Trinity 16/Proper 19 .Matthew 18:21-end.
There are two, slightly different sermons, the first updated for the 9/11 anniversary...
11/9/11 : Matthew 18:21-35
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 "The servant fell on his knees before him. `Be patient with me,' he begged, `and I will pay back everything.' 27 The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. `Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. 29 "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, `Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' 30 "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 "Then the master called the servant in. `You wicked servant,' he said, `I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." 19:1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan.
Rob Gschaar was married for 22 years to Myrta. He was on the 97th floor of the South Tower on 11.9.2001, one of nearly 2,800 people killed.
Following this, Myrta was overcome with anger. After an unending routine of leaving the house only to go to work, she decided to seek medical help. “I started to isolate myself,” Myrta said. “I was snapping over here and snapping over there and everybody was looking at me like they shouldn’t be around. I started to isolate myself from the human race. My anger kept getting worse and I realized I needed help and went to a psychologist.”
Myrta discovered that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress. She began working to overcome the disorder and started attending church. She came to faith and was baptized in 2004. Even then, she was not happy.
She said, “There was something still not right. I couldn’t be whole and I wanted to be whole and fill that void. One day we were at an International Prayer House and there were thousands of people in this house and everybody there was praying for the world. After several hours of praying I started voicing my forgiveness toward the people who murdered my husband. Then my life changed.”
Myrta’s forgiveness of the terrorists who took her husband’s life turned her own life around. She began to feel complete and no longer angry. Myrta said, “After I did that I felt a joy and a peace in me, it was an experience like I had never felt before. It’s better to live in the light than to live in the darkness. Forgiveness is better than hatred. If we live in hatred, we will still be talking about terrorism and that’s why we have terrorism today. If we live in love, we won’t have terrorism. We won’t have to fight or have bickering.”
Before today's Bible passage Jesus had taught how a Christian should deal with someone who, they think, has sinned against them. Today’s passage is about forgiveness, why we should forgive a fellow sinner.
Jesus' parable was prompted by Peter asking, 'Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me ? Up to seven times ?'
Peter was impetuous. Chances are he had someone in mind who he felt had sinned against him a number of times and was irritating him. Perhaps we have someone like that ourselves ?
The current rabbinic teaching said that you only had to forgive three times. In offering to forgive seven times Peter would have thought that he was being very forgiving. In replying seventy seven times, or seventy times seven, the Greek can mean either, Jesus was not concerned about counting. The size of the number shows that if you start counting you've missed the point! You don't count, you forgive. Again, and again, and again.
We need to answer the question; “Why should we forgive?”
1] Jesus commands it.
In this passage Jesus tells his followers to continue to forgive unconditionally. He doesn’t tell us to do it when we feel like it, or when the other person is repentant, or if we have committed a similar sin. It is an order. It’s the law. It is part of the fulfillment of Jesus’ command to love one another as he loved us.
2] Out of gratitude and in response to the love and forgiveness of Jesus.
In this parable Jesus is saying that we have had all of our wrongdoing forgiven through his death for us on the cross. It's like a million pounds being wiped away. In comparison the sins that we get upset about are very small. Like a few pounds.
If we are unable or unwilling to forgive this calls into question if we have truly appreciated what God has done for us in Christ... There is a danger of thinking that we are excused while everyone else is forgiven ! We think that it is understandable when we sin and, therefore, we can be excused because of our circumstances, our temperament, or whatever. But when someone else does something wrong they deserve to be punished. Of course they can be forgiven assuming we think that they are contrite enough !
We say in the Lord's Prayer 'forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us'. This is not saying that we earn our forgiveness which is a free gift from God through Jesus death on the cross, brought into our hearts by His Holy Spirit. It is saying that our forgiving others is a true reflection that we have fully appreciated the forgiveness that Christ has secured for us...
We must try to avoid being like the unmerciful servant. Forgiven so much, but so small that we fail to forgive others for offences that our minor in comparison.
3] We are to follow the example of Jesus.
Jesus suffered as he went to the cross. As his followers we are called to take up our cross every day. Jesus didn't wait for people to be repentant. As they hammered nails into his limbs He said, 'Father forgive them for they don't know what they are doing.'
4] It can affect our spiritual health, even our eternal destiny.
Jesus said that we will be punished by God if we do not forgive others. 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
Some people may be excluded from God’s presence because, although they have decided to follow him they have not forgiven someone. They may be orthodox in their doctrine, have read all their Bible, go to church every Sunday, but they are not forgiving so they risk excluding themselves from being forgiven.
5] It can affect the health of the body of Christ, the church.
The church is a body, made up of different parts, relying upon one another, united, sharing one another's hurts and joys. If one part is at odds with another it is like a hand taking a knife and stabbing a leg saying, 'Take that'. The body becomes mutilated and less effective.
The second we question we need to answer is ;
“How can I forgive?”
A] We must be aware of our on position as forgiven sinners. Romans 5: 8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
C.S. Lewis has said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
B] By relying upon God. He alone is the source of love and forgiveness and we should seek his strength and leading to give us the power and will to forgive and the means to do it.
C] Consciously give up the grudge or desire for revenge or the thoughts that assault you. Give them over to Jesus. Swap them for his forgiveness. We cannot and should not wait until we feel better disposed to the one who has wronged us. It has to be a deliberate act and, when any thoughts return we can dismiss them saying, “I have forgiven that person”.
D] Going back to last week we should go to the person who we think has wronged us. If they are a fellow believer this should be the first of up to three steps with the goal of restoring that person to fellowship with us and God.
