God’s Mercy Reflected in His Children. Trinity 4, 2015
4th Sunday after Trinity (Presentation of the Augsburg Confession)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 6:36-42
June 28, 2015
“God’s Mercy Reflected in His Children”
God is merciful. Thank God.
He is just and righteous. He is a holy God. He is a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. (Exodus 20:5-6)
But He is also merciful. The words of our Lord Jesus from today’s Gospel reading tell us, Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.
One dictionary defines mercy as “Compassion or forbearance shown to one (such as an adversary or offender) having no claim to kindness.”
That’s what God is and does. He shows compassion toward His enemies, even though they have no claim to kindness. He forbears; He holds back His wrath and judgment so that people may repent and turn to Him. He gives life and provides food and clothing, everything necessary for life, even to those who defy Him to His face. He has mercy on them.
God is merciful. But our society is not asking for mercy. It is taunting God by calling homosexual unions “marriage.” It flaunts this rejection of God as a great advance in morality. The White House makes itself the rainbow house, dying itself in the colors of the homosexual flag. How could our country proclaim more clearly that it does not believe in the God who speaks in Scripture? It has made an idol which it claims is the God of our fathers.
Our society has built a golden idol. I’m not sure what its name is, but one of its faces is same-sex marriage. And just like the golden image Nebuchadnezzar built in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s day, you will be expected to bow down when you hear the harp, bagpipe, flute and every kind of music. Though voices talk a lot about tolerance, there is no tolerance for those who don’t want to bow down to this image. Do you remember the bakers who didn’t want to make a cake for a gay “wedding?” Out of business. Don’t expect mercy from the world. Our society shows no mercy to millions of its infants in the womb who are slaughtered legally every year. If it has no mercy on helpless babies in the name of “freedom”, why would it have mercy on Christians who stand up and say, “This is wrong”?
There’s a reason why we can’t expect mercy from the world. God is merciful, but his enemy, the devil, is merciless. He is like a roaring lion going about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter). And Jesus told the people in his day who did not believe in Him that they were children of the devil. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God…Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:42-44) And what Jesus taught was repeated by the apostles. Human beings are by nature children of the devil and under the power of the evil one.
Since human beings are under the power of the devil, who is merciless, by nature they don’t understand mercy. They don’t want to receive it and they won’t give it. They are completely depraved and dead to God. And this includes us by nature as well.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:28-32
Yet even though this is the natural state of human beings, God has mercy. He does not reckon up our sins, but instead freely deals with the world in His grace. He continues to provide us with life and everything necessary to support it. He sustains body and soul and provides food and clothing even to those who are estranged from Him and don’t want to know Him.
But this is only the beginning of His mercy. Above all this He shows us His greatest mercy by inviting us, who have sinned against Him, to nevertheless call Him “Father” and be adopted as His children. Instead of condemning us to hell in righteous anger at our sins, He provided for our deliverance from sin. He gave His only-begotten Son to join us in flesh and blood and be our ransom and Redeemer from sin. He set apart His only-begotten Son to have our sins placed on His head and to die under God’s judgment in our place. God gave His only Son to take our place under the curse and punishment that was due us. By His agony on the cross Jesus took away our sin and made it so that all who believe in Him are adopted as children of God. That was mercy. That was God’s indescribably mercy. It reconciled us to God, made us sinless and without reproach in His sight, made us God’s blessed children and heirs. Such is the mercy of God.
In today’s Gospel our Lord Jesus tells us what kind of life must follow in those who have received God’s mercy. We must also be merciful like our Father, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1) We must be merciful because it is only fitting that those who owe everything to God’s mercy should be merciful. We must also be merciful because that mercy shows that we have been reborn as children of our merciful Father in heaven, that we are no longer children of the unmerciful devil. We must be merciful because our Father wants the world to see His mercy pictured in the lives of His children.
Christians are no longer children of the devil. Christians have been born again as children of God by the Word of God. That word came to us in Baptism and regenerated us, and it comes to us in the preaching of God’s Word, converting those who have fallen and sustaining those who believe. It is the word of God’s mercy in Christ. Through it we receive God’s mercy, that He receives us for the sake of Jesus’ death on the cross and does not count our sins to us.
