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Matthew 18:15-35

How to Pursue Reconciliation, Restoration and Forgiveness

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We study through books of the Bible and we have extra copies if you did not bring one with you and would like one to follow along in a paper copy. We have people coming up and down the aisles, so just raise your hand if you would like a copy. Somebody will drop one off at your row, your aisle.

I will remind you that last week we studied in the gospel of Matthew that Jesus dealt with the disciples’ argument about who was the greatest in God’s kingdom and who was going to enter God’s kingdom. Jesus said he who enters His kingdom must become like a child, not to be childish, but childlike, (and there is a big difference). We had some teaching on stumbling blocks to faith and the assurance of God’s passion to seek and to save those who are lost, with that amazing image of the ninety-nine and of the Lord Jesus going as He so wants the community of the believers to be a redemptive community. Who would not go then after that one who is lost?

This leads us to verse fifteen. Today we will be studying, what I have just titled it to be, “How to Pursue Reconciliation, Restoration, and Forgiveness”. That is because we are all sinners, and because we all need to both receive forgiveness and there will come a time when you will need to show forgiveness, or extend forgiveness to someone else. Why is this hard for us? Both of those things are hard, aren’t they? Sometimes it is hard to receive forgiveness even from God. Sometimes we just do not get it. It does not sink in that He has actually forgiven us.

When you think about your response to others who may offend you, or who may sin against you, sometimes do you find it hard to forgive somebody? It is immediately hard when you are on the highway and someone offends you by drifting into your lane or whatever. I remember the first time, my first solo drive, I went on the highway and got behind this pickup truck and it had all these trees and branches and everything falling out the back of it. I had to turn on a windshield wiper just to be able to see where I was going. It just made me mad. I think that began my struggle through life on the highway to remain a Christian.

 What is it about us that we are so quick to take offense in our day and time too? I guess I would ask that question, (and I think it is a good question for us to ask). We live in the age of outrage. We live in a culture that drinks, every day drinks from the river of rancor, is baptized in the river of rancor every single day. I think it is important for us to ask these kinds of questions. Why do we take offense so quickly? Why is it so difficult to navigate life without being drawn to that river? How can believing the New Testament gospel actually help us find a way out of these kinds of predicaments? Well, no other person in human history has been more connected with a subject of forgiveness than Jesus Christ. So what can we learn from Jesus and from His teachings on this subject?

Look with me if you will, at Matthew chapter eighteen. I am going to start at verse fifteen and we will finish out the chapter here today. “If your brother sins, [and your English translation may have a note there, or you may see the words against you also in there. Raise your hand if you have against you in your Bible. Raise your hand if you do not have that in your Bible. Okay, so it is mixed. The reason is because some of our ancient manuscript copies have that in there, and some of them do not. That sets this whole thing up a little differently, if the words against you are there, doesn’t it? Is it a personal offense, a personal sin against you? Or is it if your brother sins and you are just a part of the church, and you notice someone who is living recklessly and sinfully and has fallen into a habit of sins? So which is it? I would say, both apply in this situation. What He is going to say applies in both cases. So He goes on to say this,] If your brother sins and you could put against you if you want go and reprove him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. [He did not say if you have won the argument, if he listens to you, then you have won the fight, the struggle. No, you have won your brother. This is beautiful. By brother, (the word is “adelfos” in the Greek. We lived in Philadelphia for a few years and “adelphia” comes from that same root word and it has been known as the city of brotherly love. When we first moved there, we thought it was the city of brotherly shove, because if you would say “hi” to somebody on the street, they would say, ‘what do you mean by that?’ It is just a little grumpy up there. Maybe their blood sugar is low or something. I do not know, but they have Tasty Cakes, so their blood sugar should be way high. I do not know why that is the case, but the idea is that among the community of faith, it is to be a redemptive community.

Occasionally, what happens is that somebody falls into sin and perhaps you take umbridge, or take offense. Maybe somebody actually sins against you and it is not just you taking offense. Maybe somebody actually lied, maybe somebody actually, in some way, sinned against you harshly.] Go and reprove him in private, if he listens to you, you have won your brother, but if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, [Every fact may be confirmed. In some of your translations that will be all capitalized because it is a quote from Deuteronomy chapter nineteen. It is Jesus reaching back into the Old Testament law and seeing how this makes sense timelessly. He reiterates, He quotes from the Old Testament, and shows His respect for the scriptures.

