To Judge or Not to Judge

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 6:36-42 (Gen. 50:15-21)

Dear forgiven children of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We heard the world’s favourite Bible passage in our Gospel lesson. It is quoted all the time, especially by the most hardened pagans. “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” They have no idea what Jesus said before or after, and quite frankly, they don’t care, but they think they know what Jesus is saying.

They think that it means that if you say that their lifestyle is sinful, it is you who will be judged. They think that with this one sentence, Jesus is allowing them to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, and Christians better keep their mouths shut. They think that Jesus is saying that public sin and false teachings must be tolerated so as not to be “judgmental.”

How can they possibly think this considering everything Jesus says that is contrary to such thinking? Because they do not care what He says. They just take this one sentence and misapply it without understanding, because they like what they think it means.

What does the Bible say elsewhere about judging? Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (Jn. 7:24). We are not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits to judge whether they are from God (1 Jn. 4:1). Jesus says, “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Lk. 12:57). Paul tells the Corinthian church that he has already judged the sexually immoral man in the congregation, and that man is to be purged from the church and delivered to Satan, being expelled from the communion of the church (1 Cor. 5:3, 5, 13). That sounds awfully judgmental. That’s because it is. Finally, Paul writes, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:9) This too, is judging.

Clearly God tells us to judge, but there is judging that is wrong, and there’s judging that is right. Certainly all judgments must be made according to the Word of God. All Christians are called to judge what is right and what is wrong. All Christians are called to judge doctrine.

If you hear a gospel other than that of Scripture, you are to judge it as false doctrine. Paul goes so far as to not only judge the false doctrine, but to judge such a false teacher as accursed. This is really no different than Jesus saying that it would be better for false teachers to have a millstone tied around their necks and to be cast into the sea rather than causing others into sin (Luke 17:2). We are not told to tolerate and compromise on what is right and wrong, but to judge what is right and wrong. What God has revealed in His Word cannot be altered. The Gospel of God is the power of God unto salvation, so if this Gospel is replaced with a different gospel, it surely leads to be accursed in hell for eternity. We must continually judge right from wrong, truth from error, God’s Word from lies.

So, what judging does Jesus forbid us? We have to look at what else Jesus says in the context. He says, “Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; Condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Then he asks why you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye.

Jesus is talking about showing mercy and forgiving, rather than being a fault-finder and finger pointer. Wrongful judgment is unmerciful and unforgiving.

Consider Joseph. His brothers tore his special coat from him, threw him into a pit, and then sold him as a slave to Ishamelites that were passing by, who in turn sold him in Egypt. They brought his coat covered in goat’s blood to their father, to suggest that he had been killed by some wild animal. God blessed Joseph, and over time, through prison and hardship, he became the ruler of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.

Joseph had the opportunity to get revenge. Not just revenge, but justice. He was the ruler of the land. He ruled over his brothers and had power over them. His brothers knew that it was in Joseph’s hand to punish them and that they would deserve it. They said to each other, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”

According to every dictate of human reason and justice, Joseph had every right to punish his brothers, who asked him for forgiveness. Joseph responded by saying, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” Joseph forgave them their heinous crimes against him, even though he was in a position to punish them for their wickedness.

This is mercy. Joseph did not give his brothers what they deserved. That would have been unmerciful. Joseph showed them mercy. Mercy is not just ignoring sin or turning a blind eye to it. Mercy is not pretending that everything is ok. Mercy is confronting sin head on, exposing it, and forgiving it. Mercy is not judging our neighbour, but forgiving him, as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven us.

God rules over us, and He has power over us. According to every dictate of human reason and justice, God has every right to punish us for our sins. But instead, He has mercy on us. God the Father turned His anger and wrath away from us, and poured it all on His Son, His only Son. He showed no mercy to Jesus, who suffered and died in our place, so that He would show us mercy.

Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful. This mercy which God has shown to us, we are to show to each other. We are not to be fault-finders and finger pointers. We are not to be unmerciful and unforgiving. Rather, we are to forgive as God has forgiven us. We are not to seek revenge or remain angry when others sin against us. We are to recognize our own sins, those logs in our eyes, and ask for forgiveness from those against whom we’ve sinned. We are to forgive our brother’s sins against us, which are nothing more than a speck in their eyes compared to the logs of sins in our eyes which we have committed against God.

God is merciful, so for the sake of Christ, He will forgive us. We don’t have to wonder if He might forgive us. He will forgive us.

God is merciful. This is not an empty hope to which we cling. God Himself has told us that He is merciful. It is His very nature to show mercy and compassion on us, His dear children.

You cannot see His mercy or compassion better anywhere than the cross of Jesus. The Father gave up His only Son into death for you, to pay for your sins, and show you mercy. God the Father was unmerciful to His Son, judged His Son, condemned His Son, so that He would show you mercy, not judge you or condemn you, but forgive you.

