Date: September 17, 2017
Bible Text: Matthew 18:15-20, 21-35 |
How seriously do we take the words of Jesus? What he says about forgiveness is a good test for us in answering that question. Let me repeat what he said --- “If you withhold forgiveness from anyone for any reason, so will my heavenly Father withhold forgiveness from you.” Now, how seriously do we take the words of Jesus?
Has anyone ever hurt you by what they’ve said or done? Has anyone hurt you so deeply you can’t or won’t forgive them? Have you ever hurt someone with words or actions? Asking someone for forgiveness can be as difficult as forgiving someone who has hurt you.
“If someone hurts you, tell them,” said Jesus. Are those words out of date, belonging to a past that cannot speak to our time? What Jesus said is difficult to do. When someone says or does something that hurts us, one of our tendencies is to put distance between us and them. Another tendency is to tell someone else about it rather than the person who hurt us --- which does nothing to heal what hurts.
And then, Jesus says something that makes it even more difficult. If someone hurts you, go to them and try to effect a reconciliation. If that doesn’t work, choose a couple of friends and try again. And if that doesn’t work, ask the entire congregation for help.
How many of us would be willing to adopt that kind of model? How strong would that kind of model make a church? What kind of Christians would that kind of church develop?
The point Jesus seems to make is that we should never give up on seeking or giving forgiveness --- and that is difficult to accomplish for two reasons. We don’t think we need to seek forgiveness and we don’t want to forgive those who have hurt us.
Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, was listening to him and he had a question for Jesus --- “How many times should I forgive someone; 7 times?” In that time, the Rabbis taught that you should forgive others, but only 3 times.
Peter went further. “What about 7 times?” 7 was considered the perfect number to the Jews. Is that how many times we should forgive someone?
Jesus went one better. “Don’t forgive someone only 7 times, but 70 times 7” --- which was a way of saying that we should never place a limit on how many times we forgive someone who truly repents, no matter how many times they ask.
Think about this. Has God ever placed a limit on how many times He would forgive you or me? What would happen if God did place a limit on how many times He would forgive us and the limit ran out --- meaning there would be no more forgiveness from God?
Jesus decided to tell a parable to illustrate what he was saying, and he told it in the context of the law of his day. In his time, people who could not pay their debts faced serious consequences.
If a man owed another man money and could not repay it, the man he owed the money to could send him to jail --- or he could force that man’s family to work for him until the debt was paid --- or he could sell that man’s family as slaves to help pay off the debt. Otherwise, if the man owed a lot of money, he could remain in prison for the rest of his life.
In this parable, a man owes a king a debt equivalent to several millions of dollars in our currency which he could not repay. So, the king decided to sell this man, his wife, and his children as slaves as well as sell all he owned to help repay the debt.
The man begged the king for mercy and the king did something unexpected. He gave this man mercy by erasing all his debt.
Having been shown mercy, you would think that this man would show mercy to others. Not so! He had someone who owed him a far lesser amount thrown into prison until his debt was paid. And when the king heard about that, he had that ungrateful man thrown into prison until his entire debt was paid.
Jesus then applies his parable to life. If someone shows us mercy, we have an obligation to show mercy to others; a principle that applies to you and me and every person who would ever live.
I only have to mention the Cross to make my point. On the Cross God showed us more mercy than we ever be shown on earth. On the Cross God nailed our debts, which are our sins, to that Cross on which Jesus died.
On that Cross our sins were nailed when Jesus took our sins upon himself and paid the full debt for those sins so that we would never have to. And because God forgave all of our sins, He expects us to forgive others, no matter the hurts or how deep the hurts.
If God was willing to forgive us --- no matter what --- then what right do we have to withhold our forgiveness from anyone for any reason? These are tough words from Jesus about forgiveness and we cannot --- we dare not ignore them.
At the end of this parable, Jesus says some of the most sobering words we will ever read in Scripture --- “If you withhold forgiveness from anyone for any reason, so will my heavenly Father withhold forgiveness from you!” How seriously do we take those words of Jesus?
Forgiving others is difficult for many people, including Christians, especially those who have been in abusive relationships or who grew up in a family that was abusive. When you’ve been hurt deeply, it’s difficult to forgive because hurt feelings are difficult to heal.
A few years ago 3 doctors wrote a book entitled, To Forgive Is Human: How to Put Your Past in the Past. This book lists 3 important benefits of forgiving people who have hurt you.
First, there is a physical benefit. Forgiving others can rid the body of toxic chemicals that bitterness, anger, and resentment produces in the body.
Second, there is a psychological benefit. Forgiveness can rid the mind of angry, bitter thoughts that can turn people into angry, bitter people.
Third, there is a relational benefit. Forgiveness can turn an enemy into a friend.
Let me offer a model for forgiveness as well as a way to practice that model. Jesus is that model. On the Cross he said --- “Father, forgive them because they don’t realize what they are doing.”
“They don’t realize what they are doing.” Let me ask you a few questions. Do you ever have thoughts you know are wrong? Do you always understand why you have those thoughts?
Do you ever say or do something you know is wrong? Do you always understand why you do? How about this prayer --- “Father, forgive us because we don’t always understand why we think, say, or do what we know is wrong.” Perhaps we should also forgive ourselves while we’re at it.
Here’s the most important question I can ask this morning. If God has forgiven us for every thought, word, or deed that is wrong, then what right do we have to withhold forgiveness from anyone for any reason unless --- our forgiveness is more important than God’s.
Jesus does not let us off the proverbial hook when it comes to forgiveness, so let me end my message by repeating those sobering words of his at the end of this parable --- “If you withhold forgiveness from anyone for any reason, so will my heavenly Father withhold forgiveness from you.”
Let us pray: God, we are imperfect people. Sometimes, we think or say or do what we know is wrong. And sometimes the wrong say or do hurts others --- even when we are not aware of it.
Likewise, sometimes people hurt us and are not aware of it. We are imperfect people in need of your perfect, forgiving love.
God, help us to be gracious imperfect people. Help us to forgive others and to forgive ourselves and to receive forgiveness from others.
Finally, help us to practice the ministry of reconciliation that you have given us that was modeled in the life your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.