Jesus’ view of the Old Testament was that these are the words of God to us. [If He refuses, (this person) to listen to them, you and your witnesses, tell it to the church. [In other words, the entire gathering of God’s people.] If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a gentile and a tax gatherer. [Let’s not soften that. That is Jesus saying there is going to be some separation here. If someone refuses the consensus of the entire church and its leaders on what is sin and what is not sin, and you have done this properly with the goal of restoration, reconciliation, and forgiveness, and he still refuses all of that, then he is to be treated as an outsider, non-believer, someone for whom a first century Jew would have heard gentile and tax gatherer. That is the way they would have heard it.]

Truly I say to you, [This is interesting because all of the “yous” and the “yours” in versus fifteen to seventeen have been in the singular. So if you do a little parsing of the original language, you see if your brother sins, and that is in the singular. There is a very personal thing involved here. Okay?] Now truly I say to you, [the “you” is in the plural. So this is perhaps to all of the church, and all of the church leaders who might be involved in this conversation.] Truly, I say to you, whatever you shall bind on Earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth shall have been lost in heaven. Again, I say to you that if two of you, [plural] agree on Earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have been gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.”

He is with us today. He is with you who have gathered with us online. He is with us today. There are more than two or three here. Are we listening? He is moving. Are we open to learning from Him, to being encouraged by Him, to being corrected by Him, to being instructed by Him, to being in some way exhorted by Him? Are we open to that? He is willing to speak to us.

In reference to verse eighteen, sometimes people in our modern day and time think that this is about the devil and what binds the devil. This is what you will hear from some, but Jesus is not the first televangelist to speak with some kind of an emphasis like that. That is not what He is talking about. I actually think there is a strong case that this is not so much about yelling at the devil, or about the devil at all, but rather it is about setting standards and norms for the community of faith. That is, you find this to be binding.

We see in Acts chapter fifteen, when the church leaders in Jerusalem write an encyclical that is going to go out to the church around the Mediterranean as it begins to gather and get established. They basically say, “we want to charge you to not eat food that has been offered to idols, and to abstain from sexual immorality”. So what they do together is, collectively, the leaders say, “Here are what the norms for believers would be. We are binding you as people who publicly claim to be believers, to be Christians. This is the way Christians should behave in the world in which we live”.

Now there are, to be sure, some occasions where some streams of the church will see something as out of bounds and other streams of the church will not see it the same way. Understanding that can happen, I think Jesus is actually setting us up really well here because He is saying, (“you” (plural)), you church leaders, your consensus of the community, of the redemptive community, come up with what is binding for the belief and behavior of the people. If the scripture does not speak about it, you do the hard work of deciding and discerning what God’s will is, because He says right here in my name “where two or three have gathered in my name”, that is a qualifier. That is we want; to see things the way he sees things. We want what He wants. We want to abstain from what He would have us abstain from. We are no longer our own. We belong to Him. We do not belong to ourselves, we do not belong to the cultural flow. We belong to Him and there is great freedom and great security in knowing that we belong to Him.

“Peter came then to the Lord [and he is often the guy who steps forward to say something. Peter came to the Lord and said], ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ [Now Peter feels really good at this point to even say that because most of the rabbis taught that you had to forgive him up to three times. So Peter thinks, “I am going to be better than two times more. I am going to say seven, look at me. Let me shine up my little humility badge and my little holy badge and look at me. I am going to forgive seven times. How many Lord?” Jesus’ response is so awesome,] I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Math majors, How many is that? Four hundred and ninety, okay, good. Somebody is out there awake and took math. I think that is right.

For this reason, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king. Now He is going to give us an interesting parable here,] a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. [The word is ‘doulos’. It is the same word that the Apostle Paul used to describe himself when he opened his letters. I Paul, the doulos, the servant, the slave of Jesus Christ, of God, the Father and Jesus Christ. We are all serving somebody.

