“Be Merciful Even as Your Father Is Merciful”

Scripture Text: Matthew 7:1-5

October 23, 2022 – 6:00 pm Evening Service

Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA

                                                      Pastor Nathaniel H. Gutiérrez

The Reading of the Word

Matt. 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Mercy over Judgment

While the earliest manuscripts do not include the account of the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8, it is still a helpful way to illustrate what Jesus is teaching in our passage.[1]

The story is a heart-wrenching one. A woman was caught in sin, in the sin of adultery. The fear of being caught in the act and dragged before the crowds must have been overwhelming. The shame would have been unbearable.

Not only was she caught, but the narrator points out that the religious leaders were using her as an example. They didn’t care about her, or about justice. They wanted to test Jesus and to catch him in a trap. The Pharisees pointed out that in the law, Moses had commanded that such women were to be stoned to death. “So,” they tested Jesus, “what do you say?” What should we do with this woman? Would Jesus break Roman law and stone someone without a Roman trial? Or would he ignore the woman’s sin?

The account explains that Jesus bent down to write with his finger on the ground. And while he did, the Pharisees continued asking him about her. Jesus stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

One by one, they went away. From the oldest to the youngest, until only the woman was standing there before him. Then we read that, “Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’” [John 7:53-8:11]

In this account, it is clear that the Pharisees imagined that they had the perfect scenario. They figured they had caught Jesus in an impossible challenge. If Jesus really cared about holiness and justice, they reasoned, he would have been the first to condemn the woman.

And the interesting thing is that if there was anyone who could have condemned this woman, and be without sin, it was Jesus.

And yet we don’t see that. We don’t see him facing her with swift judgment. Instead, we see an outpouring of mercy. Mercy for a woman who had committed a sin deserving of death. Mercy for a woman who did not deserve mercy.

At surface value, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that Jesus just didn’t care about the law. Some might conclude that Jesus was abolishing the law and instead was promoting a lawless religion where one could live as they pleased.

But for those of us who know the gospel, we know that the opposite is true.

The truth is that justice, the law, and holiness mattered so much to Jesus, that he paid the ultimate price to satisfy the wrath of God’s justice. Jesus did not overlook sin; he took on sin. And in so doing, he showed incredible mercy.

And this is what the kingdom of heaven is all about. The Kingdom of Heaven is the joining of justice and mercy. Jesus received condemnation to show mercy to the lost.

The Kingdom of heaven is for people who have sinned in horrible and shameful ways. For people who should stand condemned. But who instead, receive the mercy of Jesus.

This is the underlying message that is foundational for Jesus’ teaching in our passage this evening. Those who belong to the Kingdom of Heaven have no room to boast or judge. They have been shown mercy. Rather, they live in humility. They are merciful even as their Father in heaven is merciful.

Hypocrisy

Now this teaching counters the Pharisee’s way of living. Throughout the gospels Jesus warns against the way of the Pharisees. More than the sins of adultery, theft, lying, and murder, Jesus focused his teaching against self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

The Pharisees were the chief illustration Jesus used to demonstrate how not to pray, how not to fast, how not to tithe, how not to confess our sins and how not to view the Sabbath.

And the reason for that was that they were hypocrites. Hypocrisy is a dangerous matter. It is living a lie; it is living falsehood. It is meant to give the appearance that someone is a particular way, while hiding the truth of who they truly are.

In the translation of the Bible into Quechua, the language of native Peruvian people, my dad offered the translators this translation or gloss for the word hypocrite: Iskay uya, which literally means “two faces.” In a language that speaks through images and stories, this was a helpful way of communicating what hypocrisy is all about.

And it is helpful for us as well because it described the way the Pharisees lived. They were two faced. One of their “faces” was for public consumption, and another “face” was who they truly were.

Jesus would say later on in Matthew:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” [Matthew 23:2-5a]   

They were not seeking to bring God glory from the heart, they were seeking to build themselves up, that they might be honored by those around them. They said one thing and judged others for not living up to their standards, but they would do another. That is hypocrisy.

And that is why Jesus warned, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” [Luke 11:42]

The Scribes knew that God’s word called believers to tithe and to give from the abundance of what God had given them with thanksgiving in their hearts. And though they tithed, Jesus shows us that they did so in a calculated way, down to the tenth of their smallest possessions – their mint and their herbs.

