Do Not Judge

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Today we're picking up our third sermon on Jesus' sermon in Luke 6. I introduced this sermon of Jesus' four weeks ago by comparing it to a political party conference speech – you know a speech that is designed to set the tone and direction for a political campaign.  Well today I've got another politics inspired introduction for you – Jesus' topic in this section is leadership, the importance of following the right leaders.  You can see it at the moment in the Arab spring countries.  For years they've been oppressed by evil dictators.  Now they're finally tasting freedom.  And what are they going to do with that freedom?  Well the early signs aren't good.  Tunisia has just had it's first free elections in years – and they've elected in an Islamist party who are vowing to govern on the basis of Sharia law; Egypt's interim governors have been in talks with the Muslim Brother Hood – that's the group that produced Al Quedia a generation ago; Syria's liberators are talking about implementing a strict interpretation of Sharia law too.

So what are they using their freedom to do – to select even more repressive regimes that will lock them into an even worse situation.  They have a moment of freedom, and the choices they make now can secure further freedom, or plunge them further into oppression, repression and restriction.  Pray for those countries, pray especially for Christians who

It's a sobering thing to see.  And it's a tragic illustration of the truth that Jesus teaches in our passage this morning.  We need to listen carefully because the political disaster that's unfolding in those Arab nations could easily be replicated in a spiritual disaster in our hearts and minds if we don't carefully listen to Jesus and put his teaching into practice.

So if you haven't already got a bible out please grab one now and turn to page 728, Luke 6:37.

And as you're doing that let me give you the passage in a nutshell.  Jesus teaches us here that we need to choose who we're following with the upmost care.  And the issue the makes this so important is hypocrisy.  Let me repeat that for you – we need to choose who we're following with the upmost care, and the issue that makes this so important is hypocrisy.

How does that play out in the passage?  Well there are three pairs of verses here that make three distinct points:

Verses 37&38 say: Don't judge, or you will be judged

Verses 39 &40 say: Following blind leaders will get you killed; and

Verses 41&42 say: Fix your own issues before you fixate on anyone else's issues

So let's have a look at each of these in turn and see how they amount to a lesson to us about leadership.

Don't judge, or you will be judged; verses 37&38.

36 Be merciful, as your father in heaven is merciful.  37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

This is a continuation of the same idea we heard in verse 36: be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful.  What is the opposite of showing mercy?  Being judgemental, condemning easily.  Jesus says be merciful as your father in heaven is merciful – and now he goes on to make clear what that will look like for us in practice.  In practice it means 'don't judge'.

This might be one of Jesus most loved sayings, especially from those who are deliberately ignoring Jesus teaching!  I'm sure you've heard it when a Christian has dared to suggest that any sort of behaviour is wrong and straight away they're reminded that they shouldn't judge: 'It's not for you to say' we're told.

But that's not what Jesus is saying here.  Have a second look at the verse.  In all these passages Jesus pairs up a pithy or proverbial saying with another verse that explains what he means.  Here he says

'Do not judge' in the first sentence and

'do not condemn' in the second.

And then he makes it even clearer by adding a further matched pair which make it even clearer:

'forgive' is matched up with

'Give'

What's the idea then?  Jesus isn't saying don't show any discernment - don't distinguish between what's right and what's wrong.  He's been very clear already in this sermon that there will be stark divisions between those who are blessed and those who are cursed (under God's 'woe') – verses 20-26.  Jesus is not telling us to be woolly here like an Anglican bishop who can't ever say any thing is wrong or right - we just need to accept everybody all the time.

No, there will be stark divisions between those who are with Jesus and those who aren't.  But if you're following Jesus then there is no room for a critical, judgmental, condemning spirit.  That's the sense of do not judge – do not condemn, don't delight in looking down on others for the things they do, don't imagine that you're better than them, don't cultivate a proud and haughty spirit.  Don't be a hypocrite.

In fact Jesus goes further than this.  Jesus says when you're wronged, when you're hurt, don't hold it against the one who hurt you – let it go, forgive them, give your forgiveness freely, generously.

That's hard isn't it?  I find that hard when even for really trivial things.  I want to hold it against the person who goes round the outside in the motorway and then cuts into the queue, or those guys who keep parking their cars across the footpath all over St James Village.  The smallest little thing will get under my skin.  And Jesus is certainly telling me to let it go.

But jesus isn't only talking about trivial examples.  Remember the context?  In verses 20 - 26 Jesus has been talking about how his followers will be poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted and rejected as evil, simply because they follower him.  That's a great list of injustices right there.  He followed it up by saying 'love your enemies – do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you'.  And when you get roughed up, turn the other cheek, when you get robbed, volunteer your own possessions to the thief.

This is hard core injustice Jesus is talking about. The sorts of things Christians suffer under Sharia law – like the Churches in North Sudan right now who are meeting in ruined buildings and being threatened by armed thugs because 'this is a Muslim area' and they're no longer welcome.  And the law says their testimony is invalid.  They have no prospect of justice, or any sort of defence. The system is designed to humiliate them and drive them to conversion to Islam.