God does not just ignore your sin or turn a blind eye to it. God does not pretend that everything is ok. God, through His Word, confronts your sin head on, exposes it, and forgives it.

This forgiveness He once again today gives to you in the body and blood of Jesus. God shows you mercy and compassion. He gives you the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Crying for Mercy

Sermon for Reminiscere based on Matthew 15:21-28

Dear people crying for mercy: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus did not answer her a word. The Canaanite woman begged for help for her daughter. She knew she had come to the only one who could help. She had heard of His healing of others. She had heard that He is kind and loving; that He is full of compassion and pity. She knew He had the power to help, so she cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But He did not answer her a word.

When we experience silence from God in response to our prayers, our flesh responds with thinking that what we have heard about Christ must not be true. The flesh grows impatient when things go wrong. The flesh trusts what it sees and feels, but does not trust the Word of God.

The Canaanite woman would not believe that Christ did not hear her. She would not believe that He would forever remain silent. She would not believe that He would refuse to help her or deal harshly with her. His silence did not drive her away. She continued to beg Jesus for mercy.

The disciples got embarrassed. They were probably confused. Why is Jesus not helping this poor woman? Why is He not even answering her? He’s been teaching us, “Ask, and it will be given to you,” (Matt. 7:7) but here is this woman asking and Jesus is not giving. He’s just ignoring her.

Then she started to call after them. The disciples are perhaps embarrassed for her. She seems so pathetic. She’s being ignored and everyone can see it, but she’s still crying out for help. So the disciples ask Jesus to send her away. What good does it do anyone to have this public spectacle as they travel along their way? If Jesus is not going to help or even respond, why should she keep calling after them? If He is going to help, then do it already so that she will stop calling after them!

Jesus answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So, the woman got a response, but it went from bad to worse. She called Him the Son of David, acknowledging Him as the promised Saviour of the world, and when He finally responded to her, He said that He did not come for anyone except the house of Israel. She has no right to expect help from Him.

The Canaanite woman did not claim the right to expect help. She fell down before Jesus and begged Him, “Lord, help me!” She knew that He could help her. There is no one else who could help. She had no right to expect help, but she still believed that He would help. She believed that He is merciful.

Still, it only got worse. Jesus responded, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” The bread which belongs to the children of Israel is for them to eat. It is not for the unclean Gentiles, like her.

Where all we hear is insult, she hears hope. Where we hear no, her faith hears yes. She is not a child of Israel, but she belongs in the house. Even the dogs get fed in their master’s house. It may be scraps that fall from the children, but that was enough for her.

She was unclean. She was sinful. She was unworthy. She did not present her prayer to Jesus based on her cleanness, sinlessness, or worthiness. She presented her prayer based on Jesus’ mercy and compassion. She knew that with Jesus, there is no shortage of bread. The children can all eat enough, and there will still be some for her. She was content with the crumbs from the floor, knowing that even they would satisfy her; that they would be more than enough.

Jesus did come to save the lost house of Israel, but He also came to save the whole lost world. He came to save you.

He came to save you from your uncleanness. He came to save you from your sin. He came to save you in spite of your unworthiness. Jesus’ death in your place covers your uncleanness, sin, and unworthiness. He doesn’t just give you crumbs on the floor. He doesn’t just give you bread for children, but He gives you Himself, His risen body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Jesus’ forgiveness is not finite. It is infinite. It doesn’t run out. He is the Bread of Life. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever (John 6:51).

Your uncleanness, sin, and unworthiness will not prevent Jesus from hearing your cries for mercy or your prayers. Repent of your sins and throw yourself upon the mercy of Christ. He is merciful. You know that He is merciful because He has had mercy on you. Instead of punishing you for your sins as you deserve, He took your sins on Himself. He suffered and died for your sins. He has saved you eternally and you have no punishment waiting for you when you die from this life.

Since Christ has earned eternal life for you, do you think He will withhold lesser things from you? After grief, He will give relief. He will strengthen your faith through the trials of this life even if you experience it as silence, insult, or harshness. Throw yourself upon His mercy. He will bring you through it all to the joys of eternal life.

Yet even though I suffer The world’s unpleasantness,

And though the days grow rougher And bring me great distress,

That day of bliss divine, Which knows no end or measure,

And Christ who is my pleasure, Forever shall be mine. (LSB 713 st. 6) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

What the Prophets Foretold

Sermon for Quinquagesima based on Luke 18:31-43

Dear saints calling to Jesus for mercy: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus foretold His suffering and death on multiple occasions to His disciples. He clearly and specifically told them what must happen to Him in Jerusalem. This should not have been news to them. It is the same thing the prophets had preached and written for thousands of years. It is the same thing that was preached in the synagogues and wherever the Word of God was read.