They measured out their grain, and gave the exact amount they needed to – not from the heart nor for the needs of the church, but in order to comply with the commandment to the letter of the law, so that others might see their righteousness.

Their focus centered around establishing their spiritual reputation and preserving their self-image. They were compliant to the law down to the tenth of their herbs, but their heart was far from God. And it is precisely this sort of hypocrisy that was so evil to Jesus.

Externally, they were the kind of people you would think you would want to help out at church. But inwardly, their motivations were toxic and self-centered.

Jesus’ issue with the Scribes and the Pharisees was not with their desire to obey the law. Rather, he took issue with their desire to take the command and to divorce it from the rest of Scripture. To make purity and obedience in opposition to mercy.

And so again, we read, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” [Luke 12:1]

Jesus’ warning to his disciples is that hypocrisy is like leaven or yeast, that spreads and transforms people. It is contagious and lures you in before you realize it.

Paul wrote the same warning to the Corinthian church. Be careful, he warned, because a little leaven can change you. 1Cor. 5:6   Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.

Their teaching was contagious and could easily spread into the lives of believers because it was so close to the truth in some ways, and yet terribly far in other ways.

And that warning for Jesus’ disciples is one we must hear as we seek to understand the meaning of this passage. We too must beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.

Our Sins Vs. Others

You see, hypocrisy easily slips into our lives as well. If we were to do an experiment and evaluate our sins and share them with others, we could probably all list out a few examples, right?

We might have two or three “minor” small-sized sin struggles that we can think of and maybe just one larger one. Perhaps you would say, I struggle with impatience, or I struggle with discontentment, and I am undisciplined in my devotional life.

We might go so far as to name one of our “bigger sins.” And then we would likely stop there. After all, though we believe we are sinners, I think most of us feel like we do pretty well in our lives. If we were to really make a judgment call, we would say that we aren’t that bad off, relatively speaking.

And yet, how we think about these struggles would depend a lot on the group we are surrounded by or by the group we contrast our sins to.

For instance, if you were surrounded by what I’ll call “extreme sinners,” a group of extreme  unbelievers at a party, and all the people there were talking about their promiscuous lives, the ways they had used people, or substances they had indulged in, and how all these things were destroying their lives, it would be difficult to see your sin as that big of a deal in comparison.

It would be easy to compare and contrast our lives with their lives and come to the conclusion that, I am so relieved that I don’t have the struggles these people have.” Maybe we would think, “I’m so grateful that my struggles are just impatience, or discontentment. While I know I struggle with my devotions, I’m miles ahead of these guys!”

And it is easy to do. It is easy to see the difference between our lives and the lives of others and to do the math. To see that they are so much further away from God than we are.

And therein enters the leaven of the Pharisees.

See, we begin to sit in judgment over others. We weigh our sins against theirs and find them wanting. They lack holiness, and we judge them and criticize them. We might not do it out loud, but we definitely do so in our hearts.

While it is easier to come to that conclusion with “extreme sinners” it actually isn’t too hard to do with normal sinners either.

This Is Our Normal

See, we don’t just do this with some people, we do this with all sorts of people. In fact, I think we could go even further in saying that we tend to do this with everyone. Not just the worst of sinners, but even with people who we normally would not consider all that sinful.

We compare ourselves, our spirituality, our lives, to those around us and make quiet calculations. We make judgments. We all do it. We size people up, no matter how godly they are, and we find something to nit-pick about. We find some way in which people are not as holy as they might seem. It is like we get out a spiritual measuring tape and determine how much people are lacking.

When my wife and I lived in Georgia for a few years, we had some neighbors who had a beautifully manicured lawn. Let me tell you, not a weed in sight. The edging around their property was perfectly trimmed and their grass was green and soft.

Our yard, on the other hand, was full of weeds and was mostly dead grass. It was difficult to make our yard look nice as it was on a steep incline and the ground was mostly clay. I could not get it to improve no matter what I did.

I remember one time looking over at their yard from our dining room window and turning to my wife about it, and commenting that, well of course they have a nice yard, because they have idolized it. Their house and their yard are their god, and that is all they care about! Of course it is going to look good.