Several decades ago, Bob Dylan had that song, “You Gotta Serve Somebody”, and it is true, we all do. We all serve somebody. There is some king in your life. It might be you, might be your job, might be your spouse, might be your kids, it might be any number of different things that you are serving that you have set up as the ultimate validator in your life. Sometimes good things can become idols to us.

We are studying the gospel of Matthew and we are calling the study of the gospel of Matthew, “The King and His Kingdom”. With that, we draw the distinction and we listen to Jesus. He says this,] the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves to balance the books. When he had begun to settle them, there was one slave brought to him who owed him 10,000 talents, but since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold along with his wife and children and all that he had in repayment to be made. The slave therefore falling down on his knees himself before him saying, ‘Have patience with me, I will repay you everything.’ The lord of that slave felt compassion, released him and forgave him the debt. Then that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denari. He seized him and began to choke him saying, ‘pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you’. [This is the exact same thing he had said to his own master]. However, now he was unwilling, and went and threw him in prison until he could pay back what he owed. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and they came and reported to their lord, [who is the the original man], all that had happened and in summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?”. His lord was moved with anger and handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. So shall my heavenly Father also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.

 We will stop with our reading there, but I do want you to look at something back in verse twenty four. It is interesting, this king of this fictional kingdom wished to settle accounts with his slaves. This slave that was brought before him owed 10,000 talents. The average day’s wages would be a denarius, so the number of day’s wages it would take to equal 10,000 talents is actually 200,000 years of day’s wages. Do you understand how enormous this gift of forgiveness from this person was? It would be like me moving from my resources to the resources of Elon Musk or Bill Gates or something like that. It was just in an instant like that; to have that kind of debt just completely wiped out, 200,000 years worth of debt. The servant could not have lived long enough to pay it back and that is it.

You might say, “well why is Jesus even saying that then?” It is because He is trying to show you by contrast, the sheer amount of grace that has been shown to this first person, and the stinginess that person then had as it related to the next person, (who only owed, as I read it right here in verse twenty eight, a hundred denarii. That is one hundred days, not a hundred years, not a hundred thousand years, just one hundred days wages.). That is how vast, how massively different the two amounts were, yet this guy would not even show the same kind of forgiveness, grace, and mercy to the fellow slave who was brought to him that owed him just a little. That kind of shocking contrast is what really helps us to understand the parable at all. Let’s see what we can find here. There are several things I want to point out.

The Bible talks about, as I said, forgiveness quite a bit. Jesus is the one from whom I think we find out a lot about forgiveness. When we look at Jesus, He is certainly the one who might be symbolic, or might personify the act of forgiveness itself. James the Apostle writes,

“My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this, whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

James 5:19-20

What then is our responsibility to one another? Whether we are the one who has been offended, or whether we just see somebody straying in the community of faith, do we have any kind of responsibility or accountability to one another?

I believe I may have told some of you this before, but some time ago I had a dream in which I was standing right here behind the pulpit here. It was a beautiful Sunday, the sun was flooding in here, your singing was beautiful, the worship team was great, it was awesome. I then got up and I said, “We study through books of the Bible”, as I always do, and when I began to speak, I was actually confessing sins right at the top. Only they were not my sins, they were your sins. (Some of you have confided in me things that you struggle with, and the worst thing that a pastor can imagine is the betrayal of the trust that has been given to him.) All of a sudden I am sitting here going, “Yeah, and there is so over there and he is really struggling with greed. There is so and so over there. He is just power hungry, there is so and so over there, there is lust, that person is just being ruled by that. Here is this person who is just arrogant.” Blah blah, blah, on and on and on.

This was just a nightmare for me, but it reminded me of the responsibility and the indispensable gift of accountability that we have in the redemptive community of faith. How important it is. The voice of the Holy Spirit is so important. The voice of scripture is so important. The human being with skin on that is the loudest voice of the Holy Spirit in my life. It is not me, it is my wife. Then next it is the Servant Leadership Council to whom I am accountable. If they call me in to talk to me and want to raise a red flag or whatever, I will listen to them. I submit myself to them. Then onto our Godly staff, our wonderful, beautiful partners in the gospel, and on and on the list goes. Many of you, who I know personally, if you spoke to me, I would take very seriously what you say.

