February 24, 2019
Text: Luke 6:27-38
It’s all about mercy. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36; ESV). That is to say, be who you are in Christ, and act toward your neighbor accordingly. Your Father in heaven is merciful toward you. That’s almost an understatement. Your Father does not count your sins against you. Your sins are a rejection of Him as your God, a rejection of His love, yet He does not reject you. He sent His Son to take your sin, your rejection of God, upon Himself, and put it to death in His body on the cross, so that you be forgiven all your sins and reconciled to God, adopted as His own dear child in Holy Baptism (as we saw again this morning with Hilde) and made an heir with Christ of the Father’s Kingdom. You who were God’s sworn enemy He has reconciled to Himself by sending His Son to die, for you, in your place, to suffer your punishment. If you even begin to remotely appreciate the profundity of God’s mercy toward you, you will be merciful to others. You will forgive their sins against you. You will love even your enemies, as God loved you, who were once His enemy. You will do good to those who hate you, as God sent His Son for you, who once hated Him. You will bless the one who curses you and pray for the one who abuses you. You will die to yourself. You will die for your neighbor. For that is mercy, the mercy bestowed upon you by God in Christ, that now flows through you and toward your neighbor. God’s mercy is the power behind your mercy. Be who you are, and act accordingly. You are a baptized, forgiven child of God. You are in Christ, who died for you, a Christian, a little Christ. Be Christ to your neighbor. Even, and especially, to your enemy.
This sounds like crazy talk, but it’s really part of the backwards reality we talked about last week. Jesus turns everything on its head, because you and I, in our fallen nature, have everything upside down and inside out. Human wisdom is to love those who love you and do good to those who do good to you. On the other hand, we don’t love those who hurt us. It doesn’t come naturally to us to turn the other cheek. Actually, we love to judge others, condemn them. They have it coming. I hope there’s a policeman up ahead for that guy who sped past me and cut me off. I hope the repairman who overcharged me gets a taste of his own medicine. You want to insult me? Get ready, my friend, because I have a few choice words for you. This somehow makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s the old trick of tearing another sinner down to size so I appear to be not so bad in my own eyes and the eyes of others. This, by the way, is what Jesus means when He says “Judge not, and you will not be judged” (v. 37). He doesn’t mean don’t make moral judgments, as this verse is so often abused by the world and even by well-meaning Christians. Of course you should make moral judgments. When something violates the clear Word of God, that thing is sinful, and it harms people, and it harms the sinner’s relationship to God. Love for the sinner demands that you call the sin what it is. But not judging the person means you don’t condemn the person. The person is a sinner. Great. So are you. You’re not the judge. God is. Let Him do His job. You do yours, which is to repent. You have enough sins to worry about of your own without condemning another. And be merciful. For God forgives you all your sins for Jesus sake. You are to forgive your neighbor.
You have a hard time with this, needless to say. The answer to that, by the way, is not to say, “Oh well, I can’t do it, but I’ll wait for Pastor to say the Gospel so I’m off the hook.” No, the answer is, repent. You really should do these things. Jesus commands them. You really should want to do these things. After all, Jesus has done them for you. And that is really the point. What Jesus commands you to do in our Gospel this morning is first and foremost a description of Himself. He loves His enemies. You. Unto death on the cross. He does good to those who hate Him. You. He saves you. He blesses those who curse Him and prays for those who abuse Him. He prays from the cross, both for those who are carrying out His execution, and for you who nail Him to the cross by your sin: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He gives His back to those who strike and His cheek to those who pull out the beard (Is. 50:6). They divide His cloak among them and gamble over His seamless tunic. He gives not only His possessions, but Himself, His very life, to those who beg. He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. He is kind to sinners. He dies for sinners, for the forgiveness of sins.
Now, Jesus is the Judge. It is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, who will return visibly on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. We are not to judge lest we be judged. He is to judge, for He has been judged in our place. He swallowed up all the abuse sin, death, and the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh could throw at Him. He swallowed up God’s righteous wrath against sinners and sin. He was condemned, so that we will not be condemned on that Day. So don’t condemn your neighbor. All your sins are forgiven because Jesus turned the other cheek for you. So you forgive your neighbor. Even if he doesn’t deserve it. Even if he doesn’t want it. How many people did Jesus suffer and die for who ultimately reject it? None of us deserve it. None of us is really even all that sorry most of the time. And many don’t want it at all, this forgiveness and salvation Jesus gives, and so they reject it all the way to hell. Still, He does it all for them, and for you.