Rather than appreciate their beautiful lawn, I was jealous and feeling embarrassed about ours. So I decided that in order to make myself feel better, I would tear down our neighbors…to say, well…their lawn is their obsession. But we, we have spiritual priorities!

I’m ashamed to share this story, but I have since looked back at that moment a few times throughout my life and remembered how quickly I threw someone under the bus and judged them when I was feeling inadequate. I wanted to judge them because it made me feel better about myself. And this is exactly what Jesus is rebuking – judging others when we ourselves struggle with sins of our own.

We Stand on Others

It is not unlike the board game we used to play called The Settlers of Catan. In order to succeed in that game, you have to trade your resources. That is the only way to build up your city. As you trade strategically, you use your trades to get the resources you need in order to purchase more property and buildings and slowly come out ahead in the game.

Well, I will never forget when I was starting to win and my sister Lois, declared to the other players “Crabs on Nathaniel.” “Crabs?” I asked. “Yeah,” she explained. “You know, when a bunch of crabs are in a bucket trying to climb out, all the other crabs drag him back down so that they can climb out over them. They pull each other down, so that they can have the advantage.”

And it worked. They all stopped trading with me in order to pull me back out of first place, and climb out toward victory over me.

I mention this because many times I think life can be like this without us even realizing it. We see those around us, striving for holiness, growing in sanctification doing their best, and in our insecurity, and with our highly critical spirits, we scoff and criticize, and we bring them down to our level.

We play a version of “crabs in a bucket” with everyone else and we don’t even realize it.

Almost unconsciously we go around tearing people down. We search for specks in people’s eyes and enjoy finding them no matter how small they are. Sins that they have not dealt with, and we approach them ready to help. It is like we have self-appointed ourselves as their medical doctor and we are ready to do surgery.

Trouble Relating

Maybe you are having trouble relating. Maybe you are sitting in judgment over me and all of us right now. I want to encourage you to take a moment and to think of someone you know. Someone in this church who you have judged in your heart at some point, or maybe someone you’ve judged with your friend group.

This is that person, who frustrates you because they just can’t seem to get their act together. They keep on making the same dumb mistakes, or they keep making your life difficult because they cannot get it together.

I’ve asked you to do something like this before, and I think it can be a helpful exercise to help us see the problem more accurately. Take a moment right now to picture one or two people. Who  is the person whose behavior just drives you up the wall? Perhaps you are frustrated by their parenting (kids are out of control). Maybe it is their lack of punctuality (they’re always late!), or their work ethic that bothers you. Maybe you look around and you notice that there are several people who were here at the morning service, who are not here this evening. Maybe that person is the one who is not at Sunday School, or who does not participate in prayer meeting. Or that person who refuses to participate in your men’s or women’s events.

Maybe it is the person who doesn’t sing in church, or who refuses to pray for a petition. It could be the person who darts out of church, or who doesn’t come to your fellowship group. Maybe it is just someone who you consider lazy, or overly busy. Maybe someone is too legalistic or two loose with their convictions. Or maybe it is the preacher, or elder or deacon, the father or mother, the son or daughter.

Who is it for you? Who have you singled out in your mind, and who have you judged and measured and found lacking in some spiritual quality? Or maybe the better question is, who haven’t you singled out? Is there anyone in your life, besides yourself, that is living the way they should be in your mind?

Chances are, if you were to analyze your way of thinking, and look around this sanctuary, you could find a way to judge every single person in this room in some way or another.

And this is the leaven of the Pharisees. To go around, sitting in judgment over others, finding the small speck in their eyes, not realizing that we ourselves have a beam stuck in our eyes. Not seeing how significant our issues are.

One author argues that we are grossly selective in our perception of others. We are quick to see little problems in others, while ignoring the most glaring matters in ourselves. Another writes, “When you survey your own errors, your eyes are watery as if inflamed; why, when you view the flaws of your friends, is your sight as keen as an eagle’s?” [Fn.:442, Nolland, 320]

Part of the problem is that we are often not wrong about our judgments. I’m not saying it is ok to be judgmental and critical, I’m saying that sometimes we can evaluate others with such precision it can be astounding. AND yet, the problem is that though we can be so fine-tuned and spot on in our analysis of someone else, we can also simultaneously be as blind as a bat to our own struggles.

