, even as we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
But doesn’t the old sinful flesh cling to us? It’s not like we’re in heaven yet! That’s true. It does. We’re not. But through Christ we are children of God. We really are. We can forgive. We can cover up our neighbor’s faults with words of kindness. We can withhold harsh judgment. We need only give what we have received.
This is one good reason we go to church. Here we receive from God what we need from him and what our neighbor needs from us. Only those who have received mercy can give it. So we come here to God’s house, confessing from our hearts our sins against him, imploring him for his mercy, and receiving it in Jesus’ name. We leave this place and we give what we have received.
Rolf D. Preus