That does not mean there are not people who come up to me and say, “I am offended at the way you do X, Y, Z.” A long time ago it was something small, like “I am offended at the way we do communion here. Why don’t we use unleavened bread?” I would say, “Well, it is not about the bread. That is why we do not use unleavened bread. It is about Jesus, it is about what He has done. It is about the symbol of His body being broken for us, His blood being shed for us.” However, there are people who occasionally will come up and say, “You offended me when you said it this way.” Humor can sometimes be one of those triggers, that happens, but I would also like to say, look with me by turning to the right in your Bibles to First Corinthians thirteen, (which a lot of us know and have heard it read at weddings). It is an important passage because it is called “The Love Chapter” for some reason, right?

In First Corinthians chapter thirteen, just look at verses four through seven with me. “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not jealous. Love does not brag, and is not arrogant.” So in other words, love is not on Twitter, okay? You are probably not going to find it there. If you are looking for the definition of love, you may not even find it in pop music anymore. There might be some songs that do display it, but love is patient and love is kind. In the Lord, love does not say, “Get out of the way”. Love is not mean spirited. (I could say it that way too.) Love is not jealous. Love is resting peacefully, and harmoniously with the relationship. Love does not brag, and it is not arrogant. Love first of all, does not act unbecomingly. It does not seek its own. Well that is so contrary to what our culture tells us to do. Our culture tells us to grab for everything you can get.

Love is not provoked, which is interesting because even though there are people trying to provoke me every day, I can still be somebody who is not provoked, right? How do I do that? Well, the next verse, “Love does not take into account a wrong suffered” tells us. Now, have you ever been in the mood, (I have been) and I confess this to you where I look back on it now and I say, “you know what, that afternoon, that day, that night, whatever it was, that encounter with that person, I was pretty vulnerable and I had a real thin skin. I just interpreted everything that was said. Everything was done in the wrong kind of way, and I felt like those people hated me, or that person was mean to me”, or whatever it is. This can happen to all of us. What happens for me is that I read this and I say, “Oh, in other words, there might actually be a wrong done to me, but I am supposed to, if I love the person, I am supposed to, like Jesus, not take offense to that wrong that is done to me”.

Wow. I do not know about you, but that is convicting to me. “Love never fails”, (verse eight) and I will stop right there to say that is just so powerful. “Love, (verse seven) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” It is really beautiful at a wedding, isn’t it? But it is really, really hard in relationships, isn’t it? Now somebody out there must agree with me on this, please. Okay? I mean I queue up all of the kids we dedicate and the adults that we do wedding ceremonies for all the time with just saying, “remember, you are marrying a sinner and there is no other choice, and so are they, there is no other choice. You are also marrying way over your head. Why? Because you are marrying somebody who is a part of the redemptive community”.

A truly Christian community is a thoroughly redemptive community where grace, mercy, and forgiveness flow freely. They are visible, those things, the grace, the mercy, and the forgiveness. They are visible to others and they bring glory to King Jesus. Is this hard? Yeah, it is hard, but that does not mean we are not called to it. Lewis says,

“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have somebody to forgive.”

–C.S. Lewis

I mean, we all laugh, right? Because we know this. That is why we laugh. It has been difficult for us to forgive others along the way.

So how do we pursue reconciliation, restoration, and forgiveness? I will just give you a few highlights. Four things that I think we can pull out of this chapter.

1. There must be the context of a loving relationship, a brother. When your brother sins, that means somebody that you have a relationship with, (that means I do not walk in this room and get my scanner going just looking for anybody that I think is sinning). Also, if it is not against you, (if the other variant, ancient manuscript copies are right) and it is just that they just sin in general, (I might know something about somebody that is not really my brother, nor in close relationship) but a very familial, friendly, loving relationship needs to be there before we approach anybody. This is not wholesale where you just come in and start cleaning out everybody that you think is in sin. Because guess what? We are all wrestling and struggling with something. So we would all just have to go home. You guys who are watching online would not be allowed to watch online either. This is important and I think that we begin with that in mind, the context of a loving relationship. If you are going to approach somebody, at least have the right to speak into their life because you are in relationship with them. Before you take on the job of reproving or correcting somebody, make sure you have earned their trust and that they know you have their highest good in mind.

