He Follows His Master (vv. 39-40)
A Safe Leader Is Sighted
Everything that Jesus Christ has been teaching his disciples about love and forgiveness toward their enemies was the opposite of the way men normally live. It was certainly not what the Jewish leaders were teaching the people. The Gentiles were dogs, and the Romans particularly were despised enemies. It was all hate and vilification, much like we see in today’s fearful political climate. Rare is the man who will sit down and discuss calmly with his political opponent – even another human being – the issues that separate them, so that even if agreement is impossible, collaboration for the nation’s higher good may be achieved. But what if no agreement can be reached on what “good” is? “Good,” like truth and justice, has fallen down in the streets, and it is dog eat dog in the world of ungodly men. Where there is no agreed upon foundation for objective truth, all that remains to decide the issues of the day is power politics – and woe be to you when the other side gains power! Because the world is blinded by the “god of this age,” his children are like him – lies, revenge, and death (John 8:44; 2 Cor. 4:4). This is exactly as it was in Jesus’ day: some preaching accommodation with the Romans, some preaching revolution, all preaching hate and suspicion. This is the reason Jesus inserted this parable about blind teachers and those who follow them. It is found in a different setting in Matthew (15:14), but Jesus often taught the same truths, applied in various contexts. It is most fitting here, especially because love and forgiveness are so rare.
It is a short parable; it is so short that is hardly seems like Jesus’ other parables, but its shortness makes it all the more pointed. All who do not teach the gospel of love and forgiveness toward one’s enemies are blind. They are able to spew their hate and division because they are leading other blind men. Hate, revenge, and bitterness are messages that ring true in their blind hearts. You must not follow them, Jesus says to us, for they will lead you into a ditch. There may be some surface humor in the parable, but it is very serious. Blind men need guides to lead them. If they do not, they will fall into a ditch. It is hard for the sighted to appreciate how terrifying falling into a ditch is for a blind person – what has happened to me? Where am I? Why I am bleeding? Who will help me? The sighted take their eyes for granted, and Jesus uses this to alert us to the great danger of following blind guides, and therefore in a sense becoming blind. He takes it for granted that we will follow men, that we need human guides. Be careful who you choose. Will you choose one who will engulf your life in suspicion of others, hate, and worse, or will you follow a guide, like Jesus, who will teach you the heavenly truth of overcoming evil with good, quenching hate with love, responding to curses with prayers.
Never above Our Master
It is easy to hate, plot harm to your enemy, and in some circumstances, to injure and even kill him. The world is filled with murderers like Cain, like their father the devil. It is also easy for this spirit of hatred to enter into the hearts of God’s children. How can we forgive those who persecute and kill us, like Stephen did? If men are stealing from us, should we not close up our hearts and horde what we have? And when we see God’s public honor trampled in the dust, the name of Jesus Christ vilified and blasphemed, and those who should be a terror to lawless men joining hands with them, must we really love and do good to those who are enemies of God and of righteousness? How is this to be balanced with living in the world, defending our lives, and even more importantly, upholding our Savior’s authority in the church and in our land? We need a faithful and sighted teacher, and he is to be found only in Jesus Christ. We must be at his feet often, or we shall be in the ditch. We must ask him to share with us the same Spirit of truth, counsel, and might, the Holy Spirit that made him of quick understanding so that he did not judge by the appearance but by the truth of things and by eternal justice (Isa. 11:2-3). He promises this Spirit to us, who will teach us “righteousness, peace, and joy” (Rom. 14:17), but we must ask and seek. We must feel our need for him to take us in hand and be our constant guide through this world of sin and sorrow.
Perhaps in this context, our Lord brings forward his specific example of love. He is our Master in love, as well as in truth and righteousness. He has been teaching about loving our enemies, forgiving the injuries we receive from them, and doing them good in return for their evil. Who else can teach us this but the One who died on the cross for our sins, who healed and fed multitudes of his own people who rejected him? Still higher, we were his enemies when he made his soul an offering for sin, when he became sin in order to make us righteous. Into this world of anger and hate, Jesus Christ came to save sinners by being hated, but loving them, by being judged but forgiving them, by being murdered at their hands but giving them new life. This is the most radical truth to enter this Cain-cursed world. We followed the devil’s lies, and his murdering hate consumed us.