Jesus told them on this occasion, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”

The disciples understood none of these things. The disciples were content to follow a great teacher and miracle worker. They could not see Him as a sacrifice.

The blind man could see what the disciples could not. Mark provides his name to us: Bartimaeus. Blind Bartimaeus called out to Jesus for mercy. He prayed for Jesus to have pity on him and show him compassion because He is the Son of David – the Son promised to David who would reign forever (cf. II Sam. 7).

To Bartimaeus, Jesus was not just a great teacher and miracle worker. He was the promised Saviour of the world, the eternal king who reigns in grace and mercy, the Son of David on His way to Jerusalem to be the sacrifice for sin.

Thus, Bartimaeus would not be hushed. Even as the crowds rebuked him and told him to shut up, he would not be deterred. He cried all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He didn’t care what the crowds thought of him. He didn’t care what the crowds said to him. He cared only for Jesus to have mercy on him.

Sin has infected all of us. It causes our behaviour to to be out of line with what is good and right. It causes evil words and wicked thoughts. It causes discontentment, anger, lust, jealousy, pride, and every other sinful desire.

Sin also causes ailments of body and mind. It is the cause of blindness. It is the cause of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and every illness of the body. It is the cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, and every illness of the mind. Thus, there really is no distinction between physical and mental infirmities and the affliction of sin which afflicts us all.

Bartimaeus believed that Jesus was his Saviour from sin, which meant that he believed that Jesus was his Saviour from all the effects of sin, including his blindness. When Jesus forgives sin, He also removes all the evil and harm that sin causes. We will not realize the removal of all evil and harm that sins causes until these bodies of ours that are corrupted by sin rise again, but Jesus forgives our sins now so that we have His promise to which we look forward.

This is why Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and this is what the prophets had foretold about Jesus. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus restored all that was lost in Adam. He overthrew the devil, killed death, destroyed hell, opened heaven, and restored life again. He conquered sin and all the effects of sin, whether mental, physical, or spiritual.

By pointing to the writings of the prophets, Jesus shows also that the Gospel is not a new teaching. There has never been any way to be received by God except through the mercy of the Son of David. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not saved by their works, but by the mercy of God through the promised sacrifice for sin yet to come. So also we are not saved except by the mercy of the promised sacrifice for sin who has come and been sacrificed for our offences.

Jesus headed to Jerusalem willingly, even though He knew what would face Him there. The disciples did not understand why Jesus was going to Jerusalem or why He had to die. Jesus went to Jerusalem and died for them anyway. He suffered and died for those who did not understand His clear words and the words of the prophets predicting what would happen, and He saved them.

Afterward, they would understand. They would understand and take this good news of victory over sin to the ends of the earth. They followed in their Saviour’s footsteps, picking up their cross and following Him, which meant that they too would suffer for His name’s sake, and all but one be killed by those who hated Jesus.

Once their eyes were opened to who Jesus is, they too realized with Bartimaeus that nothing else matters as long as Jesus has mercy on them and gives them eternal life.

The world will act like the crowds acted to Bartimaeus. The world will tell you that you are wasting your time praying to Jesus. You’re not important enough for Him to help you. You’re just a poor, blind beggar on the side of the street. Be quiet. Of course, the crowds telling Bartimaeus to be quiet didn’t believe that Jesus was anything more than a good teacher, so they may even have suggested to him that Jesus cannot help him.

Jesus cast all this aside and called for Bartimaeus to be brought to Him. Jesus healed him and said, “Your faith has made you well.”

Despite what the world tells you, Jesus also calls you to Him. In Baptism He put His name on you. In Absolution He forgives your sin so that its effects will one day no longer afflict your mind, body, and soul. He gives you His body and blood to strengthen you to life everlasting.

Therefore, you will continue to call to your Saviour for mercy. You will continue to praise Him, glorify Him, and thank Him more emphatically, so long as He gives you breath. And He will continue to show mercy to you and take you to Himself, that where He is, you may be also. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

God, Be Merciful to Me, the Sinner

Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 18:9-17

Dear people gathered in the house of God: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When you come to God’s house, you can come as the Pharisee or you can come as the tax collector. You can come as one who relies on his own works, or you can come as one who relies on what Jesus has done. You can come to thank God how good you are, or you can come praying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”

Our trouble is that we have a hard time seeing our own sin. Our eyes are blinded by our own sin so that we do not always recognize it to be sin. It is easy for us to come to God’s house thinking about our own good works: how we help our neighbour; how we give offerings to God; even about how we come to church in the first place while so many others don’t.

It’s easy to look at the world, to listen to, read, or watch the news and think, “The world is full of horrible people. The world is full of awful sinners. Thank God I’m not one of those murderers, arsonists, or terrorists. God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” It’s easy to trust in ourselves that we are righteous, while treating others with contempt.

