Bust Hell Wide Open
Please turn in the pew Bibles to the gospel of Luke, chaper 6 and follow along as I read v37.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
My father died 28 years ago, but I still remember an incident that happened in the days following his death that made me furious at the time. The family had gathered, and we were working through our bereavement by telling stories about dad. Most families do this, and it can be beneficial. Mostly we remember little funny things that happened, various stories, and family legends, and this helps us to begin to deal with the hard fact that our loved one is not going be around any more.
Finally, my mother, wrestling with the unthinkable, said, “Well, at least he is with Jesus now.”
My aunt replied, “You know, he is not, Louise. He busted hell wide open.” She then proceeded to elaborate. “He played baseball on Sunday. He never went to church. He smoked, and he even drank some.” Then she repeated, “He busted hell wide open.” She seemed to like that phrase.
At this point, I managed to intervene. I said, “Its not up to us to judge who goes to heaven or hell. We can trust Jesus to take care of dad.” And I gave my aunt such an angry look that she did not have anything else to say for awhile. Of course, that was not what I wanted to say.
I wanted to say to my aunt, “You self-righteous bigot. If anyone is going to ‘bust hell wide open,’ it is you.” But I did not say that, which was probably just as well. The last thing my mother needed at that moment was for me to get into a shouting match with my aunt over who was going to hell.
Understand that I was angry with her not because she thought her brother was “busting hell wide open” but because she had the incredible insensitivity to make her belief known at the most inappropriate moment. She probably thought that she was just being honest. Everything she said about my father was true. He played baseball in the textile mill leagues, and he played on Sunday. He never went to church; he smoked a lot, and drank a little. If those things condemn a person to hell, he was certainly condemned. But nowhere in the Bible does it say that a person who does those things is hellbound. Certainly, my father’s life was shortened by smoking cigarettes. He would have been better off without that habit, and he would have been better off going to church, but still, when we talk of eternal destiny, the Bible does not mention those things as necessary conditions, but some other things are mentioned.
We should examine Luke 6:37. I wish I had thought to quote this verse to my aunt. The judgers will be judged, the condemners will be condemned, and the unforgivers will not be forgiven. We say we believe in Jesus, we trust in Jesus for salvation. But what does that mean? Jesus explains. People who believe in Jesus have a “Jesus attitude,” a nonjudgmental, forgiving attitude.
Admittedly none of us have this attitude in perfection. To believe in Jesus does not mean we are perfectly like Jesus. We are still learning in the school of Christ. We often make mistakes in judgment.
There is an old story about a mistake in judgment. The story is anonymous. I have seen several versions. The latest version happens on an airplane. The oldest version probably happened on a stagecoach. Anyway, it goes like this:
A lady bought a book and a box of crackers before she boarded an airplane. Once on board, she settled down with her book, but she was already tired from a long day, so she dropped off to sleep. When she woke up, the man beside her had opened up the box of cookies, placed the box between them and was busily eating her cookies.
Now this was a devout Christian lady, and she did not want to make a scene—after all they were only cookies—but it ticked her off that he had the audacity to open her cookies and start eating without so much as a by-your-leave. She was not about to let him have all her cookies so she reached in, got a handful, and started to eat herself. Whereupon he reached in, got another handful. She wanted to punch the guy, but she was a Christian so she did not do that. But she made sure that whenever he ate a cookie, she ate cookie. She was at least going get half of her cookies. It got down to the last one. With a smile, the man took the last one, broke it in two and gave her half. She thought, this guy has some nerve. He did not even say, thank you.
A little later the plane landed, the guy left. She was glad to see that cookie thief go. She got up and began to collect her belongings. She opened her bag to put her book in, and saw
HER BOX OF COOKIES.
In total shock, she realized that she had been eating his cookies that he had willingly shared with her. She was the rude ingrate. Embarrassed and humiliated, she wanted to apologize, but, as usual in cases like this, it was too late, he was gone.
The moral of this story is that we need to be careful and merciful in our judgments, because we may be wrong. And sometimes it seems that when we are surest in our opinion, that is when we are wrong.
Now Jesus is not going to condemn us for an occasional mistake in judgment, like that lady made on the plane. If we are wrong, we can seek forgiveness and Jesus is above all the Great Forgiver. In Luke 6:37, Jesus is not talking about a momentary lapse into judgment and condemnation. He is talking about an attitude.