Jesus Christ has slain sin and death. He is able by his Spirit to tame our ugly hatred and replace it with the gentlest love. It is a strange way to convert the world and stand for righteousness. It will mean at times that we are martyrs, especially when we turn the other cheek instead of firing back. But this is our Master, and we are not higher than he is. We can go no higher than his lowness, his descending into the dregs of our filth by loving us unto death. If we are maturing in love, we are like him. This is our great reward and our source of strength: to come to Jesus Christ and to be made like him, to “walk as he walked” (1 John 2:6). When this is what we crave, to be like our Master, when we consider this our highest honor, to love as he loved, forgive as he forgave, do good, the world has a true witness to the gospel of a crucified Savior. Yes, I know we would like to call down fire from heaven, and God’s fire will fall upon his enemies soon enough, but he has called us until then to fight with love and to repay injury with kindness.
He Judges Justly (vv. 41-42)
Judge Yourself First
If we are to be perfect like our loving Master, we must be extremely careful in the way we judge others. There is undoubtedly a bit of humor here – imagine a man trying to get a little piece of straw or dirt out of his friend’s eye when he has a tree sticking out of his own eye! But this is the exact truth about our blindness. We see – or think we can see – the smallest faults in others, while we completely miss the huge faults in ourselves. Part of the process of bearing good fruit is to learn humility before the Lord and love for others so that instead of being quick to judge, we judge ourselves first. In a remarkable way, this is exactly the way our Savior judged us – by being judged first in our place. It was love that led him to be cut down for our sins – we had no beam but a forest of evil, and he had no speck but beautiful holiness adoring his every word and deed. Even so, when he might have judged us by the strictness of his holiness, he instead became sin and bore our curse – the Just for the unjust – that he might bring us to God. This is a powerful incentive to every disciple not to turn a blind eye to sin but to practice longsuffering toward others for their many faults. At the same time, we must judge ourselves much more strictly than we do our brothers and sisters in Christ, and certainly more than we do the children of disobedience, for they are still enslaved to the evil one.
Or, a Hypocrite
Our Lord is telling us not to walk around with our white wig and gavel, with a condemning spirit, ignoring our own faults while holding others to a standard that we do not follow. This is a grievous fault among us, to speak honestly, for we are very quick to take offense at the slightest indiscretion or failing of a brother. Toward the world, God’s professing people are either hopelessly compromised with the spirit of this age or they are only too ready for our Lord to return and send them all to hell. Ah, we have lost that sense of mercy (v. 36), have we not? It is true that judgment is coming, that God is angry with the wicked every day (Ps. 7:11), and that we must give him no rest until he avenges the blood of his saints and exalts the kingdom of his Son to be the highest mountain on earth (Dan. 2:44-45). A day of fiery wrath is coming, and it is telling that to the degree the final judgment loses its hold upon our faith, to that degree we become angry and hopeless about what is happening on earth, grow cynical, and lose a heart to extend mercy to sinners so that they might flee to Jesus Christ for refuge from the wrath to come. This is so hypocritical on our part, for if we have examined ourselves at all in the light of our Father’s holiness and our Savior’s purity, then we must see in ourselves to many filthy spots that we again run to the fountain filled with blood, “drawn from Immanuel’s veins.”
And when we draw cleansing, can we rise up and be hard-hearted toward fellow-sinners? Can we be quick to condemn when our Father has been so quick and free to show us mercy? These gospel truths must again grip our hearts. Self-judgment will go a long way, husbands, toward creating in you a patient spirit toward your wife and children’s faults, and in you, wives and mothers, enabling you to extend mercy and help to your husband and children. And so the circle of mercy is ever expanding. I have no doubt that while our Savior was allowing himself to be judged in our place on the cross, some of his vilest attackers were soon after brought into a saving relationship with him and became his most stalwart disciples. This is what he does – judged in our place, taking our judgment upon himself so that we would never come into condemnation but be freely forgiven. This ever after defines our spirit in the world – even if we are being persecuted, or have to fight in just wars, or must defend ourselves with force – ever ready to forgive, slow to judge others, tenderhearted, and slow to anger. This is our Lord Jesus Christ, and he has given us his Spirit so that we may be like him.
