July 14, 2019 A+D (judging theme sparked by Rolf Preus)
St. Luke 6:36-42
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of the most misquoted Bible verses in all of Holy Scripture has to be, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” I have had this used against me so many times, I’ve lost count. When it first happened, as a high school and young college student, I was caught off guard and it gave me pause to reconsider what I had just said. Was I judgmental and under the condemnation of Jesus? The conversations were usually in the context of talking about sin, of course. I don’t remember what the conversations were about, I remember how that quote would stop the conversation.
Today, we could be talking to someone about homosexuality or abortion, and the person we’re talking to could retort, “Don’t judge, lest you be judged!” expecting us to stop talking about how homosexuality is against God’s design and that abortion is the murder of a human being. But is this what Jesus meant? Did He mean that we were not to speak about right and wrong, truth and error, good and bad? Of course, that’s not what He was saying, or He’d be contradicting what He says everywhere else in Scripture, and we know that Scripture does not contradict itself.
Our Lord is not condemning all forms of judging. Parents, obviously, not only have the right, but the duty to judge their child’s behavior. God gave the government the right to establish laws, judge, and punish criminals. Jesus told Pontius Pilate that Pilate’s authority, as governor, was given to him from above-from God. St. Paul wrote that the civil rulers are God’s servants when they exercise the power of the sword. If no one has the right to judge criminals, they would get away with their crimes, and innocent people would get hurt. There would be no order in our society. National laws are what keep the strongest from oppressing, hurting, and killing the weaker. Yet it is not just parents and the civil authorities who have the right to judge.
Just a few verses later in both Luke’s record of Jesus’ Sermon and Matthew’s parallel Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?….19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20 [Luke 6:43-45]). We are to discern the fruit to see whether it is good or bad, accept the good and reject the bad.
Every Christian has the duty to judge doctrine and outward words and actions of those around them (and by judge we understand, discerning truth from error, right and wrong). Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets.” You cannot beware of false teachers unless you judge what they teach. Does it agree with the Holy Scriptures? Pastors, especially, have the duty to judge doctrine and to warn those under their spiritual care of threats against the truth. St. Paul repeatedly urges pastors to teach only the pure doctrine. This entails judging what is and is not false doctrine. St. Paul concludes his list of qualifications for a pastor in Titus 1 (:9) with these words: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
“Judge not,” Jesus says. He is not denying parents, or civil authorities, or ministers of his church, or any Christian the right to judge, according to the Word of God and according to their vocation. This kind of judgment is necessary and even demanded by our Lord, or we would be swept away by the latest, trending, worldly opinion.
So what is our Lord trying to teach us by saying, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned?” It all hinges upon the sentence that comes before it and that which follows after it. “Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” And “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” And with this, we see why the Old Testament reading for today is the account of Joseph forgiving his brothers. He was hated by his brothers, stripped of clothes and humiliated, thrown in pit, and sold into slavery. Yet God highly exalted him, and made him the most powerful man in Egypt, and when he had his chance for revenge later in life, when he had the chance to at least berate them with indignation, he showed them mercy. They were expecting harsh words, but he spoke kindly to them, he cried tears of joy, he embraced them as brothers. He showed them mercy.
A better example could not be found in all the world. But we need more than an example. We need a Savior. We need someone who forgives us our sins. So the Father sends one better than Joseph. He sends Jesus, his beloved Son, true God to become man. This Jesus was hated by his brothers too, stripped of his clothes and humiliated, betrayed into the hands of men, and thrown into a pit of death, yet, after three days in the tomb, He was raised from the dead, highly exalted into the highest heavens and enthroned at the Father’s Right Hand. Not so that he could take His revenge on those whose sins put Him on the cross, but so that he could announce to you reconciliation. Our judge, the one who can judge us guilty of breaking his law, is judged guilty instead, so that we might be acquitted. Our judge, who alone could condemn us, is condemned in our place and instead absolves us. The one who alone can get us back and treat us like He Himself was treated, instead treats us as royal sons and daughters.
Joseph could only say to his brothers, “Am I in the place of God?” While Jesus says to you “I am God in the flesh.” In me you have the kind of mercy that deals with all sins—your neighbor’s specks, your own planks, your ever-present pride—by taking them on Himself and dying for them. Not only that, but He rose again so that you could be born again through the life-giving waters of Holy Baptism and be adopted in His family as brothers and sisters. And as family, He gives you the right to sit at His table and share in His eternal inheritance. That’s how merciful the Lord is.
Therefore, when Jesus says “be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful,” and “Forgive, and you will be forgiven,” He is not saying, overlook one another’s sins and pretend they aren’t sinning; accept people no matter what they do or what they say. He says, acknowledge right and wrong, truth and error. But recognize first that you are a sinner in need of the Father’s forgiveness. The Father shows you unimaginable mercy in Jesus, so go out and give as you have been given to. The Father has shown mercy to you in the death of Jesus. You are free from your sin. Now you are free to (and even commanded to) forgive those who sin again you when they come to you in repentance. This is what the Christian Church is all about—being forgiven and forgiving; being loved and showing love. This is what it means to desire and seek after dwelling in the house of the Lord all the days of your life (Introit). We are to judge insofar as God has called us to judge, and we are to have mercy and forgive just our heavenly Father is merciful and forgives. And in that attitude we come today to receive mercy again in bread and wine for forgiveness.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
Hebrews 2:17-18 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.