It’s Super Bowl Sunday, the day when delight can turn quickly into despair with one dropped pass or botched call. In a matter of minutes, the darling who throws the touchdown pass can become the devil who throws an easy interception. The emotions of a sports crowd can fluctuate wildly depending on a single person’s performance. John Heisman, namesake of the Heisman trophy once said, ”Gentleman, it is better to have died a small boy than to fumble a football”. And sadly, the Rams defender who was involved in the now famous non-interference call in the Saints’ game actually received death threats on his twitter account from a New Orleans fan.
This is actually what happens in today’s gospel reading from Luke. Immediately after Jesus preaches his short but sweet inaugural sermon in his hometown synagogue, the bible says, “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” Just the kind of words a preacher wants to hear in the greeting line after church. But then, just a few verses later, there is a violent mood swing. “All in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”
Wait…what? How on earth did the crowd go from wondrous praise to murderous rage? Well, the long and the short of it is that Jesus offended them. They were ok with the hometown boy preaching a nice sermon about giving sight to the blind, but then he got personal. Like people will say sometimes when a sermon hits too close to home: “you’ve stopped preaching and you’ve gone to meddlin’.” So much so that they want to commit murder.
How did he offend them? Jesus offended them by judging them. He judged them for wanting him to put on a miracle show like he done elsewhere. But right off the bat, Jesus knew that His ministry was about way more than miracles. Then Jesus goes to meddlin’. And remember, this was his hometown, so he knew these folks – surely he had made tables and chairs for some of them in his carpentry shop.
But then He judged the people by bringing up two well-known incidents involving the prophets Elijah and Elisha. In both of those illustrations God judged His own people to be stubborn and hardhearted. In both cases God healed the outsiders, the Gentiles, instead of the Israelites. Both stories were well known, and now Jesus was using the stories against them. Joseph’s son was judging them.
Jesus’ judgment presents a real problem for the people. And it is safe to say that judgment of any kind presents a real problem for most people today. Especially today, the worst thing to be called is “judgmental.” We bring a real suspicion about the whole topic of judgment. And maybe you have had a bad experience in a church somewhere that seemed to specialize in judging behavior. We instinctively, and for good reason, avoid people who are judgmental.
We may not like judgment, but judgment is a fixture in our emotional landscape. We judge people all the time. We judge body type, political party, education level, street address. Whether we like it or not, most of us labor under the weight of someone’s judgment against us. It might be a parent, or a child, or a boss, or a spouse. That person might even be yourself. Every time you think, “I wish I hadn’t done that, or if only I could be this way”, you are judging yourself. Not many of us are evolved enough to say what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.”
Judgment is deeply woven into our public life as well. Rightly or wrongly, we are judged for our actions, both past and present. Our governor’s yearbook photo is an extremely painful example of this. The calls for his resignation are coming from every quarter. His life will forever be judged by the horrendous and deeply offensive photo taken in 1984. The fact that, as he said, the photo doesn’t represent who is now is entirely beside the point.
Let me be clear. That photograph deserves judgment. It is so heinous that I don’t even want to describe it to you this morning. And, I also wonder, what if all the skeletons in your closet, my closet, were put on public display? How many of us would survive unscathed? The Bible, in fact, has an answer to that question. No one. As St. Paul says, “there is no one who is righteous, not even one.”
And that word – righteous – is the key to understanding judgment. Human beings do not possess the ability to execute righteous judgment on another person.
Human judgment is always flawed. There is always an element of prejudice, or self-promotion, or avoidance when we pass judgment. We focus on the sins of others to avoid facing up to our own. And there is always one more fact about any case that we are missing. We are not omnipotent.
But God is omnipotent. His judgments are entirely ‘righteous.’ We cannot hide from his judgment. As we say each week, Jesus will “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” According to Scripture, a day is coming when each of us must face the judgment of God.
The people of Nazareth have a natural reaction to Jesus’ judgment of them. They want to kill him. Perhaps they can’t stand the truth about themselves. So they drive him out of town and try to throw him off a cliff. But God’s judgment cannot be ignored or dispatched so easily. Indeed, Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
So, what do we do with the judgment of God? I’m going to steal an illustration that my friend Drew used in a sermon recently. So if you don’t like it, then don’t judge me! It’s from the movie The Hunt for Red October. Sean Connery plays a Russian Submarine commander. He says, “Once more, we play our dangerous game, a game of chess against our old adversary – The American Navy. . . . We will pass through the American patrols, past their sonar nets, and lay off their largest city, and listen to their rock and roll, while we conduct missile drills.” This Russian nuclear sub goes rogue and is pursued, first by the Russians, and then by the Americans. There are tense scenes where subs play this ‘dangerous game of chess’ with sonar. A missile is fired . . . the sub takes evasive maneuvers . . . but the missile has a tracking device, so it also makes adjustments . . .
This is not Good News. Do you want a Russian missile on your tail? No, you do not! But God’s judgment has been levied against us, and rightfully so. Again, there is no one who is righteous, not even one. Without an intervention, we will have to bear the full weight of God’s Righteous Judgment.
Here is where Drew’s illustration gets really interesting. When the submarine is being pursued through the depths of the ocean and the evasive maneuvers have not worked, it sometimes drops a sonar decoy. These are called ‘counter-measures.’ The sonar decoy acts as a false target. The hope is that the missile will hone-in on the decoy and be diverted from the sub it’s chasing. The missile locks in on the decoy, chases it down, explodes, and the sub escapes. The sonar decoy absorbs the full force of the missile, the full explosion, the full impact.
The missile of God’s judgment that is rightly honed-in one each one of us. God is not fooled by our evasive maneuvers. Our only hope is that something, or someone, will deflect the force of God’s Righteous Judgment . . . that something, or someone, else will receive the full payload.
The Good News is that Jesus Christ has taken the full impact of the righteous judgment of God against us. In the garden of Gethsemane, He allowed himself to be arrested, choosing not to pass through the midst of them and go on his way. Just a few days earlier he was the darling of all Jerusalem during his triumphal entry. On Good Friday, the crowd turned violently against Him, crying “Crucify Him!” We respond to God’s judgment of us by judging him. So we drive him up another hill and make him carry the cross on which he we would murder Him.
That’s what the New Testament teaches about the Savior of the World and the very heart of the gospel. The Son of God absorbed the full judgment of God on our behalf. The Apostle Paul writes: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus drew God’s Righteous Judgment away so that we could go free.