A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on April 10, 2011.
We bow before you today, our Father, knowing that none of our sins are secrets before you. We pray knowing that the deceptions we have used to convince our neighbors, the deceptions we have used even upon ourselves, do not work on you, and you know all. You know our motives, you know our blindness to our own sins, you know our pride, you know it all. Which of us can stand before you, which of us is not in need of repentance? Your judgment stands ever before us. Grant to us today a sign of your love. Acknowledge that you have heard the repentances that we have spoken in the silence of our hearts. Grant to us some knowledge, some confidence, that you have counted the righteousness of your son, Jesus Christ, to our account. Let your mercy and grace flow into our lives with such power and such force that we might never again assume upon our own ability to deal with our sin, but trust in you only, you again, you always. May your love and forgiveness fall upon our lives with such compulsion today that our only desire is to live righteously, to live justly, and to live with mercy. Forgive any judgment that flows from our hearts, and may we grant the same grace to others in the same measure as we have received it from you. In the name of the one and only true judge, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God is our judge here and now. We are opaque to each other, but we are all transparent to the God who makes us and to the Lord Jesus who shares God’s life. As Hebrews says, “Before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (4:13)
—Luke Timothy Johnson in The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters
I would imagine that everybody knows somebody who has qualities that you really like and qualities that you don’t particularly care for. As a matter of fact, all of us have this.
Perhaps you have a co-worker who is undoubtedly one of the most considerate people in the world. This is the person in the office who remembers everybody’s birthday, everybody’s anniversary and they even remember the silly little details to try to bring some sense of personal touch to celebrations of other people’s big days in the office. If it is your tenth wedding anniversary and you had a destination wedding at the beach, you come in to coffee break on the day of your anniversary and sand and little umbrellas are on the break table. She is reminding everybody that it was a beach wedding. You think, That is great! Who else remembers these things? Who else takes the time to be so considerate? You love this considerate co-worker. But this co-worker is also a little sensitive, and if you don’t remember her tenth anniversary in the same way that she remembered your tenth anniversary, she gets her feelings hurt. Considerate co-worker you love; hypersensitive co-worker you can do without. The truth is that most of us have these characteristics in ourselves, the things that our family and friends like about us and the things they would like to do without, the things they would like to overlook.
I think this is even true with Jesus. There are parts of Jesus that we like a lot. The gracious Jesus we like and we want to tell other people about, the gracious Jesus we enjoy when we read in the scripture, the gracious Jesus when we come to the story of him confronting the woman caught in adultery and how he stares down the crowd and says, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” We really like gracious Jesus because we hope some of that is going to overflow to us.
We like merciful, loving, welcoming Jesus. We like this Jesus when he tells the story of the Prodigal Son and we get to the part of the story where the father sees the son afar, runs to meet him, and throws his arms around him. We love merciful, loving, welcoming Jesus.
We like the story about the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep and goes out and finds the one that is lost. Jesus says, “There is more joy in heaven over one who repents than the 99 who stay.” That touches us. If this were something on the internet, we would check “Like.” This is something we like—gracious Jesus, merciful, loving Jesus, but demanding Jesus is a party pooper. “Forsake all and follow me.” Demanding Jesus says, “If you don’t hate your father and mother, and even your own life, you cannot be a part of me.” Ouch!
High expectation Jesus. “If you lust after a woman in your heart, you have committed adultery.” Ouch! We would like to put high expectation and demanding Jesus on ignore if we could.
Perhaps the most difficult expression of Jesus, the part we would choose to do without, the passages of scripture that we would like to skip over and get on to something else, is judgment Jesus. Judgment Jesus is really tough. In the 11th chapter of Matthew, Jesus says to the people he is talking to seven or eight different times, “Woe to you.” The last time he even says, “Woe to you, you brood of vipers.”
Later when the disciples have gone with him to Jerusalem and they say, “Master, tell us about the end,” Jesus says, “I tell you, you look around at this temple and this city, and not one stone will be left standing on another” It is a part of the judgment. Judgment Jesus is a lot harder to bear than hypersensitive co-worker. Judgment Jesus stands in front of us and is very difficult to live with. Judgment Jesus does not fit our image of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. We would like to do without judgment Jesus. But here he is in the passage from Luke 13. There is no parallel to this in any of the other Gospels, and there is nothing outside of the Bible that really tells us what he is referring to, but it is not hard to imagine.
We do know, outside of scripture plus what we read in the Gospels, that Pilate was a pretty brutal guy. We can imagine that, in some way, the Galileans that he is referencing here have met to worship and they have been offering sacrifices. Who knows what happens. Pilate is not happy. He sends in the troops, slaughters the Galileans, and their dying blood is mixed with the sacrifices that they were making to God. He said, “Do you think they were worse sinners than anybody else?”
