Judgment and Mercy
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| July 13, 2014| 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
The law of God is good. If everyone did what God says we should do this world would be a much better place. Imagine a world in which everyone faithfully worships the true God, prays to him alone, and listens to everything he says. Nobody tells lies about his neighbor. Everybody keeps his promises. Husbands love their wives and treat them tenderly. Wives respect their husbands and honor them. Children obey their parents. No one steals. No one does bodily harm to another. Everybody is satisfied with what he has and is as interested in helping his neighbor prosper as he is in his own prosperity. What a wonderful world that would be.
But that’s not the world in which we live. Idolatry parades itself as piety, God’s name is blasphemed, his word ignored and denied, and his commandments tossed away as yesterday’s trash. Lying is a way of life. Broken promises litter the lives of the most admired and successful people around. God’s standards of behavior for husbands and wives are considered archaic remnants of a bigoted age. Selfishness is sanctified as children are indoctrinated in lies. What can we do about it?
Christians know the answer to what ails this world! Christ is the answer. Specifically, it is Christ crucified for sinners that is the answer. The answer to sin is mercy. It is forgiveness. We learned this from our Father in heaven. He became our Father by showing us mercy in his Son. We became children of our Father in heaven when we were forgiven of all our sins in Holy Baptism. It is divine mercy and the forgiveness of our sins that made us into Christians. This is why showing mercy and forgiving people the wrongs they do is what marks our lives as Christians. When Jesus says to us, “Judge not,” we know exactly what he’s talking about. We’ve suffered judgment. We’ve seen ourselves for the sinners we are. We know God’s law and we know it is good and we know that by its just judgment we are not good but evil. This we know. And we know that for Christ’s sake God reckons us to be good. This is mercy. This is the foundation of our faith. Where God removed his just judgment against us and forgave us all our sins is where we were rescued from death and hell. This is why we regard showing mercy and forgiving others as our privilege and pleasure in life.
Pay close attention to what Jesus says here. Be merciful as your Father is merciful. What does this mean? It means don’t judge, don’t condemn. Instead, forgive. Give whatever you can give to show mercy. Forgive those who do you wrong. Give to those who are in need. Don’t assume the position of jury, judge, and executioner.
The reason we show mercy is that we are God’s children and God shows mercy. We forgive because we are God’s children and God forgives. The same God who has shown us mercy shows mercy to others through us. That’s how it works in a family. We learn from our parents. God is our Father. We imitate him. The Church is our mother. We offer to others the same forgiveness we have received from our Father through our mother.
A bigoted, judgmental, unkind, and vengeful spirit is of the devil. It is incompatible with the Christian faith. Score settling has no place among us Christians. We do not rejoice in another’s suffering when he suffers the just deserts of his sins. God doesn’t rejoice when the wicked suffer and die and go to hell without repentance. Neither do his children. God and the angels in heaven rejoice whenever one sinner repents and believes in the gospel. So do his children.
Here we must make an important distinction. There is a difference between showing mercy to those who have ruined their lives and condoning what they did to ruin them. There is a difference between forgiving sin and saying it isn’t sin. The judgment that our Lord Jesus forbids is the judgment that denies the gospel. He does not forbid the judgment of the law. Indeed, he insists upon it.
Consider, for example, the works of the flesh that the Apostle Paul identifies in Galatians chapter five. Paul writes:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Christians agree with Christ’s apostle. Those who justify living in sin by tossing Jesus’s words, “Judge not” against those who try to lead them to repentance are not Christians. Jesus did not come into this world to discard God’s law. He came to fulfill it. He submitted to the law and obeyed it for us, suffering its judgment against us, to set us free from judgment and condemnation. He rescued us from our sins. He did not do so that we should then disregard God’s standards of right and wrong and entrap ourselves in the very sins from which he delivered us! Sad to say, this kind of foolishness is promoted these days as Christianity!
When Jesus says, “Judge not, condemn not, forgive,” he is not talking about justifying sins as if sins are no longer sins. He is talking about justifying sinners, delivering them from their sins, forgiving them, and giving them new lives to live. To tell the woman who has cheated on her husband or the husband who has cheated on his wife that it’s alright, it’s not so bad, it’s okay, is a false and diabolic pretense of mercy. It is not alright, it is so bad, and there is nothing okay about it. To say to the homosexual that there is nothing wrong with his desire to do what he wants to do and that God made him this way is not to show him mercy. When the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America defends this sin and even promotes marriage between members of the same sex they may do so in the name of love and mercy, but it is a false love and a false mercy to encourage people to embrace sin instead of to confess it to God. This kind of mercy leads sinners to hell and those who promote it will answer to God for it. Listen to what God said to the prophet Ezekiel:
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. Ezekiel 3:17-19
Whatever the sin might be, Christ’s people, Christ’s Church, and Christ’s ministers must stand with their Father in heaven and against the godless world in which they live. Christ Jesus didn’t come into this world and get himself crucified because he had some sort of a martyr complex or because he wanted to make a gesture of some kind. God came to face his own justice. He assumed flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary – and this is why we call her Mother of God – in order to do, as a man, what all mankind was required by his law to do. And he did. Who can judge Jesus? No one! Yet he was judged. Who can condemn Jesus? He was innocent of any wrongdoing. His righteousness confronted the world’s sin, and I’m not speaking metaphorically here, as if this is a mere religious motif or a pretty picture of a good man enduring evil as an example of patient nobility. No, God punished his innocent Son as the act of supreme love for this whole world of sinners. He offered the Son whom he loved from eternity as an offering to take away sin, punishing sin by punishing Jesus the sin-bearer and thus giving Jesus the authority to justify those sinners whose sins he bore. Listen to how the prophet Isaiah describes this act of mercy triumphing over judgment:
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:10-12
We are God’s children. We are justified by Jesus’ blood. He who bore our sins intercedes for us. And he gives us the authority to forgive others. The one whose sins against you have hurt you and made you bitter and angry is the very one who needs your mercy and forgiveness.
God didn’t win our hearts by condemning us. He didn’t draw us to faith by judging us. It just doesn’t work that way. If you think God is standing in judgment against you, you won’t run to him for help; you’ll run away from him in fear. This is why people run away from the true God and create idols for themselves. They don’t want to be judged. They don’t want to be condemned. So they invent their own spiritual reality in which they aren’t judged or condemned. It’s all a lie – one could say a damned lie since it will surely damn them – but, for them, it’s a comfortable lie. There is no sin, no judgment, and no hell. But there is.
Jesus doesn’t tell us not to judge because there is no judgment. There is. Jesus doesn’t tell us not to condemn because there is no condemnation. There is. Jesus tells us not to judge and not to condemn but rather to forgive because the forgiveness of sins is the heart of our faith and life. Nothing is more important. There is nothing we need to receive more than we need to receive forgiveness from God. There is nothing we need to give to others more than the forgiveness of sins. This is what brings us to church: our need for forgiveness. The forgiveness God gives us in his gospel and sacraments is what makes us Christians. It’s what makes us merciful.
Rolf D. Preus