And Jesus says 'love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you'.  And now he adds don't even hold it against them.  Don't be judgemental, don't even hold a grudge, forgive the ones who hate you, insult you, reject your name as evil, beat you up and steal your possessions.

Can you begin to comprehend how hard this is?

So how can Jesus ask us to do this?  Remember this is spelling out verse 36 'be merciful, just as your Father is merciful'.  How can Jesus ask us to do this?  Only because this is precisely how God has treated each one of us.  Jesus knows that he's come to die to make forgiveness possible for the people who will hear him.  And as he hung dying on the cross what did Jesus pray 'Father pay them back for what they've done – make sure they don't get away with it'?!  That's my instinctive prayer, is that your prayer? Honestly – is you're your prayer… Maybe, but it's not Jesus prayer; Jesus prayed 'Father forgive them'.

Jesus asks us to do hard things for him, incredibly hard things.  But Jesus has already done the hardest thing for us – he gave us his life so we could be spared.

So how can we hold others to account for every little thing until they pay us back and make it right, but at the very same time ask God to let us off for all the things we've done against Him?

That can't be right.  But maybe you'd say we could if what was done to us was much worse than what we'd done against God… and that is I think where we run into trouble.  We don't think we've actually done anything too bad to God, if God only knew how badly we'd been treated then he'd understand why we don't want to forgive.

But we underestimate just how sinful we've been.

Let me put it to you as clearly as I can.  The measure of your sin is this: your sin is so bad in God's sight that the only way you could be forgiven it is if Jesus dies in your place.

Jesus prayed in the garden before his death 'Father if there is any other way, take this cup from me' – spare me, don't make me go through this awful punishment if there is any other way'.  Do you think God would reject this prayer from his son if there was any other way?  Of course not!

So you may not think you deserve death.  But the important thing is that God says you do.  God, who will judge the earth has declared the sentence on all of us – 'GUILTY: Condemned to die for sin'.  So we need to come to terms with this – whatever we think about ourselves, the truth is we are so guilty that we deserve death >>> But we've been forgiven by God, God's enormous generosity cost us nothing, but it costs him everything – Jesus died in our place, God took the punishment for us in the person of his son.

I hope by now the second half of each of those verses is beginning to make sense to you.  Jesus says 'do not judge, and you will not be judged… do not condemn and you not be condemned, forgive and you will be forgiven, give and it will be given to you – a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap'.

It sounds a bit like we earn our forgiveness by being forgiving.  But in reality it goes the other way – we can never earn God's generosity, but we can rule ourselves out from it by our lack of generosity.  If we accept God's forgiveness but deny forgiveness to others, we condemn ourselves, we show contempt for God's kindness and we are in danger of losing that forgiveness.  Look up the parable in Matt 18.21-35 and Romans 2 to see this worked out.  With the measure you use it will be measured out to you – so be generous because if you're judged on your merits you will be condemned.

Like I said this is hard teaching.  Jesus puts his finger on the pressure point and pushes hard – it's supposed to make us squirm.  Don't let it wash over you without effect.  If there's things that you're holding against others, Jesus says let it go.  They probably deserve it. They might have done awful things – in a group this size I would expect some of us to have suffered; or maybe it's just your pride and they really didn't do anything that bad.  Either way Jesus is blunt: Forgive them.  Don't let things fester, let it go.

If we learn to forgive as we've been forgiven then we really are being re-made into the likeness of our father in heaven.  We really are Jesus' disciples.  But sadly many will never be remade into God's likeness, and the reason is that they aren't really Jesus disciples at all.  This is the topic that he addresses in the second section – they're following someone else entirely, and the person you follow determines where you're going.

Following blind leaders will get you killed;

39 He also told them this parable: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.

Again Jesus uses this two verse structure to make the point.  The first verse is a vivid word picture – the two blind men stumbling towards disaster.  And the second verse tells us what the vivid image is all about.  This is about leadership and discipleship – if you want to be a disciple you need to be sure that you're following the right master.

So let's explore the word picture for a moment.  Picture a blind man who doesn't know where he's going.  Someone offers to lead him to safety.  What a relief!  He's heard that there are dangerous cliff in the area (note that's what the word 'pit' implies – it's more of a crevice than a hole).  But now that he's got someone to lead the way he sets off confidently – but little does he know that the person leading the way is just as blind as he is.

There's an element of humour here isn't there – I can imagine a Laurel and Hardy sketch with a little trip and red faces all round.  But notice Jesus doesn't say they'll both fall over and get egg on their faces, no there's real danger here – they don't end up with red faces, they're not in a ditch; this is disaster, they end up falling off the cliff.

Point?  Verse 40  No teacher can teach what they do not know.  No student can learn more from their teacher than the teacher knows, the most they can hope for is to become like their teacher.  So choose your teacher carefully so that they don't lead you down a blind alley, or up the creek, or off the cliff.

