Sermon from Sunday 17th September from Phil Horscroft

Matthew 18:21-35

Merciful God I thank you for your love, your forgiveness and your blessings.  May my words find favour in your eyes and be fruitful for those who hear them.  Amen.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says :
For our sake he made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in and through Him we might become the righteousness of God.

Hanging on the Cross our Lord Jesus was completely without sin; He was Holy, He was harmless, He was undefiled; a spotless lamb;  He had never sinned not for a split second.  And yet the Lord our God placed upon His shoulders all the sins of mankind past present and future.  To the extent that, because sin cannot survive in the presence of the Lord our God, He had to withdraw from His only begotten son for the first time.  My God my God why have you forsaken me?  And then our Lord Jesus paid that terrible price for our sins because we would never be able to pay the price ourselves.  All that to enable our forgiveness.

To put it into words I can understand The Lord our God treated His own beloved Son as if He had lived my life.  Then He punished our Lord Jesus for my sins.  Then the Lord our God turned around and treated me as if I had lived our Lord Jesus’ life.  This is the great Doctrine of Substitution.  The very heart of the Gospel. What we get is complete forgiveness covered by the righteousness of Jesus; when The Lord our God looks at the Cross He sees you when He looks at you He sees our Lord Jesus Christ.  Staggering.

Todays reading from the Gospel reminds us that whereas we are accepted into the kingdom of God we still need to behave ourselves.  We’re not there yet; we are still small storm-tossed ships of faith clinging together under the wings of the Lord our God in a fallen, sin-filled world. Constantly tempted to stray, constantly under some form of attack or clever snare.  We face many dangers and today’s reading teaches us about one of the most dangerous if not the most dangerous; failure to forgive.  In the reading our Lord Jesus gives us instruction on how we must deal with this particular temptation.  The temptation to judge and pronounce sentence without mercy.  The temptation to say to the Lord our God “I’ll deal with this one Lord”.

The reading sees Peter asking our Lord Jesus how many times must I forgive my brother? As many as seven times?  Now Peter thought he was wildly exaggerating here because Jewish doctrine of that time was to forgive no more than three times, based upon something in the Book of Amos.  If someone transgressed against you again and again you forgive him the first three times but never again after the third time. 

But our Lord Jesus says “No, seventy times seven” and He goes on to explain in the parable of the merciless servant. 

The kingdom of heaven, our Lord Jesus tells us, is like a human king who is doing the year’s accounts.  He has summoned all those he has placed into positions of authority to come and settle accounts.  One of them comes before him who has been given a vast amount of money in order to establish control over a certain area.  Ten thousand talents.  To put that into context the total annual revenues of Israel and Judea at that time was 900 talents.  So the sum of money discussed here is eleven years tax income of a small country.  This man has taken the money and come back with nothing but excuses.  In short he has probably embezzled the taxes.  So the king says well I must get some return on my investment so I’ll sell you and your family into slavery.  The man begs on his knees for a second chance, for more time to repay, for forgiveness, and the king’s heart is moved with compassion and he forgives the debt.  Eleven years of a small country’s tax revenue waved goodbye. 

However as this servant is walking out of the room he meets a man who owes him 100 denarii.  One denarii would be about one days wages for a labourer.  He seizes the debtor by the throat and insists on payment of the debt right away.  The debtor begs on his knees for time to pay but the man has the debtor put into prison until he should repay the debt.  When the king finds out, he has the servant handed over to the tormentors. 

‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’.  We say it every day.

Forgiveness; it is one of the foundation stones of our faith and our hope.  Without forgiveness we are lost.  Every broken relationship every divorce, every failing church; look closely enough and you will find a lack or an absence, of forgiveness.  At some time in the break up, one or both parties could not or would not forgive some transgression.  We must forgive and we must go on forgiving if we want the Lord our God to do the same for us.  Because when we don’t forgive we are throwing the great gift of the Passion of our Lord Jesus, the Doctrine of Substitution,  back in His face.  The Lord our God has forgiven us for any and every sin, and we can’t forgive just one?