Scripture, however, teaches that “whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:10) The same Law that says you shall not murder tells you not to sin when you get angry (Eph. 4:26) and to help your neighbour in every physical need (SC I.5). The same Law that says you shall not commit adultery tells you not to lust (Matt. 5:28) or even speak crudely or foolishly (Eph. 5:3-4). The same Law that says you shall not steal tells you not to be dishonest and to actually help your neighbour improve and protect his possessions and income (SC I.7).

You cannot come to God on your own merits because you don’t have any. You cannot rely on your own good works because they cannot save you. Scripture says that our good works are like filthy rags (Is. 64:6) so how polluted do you think our evil works are; how polluted our sins are? If we come to God relying on our own works, we will not go home justified.

If you take the case of the Pharisee praying in God’s house, the Temple, you will see that he wasn’t lying in the eyes of men. He was not an extortioner in the eyes of men. He wasn’t unjust in the eyes of men, nor was he an adulterer in the eyes of men. He didn’t sin in these open ways that others could see. He kept his sins hidden. He did such a good job hiding his sins that he had even convinced himself that they weren’t sins. All he came to God with was his own merits, his own works: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” He claims to be doing even more than the Law demanded of him. He’s fasting more than the Law demands and giving a tithe of more than the Law demands.

The Pharisee’s prayers were a charade. Prayer is an act of worship, but the Pharisee wasn’t worshiping God. He was worshiping himself. He trusted in himself as righteous and treated others with contempt.

Since prayers were normally spoken out loud, whether in private or in public, the Pharisee also prayed to be heard by others. He wanted everyone else to see how good he is and worship him, too. Maybe even the tax collector could hear him saying, “Thank you God that I am not like this tax collector.” He hides his own sins and compares himself to those whose sins can be seen by the whole world, so that in the eyes of men, he would be justified and righteous.

But Jesus says that that Pharisee did not go to his home justified. God did not declare him righteous. He could fool men, but no one can fool God.

The tax collector, however, came to God’s house in humble repentance. Were there worse sinners than him in God’s house? He didn’t care. They weren’t his concern. He didn’t compare himself with others or his sins with others. He hung his head in shame and prayed saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” He actually uses the definite article, not calling himself “a” sinner, but “the” sinner. God, be merciful to me, the sinner, like he is the only sinner on earth. No one else’s sins mattered to him. Why should they? You cannot use someone else’s sin as an excuse for yours. It benefits you not at all that someone is a worse sinner than you.

We should all say to ourselves, “My sin is why Jesus died. I crucified Him. My sins are the reason Jesus came and suffered. My sins are inexcusable and undeniable. God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”

True worship is not being in church so that others can see you. True worship is not pretending to be good or trying to get men to think that you are good.

True worship is receiving the gifts of God. True worship is believing God’s promises and receiving blessings from Him. True worship is coming in humble repentance to God’s house and praying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”

Praying “God, be merciful to me” is praying that God would be propitiated to me. God set your anger aside. Do not deal with me in your anger and wrath. Be merciful to me.

God is merciful. He has never and will never refuse to forgive a penitent sinner. He has never and will never charge a repentant sinner with his sins because Jesus was charged with and paid the price all sin. God has never and will never reject the sinner who comes to Him relying not on his own works, but on what Jesus has done.

We can rely on what Jesus has done. Jesus never failed even in one point of the Law, yet He was held accountable for all of it. He was held accountable for all our failures to fulfil the Law. He was held accountable for all of our sins of thought, word, and deed. Jesus was held accountable for the sins of the entire world, and suffered the wrath and punishment of God for all sin.

You can rely on what Jesus has accomplished because He has accomplished everything for your salvation. The price of your sins has been paid in full. God is not propitiated to you because of your pleas for mercy, but on account of Jesus. Jesus bore the punishment and wrath of God for your sin. That’s why the Bible says that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (I John 4:10). Jesus turns God’s anger away. On account of Jesus, God is merciful to you.

So you can say, “Jesus’ death on the cross was for my sin. My sins are forgiven. My sins are forgiven whether they are known to others or if they are secret. I have peace with God. God has been merciful to me, the sinner.”

You will go home justified. You will go home declared righteous. In God’s house you receive the forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned for you by His life, death, and resurrection. Through Absolution you have been declared righteous. Through the true body and blood of Jesus you will be justified because you will receive forgiveness. Through the Lord’s Supper you are united in communion with Christ, so when God looks at you, He does not see your sin. He sees Jesus. God sees His own Son who has fulfilled the Law.

God, be merciful to me, the sinner. Don’t make excuses. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t tell God what good you’ve done. Rely on what Jesus has done for you. Rely on the forgiveness you will receive in the true body and blood of Jesus, and you will go home justified. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.