The Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost September 28, 2008
2 Kings 2:6-18
1 John 1:5-2:2
13, 370, 388, 460
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Jesus said], “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus—justified and readied for judgment by God’s grace toward us in Christ:
It should have come as no surprise to the disciples that Jesus would urge them to be charitable toward others. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had been leading up to this for quite a while. He started out with the beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Later He would warn them, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). And then in the words we are considering today, Jesus brings up a similar quality that He says must be found among His people: charity in our thoughts toward others. Jesus says, “Do not judge, lest you be judged.” [v.1]
In some ways, this is not a lot different than His earlier teaching about mercy. In both cases, what Jesus requires strikes, not at what we do, but at who we are from the very inside out.
Jesus brings up this matter because He’s started a new topic in His sermon. He had just finished encouraging us to live confidently as children of God, assuring us that He will provide for all of our earthly needs. But now He begins to look toward the future, and we’ll see that He sees a judgment coming with absolute certainty—a judgment so important that it impacts the believers every day they walk upon this earth. We’ll see that for the Christian, every day is Judgment Day. I. Believe that you are judged righteous for Jesus’ sake, II. Live as though you were to be judged this very day, and III. Judge the eternal Gospel for it’s true worth.
How often don’t we find ourselves either openly or secretly critical of others? We tend to make judgments about what people do or how they do things. We want to be armchair quarterbacks for all of life, rendering an opinion of someone else’s moral performance. Sometimes it gets to be quite a circus: “Fred’s a lazy goldbricker. He lets everyone else do the work;” “Alice works too hard; she’s going to do herself in if she keeps this up.” “Tammy’s way too hard on her children. They’ll never make anything of themselves if she doesn’t give them a little rein sometimes.” “Tina’s way too soft on her children. They’ll never make anything of themselves if she doesn’t make them toe the line once in a while.” And so it goes.
Jesus told us not to judge. But how does that work? Are we never to form any opinions about others, or have any expectations about how things are done? Well, if you read the rest of the New Testament, it is very clear that we are to condemn sin and wickedness for what it is and urge the sinner to repent. And among our Christian brothers and sisters, we are to spur one another on to the heavenly goal, and seek to deliver fellow believers from sin’s hold, sometimes in an extremely “judgmental” manner. What Jesus brings out at this point in our lesson is that in all of our judging and interaction with our fellow sinners, God’s judgment is never very far from our hearts. The chief truth that you as a Christian carry with you every day is that you are judged righteous for Jesus’ sake.
The Gospel is precious news to every sinner. Think of the passages that point to God’s mercy and kindness toward us: “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 6:1) “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Isn’t that amazing? Think how free and daring that was for our Lord—that He laid down His life when we were completely unworthy of His attention. He sacrificed Himself for our salvation when we had shown no inclination to accept it or follow Him. Think of Jesus going through the Passion and Crucifixion alone because His best friends were too scared and self-absorbed to stick with Him.
We ourselves can’t claim to be any better. Think what our lives would be like if we did have a perfect love for God and His will? What if we did live with that perfect faith in God that Jesus urged just a few verses before? But so often, we choose to forget, and forsake, and deny Him.
Still, God is gracious to us. “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:23-24). Yes, in Jesus we have found the greatest treasure: peace with God, complete forgiveness of sins, and the promise of true life, knowing God. All of this rests on God’s willingness to justify us—to count us as “not guilty”—for Jesus’ sake. In Christ, we poor sinners have come to believe that we have been judged and that the judgment is for us, not against us! Every day, despite our continued sin and weakness, Christ comes in His Gospel and assures us that we have been judged righteous for His sake.
What Jesus calls upon us to do now is to live as though we were to be judged this very day, letting gratitude over our salvation affect our dealings with those around us. Sometimes we become a little presumptuous about the failings of others: “…why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” [v.3] Notice that Jesus doesn’t necessarily say that our neighbor doesn’t have a speck in his eye. Rather, it’s just amazing to Him that we think we can spot and identify it with that plank sticking out of our own eye!
Often enough our moral vision is pretty distorted. We see somebody’s actions and we think we know what he is doing or why he acts so, but we don’t really know because we’re not omniscient. This is when Luther’s marvelous little phrase “put the best construction on everything” applies (cf. Small Catechism, 8th commandment). Don’t assume the worst and stay out of the matter unless somebody’s welfare depends on your getting involved.
Often enough we are inclined to listen to and/or share gossip. Would we want God to listen to other people’s gossip about us if judgment were to come today?
Often enough, we assume that it is our job to correct our neighbor’s faulty behavior, but forget that we could be condemned for actions and failures that are much worse. How would we act if we were to be judged today? “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” [v.5]
There are times, dear friends, where it is necessary to judge the actions of others. There are holy and enduring standards that God has given us by which to determine the rightness or wrongness of an action. God’s commandments are His law and we cannot escape their condemnation apart from faith in Christ and neither can our neighbor. We are to seek one goal for our neighbor and that is that he would turn from sin and believe the Gospel that we ourselves treasure. And it is as sinners, filled with the awareness of our own deliverance, that we would be most effective in leading others to their Savior: “Brothers, if anyone is overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).
Jesus adds a line that strikes us as strange at this point, but it still falls into the issue of judging: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” [v.6] In all our doings, we are to judge one thing to be most valuable, something holy and pearl-like in its beauty. It is the Gospel, and we are to judge the eternal gospel for its true worth.
Think of the group of followers that was arrayed before Jesus on that mountainside when He preached these words in His Sermon on the Mount. What did they have that was worth anything? They had pretty much left behind their earthly treasures. All they had now was Jesus. His Gospel message would become their careers as they went forth into the world to preach the good news to every creature.
This Gospel is our treasure as well. Every day it comforts and guides us. It informs us and excites us. It keeps us in the faith until Jesus comes. As it came to us freely, we are to just as freely share it and spare no earthly cost or effort in spreading it.
If we have a right judgment about the Gospel’s worth, we will understand why Jesus warns us not to “cast these pearls before swine.” He’s talking about people who have no interest in the forgiveness of sins, of those who ridicule the Gospel message, of those who are confronted by God’s grace in Christ but trample our words underfoot. The Word of God is holy and precious, but not to those who do not believe. Beware, Jesus says, that you do not proclaim the forgiveness of sins to those who do not repent. They will only misuse the Gospel to their own harm. Beware, Jesus says, that you do not offer good news to those who will only mock it and try to trap you with it. Paul experienced this when He was preaching in various synagogues and the Jews showed up to harass his message. In this situation, Paul would leave the synagogue and move on to those who did appreciate the Word of Life—there will always be some.
We, who come into the presence of God through faith in Jesus have this treasure, namely, that we are judged worthy of everlasting life in spite of ourselves. Let us judge with the same judgment with which we are judged. We, who have received a great measure of God’s kindness so that our cup runs over with goodness and mercy, should be ready to use the same measure of mercy toward others. May the Lord fill us with that joyous faith. Amen.
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