His Heart Made Good (vv. 43-45)
Fruit Consistent with Root
Two millennia have not exhausted the wonder of our Savior’s love. Yet, few find this way of mercy and walk consistently upon it. Many are swift to give their judgments upon others, treat their enemies with as much contempt as they are treated, and can hardly be brought to forgive those closest to them for trivial offenses. Our vengefulness, grudge-holding, backbiting, complaining, and back-knifing are sickening – and this toward one another in the body of Christ, so how much more the world? We have already been told that it hates the light, and therefore it hates us. That we are surprised by this shows either our gross ignorance of Scripture or our desire for the praise of men, and therefore exposes our embarrassment when we must bear a little reproach for Christ’s sake. This is the reason Jesus identifies the good fruit of love with a good tree. Before we can judge our brothers and sisters tenderly – and notice that he describes it as a good thing when we help one another get rid even of small offenses (v. 42) – we must be made good by God’s Spirit.
But we cannot do this with tenderness unless we are first good trees, plantings of the Lord, to use Isaiah’s description. Or, as our Savior said, “You must be born again.” God by his Spirit must turn us who are bad trees by nature into good trees by his almighty power. Then, we shall bear the good fruit of love. Therefore, when the world says, “Do not give us all this religion and doctrine, just love one another,” it has no idea what it is saying. The kind of love to which Jesus Christ calls us is completely beyond our ability to practice even toward those closest to us. How much less toward our enemies? Can we love those who are beating us up, praying for them, and forgiving them from the cross of suffering? Only if our hearts are made new can we do this, so that the Spirit of holiness may produce the first fruit of love in us.
Fruit Cannot Be Faked
Fruit is inevitable – good tree or bad, fruit will come forth. And a tree always brings forth fruit that is consistent with its quality. This is the reason that ours is not a religion of morality or spiritualism, but a religion of regeneration by the power of God. Before a man can bring forth good fruit, before he can love and forgive his enemies, he must have a new heart. Otherwise, to expect a bad man to produce good fruit is equivalent to looking for figs on a thorn bush, or grapes from brambles. This simple comparison exposes as a satanic lie what many people today say – stop judging me! You cannot see my heart. Actually, a man’s heart is plain for all to see. You can see a man’s heart by his fruits. Fruits are works of God’s grace in us, the produce of union with Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Fruits are not the same thing as impressive outward gifts, spiritual or humanitarian, so that a man may be a great philanthropist and have impressive foundations named after him, but be as vile and corrupt as the devil himself. The ability to forgive injury and love the one injuring you so that you try to do him good and deliver him for Jesus Christ is a heavenly fruit that none but Jesus himself can produce in us. He is the great vine. Be sure you do not mistake gifts for graces, outward works for real fruit, especially the first fruit of the Spirit – self-sacrificing, forgiving, blessing your enemies love.
Fruit of the Heart – Words
And the clearest fruit of a good man’s good heart, which is made good by God’s regenerating Spirit and the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, is his words. Always you can tell what is in your and other men’s hearts by the words that come out of your mouth. The tongue and the heart are tied together by a rope that none can snap! The good man has a new heart filled with the treasure of good and loving words; the evil man has a bad treasure from which he spews hatred against others. God’s good words to us in Christ show his good heart, and when he adopts us to be his children, he renovates our hearts so that we sing of mercy and of justice, freely forgive, warmly encourage others to flee to Jesus Christ, and never presume to drop the gavel of justice upon them. This is God’s office. Ours is to love and forgive as we have been freely forgiven. O, Jesus Christ our Lord – make our hearts good and our words loving!