He says that we should not have a critical spirit. A critical spirit is an attitude of fault-finding, which constantly seeks to tear others down. This is not constructive criticism. Constructive criticism is expressed in love to build others up. Constructive criticism can be offered directly to the person concerned, often without giving offense. But destructive criticism goes behind the person’s back and focuses on their flaws, not with the intent to build up but with the intent to tear down.
In Matthew 16:6, Jesus said to his disciples, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” As usual, the disciples did not get it. Among themselves, they asked, does that mean that we should not eat the bread of the Pharisees and Sadducees? We imagine Jesus’s eyes rolling upward and Jesus praying, give me patience Lord. Then he says that he is not talking about bread. He is talking about the arrogant attitude of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They have a harsh, ugly spirit that denounces and puts down. Jesus says, beware that spirit.
If we have a mean spirit, even when we are right, we are still wrong. The things my aunt said about my father were factually right. We can be factually right, but we are spiritually wrong if our attitude is more about fault finding than about mercy. Truth is not the highest virtue, Love is the highest virtue. Truth spoken without love can be the cruel word of the devil.
Now we need to add a word of caution. Many people misunderstand Jesus statement "do not judge". They believe that Jesus was saying that we should never make any kind of judgment about right or wrong. “Do not Judge,” they say, means do not ever say anything about sin. And it seems like every person caught in any kind of immorality gets on TV, adopts a pious face, and says “Don’t judge me, lest you be judged.”
But Jesus was not forbidding us from making evaluations about right or wrong. For example, he himself made an evaluation of the Pharisees. What Jesus is forbidding is an attitude of harsh condemnation. He forbids attitudes that do harm to people.
It seems strange to me that some folks like to find out about and talk about other people’s sins. They have “mistake radar.” They home in on other people’s sins and rejoice when they find them, and rejoice in the condemnation they can then heap upon other people.
Jesus says his people are not that way. Christians are called to radiate kindness and compassion to people in trouble. It is unfortunate that people often see the church as a place of condemnation. When they are hurting, they think church is a place to run away from. Not so. Church is for sinners. And we, the people of God, need to make sure everyone knows this. When people’s weaknesses come to light, they should know that they can come here and be received with love.
Now let us look at the next verse for a moment. V38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
This is a verse that is often taken out of context to encourage the congregation to give money with the guarantee of an abundant return. For every dime you give to the Lord, you get a dollar back. That makes God into some kind of successful investment broker. But in fact the verse is not about money. Jesus is not talking about money. He is talking about mercy. Jesus says that when we show mercy to others God pours out so much mercy in our lives that we are overflowing with his kindness and forgiveness. When we express love toward others, we create such a channel to God that God’s love flows down upon us until it overflows, and flows out to others and adds God’s love to our love.
Let us conclude then with Verses 41-42a”: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye?”
In this little parable, Jesus says to us, don’t worry about other people’s sins, because you have enough sins of your own to worry about. Or to use the words of the parable, you are trying to pick a speck of sawdust out of someone else’s eye, while you have a telephone pole in your own eye. In other words, if you want to criticize someone, begin with yourself. You will find plenty to criticize there.
Now, this seems obvious, but it is not obvious to most people. We all have a tendency to exaggerate the sins of others, and to minimize our own sins. In Charles Schulz’s "Peanuts" comic strip, Linus asks Lucy, "Why are you always so anxious to criticize me?" She answers, "I just think I have a knack for seeing other people’s faults." "What about your own faults?" asks Linus. Her response is, "I have a knack for overlooking them."[Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997)]. Well, we all have a little Lucy in us. My sins are small, insignificant things, but theirs look like mountains. But Jesus reverses that way of thinking. They have sawdust sins, I have log sins.
Thus, we see why I should be long on forgiveness and mercy and short on judgment and condemnation. If my sins are like logs, I do not need to be worried other people’s sawdust sins. I am not going to be talking about other people ”busting hell wide open,” because I know that I am the sinner who should “bust hell wide open.” I am the one who needs forgiveness the most. And in Jesus Christ, I am the one who has been forgiven the most. Knowing that, realizing that I have been forgiven my telephone pole sins, how can I not forgive the sawdust sins of others. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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Last modified 08/19/06