Trinity 4: A Lesson in Mercy

Lessons: Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 8:18-23, Luke 6:36-42
Hymns: LSB 902, 696, 505, 627, 845, 649

Listen to the complete service here (the sermon alone is above)

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching us a lesson on mercy. He teaches us to be merciful, judge not, condemn not, and forgive. These are beautiful words. They fit so well with David’s Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Also, Holy Scripture says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). After all, God has united Himself to mankind when Jesus took on human flesh and even became our sin and went to the cross to pay for the sins of the world. In Him, we are reconciled to God our Father and have access to Heaven. That is mercy! He has done everything possible so that we can now peaceably with God. And so, having received His mercy and peace, He calls on us to live that same manner with our neighbors.

      Despite this clarity taught by our Lord Jesus Christ, not only today’s Gospel, but also last week’s Gospel are frequently misapplied and misunderstood. Last week, we heard Jesus received tax collectors and sinners, and was eating with them. Many misunderstand this to mean that Jesus overlooked their sin and allowed them to continue in their sinful ways—as if Jesus doesn’t care. They take this to mean that sins in our modern world may be ignored, celebrated, or reclassified as righteous living. But, as Jesus teaches through the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, there is joy in heaven when sinners repent. For repentance involves turning—turning away from that sin, striving to do what is right, and turning to the Lord, asking for forgiveness.

      Many also misinterpret or take out of context today’s Gospel. They treat Jesus’ words, “Judge not” as a get out of jail free card. If they are accused of wrongdoing, then they “get out of jail free” by simply saying, “Judge not!” Then the accuser must do no nothing but cower his head, saying, “You got me. Sorry I judged you. You’re scot free!”

      Just think how this could play out. A teacher says to her student, “Did you write all over the walls with a permanent marker?” The child, knowing he’s in deep trouble, replies, “Jesus said, ‘Judge not.’” The teacher responds, “You’re right. I can’t judge you. What you did is ok. In fact, let me join you. Where’s another marker?” That’s absurd!

      Yet, this is how the verse is often misunderstood. Not only do people think they can get away with virtually anything, many now think they can join in with those who are doing the very things the Bible forbids. Surely, when Jesus said “Judge not” He was not permitting everyone to do anything!

      Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, consider this reality: judging must take place all the time—in the courts, at schools, in the home—everywhere. God commands it. Judging is necessary for order in society. And God has placed those in authority with the responsibility of judging. Therefore, parents must judge their children. Teachers must judge their students. Pastors must judge their parishioners. The courts and law officers must judge citizens.

      Even the Bible is full of judgment. The Ten Commandments are perhaps the most widely known. Jesus judged the Pharisees. And in our lesson from Luke 6:36-42, Jesus even judged those who wrongly judge or condemn, and those who refuse to forgive.

      So how do people wrongly judge or condemn? Who is Jesus judging here? When Jesus says, “Judge not,” he’s judging all who have no authority to engage in judgment. Of course, parents have authority to judge, punish, and correct their children. So, Jesus isn’t talking about those in authority. Instead, He is addressing those who have no such authority. It isn’t your job to declare judgments on every suspect you see on the evening news. You cannot pass judgment on repentant sinners whom God has forgiven. It’s not given for you to pass out judgments through gossip. (Gossip, by the way, is the most common way people violate our Lord’s words, “Judge not).

      And know this: God has called on you to judge. In Galatians 6:1, it is written, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” God calls on you to confront erring brothers and sisters in Christ so that they may repent and be won back to live the life as a redeemed Christian.

      In doing so, you first plead guilty of your own sin. That’s removing the plank from your own eye. Then, you who are spiritual—you Christians who live in repentance—may go to your brothers and sisters in Christ and bring them also to repentance. That’s removing the speck from their eyes, which Jesus teaches you to do.

      And, as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7) and “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

      What this all means is God certainly calls on you, as a forgiven Christian sinner, to judge. The aim is not to make yourself “Holier than thou” nor is it to make yourself look better. Instead, the aim is to bring someone who is caught up in sin to repentance. That way that person can have what you have—the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. This is nothing but acting in mercy.

      All over the Scriptures, God teaches us to correct the erring. Jesus says in Matthew 18, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (v. 15). What a blessing it is to gain your brother!

      It is also written, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). God’s Word is written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit. God’s Word is used to correct and teach sinners. When we teach what the Scriptures teach, we are not making the judgment. God has decreed His judgments in His Word. And how blessed it is to know the pure, life-giving, life-saving Word of God!

      We often think calling a sin a sin is judgment and figure it’s forbidden by God due to Jesus’ words, “Judge not.” I think people do this for two reasons: 1) They don’t want to get involved and so they use these words of Jesus to dismiss themselves. But as we just heard, we cannot take that route if we truly want to be merciful. The second reason is 2) We truly want to follow Jesus’ teaching but don’t quite understand what Jesus is saying.  

      Guided by the Holy Spirit, St. Paul taught the Church at Corinth these words which may sound like he’s judging, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). We must recognize that it is not judging to teach or repeat what the Bible teaches.

      It is judging, though, when we are unmerciful, do not desire reconciliation or to grant forgiveness, or when we are taking delight in the sins or the possible condemnation of a brother whom Christ has redeemed.

      The purpose for reaching out to people and bringing them back to repentance is answered in last week’s Gospel. Finding the lost sheep or the lost coin means restoration—brought back into Christ’s fold—the forgiveness of sins. And with forgiveness comes eternal life.

      There is joy in Heaven and on Earth when sinners repent. Even the angels rejoice. This joy exists because God is merciful, and He has restored someone who had gone astray in his sin.

      Restoring a person caught up in sin involves the repentance of that sinner and forgiving that repentant sinner. Jesus teaches us that with the same measure we use, it will be measured back to us. Jesus teaches us to be merciful because God Himself is merciful. He has mercy on us by forgiving us and taking our sins away. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sin. Therefore, we are merciful to our neighbor by judging not, condemning not, by forgiving, and by giving. The context is mercy and forgiveness. We don’t condemn or judge guilty those who stand in the grace of God. Instead, we rejoice that they have been restored by the Gospel.

      So, when Jesus says judge not and condemn not, we do so in connection to forgiving and having mercy on our neighbor. Therefore, if someone sins against you in way that is particularly hurtful, God calls on you to be forgiving of that person and seek reconciliation with him. If you are unwilling to do so because of how hurt you feel, then you are actually judging that person. You are telling that person that he should remain soiled in that sin. And then you are telling God that you wish to have the same judgment placed on you. You are telling God that since you are unmerciful, God may be unmerciful to you.

      Remember, this boils down to mercy. Our Father in Heaven is truly merciful. In His mercy, He sent Jesus to become our sin and shed His innocent Blood on our behalf. Because Jesus is victorious over death and the grave and because He has taken our sin away, we are no longer condemned in our sin but set free from them. We are forgiven. God no longer judges us by the standards of our sinfulness but He judges us by His Son. That is, He acquits us and sets us free from all our sin, for we are covered in Christ’s righteousness. That is mercy! That mercy is seen in His love. And, having received this mercy, we respond with the same mercy toward all. Amen.        

     The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen