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Forgiveness? How Often? (19A)

September 11, 2011

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Matthew 18:21-35


Peter again.  There he goes again!  Can’t help it.  Being Peter again.  But this time instead of pontificating he comes with a very important theological question.  One with which Christians struggle at various times in their lives. “Lord, here’s one for you” Peter announces.  When my brother sins against me – I know I should forgive him – that’s a no brainer –  wasn’t born yesterday – but my real question is this:  when should I stop with all this forgiveness bit?  Usually I’m quite bighearted – so how about up to seven times and then draw the line then?”


Wow!  That is quite generous Peter!  REALLY!  We’d never even think to go that far.  It’s three strikes and you’re out with us!  Or maybe just one strike in our forgiveness ball game!  A zero tolerance sin-against-us policy!  A NO SIN EVER TOLERATED AGAINST US ZONE!


After all, you’ve got to put a boundary on forgiveness.  Forgiveness can only go so far.  When sinners test the boundaries of forgiveness there has to be a limit. 


Sounds quite natural, doesn’t it?  Reasonable.  Levelheaded.  Peter’s “up to seven times” is magnanimous.  Going the extra mile.  All fine and good!  Very Christian! 


But the Lord hasn’t had His say!  Oops!  Forgot about Him, didn’t we?  Left Him out of this forgiveness discussion. Haven’t heard His answer to Peter’s question. 


Perhaps that’s a good thing.  (Leaving Jesus out, that is!) 


After all, He always seems to wreck what we build.  Lays waste to all our reasonable ideas.  Deep-sixes what floats our boats.  Puts to death all the desperate ways of keeping ourselves as well as the church alive. 


Yeah, that’s the ticket:  Jesus, you step aside for a moment and we’ll get all this forgiveness stuff figured out for Peter.  Here’s how we’ll do it!  We’ll run the church with a sliding scale of forgiveness.  Depending on the sin and the sinner, here’s how the scale will slide:  from an absolute zero no tolerance policy at the bottom, to a three strikes in the middle, and then maxing out with seven absolutions at the top.  Brilliant!  That will work!  Now Jesus you be a good boy, have a round of golf, and bless what we’ve just decided.    


No rubber-stamping with the Lord.  He will have His say!  He will not be left out!  He answers Peter’s question!  And yes, ladies and gentlemen, IT’S AS BAD AS WE FEARED!  It couldn’t be any worse!


“Not seven times!” Jesus answers.  But He’s not done!  More to say He has!  Whether you can handle it or not!  “Not seven times, but seventy times seven!”  That’s the Jesus way of saying:  FORGIVE WITHOUT ANY LIMITS!  FORGIVENESS ALL THE TIME!  ABSOLUTION 24-7-365 IF THAT WHAT IT TAKES!


That’s never what we expected to hear!  That was never on our radar screens.  His answer is much more than we feared!  This is downright dreadful!  Absolutely awful! You can’t run your life that way let alone the church!  Sinners sin against you and you’re supposed to forgive them “seventy times seven”?  As if forgiveness is limitless?  Inexhaustible?  Unbounded?  That’s so reckless!  So irresponsible! Sinners will take advantage of you.  Sin against you on purpose.  And the church – good grief the church – the church has better things to do and say than speak in Jesus’ Name PARDON for sin and MERCY for sinners!  RIGHT?


“Not hardly!” declares the Lord Jesus.  “My cup of tea is the forgiveness of sins.  In your lives and in My church!  Forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness!  For those that sin against you.  Whether it’s once, twice, three times or whatever!  That’s precisely why I went to the cross!  It is why I shed My divine blood and gave My life into death – as the one and only sacrifice that atones for all sin and every sinner!  I have forgiven all sin!  I have cancelled all the sin debt!!  I’ve gone out of business when it comes to keeping score of sin.  I’ve died to such bookkeeping!  Because I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”


So you’re sinned against.  Joseph was.  Big time.  His brothers envied him, hated him, plotted to kill him, but instead sold him into forever more Egyptian slavery. 


So what do you do with those that sin against you?  Do you let the Lord have His say or not?  His say is:  FORGIVE.  Pardon.  Absolve.  Have mercy.  “Seventy times seven!”   His words for those who sinned against Him were:  “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  


So what’s holding you back from forgiving those that sin against you?  Why won’t you forgive?  Why do you refuse to forgive?  Why all the resentment?  Chips on your shoulders?  Joseph had every right in the world to hold a grudge against his brothers.  The evil that they did to him was cunningly outrageous!  Horrific!  And his brothers fully expected Joseph to exact a spiteful revenge when father Jacob died.  Their only hope was that he would at least treat them as slaves and not brothers. 


“You did evil to me,” Joseph told them.  “But God worked it all for good.  For the saving of many lives including yours from starvation and death.”  And Joseph forgave them.  Of everything!


But Joseph isn’t the Savior.  Jesus is! 


And the enormous evil that we did to Him!  We betrayed Him.  We denied Him!  We didn’t want to associate with Him!  We wanted Him dead!  We shouted, “Crucify Him!”  We mocked!  We sneered!  We wagged our heads!    


We meant it all for evil.  But He has changed it all for our good!  The saving of our very lives!  By bearing all that evil sin in His body on the cross!  By burying it all in the black hole of His tomb never to be remembered again!  His prayer was for you too:  “Father, forgive them.” 


His prayer has been answered.  You are forgiven – in Christ!!  All is forgiven through the Blood of the Lamb.  His Blood washing you clean in your Baptism.  His Body and Blood in the Supper with His own promise:  “Your sins are forgiven!” 


No forgiveness boundaries with the Lord Jesus.  No zero tolerance policy.  No three strikes and you’re out.  Not just seven times.  But a 24-7-365 promise that you are absolved of everything because of His precious Good Friday sacrifice!  His Blood purifies you from all sin!  That’s His say!  His Word!  His promise!  Certain and sure! 


And you’re never the same again!  His forgiveness is so immense.  So marvelous!  So generous!  So gracious!  Such undeserved forgiveness from Him has its way with you in dealing with those who sin against you.  It’s really not as bad as we thought!  It’s really quite freeing!  Quite … Christian! 


After all, the forgiveness you speak to a brother or sister sinner is Christ’s forgiveness.  And with His word of forgiveness that you speak He reigns – as the crucified and risen Savior of sinners!  Ruling graciously with His persistent pardon and unlimited mercy!  The kingdom of heaven in our very midst – with the word of absolution!  All because He had His say!  How wonderful!     


All thanks and praise be to Jesus! 


In the Name of Jesus.   


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