Matt 18: 21-35
There are some things in life that are easy to ask for but hard to give……A teenager asking for the keys to your car, Maybe it involves money? How about your daughters hand in marriage, honesty, love! There is also another word that for many people don’t like to give or ask for! It’s a simple word called“Forgiveness”. This word “forgiveness” is used 143 times in the New Testament. In it’s legal term means “to release” a person from an obligation. In finance it gives the idea of “cancelling a debt”. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said these words……“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matt 6:14-15. This passage is pretty clear! There are some passages that are sometimes hard to understand. But this isn’t one of them. What Jesus is saying is what Jesus means. Notice the conditions of forgiveness in this passage? You forgive, you get forgiveness, you don’t forgive, you don’t get forgiveness. See, forgiveness is an act of the will….it’s a chose you must make. You can chose to do what is right tor you can chose to do what is wrong. But be prepared for the consequences that follow when you chose not to. Unforgiveness usually leads to bitterness and resentment. You want them to feel your pain; it’s unfair, it seems there getting away with murder. People tend to hold on to all the hurts and pains they received over the years and store it in the attic. What’s sad about this, it doesn't matter where you go; it will always be with you and will continue to eat at you, until you deal with it.
We tend to hold or make excuses to why we can’t or won’t forgive……Like for example "The hurt is too big!" "Time will heal it"……but does it really? I’ll forgive when they say sorry………but that wasn't the case for one gentleman when He had a chance to speak in a courtroom after losing his child to Gary Ridgeway a serial killer who took 48 lives. Another excuse is "I can’t forgive, if I can’t forget" or how about "If I forgive, they are only going to do it again"
See we need to understand God doesn't forget, He does something better! He treats me like it never happened. Forgiveness is about treating the other person as though the offence never happened. I know this is hard but we must press on because Jesus said so! So the questions before us are this…….
- How far should I forgive?
- Is there anything that is unforgivable?
- Is there a limit to my forgiveness?
The answer to those questions is found in the conversation that Peter had with Jesus.....Matt 18:21-22 “Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” What was Jesus saying? That no matter how many times he or she sins and repents, Christ meant that forgiveness should be granted unendingly. Paul reiterates this in Eph 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” So what does that look like today? In March of this year a gunman walked into worship at the First Baptist Church of Maryville, Illinois and murdered pastor Fred Winters. CBS News interviewed his wife, and she offers forgiveness to the man who killed her husband. She also offers comfort to the murderer’s family. How is that possible? How can someone say to a person who killed her husband in cold blood “I forgive you”? Here is another example of forgiveness at work in the heart of the believer! I came across a story of a seminary student in Chicago faced a forgiveness test. Although he preferred to work in some kind of ministry, the only job he could find was driving a bus on Chicago's south side. One day a gang of tough teens got on board and refused to pay the fare. After a few days of this, the seminarian spotted a policeman on the corner, stopped the bus, and reported them. The officer made them pay, but then he got off. When the bus rounded a corner, the gang robbed the seminarian and beat him severely. He pressed charges and the gang was rounded up. They were found guilty. But as soon as the jail sentence was given, the young Christian saw their spiritual need and felt pity for them. So he asked the judge if he could serve their sentences for them. The gang members and the judge were dumbfounded. "It's because I forgive you," he explained. His request was denied, but he visited the young men in jail and led several of them to faith in Christ.
Human forgiveness reflects our experience and understanding of divine forgiveness. [The GOSPEL] James MacDonald said this in his book “10 Choices” “People who are forgiven by God become increasingly forgiving people. Not perfect, not entirely, but more and more so…….when you release others through forgiveness, God can free you from the weight and captivity of Unforgiveness. As the love of Christ penetrates your heart more deeply and genuinely you become more forgiving.” We [meaning me and you] ought to be the most forgiving people in the work place, the home, school, on the planet. When your name is being mentioned in a conversation, your co-workers or friends should be able to say “he or she is person that never hold grudges or finds fault”……..”they never make people pay and they never keep score….they are very forgiving people”. People may not understand why you forgive, but it should provoke them in asking you why you are so forgiving?
Forgiveness is hard to do! But God can free us from the weight of Unforgiveness through the Cross of Christ.
Forgiveness over small noticeable things are much easier….FOR EXAMPLE!
- You took my parking spot at the mall or the grocery store.
- You borrowed my chain saw and never returned it, 2 years later when you did return it, I already bought a new one.
- You scratched my car with your bike.
- You broke my dishes or you hit a baseball through our front window.
- You spilt milk all over the table or pop on the carpet.
Those are much easier to forgive…but what happens when the stakes are higher and hit deeper?
- You killed my child with your drunk driving.
- You beat me on a regular basis.
- You verbally abused me throughout our marriage or childhood.
- You took my safety.
- You took my purity from me.
- You violated my body.
- You said you didn’t love me anymore.