There was evidently some type of water tower that fell over and crushed people that were beneath it. He said, “Do you think the people who were crushed by the water tower were worse sinners than anybody else?” He says that it does not matter if it was brought on by other people, it doesn’t matter if it is what we call a “natural disaster,” but how quick we are to want to judge other people and think that the outcome in their lives is some result of sin.
We read about drought in some African countries or we read about poverty, and we look at our lives, at how rich and full they are, and think, We are being blessed by God. There must be something morally deficient in the lives of those people or they would not be suffering from the drought they are suffering from. Judgment Jesus sets us straight. Whenever we want to begin to look at someone else and begin to pass judgment on them, he challenges us.
Have you ever noticed how quick we are to pass judgment on everyone else? If you have paid any attention to the news over the last few years, you have seen these people who go in the name of a church and protest at funerals of people who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is to protest the sins of the country. It is to protest the sins of particular people, and it is amazing how it never has anything to do with their own sins.
After 9/11, there were many national preachers who came on TV and said, “This is God’s judgment.” Maybe it is, but it always amazes me how quick they are to point out sins that are arm’s length in their own lives, how quick they are to point out sins that we think other people in society are doing. None of us want to deal with personal pride. None of us want to deal with envy, jealousy, hate or the things that take place within our own hearts. In Luke 3:1-8, if Jesus teaches us anything about judgment, he teaches us this: When judgment comes, the people we should be concerned about are us. There is always enough sin in our own lives to consider how the judgment of God falls upon us.
This message of Jesus is absolutely consistent with all of scripture. I don’t know anybody who has Amos as their favorite book of the Bible. Amos was worse than judgment Jesus if you want to know the truth. He lived in a time when Israel was thinking about all the nations. They longed for what they called the day of the Lord. It is what we call Judgment Day. They thought when the day of the Lord comes, God is going to strike down all of our enemies and lift us up. God is going to make everything right for us and everybody else gets condemned. Amos says to them, “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord for it will be all darkness and no light.” The message is that judgment comes to all. The word of scripture, the word of Jesus in this particular passage is why do you spend time thinking about what other people have experienced and trying to decide if that is God’s punishment on them when the real focus of every individual’s life— your life, my life, each of us—is our own sin. If we want to ask, Who is the worst sinner? we should be examining our own lives and saying, Is it I?
Then he pushes on to remind us that every day is a gift. If you are into time management, you have been taught to always put the most important things first and then put the next things down. He said the most important thing on our “to-do list” for today is to admit our own sins, to repent, and throw our own trust on God. Every day is a gift, every day in which judgment has not yet come upon our own lives, is a day to trust in God’s grace. Every day is an opportunity not to put off but to do today, to recognize how pressing it is today to turn and to repent.
We talk about our co-worker who is considerate co-worker and insecure, easily hurt, easily offended co-worker. Really it is all just one. It is all part of one piece. The person who is considerate is often sensitive. You just turn it over and look at it from the other side. We find out it is just all of one piece. There really is no gracious Jesus and no judgment Jesus. It is just Jesus. When we take Jesus and we realize Jesus comes to talk to us about the holiness and righteousness of God, when he comes and talks to us and sets forth the standard of God in our midst, what else can we do but look at our own lives and see how poorly they reflect those same characteristics and how much we need to call upon God’s mercy and God’s grace.
On one side, there is a high standard, a high demand, a high expectation that we look at. When we look at it, we realize we can never measure up. We turn it over and on the other side, we see the grace of God. We throw ourselves upon it. If there were only judgment Jesus, how brutal God would seem. If there were only gracious Jesus, then God would not be loving. God would merely be indulgent, just letting us get away with everything, just like an indulgent parent.
Judgment. There is enough to be concerned about in our own lives and that’s all the judgment we really need to think about. We are quick to think, How could that person call themselves a Christian? or think how far short that person falls in whatever capacity they ought to be and how quick we should be to actually look at our own lives and recognize that we all stand under the judgment of God.
Every day is a gift. Every day is a demonstration of God’s patience and forbearance with us. Every day is an opportunity that allows us to trust, to turn, and to count on God’s grace for our sin.
Today is not a day to condemn our neighbor, criticize our brother-in-law, or look down our noses at somebody we don’t think comes to church enough. It is not a day to consider someone else in our family that we think does not measure up enough. It is a day to recognize that we, too, fall under judgment. Like anybody else we might think about, we fall under judgment.
Today is an opportunity to repent and trust in God.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.