Text: Luke 6:36-42
“Judge not, lest ye be judged yourself.” That seems to be a popular sentiment nowadays. True, it always has been, and always will be. Usually what’s meant by it is that, in our enlightened postmodern society, no one has any right to say anything about anything that anyone else is doing. Doubly so, if what you have to say is critical of someone else’s behavior. It doesn’t matter if your criticism is meant to help them or to, say, direct them towards the proper conduct of a Christian. It all breaks down to this: you can’t judge me. Is that what our text is about today? Perhaps.
Well, we’ll get it right out of the way – When Jesus says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” He’s not excluding any and all judging. Example. The author to the Hebrews says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” We as Christians, as brothers and sisters, are to exhort each other in love towards good conduct and away from sinful behavior. St. James says it like this, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Jesus Himself also does not completely exclude judging from His ministry, for He regularly distinguished between His own teaching and the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. But, even then, Jesus says, “If anyone hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him…the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” The Word, Jesus says, is what judges. It’s not that we as individuals pass our own judgments on others to condemn them, but we let God’s Word bear witness. That is also how were are to judge false teachers and the false doctrine they spew, by measuring it against God’s Word.
But, to bring us back, when Jesus says in our text, “judge not,” He’s illustrating His previous sentence, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” That is the key verse in our text, from which it all flows. Jesus is teaching us today about the Christian life. The Christian life is not one of judgment and hypocritical condemnation. Rather, the Christian life that we have been called into through Baptism is a life of mercy and forgiveness flowing from the love that we first received from God.
Our text begins with Jesus’ words, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” We’re getting towards the end of St. Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, called the “Sermon on the Plain.” The exhortation to be merciful really sums up the whole of Jesus’ teaching there. He taught the people to feed the hungry, to visit the sick, to comfort the mourning, to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, for so God sends rain on both the just and unjust. So, the Christian life is one of mercy. And this mercy is rooted in the mercy that we have first received from God.
We already talked about one way to go off the rails on this passage, but it’s also easy to fall off on the other side, too. This certainly was the case in Luther’s time, where it was commonly taught that in order to receive forgiveness from God, you must first forgive others. But, we aren’t so different. We are often tempted to focus on the “be” rather than the “is.” Before we even have the opportunity to be merciful and show mercy to others, our Heavenly Father is merciful and has shown mercy to us. Our Father in heaven is full of grace and love. This is extolled throughout the Scriptures. In James it says, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of Truth.” (1:18). St. Peter says, “According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope.” St. Paul says, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy.” Jesus says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”
All of this is to say that God, in His mercy, overlooks the multitude of our transgressions, and He hurls our iniquity into the depths of the sea. Not because of us – not because of our works, our mercy, or our love – but because of His love for us in Christ Jesus. His love caused Him to send forth His only-begotten Son to suffer and die for us – we, who by our sinful nature despise Him. But, the sinful nature was crucified with Christ and clothed in His righteousness in Holy Baptism. In Baptism we die to sin and rise to new life with Christ. So now, when God looks at us, He sees not our sinfulness but the righteousness of His own Son that has been given to us. This is our reality. We no longer live, but Christ lives in us. What does that look like?
“Be merciful, even as your 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.” As we’ve already discussed, it’s not consistent with the whole Biblical witness to make this text say that God forgives because we forgive. Rather, even as God forgives us our many sins, so we too forgive others. It says in the Large Catechism, “He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned, in the way that we also forgive our neighbor. Just as we daily sin much against God, and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor.”
Because our heavenly Father is merciful toward us, mercy is also the character of our attitude toward others. When Jesus says to judge not, He’s not excluding all judging, but the hypocritical judging that all sinners like to do by nature, which is why Jesus says right after it, “condemn not.” This is the type of judging that we do when we measure others against ourselves and declare that we are really not so bad, or at least not as bad as that person over there. That is precisely what it means to see the speck in your brother’s eye, but not notice the beam in your own.
It says in the Psalms, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity.” Beloved, if God does not count our sins against us, if He in fact covers it up, and we appreciate so much, thusly also we should do to others. Let’s be real: God does not blab our sins to everybody else. He knows we’re sinners and He forgives. So should we. In fact, the sin that we see in others, should first be an opportunity to confess our own sins. Then, and only then, having learned to repent and be forgiven of our own sins, are we able to show mercy to our neighbor by forgiving them also and encouraging each other toward good works.
But, even as we are called to live in mercy as our Father is merciful, and even as we are Baptized Christians, we still find ourselves playing the hypocrite. The word literally means a pretender or an actor. And so, we often are: faking our love for us, feigning forgiveness, and pretending like we are less a sinner than those around us. For these things we should rightly be ashamed. Therefore, we confess our sins and He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Hear, then, these words “He is merciful.” Our Father in heaven is love, mercy, and grace. He is also the perfect standard of justice and righteousness, and for that reason He demands punishment of sin. But, He has had mercy on us by sending His Son to take on flesh, suffer and die for our transgressions, and rise from the dead for our justification.
As forgiven saints of God, the Spirit of Christ is in our hearts to lead us in lives of love and mercy. The model of the Christian life is one of forgiveness and mercy. We forgive those who sin against us, we have mercy on those in need, we encourage one another toward good works, and we love – because He first loved us.