“Forgiveness in the Family of Christ”
Genesis 50:19-20; Matthew 18:21-22
September 16 & 17, 2017
What is the balance in your bank account? I don’t need to know, but you do – especially if you want to buy something or pay your bills. If we spend more than we have in the account, we are “over-drawn” and suffer a penalty – and none of us want or can afford that!
But what if we had a never-ending source of income for our bank account? Wouldn’t that be great? We could be quite generous in spending the unlimited wealth available to us!
Although I’ve asked you about your bank account, God’s Word directs our attention to a much more important “account” – one that we might seldom think about – our “forgiveness account.” What is the balance in your “forgiveness account?”
Both the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading teach us about forgiveness –the Old Testament reading from the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers; and in the Gospel reading Jesus important teaching.
In Matthew 18, we read, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? [The Jewish rabbis taught you must do it 3 times but not a 4th, so Peter was being very generous and suggested] Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven (or 70 times 7) times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22) And Jesus further drove home His important teaching by telling the parable about the outrageous double standard of the unmerciful servant!
But first, notice that Peter (like we so naturally do) saw himself as the one sinned against! He asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” To begin with Peter had things back-wards. The first question (seldom if ever asked) must be – “How many times have I sinned against God, and God has forgiven me?” [Back to the illustration of the bank account; the starting place whenever we deal with “forgiving others” must always begin with the question, What do I have in my ‘forgiveness account’?] How much forgiveness have I needed and received?
Notice this emphasis in the parable that Jesus told. A servant owed his king “millions of dollars” – an impossible debt to ever pay back! The servant begged for “patience” and he promised the impossible – to pay back everything! The king went FAR BEYOND “patience” – “he took pity on the man, canceled the debt and let him go!” What a HUGE, undeserved “deposit” into this man’s “forgiveness account!”
But the “unthinkable” happened! This man who had been shown ABUNDANT MERCY, went out… found a fellow servant who owed him (a few dollars) and he demanded full payment for this small, insignificant debt! When this fellow servant also pleaded for “patience” (with the very “do-able” promise of paying it all back); wouldn’t we expect the “forgiven servant” to “pass on” a part of the ENORMOUS amount of forgiveness that he had just so graciously received? But instead, the UNTHINKABLE happened – “he had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt!”
This parable of Jesus does NOT have a HAPPY ENDING! Because the “wicked servant” refused to “have mercy” (forgive) his fellow servant, things changed drastically! The king treated him in the same way! The king “turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed!” And then Jesus speaks the undeniable words of Law: “This is how My Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (v.35) [Note also that Jesus had also taught earlier, “This is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven… Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors… For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:9-15)
Forgiveness is never a LICENSE TO KEEP ON SINNING. When we receive God’s forgiveness it changes us.
What a negative example we have in this unmerciful servant in Jesus’ parable! In contrast, what a positive example we have in today’s Old Testament Scripture reading – the example of Joseph!
When he was just a teenager, his 10 brothers ganged up on him because of jealousy, and sold him into slavery! For 13 years Joseph suffered as a slave and was even imprisoned for something he hadn’t done! When their father, Jacob had died, Joseph’s brothers panicked, afraid of what Joseph might do in revenge for what they had done! Their attitude is a commentary that they certainly did NOT understand God’s gracious gift of forgiveness!
But God’s love and forgiveness HAD filled Joseph’s “forgiveness account.” “Joseph said to (his brothers), ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?’”
This question that Joseph asked, “Am I in the place of God?” helps us to see that by withholding full and free forgiveness from those who sin against us (no matter how terrible the sin might have been); we act as if we are “replacing” God! And when we “replace God,” we then refuse the “great deposit of forgiveness” that He so graciously gives. Using the example of a bank account – when we refuse to forgive anyone, we also refuse all the deposits that God makes to our “forgiveness account.” That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray, first: “forgive us our trespasses” – CHANGE OUR HEARTS TO THE NEW LIFE IN JESUS – make us to realize the great “deposits” to our “forgiveness account” – and only then can we pray – “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Jesus fills our forgiveness account as we regularly read and hear God’s Word, at home and at public worship; as we receive Jesus’ true body and blood “for the forgiveness of our sins” and gives us NEW LIFE in His Kingdom. We live the new life, no longer putting any limit to forgiving self and others, because the forgiveness that flows through us NEVER originates in us; it is in our hearts ONLY because Jesus has deposited it there – a “never ending source” so that (with God’s continued working in us.) Therefore, we WILL generously and gladly forgive as our heavenly Father so fully and freely forgives us.
See you in worship this coming weekend, as Jesus’ continues to fill our forgiveness account and blesses us so that we may be His blessing to our family, neighbors, co-workers, friends and all those around us.