We Presbyterians love to be precise with our theology. We are quick to find error in false theology. This is a good thing, but it can be taken too far. When we can critique any church out there, any preacher, any teacher and any Christian who doesn’t measure up, we do it because we think we have it all figured out. We think our sins are not that bad, and that of all people we have pretty much got it figured out.

But Jesus calls us to repent from this way of thinking. Jesus says, “you hypocrite!” Who do you think you are to judge others? You have a massive beam sticking out of your eye and you want to go around pulling the speck out of the eyes of those around you?

You have not figured out your life! You still have so much to go! Do you sit in judgment over others? You have a beam sticking out of your eye!

The problem is that we truly do think pretty highly of ourselves. While we all recognize that we are sinners, I believe we all still think we are better at not being a sinner than the next guy.

And so we live in self-righteousness, minimizing our sins and enlarging the sins of others. We let ourselves off easily, but can be pretty ruthless with those who still struggle in many ways we find unacceptable.

Be careful of the leaven of the Pharisees who sit in judgment, but they themselves do not do what they should do. Jesus did not die on the cross to make us experts in being Christian critics. He came that we might bring him glory by loving him and loving others.

Restorative Help

See, Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount does not deny that we have problems. He knows that we are all walking around with beams in our eyes, judging one another. What his sermon focuses on here, isn’t just that we should not be judgmental.

Rather, we are to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful.

In v. 5, Jesus says, first, take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

And I think what Jesus is doing here is not that different from what he said with the Pharisees who wanted him to stone the woman caught in adultery.

In other words, Jesus is saying that all have sinned and fall short of his glory. We all have beams in our eyes. Our sin is not better than someone else’s sins before God. Rather, we should have the posture that our sins are more heinous than the sins of others.

We are to live from a place of humility and help from a place of humility. Rather than sit in judgment, v. 5 teaches us that we are to labor to help our brother from the place of humility, recognizing that we too have deep issues.

See, we are not being called to overlook sin. Jesus is not saying that we should live in sin and disregard the law. He is also not saying that we should never correct a brother or sister in love.

The problem is the attitude. The key component that is different from the actions of the Pharisees is that one is judgmental and critical, and the other is loving and restorative. If we are to help someone for their sins, we are to do it from a position of mercy.

We are to do so, for the sake of restoration and growth. We are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” [Galatians 6:2]

Peter reminds us that we are to live our lives in the knowledge that we were ransomed from our futile ways. We were rescued by the blood of Christ.

“…if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” [1 Peter 1:17]

And in knowledge of this reality, we are to live our lives in such a way that reflects that. We are to be merciful with others, as our Father has been merciful to us.

We are to lay down our judgmental and critical spirit that we might pick up instead the burdens of our brothers and sisters.

In Conclusion

This is the message of the gospel, and this is the life we are to emulate.

The holy and sinless God became flesh that he might dwell among us, so that he might save us from our sins. He came to sympathize with our weaknesses and to pull us out of sin and death, that we might be restored to life.

And we too, like our heavenly Father, must be merciful as he has been merciful to us. We must see our lives for what they are, ransomed from sin and darkness, by the precious blood of Jesus and love as we have been loved.

Amen.

This sermon draws on material from:

Bennett, Thomas J. “Matthew 7:6: A New Interpretation.” The Westminster Theological Journal 49, no. 2 (Fall 1987): 371–86. https://search-ebscohost-com.wscal.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lsdar&AN=ATLA0000979324&site=ehost-live.

Ferguson, Sinclair. Living Out the Sermon on the Mount: Kingdom Life in A Fallen World. Colorado Springs, Colorado. NavPress, 1986.

Keener, Craig. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, Illinois. InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Lloyd-Jones, Martin. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount: Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Company, Reprinted 1991.

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew. New International Greek Testament Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans

      Company, 2005.   

Ryle, J.C. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew. Great Britain. James Clarke & Co. LTD, 1965.

Sproul, R.C. Matthew: An Expositional Commentary. Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019.

Stott, John R. W. Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press, 1978.


[1] See Pastor Nicoletti’s helpful sermon on why John 7:53-8:11 is in question:

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