Forgiving someone who has sinned against you is hard, and it’s true you’ll never do it perfectly in this sinful flesh. Stop using that as an excuse. When you’re having a hard time forgiving, repent. That’s your sin. Yes, you’re forgiven in the Name of Jesus. But that’s not the end of it. Get back at it. Practice forgiveness. It’s a thing we always have to be practicing, because we don’t get it perfect until heaven. But do practice it.
In my pastoral experience, the most freeing thing we can know about forgiveness is that it is not an emotion. People get this all backwards and think forgiveness is having warm and fuzzy feelings about the person. Forgiveness is not how you feel about a person. Because love is not an emotion, not a feeling. To forgive a person is to love that person. And love is a decision and action to seek the good of the person. That’s what Jesus is telling you to do. How do you forgive someone? Jesus tells you here. You pray for them. You bless them. Not in that vindictive way where you self-righteously say with disdain in your voice, “I’ll pray for you.” That’s Old Adam trying to get his licks in again. Kill him. Back to the font. But really pray. Go into your closet, get down on your knees, and say, “Almighty God, you have had mercy on me and made me your own in Christ, forgiving me all my sins by His blood and death for me. Have mercy on this person who has hurt me. Forgive his sins. Give him faith in Jesus Christ and eternal life. Bless him and keep him. And grant me to keep loving him by praying for him and seeking his good. If I am to do this, O Lord, You must do it in me, for there is no good in me to do it of myself. But I commend all into Your hands, and if you do it in me, it will be done for Jesus’ sake.”
And do you know, there is nothing so freeing as giving your sins and the sins of your neighbor against you into the pierced hands of Jesus for forgiveness, hurling them into the abyss of His inexhaustible mercy and love. This is conventional wisdom and not even really the Bible, but it is true that refusing to forgive your neighbor really just holds you in bondage to their sin against you. They may not even be worried whether you forgive them, but you’re all tied up inside, bound by the chains of whatever they’ve done to you. The Greek word for “forgive” literally means to “release.” Jesus releases you from your sins when He forgives you. You release your neighbor and yourself from their sins by forgiving them.
And then there’s this. As we said a moment ago, in His suffering and death on the cross for you, Jesus swallows up all God’s wrath against your sin, and all the bitterness and curse of sin itself, so that it spends itself on Him and cannot harm you. When you forgive your neighbor, you are dying a little death for him. That’s why it’s so hard, why Old Adam kicks against it so furiously. You don’t want to die. But Jesus says die to yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. And when you do, you swallow up all the wrath so that it can’t harm anybody else. Not your neighbor who is sinning against you. Not anyone. I’ve seen this myself. Someone comes against you with all their anger and malice, and it’s like a great wave of wrath that washes over you. Now, if you fight that wave with a wave of your own, it gives energy to the chaos of the whole thing, and the wrath multiplies and leaves all sorts of destruction in its wake. But if you just take it, and respond with blessing instead of cursing, prayer instead of bitterness, it’s like a great chasm opens that swallows the whole thing. You rob the wave of all its energy and it can’t hurt anyone anymore. Well, except it does hurt you. I’m not gonna lie. Because it is the death of you. You’re doing what Jesus did. And talk about loving your enemies, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). To die in this way can make your enemy your friend. It is certainly to treat him as a friend. But we know what happens to the One who gives Himself into death for sinners. He rises from the dead. And so it will happen to you.
Well, I don’t usually go to the movies to make the points in my sermon, but the kids have me watching Star Wars lately, and there is the most amazing scene in the first movie (the real first one, from 1977). The gang is trying to make it safely off of the Death Star while Obi-wan Kenobi battles Darth Vader in a spectacular lightsaber duel. Obi-wan is fighting for his friends, and we should always fight against evil for the sake of others. He matches Vader strike for strike. He’s not at any disadvantage. But as soon as he sees that his friends will be safe, a knowing grin of acceptance spreads across his face. He stops fighting and he holds his lightsaber up to his forehead and closes his eyes. Vader strikes him down. But in killing Obi-wan, Vader has lost his power over him, and over the rest. Obi-wan has swallowed up the wrath. In death, he is more powerful in life.
But we don’t have to go to movies to see this truth. We have Jesus. Like Hilde, we’re baptized into Jesus. We eat and drink Jesus and His Body and Blood courses through our veins. And we have the martyrs, our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the ages and across the globe who loved their enemies and died to themselves. And though they died, they live, and they are more blessed in death than they were in life. Jesus faced down the devil to deliver us to safety and salvation. And when His work was finished, He commended Himself to the Father, bowed His head, and gave up His Spirit. In killing Jesus, our real enemies, sin, death, and the devil, lost their power. When you die for your neighbor, which is to say, love him and forgive him, sin loses its power. God grant us all to do that very thing. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” It’s all about mercy. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.