And Jesus commands that those who have received mercy from God to show mercy. This is fitting for us as children of the merciful Father in heaven. The world does not know mercy. We proclaim God’s mercy. And here Jesus commands us not merely to proclaim it, but also to preach it with our lives. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you…In a world that is without mercy, Christians are to refrain from judging and condemning our neighbors, to forgive them, and to freely give to them.
When enemies judge you and try to destroy your life, you are not supposed to repay them in kind. Even though they judge and condemn you, you refrain from judging and condemning them. You pray for them and seek their well-being in this life and the life to come.
It’s important to clarify that when Jesus says, “Judge not” He is not saying that we should not recognize sin as sin or be afraid to call sin sin. We have to recognize sin as sin, otherwise we approve it and do harm to our neighbor, affirming him in it when we should be seeking his salvation.
But although we are required to judge false doctrine and reprove sin, we are supposed to do so not out of malice and retribution but in love for our neighbor. You are not supposed to delight in the sin and shame of your neighbor but to love him and seek his good. So if your brother in the church sins, Jesus tells you to take him aside and rebuke him, but in such a way that you save his reputation. Unless his sin is publicly known, you take him aside and reprove him in secret. “Judge not” does not mean that God forbids you to notice your neighbor’s sin. It means that God forbids you to wish your neighbor anything but his everlasting blessing, even when he sins. So you are allowed to notice your neighbor’s sins and even to call him on them, but only in the interests of seeing your neighbor blessed and saved for eternity.
This is the mercy we are to show to our enemies. When they judge and condemn us, we don’t condemn and hate them in return, but pray and work for their salvation.
When we consider that this is the standard to which God holds His children, we are liable to be struck with fear. How often we are possessed by judgmental thoughts and impulses to condemn! Even more, we carry those thoughts and impulses out in bitter words, in gossip, in curses. How often when we do carry out our callings to judge and reprove we are not motivated by love toward our brothers but by a vengeful spirit. We can see that our hearts are filled with unmercifulness that is not like the character of our Father in heaven. Because He does not count up people’s sins. He freely gives daily bread, life, and every good thing even to those who hate Him.
And He would not stop at that. He wants to give everything that is His to His enemies, even His only-begotten Son. It is God’s will that no sinner should perish or be judged or condemned. Jesus said, “Whoever hears my Word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24)
If that is God’s will, that is the extent of His mercy, how can we be children of the merciful Father when there is still so much of a judging, condemning spirit in us?
The answer is that the remnants of our sinful nature that still live in us, as powerful as they may be, are not counted to the repentant Christian. Only Christ’s righteousness and the good works He does in us are counted to us. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Christians struggle with their desire for vengeance, with their mercilessness. They struggle against their Old Adam daily because it was killed with Christ in Baptism. We struggle against our old wicked nature because it was crucified with Christ, and we belong to another—to Him who was raised from the dead. And the sin that remains in us while we daily repent and believe in Christ is not counted to us. It is forgiven, covered.
That does not mean that you should take it easy in your fight with your merciless sinful nature. It must be resisted and be put to death moment by moment, day by day. Those who don’t fight against the judgmental old Adam in them are not children of God, who is merciful. But when these words of Christ terrify you, don’t despair. You are not judged because you believe in Jesus Christ. You are not condemned because you are in Him. His Spirit lives in you and fights against your sinful nature that wants to judge and condemn, be unforgiving, etc. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God. You are not under law, but under grace. The Holy Spirit bears witness that your sins are forgiven through Christ and He leads you in the footsteps of your merciful Father in heaven.
So these words of Jesus provide us with consolation and assurance that our faith in Him is right and living. “Forgive and you will be forgiven, give and it will be given to you…for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you again.” That doesn’t mean that you must forgive and give perfectly, otherwise you will have no reward. It means this: You believe that God is your Father through Christ and freely forgives you. So when you see yourself striving to forgive and give and not judge, etc., you can say, “See, this is proof that I have true faith in Christ, because the Spirit within me is warring against my old unmerciful nature. If I was a child of the devil there would be no struggle. I would judge, condemn, hate, and revenge myself without compunction.”
God is merciful. Thank God. Because of His mercy our sins are forgiven. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
By His body and blood today, by which He shows and assures us of His mercy, may He give us merciful hearts that reflect His mercy to our lost world.
And may His Word, which endures forever, go forth in power to convict the world of sin and to comfort sinners with His mercy in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria