Sermon audio here.
In today’s Holy Gospel, Jesus paints a picture of the greatest evil in the world. But it’s subtle, so you have to be especially careful to guard against it. You can’t repent of what you don’t see.
Today Christ doesn’t show us an obvious evil, like acts of terror or abortion videos, but what He does show us is no less insidious. He tells us about a guy who thinks badly of other people and treats them with contempt.
Though this seems relatively harmless, contempt flows from self-righteousness, and that’s the same thing as unbelief. It’s the greatest evil in the entire world.
Remember the Pharisee’s prayer? He thanked God that he wasn’t an adulterer or thief. He even did some pretty good things: he was deeply religious and even gave a tithe to the church.
But the Pharisee’s prayer, like most Christian pop music, is all about himself. His great sin was thinking he had something worth giving to Jesus. That’s self-righteousness. He forgot the only thing he could truly claim as his own was his sin. The tax collector, on the other hand, knew he had no goodness of his own, so his prayer was much different. All he could do was cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
God can forgive murder, adultery, theft, and slander. The one thing He cannot forgive is thinking you aren’t guilty of these things. Self-righteousness is the unforgivable sin. It’s looking to yourself for righteousness rather than to Christ.
The Pharisee was bragging about righteousness he didn’t have. He looked as foolish to God as the naked emperor in his new “clothes” looked to the child. All the things the Pharisee despised about others are things of which he himself was guilty. But instead of repent, he thanked God for his innocence. He was a beggar who thought he was rich.
Don’t make the same mistake as the Pharisee. You, too, are guilty of murder, adultery, and treating others with contempt. Whoever is angry with his brother has already murdered him in his heart. Whoever looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery. Whoever is selfish is stealing from God. You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No one is righteous, not one.
There is no greater sin than self-righteousness. And while you know you’re not righteous, you’ve acted as though you were. That’s exactly what happens whenever you think badly of other people and treat them with contempt.
The Pharisee felt free to condemn others because he vainly imagined he was innocent. You can only think poorly of other people when you think too highly of yourself. If you saw yourself as the chief of sinners, you wouldn’t be so quick to condemn, because you’d know you were condemning yourself in the process.
You are guilty, O Pharisee, of the very same things that cause you to think poorly of others. Contempt is the mirror image of self-righteousness. You can only get away with condemning others if you’ve first justified yourself.
And you say yeah, but you don’t know this person. He’s evil incarnate. It all started when then jerk looked at me funny that one time. And then he had the nerve to insult my mother! Said she’s so ugly she went into a haunted house and left with a paycheck! But that’s not even the worst of it. He makes a living by murdering babies. Once he’s done selling all their parts, he goes home to his husband and they divide their free time between attacking religious freedom and marching in gay pride parades.
Now I doubt you know any gay abortion doctors who hate religious freedom and enjoy insulting your mother. But you’ve treated others with contempt for much less. If Jesus can pray “Father, forgive them” for those who are crucifying Him, there’s no excuse for holding the lesser sins of others against them. Repent.
The difference between those who are and aren’t justified isn’t that one’s a better person than the other; it’s whether or not Christ’s blood covers their sin. Even if our fictional doctor were a real person, you’d be just as guilty of the very same things for which you despise him. Your heart is filled with just as much murder, sexual perversion, and slander as anyone’s.
If you want people to get what they deserve, then God will give that to you, too. With the measure you use it will be measured to you. To treat another Christian with contempt is to treat Christ with contempt. As you have done it to Christ’s children, you have done it to Christ. And to think evil thoughts about anyone, Christian or not, is to think evil thoughts about someone for whom Jesus died.
The next time you have the urge to treat someone with contempt, look in the mirror and take the log out of your own eye first. Jesus died for your sin, which means His blood is all over your hands. You’ve had so many murderous thoughts in your lifetime it makes Dahmer look like an amateur. There are days when you’ve had 6 murderous thoughts before breakfast. The quickest way to rot your soul is to have contempt for others. It’s like taking poison and hoping they die.
Repent. Contempt flows from self-justification, the opposite of justification by Christ. But the impulse to justify ourselves is so strong it’s second nature. We’ve got an excuse for every bad thing we’ve ever thought or done. We think we deserve whatever bad thing we want. As for the evil we think and say about others—they had it coming.
To excuse sin is to think more highly of your own feelings and ideas than God’s. Excuses are the opposite of contrition and repentance. We excuse ourselves because we believe, deep down in our corrupt hearts, that we’re righteous. We’re beggars who think we’re rich.
Excusing yourself is the opposite of confession. Jesus doesn’t have any use for the righteous. He came into the world to save sinners. Only really bad sinners get into heaven; it’s a prerequisite.
It’s not a bad thing that your sin is the only thing you can claim as your own. Jesus has no contempt for the contrite. Indeed, the angels in heaven rejoice when you stop making excuses and repent. The only way Jesus can take your sin away is for you to own up to it.
Jesus has called you to love and forgive murders and adulterers and slanderers even as He loves and forgives a murder and adulterer and slanderer like you. Though you’ve gone whoring after other gods, Jesus doesn’t regard you as an adulterer, but as His Holy, Baptized Bride. Jesus has no evil words for you, just, “I forgive you all your sin.” He doesn’t treat you with contempt, but invites you into His house to feast with Him and all of His children at a banquet that has no end.
It’s true that Christ’s blood is all over your hands, and that’s exactly where He wants it to be. He is your Passover Lamb, whose blood causes death to pass you over. Because His blood covers you, death is as sweet for you as it was bitter for Christ. When He died, there were no words of comfort; just the unanswered cry, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” For you, death has been overcome the Lord’s resurrection and promise, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Soli Deo Gloria