The idea is that for the body of Christ to be spiritually healthy, the members of the body need to be in right relationship with one another. Since the heart of man is deceitful, (that is since we often fool ourselves into thinking we are better than we really are), we need the objectivity of others to see when we are heading in the wrong direction. We need that accountability, but make sure you are in relationship with this person. None of us are above the need for admonishment and encouragement. No Bible study teacher, no home group leader, no pastor, no Servant Leadership Council member, no believer of any kind gets to the point where they no longer need the accountability, the indispensable gift of accountability. We all need this too.

2. There must be clarity regarding sin. If your brother sins, whether that is against you, or just if your brother sins. He is not declaring open season on anyone who has merely offended me by seeing or doing things differently than I would, or by interpreting social trends in a different way than I do, or even by, dare I say it in this season, they voted the other way.

So if your brother or sister offends you by sinning against you, (but this does not include they sinned the other way), this brings up a question of, who defines sin? Okay, who defines sin? Is the definition of sin up for grabs? Is it up to the individual? Is it all up to what you or I think, what I prefer, what serves my purposes, and what is convenient for me? Is the definition of sin up to the discretion of some board of social media monitors? Is that what defines sin in the world these days? Whether it is the old regime of Twitter, or the new regime of Twitter, look at the moral landscape around us at present. I would say there is little consensus on right and wrong and much chaos on right and wrong. So where do we go? Where do we turn?

The people of God, the redemptive community of faith. Here it is, and that is why we study through books of the Bible here at the Village Chapel. We think the right to define sin belongs to God alone. He has revealed His thoughts, ideas, the way He sees things in His word, and that is why we study through books of the Bible. The Bible presents sin in at least two different ways. One, it is a condition of the heart, and secondly, there are acts, individual acts of sin that flow out of that condition of the heart called sin. So when we read about it in the Bible, we will see both of those there. So this passage is not about going to somebody and accusing them of being late all the time, or not wearing a tie to church, oh my, or of having bad breath or not taking a shower, that is not it. If the person is just doing something that annoys us or offends us personally, that thing, if it is not a clear violation of God’s law, is not what this passage is about. We are misapplying this text if we think that is what it is about. There must be the context of relationship and there must be some clarity regarding sin.

3. There must be a personal approach. That is what I see right here. Go and reprove. Do not just text them, or worse do not post something on Facebook or Twitter. Do not send an email or an anonymous letter. All of those things can be so easily misinterpreted. Raise your hand if somebody has misinterpreted an email you sent ever? Okay. Or a text. Yeah. Most of us and I have done the same. I have misinterpreted ones that have been sent to me, and I have taken offense, I have taken umbrage with, and I thought somebody was accusing me of things I was not guilty of.

So we need to show some love, respect, and compassion and do what Jesus says to do here. Go to them. Personal approach. I noticed there are three stages to this approach that he lays out. You go, and if you do not get heard, then you take along with you in the second phase two witnesses, just like the Old Testament had prescribed, two or three witnesses. If that does not work, then you go to the whole church. Again, this is about something that is clearly sinful, not just annoying, not just irritating. The redemptive community as emissaries of Jesus then can come to a conclusion and bind whatever needs to be bound, or come up with a consensus for the way the people of God will behave in this community of faith. Okay, that is the order. That is the kind of order we need in a world that is recklessly out of control and morally bankrupt in so many ways for when it comes to reconciliation, restoration, forgiveness, Christ is both our means and our model.

In other words, I freely admit to you that I do not have it in my heart to forgive some people. I would ask you to raise your hand if you identify with me on that, but some people are going to go ahead and do it anyway. I was going to let you off the hook. Okay, let’s do it. You freely admit that there are some people who just have been hard to forgive. Yeah, but Christ is our means and our model, and this is what is beautiful about the Christian faith. He does not ever ask me to do anything where He is unwilling to empower me to do it. See, the Holy Spirit living inside of you, the Holy Spirit living inside of me, spreads, scatters, showers abroad in my heart, the love of God. That love is the kind of love that forgives its enemies, its offenders, and that is why the community of faith can be such a beautiful, miraculous, brilliant, luminous display of the glory of God at work in a dark world. Let’s do that. Let’s be that kind of redemptive community.

