CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Jesus, Judgment and Sinners

Oct 6, 2015

Christians are meant to be students of the Word. We should always do things by the Book – the Word of God. Our marching orders and instructions should always come from Scripture, not from popular opinion, not from trendy movements, and not even from Christian leaders.

Sure, God has raised up pastors and teachers, but we are to only faithfully follow them as they faithfully follow the Bible. Our first port of call must always be Scripture, and whatever does not line up with it must be rejected. Recall the “noble” Bereans in Acts 17:11 who were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things [that Paul and Silas taught] were so”.

We all must have this dedication to the truth of Scripture. It matters not what I say or some teacher says or your pastor says – what matters is what God has said. If what we say does not align with the teachings of Scripture, then believers have a duty to reject us and stick with the Word.

I say all this because on a regular basis I hear believers saying things that ‘just ain’t so’. I hear so many unbiblical things coming from the mouths of Christians that I find it frightening actually. I am not sure where they get all this dodgy stuff from – from tele-evangelists, or from friends, or from books, or from the social media, etc.

But unless it is true to Scripture, they should not be peddling this stuff. Yesterday I had a further example of this. A gal on another site took umbrage at the fact that I and others were “judging” a non-believer. Despite the fact that this non-Christian was indeed guilty of horrific evil, this gal insisted that we could not say anything negative about her.

jesus 19And she went on to insist that Jesus never judged sinners, so obviously neither should we. In a very brief reply I urged her to read her Bible a bit more carefully. I reminded her that the book of Revelation is jam-packed with the judgment of sinners.

And I reminded her that the one doing the judging was none other than Jesus himself. So simply going by this one book alone, we can see how biblically incorrect she was. But, she or other critics might reply, “That is in Revelation: Jesus never judged sinners in the gospels”.

Is that in fact true? The easiest way to answer this claim is to simply read the four gospels and see if Jesus does in fact speak in judgmental terms to sinners. That exercise would take not too long, but let me offer a briefer response, based on nothing more than the handful of chapters I read just moments ago in my morning daily reading.

If you are reading through the Bible in a year, beginning on January 1, you should be in Matthew right about now. And that is where I am. And in the chapters I read this morning (Matt 10-13) I found heaps of sinners being judged by Jesus. If I can find so much in just four chapters, imagine what all four gospels will produce on this. So let me mention some of these passages. In Matt. 10:11-15 we find these words:

And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Um, that sounds like judgment talk to me. And it is directed squarely at sinners – in this case, those who refuse to accept the gospel message. The shaking off of dust is a symbolic action denoting they are leaving themselves open to inevitable judgment.

As John Nolland comments, “Shaking off the dust is a symbolically enacted statement of fundamental separation. Luke’s parallel in 10:11 expands by having the symbolism explained to the rejecters (and has ‘wipe off’ rather than ‘shake off’). Such unresponsive places are to be left to the judgment of God.”

While this does indeed refer primarily to the final judgment, Jesus spoke of it to sinners in the here and now – and in the gospels. Too many squeamish Christians seem to overlook this and many dozens of other hard sayings of Jesus – sayings that speak of wrath, punishment and judgment.

Indeed, Jesus continues with this same theme in Matt 11 where we read about woes on unrepentant cities (vv. 20-24):

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Although again Jesus warns of the final eschatological judgment, he is pronouncing it now, to the hard-hearted sinners who would not believe. And although these happen to be Jewish cities, the promised judgment is for their unbelief, and he even echoes the language of Isaiah in his prophecies of judgment on pagan nations.

And whether speaking of Jewish sinners or Gentile sinners, the message of Jesus is the same: repentance. As Leon Morris remarks, “Jesus was not looking for amazement and admiration, but for repentance. That was the first note he struck in his preaching (4:17), and it remained a constant. People will never advance spiritually unless they take the first step of turning away from the evil they have done.”

Lastly, in Matt 13:37-43 we find the parable of the weeds explained by Jesus:

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Once again Jesus warns in the present about judgment to come in the future. Sinners are the object of his words, and the message is clearly one of judgment. Grant Osborne comments:

The parable of the weeds has several implications and a rich theological heritage. The context is critical. This parable is part of the seven parables of conflict in ch. 13 and with the others is interpreting the kingdom reality behind the unbelief and rejection in chs. 11-12. As such it is portraying the true spiritual reality of the unbelieving Jews of those chapters but at the same time expanding the horizon to the world of humankind as a whole, Gentile as well as Jew.

As mentioned, these are just the examples of the judgment of Jesus on unbelieving sinners (be they Jew or Gentile) as found in a few chapters of Matthew. More examples can be found in all four gospel accounts. The point is simply this: yes, Jesus often reserved his harshest words for the religious leaders of the day, but anyone who refused to hear his words and repent were the object of his stern and fierce warnings.

Judgment will come just as surely on the unrepentant as blessing and salvation will come on the repentant. So we dare not suggest that Jesus has nothing to do with judging sinners. His very walk on earth was a type of judgment – a separation of the sheep from the goats. A separation of those who responded to the gospel call and those who rejected it.

So this gal needs to go back and reread her Bible. Unfortunately on the site where she upbraided me for judgmentalism, she did not stay around but cut off all connection with me – hopefully not in a judgmental fashion however!

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7 Responses to Jesus, Judgment and Sinners

  • Hi Bill,

    When are church attending believers going to embrace the fact that the gospel is the most offensive message the world has ever heard, (John 6:60-61)?

    As long as today’s preachers ignore the fact that the first words out of the mouth of John the Baptizer, Jesus, the apostles, and the evangelists of the first century were; “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come”, they will continue to hinder the Holy Spirit’s active role of convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgement to come…(John 16:8).

    If such church-going folk can’t call sinners to repentance for fear of offending them, then they sure won’t be able to lay down their lives for Jesus as the faithful 12 did at the hands of ISIS in Syria last week.

    Bob

  • God bless you Bill!
    Just what I needed to hear! You are always in my daily prayers. The Lord Jesus loves you so much! Your words are amazing ! There is no one I know that sends a more honest, accurate and powerful message than you! Praise God!!

  • Jesus told people repeatedly to go and sin no more after they had come to him for healing. Was he being judgmental, or was he being corrective towards our fallen nature, so that we would not suffer again. In his presence his light shines a light on the darkness inside you. It is so ugly to see but very liberating. Some of today’s churches are very dark indeed. We should welcome the judgement and the correction.
    Thank you for your article Bill. Appreciate it.

  • As Ezekiel [chapter 9] and Peter [1Peter 4:17] remind us, it is time for judgement to begin at the house of God… The men who brought the adulterous woman to Jesus left His presence one-by-one, condemned by their partiality in applying the Law of God … the most senior of them were the first to drop those stones and walk away… Our Lord and Judge does not judge by mere external appearances.

  • Spot on Bill. Bless you my brother.
    That was a good word.

  • A very interesting concept – justice without judgement – I wonder how she imagines that could happen. Of course the final judgement is not and cannot be ours. All we do is warn of the well known, impending judgement just as is reasonable and exactly as we are required to do.

  • You said: “I am not sure where they get all this dodgy stuff from…”

    Bill, the tragedy that I’ve discovered, and am condemned for speaking about is this: they get it from their humanist churches, and the humanist colleges which train their humanist priests.

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