Thursday, September 26, 2013

Judging with Right Judgment

19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” 20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” 21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well? 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:19-24 (ESV)
The Jews seek to kill Jesus because they believe he has broken the law that Moses gave them. On a previous trip he had healed a man on the Sabbath telling him to get up and walk. Jesus then begins to point to inconsistencies in the law that Moses gave. If a man can receive circumcision on the Sabbath, then a man can be healed on the Sabbath. It has always been the case that certain people had to work on the Sabbath. But then this is precisely why the law can’t save. Jesus looks at the whole crowd and says none of you keep the law. None. This is true of us also. We don’t keep the law. They seek to kill Jesus over it. The law drives them to murder. The law awakens sin as Paul says.
They seek to kill Jesus because of his gospel. It is good to remember that. Perhaps you aren’t preaching it right unless you have people wanting to kill you for it. People haven’t changed, and neither has the gospel. Blessed are you when they persecute you for my sake, Jesus says. There is always an aspect to the gospel that will scandalize, always an aspect to the gospel that will challenge a person’s sense of decency, dignity and morality. Christ was hated. He was called a drunkard and a glutton. He was said to have a demon. And so it happens to pastors too. How could it not? The student is not above the teacher.
Jesus challenges the people to question their judgment. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s often very painful. Years later I have found myself going to confession for judgments that I had made years ago, often based on “conventional” wisdom. I know there will come a day when I will look back on others, perhaps even those I make today in the same way. Do not be quick to judge, slow to anger. It is better to be quick to forgive. But that isn’t in our nature. And a person can go their whole life without ever questioning their judgment. But that is why we have the church. At least, it is one of the reasons. It is within a community that God’s word is studied, taught and learned. It is a bunch of hypocrites getting together to point out each other’s hypocrisy, as Jesus does here. (Not that Jesus was a hypocrite) But Jesus will point out our hypocrisy just as fast as Paul pointed out Peter’s in Antioch. If your brother sins rebuke him, if he repents forgive him. This is the way in which the church lives and grows, but only if it is accompanied by forgiveness, and a willingness to be forgiven. When our concept of church is never being wrong, never saying sorry, and holding everyone to a standard of middle class virtue ethics, well then we miss the point and commend a man for receiving circumcision on the Sabbath, and hang a doctor for making the rounds on the same day.
There is one way in which we finally come to question our own judgment and learn to judge with right judgment, and that is to be taught by the Holy Spirit who comes to us in the word and through the church. It comes with diligent study of God’s word and prayer that accompanies such study. And then you learn something too. God works all things for good for those who love him. Yes, you make mistakes in your judgment that end up crucifying the son of man, but then in his death there is a Sabbath rest that heals not just one man at Bethsaida, but all of mankind forgiving all their sins.

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