At the start of my sermon I mentioned that nearly 2,800 people died in the 9/11 attacks. Over 900,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since the U.S. and coalition attacks, based on lowest credible estimates. About 303 times as many people have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq than in the attacks of September 11, 2001. www.unknownnews.org/casualties.html
Our Lord achieved victory over sin and death by being subject to hatred, injustice, torture, an death. Is hatred the violence the best way to respond, and to keep people safe?
Someone once said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.”
C.S.Lewis wrote : "Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea, until he has something to forgive."
Earlier in Chapter 18 Jesus has been telling his disciples how to deal with a fellow Christian who had sinned against them. One of the most difficult things about being a Christian is having to put up with other Christians ! Jesus outlined how to approach a situation where you think another Christian has sinned against you. First go to your brother, or sister one to one. This enables any misunderstanding to be ironed out without this becoming public. If this is not resolved then the matter is to be discussed before witnesses and then taken to the church. Assuming that a sin has been committed and the sinner is unrepentant the church is to treat the sinner as an unbeliever. The point of this is to lead the sinner back to being forgiven, and to show that the church is holy.
All this is to be done in an atmosphere of forgiveness. Peter picks up on the idea of forgiveness. Current teaching suggested that you forgive someone a maximum of three times. Peter tries to be generous. Doubles this and adds one for luck !
Jesus replies not seventy times, but seventy seven times, or four hundred and ninety depending upon how you want to interpret the Greek ! cf footnote verse 22. The number really doesn't matter. If you start counting, whether it is to seventy seven or four hundred and ninety you've missed the point. Jesus is saying that our forgiveness of others should be unlimited.
D.L.Moody said, 'Those who say that they will forgive but can't forget simply bury the hatchet but leave the handle out for immediate use.'
Jesus then tells the parable of the unmerciful servant to illustrate how we should be forgiving, and why we should be forgiving. The master represents God. The first servant any Christian. The second servant someone else, another Christian or an unbeliever.
As we have just seen our forgiveness should be unlimited. Verse 24 tells us the amount owed by the servant was equivalent to millions of pounds.
Today if a person is in debt the creditors are entitled to have that person's possessions sold or reclaimed to pay what is owed to them. The owner was within his rights to have the family of the servant sold into slavery to raise some money against what was owed to him. The servant begs him not to do this, promising to pay back what he owes. A useless promise. Verse 27 tells us that the master took pity on him, cancelled the debt, and let the man go. The master had compassion on the man and was merciful. In wiping out the debt he gave a free but costly gift to the servant.
This is what love is. A deliberate costly act. Not motivated by emotion or merit but by the nature of the lover. The Bible says that God is love.
Someone said, 'We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive.'
Yet this servant, who had just had a multi-million pound debt wiped away by his master goes and ruthlessly pursues another servant for a few pounds. A small fraction of what he owed himself minutes before. His fellow servant begs for him to be patient. Just as the servant had begged the master to be patient moments before. But he has his fellow servant put into prison. Something that achieved little because the other servant could earn no money there to pay back what he owed.
The master had given a free but costly gift to the first servant. The servant did not deserve this. But the master expects the servant to be grateful and mindful of what he has just received. In having the other servant imprisoned the first servant is showing that he does not realise the generosity and costly nature of the master's gift. If he had realised this he would have copied what was done to him. He would have let the other servant off.
He does not, and because he has failed to realise this the master has him thrown into prison to be tortured for ever. This represents hell. The fate that the first servant wanted to impose on his fellow servant was imposed on himself.
Jesus concludes by saying that "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
Thomas Watson wrote : " A man may as well go to hell for not forgiving as for not believing."
Jesus is saying that the true evidence that we have received the costly, gracious, forgiving love of Jesus is to show grace and forgiveness ourselves. Something that is not easy. We live in a very critical world. We find it easy to be critical about others. Yet we tend to excuse ourselves when we sin..
Alexander Auld said, 'It is the person who most knows himself liable to fall that will be most ready to overlook any offences from his fellow men.'
Jesus says that forgiveness is to be given as well as being received. Indeed, if it is not given, it cannot have been truly received.
After all, did he not teach his disciples how to pray with the words : "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us..." ? This does not mean that we earn our forgiveness by forgiving others. It means that , by forgiving others we show that we truly appreciate our own forgiveness.
If we do not do this we are in danger of relying upon our own merits, rather than God undeserved favour. When we start to do this, and condemn others we are saying that we are better than them. Even though we may not know all of the facts. Once we get on this route we are in danger of prejudicing our own salvation. A salvation based on undeserved favour, compassion and forgiveness.
We are sinners before God. It is only when we are aware of this that we can be truly forgiven, and truly forgiving.
As we go on in our walk with God we will be more aware of how sinful we really are. Augustine said "Lord save me from that wicked man, myself." John Wesley said " I am fallen short of the glory of God; my whole heart is altogether corrupt and abominable, and consequently my whole life." Philip Bliss in 'Man of Sorrows' wrote "Guilty vile and helpless we..."
Although salvation is a free gift from God it was costly. The unmerciful servant owed millions of pounds. The suffering that Jesus went through was isolation from God the Father as he took upon himself the punishment, the consequence of our sins. Weighing him down. Causing him to cry " My God my God why have you forsaken me ?"
So we are to be aware of our own need for forgiveness. Aware of the cost of our forgiveness. Aware that it is a free gift, it cannot be earned. Aware that we are called to show forgiveness arising from love and compassion. Imitating that of Jesus.
To summarise this parable :
God loves us so much that he will forgive us unconditionally though Jesus. No sin is so great that it cannot be forgiven.
God expects those who have been forgiven to be forgiving. Not to do so is a denial of the basis for our salvation.
Those who claim to be forgiven but fail to forgive others will be punished eternally.
Christ comes with a blessing in each hand. Forgiveness on one hand, and holiness in the other. He never gives either hand to any who will not take both.