It seems to me that there are two tracks, two reasons, to forgive.  We forgive others for our own benefit.  When we forgive someone who has sinned against us, note that provision, someone who has sinned against us, so it’s not particularly someone who’s shoes we don’t like; when we forgive someone who has sinned against us, someone who has caused us harm wilfully or negligently, we lift that weight from our own heart and, to some extent, we acknowledge that great and unmerited gift of forgiveness from The Lord who is our God. 

The other track is when we forgive someone who has sinned against us we give them the opportunity to repent of that sin.  To turn away from that sin and hopefully stop doing it.  We still forgive them even if they don’t repent and keep doing it, because we do that for our own salvation and let’s face it for our own peace of mind.  Otherwise that person will be living rent free and drawing on the walls inside your head.  Our forgiveness will only benefit the one who sins against us if they take that opportunity to repent, to turn away from that behaviour and stop doing it.  We forgive them but we don’t forget and we make sure that we take reasonable precautions in the future to avoid allowing them to keep doing it. 

The bible tells us how to do this.  Matthew 18:15-17

If your brother wrongs you, go and show him his fault, between you and him privately. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.  But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two others, so that every word may be confirmed and upheld by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If he pays no attention to them and refuses to listen and obey, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a pagan and a tax collector.

When someone has sinned against you, and again this is someone who has sinned against you not someone who’s lifestyle you disapprove of, you talk to them privately, tell them what you believe they did and give them a chance to repent, to apologise.  If they don’t take that chance you ask someone to sit in on the conversation and try again with impartial witnesses; if they still don’t repent/apologise, even though a third party agrees that you have been sinned against, you ask the church to sit in on the conversation.  If that person after all this still won’t apologise even though other people and then the church have agreed that they have sinned against you then you still forgive them in your heart but you put them outside your life.  If the sin is against the church then they should be put outside the church.  You must forgive but if they do not repent, then that is upon them.  The Lord our God is the God of truth and justice after all and vengeance belongs to him not to us.  Romans 12:19-21

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave the way open for God’s wrath; for it is written, vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says The Lord.

We are also called upon to forgive our enemies, seventy times seven, indeed refusing to forgive anyone is in itself a serious sin.  If we won’t forgive then we are saying to The Lord our God that His sacrifice upon the Cross was for nothing.  We are in effect refusing to recognise what our Lord Jesus has done for us.  When we do forgive from our heart we are acknowledging the sacrifice on the Cross and we are also at that moment coming closer to The Lord our God.  Perhaps as close as we are able.  When we are able to forgive but we refuse to forgive someone then we are literally leaving a door in our soul wide open for the enemy to slide in and gain a toehold.  He will use that opportunity to whisper all sorts of temptations into our ears.  Never forget the thin end of the wedge is his sharpest weapon against us.  When we refuse to forgive we are indeed on the slippery slope to destruction.

There are, I believe, three stages in the process of forgiveness.

  1. Suffering an injury from someone creates in us the need for forgiveness.
  2. By forgiving you are actually performing surgery within yourself to fix the wound.
  3. Having gone through stages one and two you now have the opportunity to begin again. You are reconciled.

There is a saying in the military about someone who has wronged you and you haven’t been able to reconcile the issue. It is referred to as a stone in your shoe.  A stone in your shoe is no problem at all if you’re sitting around in your slippers not going anywhere.  But if you want to walk anywhere it gets progressively more painful if you can’t get that stone out of your shoe by forgiving.  So, don’t walk around with stones in your shoes.  As the apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 3:13

Be gentle and forbearing with one another and, if one has a difference against another, readily pardoning each other; even as the Lord has freely forgiven you, so must you also forgive.

Forgive as you have been forgiven, freely, from the heart.  Amen?

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