But what is he talking about?  Who are the blind guides, what is the cliff? Remember the context.  This is a sermon about discipleship.  Jesus calls his disciples to him and selects leaders from among them.  Then, when the crowds catch up to him he instructs his disciples – he's telling them what it takes, what it means to be his disciple.

But Jesus is not the only one claiming the authority to interpret and apply the word of God.  Chapter Six starts with two controversies with the Pharisees and the Teachers of the law over Sabbath observance.  They say Jesus shouldn't heal or rub grain to eat on the Sabbath – it's work.  But Jesus says the Sabbath is a day for doing good, not for doing evil, a day for saving life, not for taking it.  This sort of work of meeting desperate needs is OK on the Sabbath.

So there's two leaders you can follow – you can follow Jesus and listen to his interpretation of the law, or you can follow the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  And what Jesus is saying is stop following them because they will get you killed – they claim to know the way, but they're leading you right to the edge of the cliff and they're about to fall off and take you with them.

Why's he say that?

The Pharisees and teachers of the law have already rejected Jesus in their hearts because he's embarrassed them and they're already starting to plot how they will get rid of him. If the crowds follow them they'll reject Jesus and miss out on what he has to offer.

There's a massive implication we need to see quickly – that Jesus thinks we're in danger. This issue of discipleship, this question of who we're following, has real implications – life and death implications, heaven and hell implications.  And following the wrong person will get us killed.  This is like those Arab states using their freedom to decide what sort of government they will have – the implications are massive for all of life, lock into the wrong rule now, and they may never get back out of it.

And the reason this is so important for these people is that the Pharisees were hypocrites of the highest order – and hypocrisy is deadly and contagious.  So Jesus moves on to focus on it in the third section of this passage:

Jesus says to them and to us

Fix your own issues before you fixate on anyone else's issues

41 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother,`Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

This is another funny illustration from Jesus to make a serious point.

Judging others is like this ridiculous man who walks around with a vast construction beam projecting from his own eye.  It's not the case that you can't see what's right in front of your own face – Jesus uses the technical word for the main beam through the middle of the room that all the other beams rest on; this is a serious piece of hardware.

Think about how hard it is to walk through your house with a ladder – you keep running into walls, you have to learn to walk as if you were three metres long to avoid running into  everything.  That is what it must be like to have a main beam in your eye, your whole life becomes about accommodating to this gigantic protrusion from your face, everything you do is affected and needs to be adapted to this facial projection.

So it is simply not possible to fail to notice it – your whole life is shaped by it.  To pretend that it is not there involves some very serious self deception – and that is the case with the Pharisees, they keep telling themselves that they are serving God, when really they are doing nothing of the sort.  This is the proverbial 'Elephant in the room' only worse!

The Pharisees were hypocrites of the highest order.  Remember they've already rejected Jesus for healing on the Sabbath (they call that work) and so are planning to kill him to get rid of him (they fail to see that's murder).  They are your classic example of people with projecting beams – they're vision is so blurred that they see specks where there are none.

But the problem is that hypocrisy is infectious.  In chapter 12 Jesus calls it the yeast of the Pharisees – it spreads from one to another.  And worse, we're prone to it – it seems that Jesus sees hypocrisy as the greatest temptation for the religious.

And hypocrisy is a disaster.  Jesus saves his strongest criticism through out the gospels for the hypocrites.  Why?  Because there is no greater blinding agent than hypocrisy - it blinds me to my sin so that I just can't see it.  And it does so by fixating me on your sin so that it glows in my mind and I'm filled with righteous indignation that you should be allowed to get away with it … and of course you see right through my stupid indignation and so you back into the corner and return fire – so hypocrisy simultaneously keeps me from repentance, sours our relationship and keeps you from repentance also.  It keeps me from God and it pushes you away from God too.

That's why it's so wrong in our churches.  So there is something wrong when we are guilty of hypocrisy, something very wrong.  And yet Jesus assumes that we'll have a problem with it.  Jesus warns us again and again and again.  There must be a reason for that mustn't there?  Hypocrisy must be a real and present danger for religious people – and here we are on a Sunday morning in church, so this is a warning for us.

So we all need to stop and consider the possibility that we might have been harbouring serious construction grade woodwork in our eyes.  That we are the hypocrites; that we might have been finding a way to justify our own sin to our selves, and that we might need to do some radical surgery to get the sin out.

And Jesus gives us a helpful diagnostic tool here – if we find ourselves fixating on small things in others, then it's probably because we've got something in our own lives that needs to be looked.  Pride perhaps, or indulging some lust or greed for things or popularity or security, or worshipping false gods like money, sex and power…

And if we find that we're indulging in hypocrisy then we are not really following Jesus, but we're following the Pharisees.  And we're heading for a fall.  So as we close let me simply point you towards a moment of self examination.

Jesus says 'Listen to me.  You need to repent and be forgiven, and then, in view of God's mercy, be merciful. If you're not merciful, you condemn yourself, you're a hypocrite and you're heading for a fall'.

Please don't ignore Jesus warning this morning.  But do  what he says, repent and be merciful.

We need to pray for his help don't we?  Let's do that now as we pray.

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