The primary goal is not casting condemnation and judgment on someone, it is not about acquiring power or tightening control, and it is never ever about seeking revenge. Some of you may be clinging to the possibility of seeking revenge. I know sometimes in my mind recently, (I do not want to give all the details), but something happened to just Kim and I where somebody took something of ours and we found out about it and it ate at me. We do not even know the person personally, but it ate at me so bad, and it kept me awake at night. I am working out narratives where I can take some of my skills and nail this person. I am really burning some energy on this and it has just eaten me alive.

I do not know if you are that way, but that can happen to us, can’t it?

He who seeks revenge,

[says the old Chinese proverb]

“…digs two graves.”

I want to kill him. Meanwhile, I am dropping down into the grave myself because unforgiveness is just ruling in my heart like crazy. We have to rely on Christ. He is our means and our model. The apostle Paul would write to that same church at Corinth and he gives instructions for them. By the way, in First Corinthians chapter five, at the end of that chapter, he gives them instruction about what to do about the brothers or the sisters who are in open sin and rebellion against God and how they as a community of faith, a redemptive community of faith, are to deal with those kinds of people. But he also says right here, and some of you are familiar with this passage,

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature…”

That is from Second Corinthians.

“…The old things have passed away. Behold new things have come. Now all these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God, we’re making an appeal through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

2 Corinthians 5:17-20

So take all of our offenses, all of our sinful acts, deeds, thoughts, and words, and take this all to the cross. It changes everything.

Christ is the means and the model for us. He is the model because He went to the cross, not for His sins, but for mine and for yours, whether or not you even admit that you are a sinner. That is why He went to the cross. The devil did not win one over on Him. The religious leaders did not somehow or another manipulate this whole thing. No. This was God’s plan, God’s idea, and Christ would come and lay down His life for His enemies. Me? Yeah, us sinners.

That contrast, a 1.25 million to one contrast, when you talk about the 10,000 talents that one had owed and the other one only owed a hundred denarii. It’s like a 1.25 million to one contrast. That is how generous God is with forgiveness. May I, may you, may we become generous in that same way. Alister McGrath, one of my favorite living theologians, says,

“God wants and intends the restoration of a lost world to Himself, to its true nature and destiny by breaking down whatever barriers are placed between it and Him, and in Jesus, he actually makes this possible.”

–Alister McGrath, Studies in Doctrine

Jesus is the means. Jesus is the model. Both when it comes to you and I trying to navigate through some kind of reconciliation, forgiveness, or restoration with somebody else. I have said this before, forgiveness takes one person, reconciliation takes two. You may or may not get the other person to want to be reconciled to you, but you can forgive when you start to think about how much you have been forgiven yourself.

That is the perspective through which we can see this. When we look at what Jesus has done. Why are we not eager to forgive? I think there are several reasons. Sometimes it is about our pain. Some of you may be in pain over something that has been, something that has been perpetrated against you. Why do we not forgive? Why are we not eager to forgive? Sometimes it is about our pride. We just cannot seem to get there. We are stewing like I have been over this issue. Sometimes it makes us feel powerful to not forgive. So whether it is about your pain, whether it is about your pride, or whether it is about some power grab on your part, get on your knees and repent before God.

Do you know that every single sin is an offense against God? Some sins are an offense against another person, but every sin is a sin against God, including the sin of withholding forgiveness. We say it right there every Sunday. The only conditional statement in the Lord’s prayer is “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. What we are actually saying to God is ‘God, in like manner, the same way I am forgiving to others, would you forgive me?’. Yet, if I am down here withholding forgiveness, digging two graves essentially, and saying, ‘God only forgive me the way I forgive others’, I pray that prayer to my own peril, don’t I? Yeah, that is not good. How about you? Is it pain or pride? Is it some power grab? Maybe you are just grumpy and you were in a mean spirited moment. That has happened to me before. When somebody sins against you or even just offends you, do you have a problem with being vindictive like I do? The God of the Bible offers forgiveness to those who do not deserve it and who can do nothing to earn it. We said that earlier, did we not? “What is grace?” “Can I earn grace?” I love that last slide, (Pastor Matt, it began the ACNA thing, it began with just one word sentence) “No.” There are so few no’s that happen in this world right now. Simple answer. Can you earn grace, everybody? No. Yeah, you cannot earn grace, but you can receive it as a gift, and you know what? You can give it away as a gift too. You can extend it. You can reflect it if you want to put it that way.

