2010-03-28 (pm) Matthew 18:21-35 Forgive
God is good. He is so good. His goodness is incomprehensible. Anything we might consider as good is as dust in comparison to God. Think of the most amazing, most good, most gracious deed done by anyone, and compared to God’s goodness and righteous acts it is as the worst crime ever. He’s that good.
All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags. In of themselves, tainted by sin as they are, they are nothing at all.
And yet, God calls us to them. He calls us to goodness. He calls us to do the impossible, for with him, all things are possible.
Do you know that? Do you believe that? If you do, then you must be a great forgiver of others. You must be the greatest peacekeeper. You must not be one to hold grudges, for really where can a grudge exist where there is forgiveness?
Where are you in this parable? Where do you wish you were?
When you pray the Lord’s prayer, do you really know what you are saying? Forgive me, as I forgive others. May your forgiveness be conditional to my forgiveness. In other words, do not forgive me, if I do not forgive others.
Are you willing to pray that? Do you mean it when you pray it? Of course, if you are quick to forgive others, then it is not so hard to pray the Lord’s Prayer, is it?
But what about when you’ve been really wronged? What if the trespasses against you are beyond the pale? What if you cannot bring yourself to forgiveness because the people who are against you are so stubborn, so strong willed, so blind to their error, that no amount of reason will sway their stance. What then?
The hard answer is Jesus Christ. He has revealed the way we all are before God. We all are the most wretched sinners. We owe not 1 million, not 10, not 100 million dollars worth of righteousness to God. Our debt, just as it was for the unmerciful servant is so huge, so unpayable, that it forces us to our knees in humble repentance.
And God, the merciful judge, gives mercy. He grants forgiveness. His forgiveness is conditional. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven.
In the parable, the unmerciful servant owed the equivalent of 10 million dollars. After being forgiven this huge, huge, absolutely unpayable amount. Such a debt couldn’t have been paid back. Seriously, even if this guy cleared 1000 dollars profit per week, that’s profit, after expenses and everything, if he were to pay 1000 dollars per week it would take him almost 2000 years to pay back what he owed. It was impossible, there simply was no way.
The debt we owe, we cannot even pay a penny, not one penny.
But that debt was paid by Christ, and through Christ, God offers forgiveness of debt. Down to the last penny, everything paid in full. Nothing owing, not one thing.
Forgiven of his debt, the servant leaves, and as he walks away from the court, he sees someone who owes him 16 dollars. Just forgiven of 10 million, he demands full payment of 16 dollars. He violently grabs the man, and demands repayment. Even though the man offers to pay him back in full, he needed time to gather the funds, he guy just has him thrown in jail.
The disparity of the sums, throws into sharp relief the depth of the unmerciful servant’s evil. It makes me mad, just reading it! For sixteen dollars he gets so upset? What a jerk! What a lousy guy. I can’t believe that there are such people like that.
And yet, unless we are exactly like God, we see people like that every time we look in a mirror!
We harbour hate. We bank brutality, we invest in evil. For we think we have the right to justice. We who, apart from the Holy Spirit, are completely unable to do even one just thing, think we can expect it from others just like ourselves.
Does this mean that we turn a blind eye to sins against us? Does this mean that we just forgive and forget? No. The passage just before this one describes the steps that have to happen for reconciliation.
But the instruction of this passage says that we must forgive. We must have soft hearts. We must think carefully of how we will respond when we’re wronged. We have to remind ourselves of the great goodness of God. We must remind ourselves of the severe sin we’ve committed against him, and then turn around and consider our his forgiveness when we seek restitution of others.
We, might think, like Peter, well there’s a limit to the amount of times we can forgive. Is that so? Think of God! How long did he wait to send the flood? Ten generations from Adam to Noah, ten generations of sin against him.
Even when the judgement was given, the world would be destroyed, God granted 120 years of warning. 120 years of opportunities for repentance.
When Abraham saw the Promised Land, God told him he would not take it because the sin of the Amorites had not reached full measure. Instead, God allowed his people to go to Egypt and wait some 480 years for the sin to reach its full measure. But what if the Amorites, knowing of God’s mercy, had repented? Then they would have been enfolded into the nation of Israel. If any of the people had repented in Noah’s day, they would have gone on the boat.
And now, we are living some 2000 years after Christ’s amazing act of grace, glory and love on the cross. God has again demonstrated his amazing grace. He has patiently waited to bring destruction so those who have sinned might repent. He does not need to, except that it is God’s nature to forgive. So it ought to be with us, in our new natures. We ought to be merciful servants.
But are we? Let us examine ourselves to see if we still harbour hard feelings, hardness of hearts against anyone.
No matter the sin against us, compared to our sin against God, it is as 16 dollars out of 10,000,00. So, are we going to grab those who have sinned against us by the throat and choke them and treat them as garbage? Or will we treat them as God has treated us?
The right answer, of course is that we’d treat others as we’ve been treated by God.
There is so much strife and pain and loss and hatred and anger and evil. Let us not add to it. As much as we are able, let us seek to reconcile whenever we’re wronged.
They say that there are two certainties in life, death and taxes, and truly no one understands either. But let me add one more certainty. We will sin, and others will sin against us.
What power do we have? Well, with the Holy Spirit we can do two things. As much as we are able, we can try to keep from sinning against others. Then, failing that, we can
God’s mercy and grace is amazing to behold. For five and a half years of preaching, I have tried to give witness to God’s grace and love. It is simply too amazing, too wonderful, too awesome. It is, as we shall see, both wonderful and frightening.
In the verses preceding ours, Jesus talks about the process of reconciliation. If someone sins against you, tell him to his face. If he refuses to believe you, go with witnesses, if he still resists, then involve the church, bearing with it the full weight of the situation. If he still refuses to take ownership of his wrong, treat him as a pagan or a tax collector, treat him as though he is no longer a Christian, but someone who still needs to be saved.
Then Jesus says, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven.” When two or three are able to agree, that is whenever reconciliation takes place, Jesus is there with them.
That’s the context of Peter’s comment which leads to the parable of the unmerciful servant.
Peter, looking to demonstrate his magnanimity, his willingness to show himself as a pretty good guy asks if being willing to forgive 7 times is godly enough.
Isn’t it the case, that when we strive to please God, that the moment when we think we’ve done something quite good, we instead get a glimpse of something far, far greater?
Isn’t it the case that whenever we think we’re generous, forgiving, loving that God shows us up incredibly?
Let us not forget that God is abundant in his goodness. He is overflowing in his generosity. He shames us completely. We cannot compete with his economy of scale. He who has called everything that is in existence out of nothing cannot be out done. We are totally dependent upon God, totally.
If we think that we’re somehow making it, if we for a second think that all that we have is by some great feat of ours, we’re simply deluded. Everything comes from God.