02. July 2023
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.
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
When people begin to take the Word of God seriously, it is often the commandments that they pay attention to first and foremost. Before, it did not seem important to know what God said as long as they did not get caught in shame before the world. But now they want to straighten things out with God. They know that they must be both bearers and doers of the Word. And so, they put the Ten Commandments in their yard, on their courthouses, and memorized them in their hearts. We may be unable to remember the Scriptures regarding Absolution, Baptism, and the Supper from our catechesis, but I’m guessing you can recall all the commands.
This is not a bad place to start. Jesus told the rich young ruler who asked him what he must do to gain eternal life, ‘”Keep the commandments!” (Mt 19:16ff). But then it happens repeatedly that people believe that from this moment forward, they will become better and that it will be easier for them to “live a good Christian life.” All they need to do is follow the rules better. And some believe they are successful and can say about themselves, as Paul said about when he was a Pharisee, that they are “as regards righteousness under the law—blameless.”
We do not understand ourselves rightly. We do not hear the Law lawfully. The mistake is that we compare ourselves with others. Perhaps we can properly say that we are not like other men, “extortioners, unjust, and adulterers.” And it seems necessary to judge other people. They could be just as good as we are if they wanted to. But it is precisely because we judge others that we ourselves are judged. This shows that we have not taken the Law of God seriously. We have arbitrarily chosen what we will use as our standard but have lost the most important, just as the Pharisees gave a tithe of mint, dill, and cumin but neglected weightier things, justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Therefore Jesus reminds us that he who judges others will himself be judged.
A Christian should not judge of his own accord. Still, those who sit in the office as an authority, president, mayor, councilman, judge, housefather, schoolteacher, preacher, etc., may punish, judge, and pass sentence, not of themselves but by their office (Rom. 13:1-7). It would hardly be fitting for a subject to say to his superior, a child to his father, a pupil to his schoolteacher, or a thief to his executioner, “Be merciful, judge not, condemn not? etc.” So, that’s not what Jesus is talking about.
If an authority, ruler, judge, or housefather were to practice pure mercy and not be serious about administering punishment, the world would be full of wicked villains in no time, and no one would be safe. Moreover, if a preacher should hold his peace regarding all false doctrine, lies, error, iniquity, and vice, the individual Christians and the congregation’s faith would be attacked constantly. Christ says, “The Word is what judges them” (John 12:48).
But you say, “What about when those given to judge fail? What about when their judgment is faulty? Can’t I step in and voice my opinion?” That’s nothing new, to have an opinion of others. But we are given to keep our mouths shut if we have no authority to judge. But this is the preferred method to rule in our time, even by our elite class. “We the people” are manipulated, controlled, cajoled, and indoctrinated by broadcast and social media to judge others. We become the “court of public opinion,” which has as much bearing on what the courts decide as the actual evidence in a case. And worse yet, we take matters into our own hands with vigilante justice, defaming, libeling, slandering, and destroying the reputation of our neighbors, all the while thinking it just and right.
What’s often missing is that the person and office he holds must be sharply distinguished. Individuals are prohibited from judging and sentencing, but for those who occupy the office, judging, sentencing, and punishing are permitted. So when Christ says, “Judge not, condemn not,” He means gossips and slanderers, those who bear planks and judge splinters, who pass sentence on others without authority, out of malice, hatred, and wicked intent. “I wish that person would die or have this or that punishment.” What is this, if not usurping judgment from God and the authorities—indeed, sinning against natural law and God’s Law and condemning oneself? For if he who hates his brother is a murderer, as John says (1 John 3:15), much more is he who judges, sentences, and condemns his brother a murderer when such things are not committed to him by right of office.
He who takes the commandments seriously will cease comparing himself with others. The law demands instead that we compare ourselves with God. We ought to be perfect as he is perfect, merciful as lie is merciful, holy as he is holy. The law does not allow us to be satisfied with ourselves. The knowledge of sin comes to us through the Law. Our mouth is stopped, and we all stand guilty before God.
Honest and earnest law keepers saw this in the time of Jesus too. The rich young ruler knew that something was lacking in him, even though he had done all that could be asked of a good man. And it was the elders among the Jews who stole away first, disturbed by their consciences when Jesus said that he who was without sin among them should cast the first stone at the woman caught in adultery.
If the law of God or the commandments have helped us see that we do not live up to the standards and have no right to judge others, then they can aid us further in a matter that is even more important. They can become for us “a tutor to Christ” (Gal 3:24). They can teach us to begin to listen seriously to the Gospel. He who allows what compelling reason God has for judging him will begin to listen freshly to the Savior who does not judge—not because Jesus needs forgiveness and not because he had no occasion to judge, but because he has taken upon himself his brothers’ destiny and has died in place of sinners.
And that’s what we fail to understand and believe. We are not the final judge. That’s God the Father. And He has already exacted that judgment on Jesus, in our place and our neighbor’s place. The cross of Christ is the final judgment for sin. Those who refuse to hear the judgment of God’s Word, the Spirit’s working repentance and faith, and the forgiveness of all their planks and specks of sin in Jesus will stumble and be offended by Jesus.
But for you, who have heard, been repented, and believe the verdict of sins forgiven in Christ, are saved now and eternally. There’s nothing more you could possibly want as a Christian than for your neighbor, whom your flesh is so quick to destroy, to be forgiven in Jesus, with “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.” May God work repentance in your hearts, give you to live in His forgiveness, and in turn, love and serve your neighbor with Christ’s forgiveness, too. AMEN.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin