Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
God has mercy on us. Then—we come to know God as merciful.
It would be impossible for us to know God as merciful if He waited to show mercy until we knew that He was merciful.
Compassion. Kindness. Caring for the needs of others. Mercy doesn’t condemn or stand in judgment.
We wouldn’t know this unless told.
Experience can’t teach it.
God is our merciful Father. We are His dear children.
Jesus teaches this to us. He reveals our Father as merciful.
God didn’t become merciful.
He didn’t become the Father.
The Father and the Son have always existed with the Holy Spirit.
God is eternal. And eternally triune.
God didn’t become the Father when He created us, or when He sent His Son to redeem us, or when He, with His Son, sent the Holy Spirit to sanctify us—to be His children.
God has always been the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But—now—God has become our Father.
Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9).
It’s only through Jesus that we know God as our Father. It’s only through Jesus that we know God as merciful.
The Father, from eternity, sent His Son into the world, to teach and reveal to us His Father’s mercy.
And we see that mercy in the Son—in His crucifixion and death—His sacrifice for our forgiveness.
Do not judge.
Do not condemn.
Give. This is what Jesus tells us to do.
He’s speaking to His Christians, to those who know God through Him.
We’ve received the Father’s mercy.
We’ve seen the Father set aside judgment, wrath, and condemnation.
He did so at the cross where the divine law judged and condemned Jesus in our place.
There, the wrath of God was poured out and appeased, extinguished.
The innocent suffered for the guilty.
Our sins were forgiven by the vicarious suffering of Jesus—vicarious meaning He suffered in our place, for us, and we benefit from His work.
That is, we’ve received the Father’s forgiveness.
He gave us His only-begotten Son—so that all who believe in Him would have eternal life.
So as we’ve received God’s mercy, we’re to be merciful. As God has set aside His judgment and condemnation of us, we’re to set aside the judgment and condemnation of others. And as even the wrath of God has been set aside and extinguished in the shed blood of Jesus, we, certainly then, are to set aside our wrath for the mercy of God.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (cf. Matthew 6:12).
As God has forgiven us, we’re to forgive others.
Like father, like son.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The home in which we’re raised impresses upon us certain patterns of behavior that stay with us all our lives. We may not always like being identified with a particular family—perhaps we’d rather be seen as individuals—but we can hardly deny family characteristics.
When I tell people—or when people tell me—that my sons look like me—I always add “For better or worse.”
People laugh when I say that.
We can’t deny family characteristics.
That’s how it is with me and my sons, and that’s how it is with the family of God, the Holy Christian Church.
As my sons are, in a way, imitations of their father, so Christians are imitators of God, their Father.
Imitating God and His mercy is one thing.
Playing God is something else.
Imitating God and His mercy embraces the crucifixion of Jesus as the place where we meet our God.
It is to die and rise again in Holy Baptism.
It is to eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for us.
In those places, at those times, as God joins us to the death of His Son, we find out who we are.
Our sins are forgiven, and God is our Father.
Receiving our identity in Christ, we imitate our God and Father—teaching others to believe the truth, as we do. That’s imitating God and His mercy.
Playing God is when we take upon ourselves God’s authority to judge and condemn, when we stand in judgment of others.
Then, we make up the rules and apply them.
We criticize, judge, and condemn others because they don’t live up to our standards.
We have no right to do this.
Consider, though, that this doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to apply God’s standards.
There, we have the right and the responsibility to do so.
When God speaks, it is so.
The Bible is God’s Word.
Where the Bible speaks, God speaks, and that settles the matter.
The Church has the responsibility to stand on the teaching of the Bible.
She must insist that the biblical standards of right and wrong apply today—as they always have.
This isn’t judging and condemning—this isn’t contrary to the Lord’s command.
This is confessing the truth.
Right after Jesus says, “Judge not” (Luke 6:36)—He says, “Take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42).
So, basically, right after saying “Judge not,” Jesus says, “Judge twice.”
But even when we’re dealing with people caught up in sin—defending sin—we’re still dealing with people for whom Jesus died.
We don’t condone sin.
We never condone what God condemns as sin.
But we also never forget that when God showed mercy to us, He showed mercy to real sinners guilty of real sins.
“Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
It happened at the cross. It happens in our lives.
St. Paul writes in Galatians:
“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. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).
You can’t restore someone else unless you’ve been restored. You can’t lead someone else to repentance if you haven’t repented.
God’s law judges and condemns.
God restores us by leading us to repentance—we don’t do that part, either.
He shows us our sins, and He shows us our Savior from sin.
The repentant heart has been given a spirit of gentleness, recognizing sins forgiven and sins to forgive.
If you presume to correct your brother while refusing to acknowledge your own sins, you ignore the log in your eye for the speck in his.
The only good reason to point out someone else’s sin is so that he can be forgiven of it.
Only those who, through repentance and faith, have received the forgiveness of sins from God are in any position to point out the sins of their neighbors.
Receiving forgiveness enlightens the heart and mind. Only those who’ve received mercy know how to show it.
But showing mercy and a nonjudgmental attitude is more than just forgiving.
It includes interpreting things in the kindest way.
This doesn’t excuse sin.
Sin is sin.
But people caught up in sin need more than judgment and condemnation.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
Nothing does more to compromise the gospel we confess than when we—and not God’s Word through us—judge and condemn others.
It’s easy enough to withhold unkind judgment from our friends who do us right. But our Lord requires us to withhold judgment from our enemies who do us wrong.
When we consider what others have done against us, we’re to treat them as God has treated us.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). This isn’t a suggestion. It’s a command.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father [who art] in heaven, hallowed be [thy] name” (Matthew 6:9).
When God’s holy name is put on us in Baptism, we, going forward, bear God’s name.
We’ve received the family name—the family resemblance. We’re known as Christians. We hallow God’s name when we forgive those who’ve done us wrong and try to explain their actions in the kindest way.
When we’re misjudged by others, we respond with kindness. We don’t repay condemnation with condemnation.
We “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
Conflict between God and sinners is resolved where Christ was crucified by sinners, for sinners.
He was crucified by sinners, but it was God’s holy will that He suffer for them.
It was God who judged the sin of the human race, and it was God who punished all sin in Jesus’ flesh.
Jesus faced the whip, the mockery, the cruel jokes, the pain of the nails, and the suffocation of the cross. Upon it—He bore the punishment of sin—the wrath of God.
He knew no sin, but He didn’t repay judgment with judgment. He forgave those who tormented Him.
Innocence faced sin—and triumphed over it.
Mercy defeats judgment.
Forgiveness overcomes condemnation.
Where we’re reconciled with our Creator—there on the cross—is where we’re reconciled with those who do us wrong.
So we forgive the brother who sins against us.
We don’t forgive because he deserves it.
We forgive because he needs it.
It’s a miserable life to live under the judgment and condemnation of others.
But God has relieved us of our misery.
We show who and what we are as Christians when we relieve others of the same.
The heart of our faith is that God, for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, has forgiven us all our sins, showered us with fatherly mercy, and removed judgment and condemnation from us.
This makes us free, brings us joy, and brings us to heaven. This is ours and no one can take it from us.
And, amazingly, we can’t lose forgiveness by giving it away. When we give it away—we still have it.
The most precious thing the world has ever known—is freely given—and endures forever.
We keep on giving and we keep on getting.
“Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, [is] put into your lap. For with the measure you use—it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).
This is the Christian life: giving what we’ve received and, by the grace of God, receiving more and more.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 4 Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
This sermon follows the outline of a sermon by Rev. Rolf Preus.