Image bearers of God are little mirrors whose hearts reflect the heart of Jesus. Frederick Buechner says,

“When somebody you have wronged forgives you, you are spared the dull and self diminishing throb of a guilty conscience. When you forgive somebody who wronged you, you are spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. For both parties forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each other’s presence.”

–Frederick Buechner

You know this, but I have been married forty-four years. We know this, don’t we, honey? We know that moment where it is just almost impossible to look the other in the eye because you are withholding forgiveness or you are angry. You know this with people. You work with people in your community, with people in your family who you visited last Thanksgiving and you are dreading the next couple weeks and what might happen.

What if we all decided to be part of a redemptive community? There was a woman, I will call her Nancy. She is blonde haired, middle class, middle aged, and lives in Montana. She was not the sort of person you would expect to find speaking for a crowd of prisoners at the Montana State Penitentiary, but these prisoners and volunteer workers were straining to hear her whispered soft voice as she explained her reasons for being there that day. Up until several months before, Nancy scarcely even knew about the Montana State Prison, what she did know, no doubt, was not the sort of thing that would prompt her to spend long hours talking and counseling with the inmates in that facility.

She started thinking about the institution the day a young man named Gary, we will call him, was sentenced to serve time for the brutal, premeditated murder of a soft spoken, gentle giant of another young man named Jack, we will call him. She, Nancy, could have been bitter as many people were, but she hurt for this scared young man, Gary. She somehow knew the guilt he was feeling and the shame and hurt that his crimes had brought upon him. Even more than that, Jesus Christ had changed Nancy’s life and heart, and she knew that she had been called to offer the same kind of love and forgiveness that God had offered to her through Jesus.

So that day in the courtroom, when Gary was convicted of murder and sentenced to prison, she began to feel drawn to this young man and to others like him who needed to know God’s forgiveness. It was not easy though. Forgiveness is not always easy, especially in her case. You see, Nancy was in the courtroom that day because a young man, brutally senselessly murdered by Gary was her, Nancy’s, twenty-three year old son named Jack. It is amazing how her soft voice can speak so loudly, even as I tell this story, whenever she speaks about forgiveness. She echoes the voice of the Father whose only son was killed not because of something he had done, but because of something that she, Nancy, and you and I have done, sin.

The father’s voice is so full and overflowing of His deep love for you and for me. It really is filling this room even as we study through a passage like this. The call is for us to be members of the kingdom whose king is eager to forgive, to redeem, to restore, to reconcile. Will you be one of His subjects in His kingdom? Is there someone who you need to forgive to be reconciled, or at least to attempt to reconcile with?

I will close with this Stott quote,

“Nothing moves us to forgive like the wondering knowledge filled with wonder that we ourselves have been forgiven. Nothing proves more clearly that we have been forgiven than our own readiness to forgive.”

–John Stott

‘Lord, thank you for your grace, your mercy, and your beautiful forgiveness on offer to us in this room. Somebody here today, somebody who may be listening on the internet, has not received your mercy and forgiveness. Maybe they have been struggling with thinking whether you could even do that. Help us to believe in you as you reveal yourself to us, that you are the One who came for sinners because they are sinners, not because they got their act together, but because they are enemies of God and you came for us. That is just so amazing. You are indeed the means and the model of how we might be able to be a redemptive community. So I pray, Jesus, that you would live large in our hearts and that you, Holy Spirit, would speak to each and every person within the sound of my voice about the kind of redemption, the kind of reconciliation, the kind of mercy and forgiveness that you might want to work in some of our relationships. We are open to you, Lord. We bow before you, grateful for your amazing grace and pray that you would reflect that off of your people into this world in which we live. In Jesus’ name, Amen.’

(Edited for Reading)

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