See, forgiveness in this area is much, much harder and complex. But as Jesus said we must forgive! Jesus goes about this by explaining to His disciples how hard it is and the devastating consequences if we don’t as His children………..as He continues to answer Peter’s question. [Matt 18:23-35]. First we see the master dealing with the first servant! Who owed him an inexcusable amount of money (v24). A sum so great that in reality he could never pay back! A sum so severe that his punishment would involve his whole family. (v25). But what does the servant do? He pleads for his life and his family (v26). But what do we see here? The master shows him compassion and forgiveness for his debt and releases him from what he owes. (v27). Now this is a great display of forgiveness and this servant is so eternally grateful he must of left praising God, a heart full of gladness and thankfulness….RIGHT? But what happens next? He finds one of his servants and says “hello my fine friend, I remember what you owed me, forget all about it….all is forgiven” NO, he grabs him by the throat and says pay up or else. (v28). Did he not just received one of the greatest acts of forgiveness for himself? He by comparison owed his master tens of thousands of dollars, and now his servant owes him about a 3 months wage and he has the audacity to demand this now from his servant! So his servant did what he did with his master (v29). But he didn't display the same compassion or forgiveness as his master did for him (v30)
What does this way of choosing to deal with issues or hurts do for both parties?
- Unforgiveness is “you still owe me”…………..Where forgiveness is “you don’t owe me”
- Unforgiveness is “going to make you pay for what you did by hating you, slandering you, and returning in kind what you did to me.”………Where Forgiveness is “I’m not looking for payment”
- Unforgiveness is “I’m going to recruit other people to my bitterness”…Where forgiveness is “I’m not trying to even the score”
- Unforgiveness is ‘in the end I will get my revenge”……Where forgiveness is “I’m writing it off, and letting it go”
- Unforgiveness is “I will make you regret your actions”………Where forgiveness is “God didn’t make me so I had to carry all of this”
As one pastor said “The choice of Unforgiveness and forgiveness is a fork in the road of life.” What will do at the fork in the road? The wrong chose always leads to consequences (v31). This is where the consequences come in when we chose to not forgive someone! (v32-v35). This made the master angry! See the master represents God (vv32-v33). See God is holy and just and God is always angry at sin, including the sins of His children. Heb 12:5-11 “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit”. God will deal with us in our sin! That’s why Unforgiveness is like a cancer! It eats away at us from the inside out. So the master disciplines his servant (v34) “the torturers” not executioners! This is a picture of serve discipline but not final condemnation.
See we need to understand! The master didn’t restore the original debt back to this first servant because it was cancelled! But the new debt was in the amount of chastening him until he was willing to forgive others. [meaning his own servant] Meaning, those who have done wrong to me and you! Forgiveness is much easier to ask for then it is to give. The proof is in this story that Jesus tells.
So the Sunday question for you is this…………..Is God chastening you in the area of forgiveness? If so, according to Hebrews and this passage in Matthew, God is not going to stop until you recognize your sin and the error of your ways over God’s. Forgiveness is an act of the will, an act of obedience and submission! Not in a sense because you have to, but because God in Christ has forgiven you of so much. This is our plumb line, the standard in which we are to live with one another. As tough as it is this is what we are called to do! And we are only capable of doing that through the finished work of the cross and the continuing work of the Spirit in our lives. J C Ryle said “Forgiven souls are FORGIVING. They do as they have been done by. They look over the offenses of their brethren. They endeavor to “walk in love, as Christ loved them, and gave Himself for them.” (Eph. 5:2.) They remember how God for Christ’s sake forgave them, and endeavor to do the same towards their fellow-creatures. Has He forgiven them pounds, and shall they not forgive a few pence? Doubtless in this, as in everything else, they come short—but this is their desire and their aim. A spiteful, quarrelsome Christian is a scandal to his profession. Forgiveness is the way by which every saved soul enters heaven. Forgiveness is the eternal subject of song with all the redeemed who inhabit heaven. Surely an unforgiving soul in heaven would find his heart completely out of tune. Surely we know nothing of Christ’s love to us but the name of it, if we do not love our brethren. BE WARNED and remember the words of General Oglethorpe once said to John Wesley, "I never forgive and I never forget." To which Wesley replied, "Then, Sir, I hope you never sin."
Why should I forgive? It's simple.......Jesus says so……and so does the gospel! Isn’t His death for me and you enough to convince us that no matter what has or will happen in our lives…..nothing compares to the forgiveness that was displayed on the cross? Let me close with following story of Corrie Ten Boon after the war in Germany.
“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken……….It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
“It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’
“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
[Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]
“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’
“And I, who had spoken so fluently of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.
“‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’
“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
“For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’
“I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.
Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ “For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then”
This physical life is way too short and there is way too much Unforgiveness among the family of God. Maybe, even here in this sanctuary? We need to swallow our pride and bitterness and plead to a holy God as Corrie did to give her the ability to turn this cold heart into a heart that is able to forgive. Will you do that this morning?