Always be Ready to Forgive from the Heart! Why? Because…
Dear Jesus, my precious Savior and Lord—I come before You confessing my sin and unworthiness, yet I come confident of Your grace and forgiveness. Lead me to sincere repentance; guide me into a better understanding of Your truth; move me to sing Your praises; and in my dealings with others may I forgive even as I have been so richly forgiven. Amen.
After their father’s death Joseph’s brothers were afraid that he would seek revenge in view of their sins against him. Joseph assured them of his forgiveness, knowing that what had happened was all part of God’s providential plan.
Paul here encourages us Christians to live good and godly lives— forgiving and loving one another, while worshipping and striving to do everything we do in the name of our Lord Jesus and with thankfulness to God.
Text: Matthew 18:21-35
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
In Christ Jesus, who calls upon us to forgive as we have been forgiven, dear fellow redeemed:
When you hear the names Montagues and Capulets, or Hatfields and McCoys—of what do you think? If you are unfamiliar with those names, perhaps you could think of the Vikings and the Packers—no, I do not think we want to go there! Those first four names, however, represent feuding families. The Montagues and the Capulets were the families of Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare’s play of that name. The Hatfields and the McCoys were two families living in the hills of West Virginia and Kentucky whose bitter feud made them famous, or perhaps better infamous. In both cases the hatred these families had for each other and their unwillingness to forgive resulted in unnecessary bloodshed and death.
Forgiveness is key to a healthy spiritual life. It lubricates our human relationships. It is an essential fruit of our relationship with God. The apostle summarized these truths in our Epistle Lesson: “As the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also…do” (Colossians 3:12-13). Is it not interesting that Paul addresses us as God’s elect—holy and beloved, and yet he recognizes that at times we have to put up with each other and there will be reasons to complain about each other, yet still we are to forgive “even as Christ forgave you!”
My dear friends, Jesus in His parable of the Unmerciful Servant teaches us: ALWAYS BE READY TO FORGIVE FROM THE HEART! Why? Because, first of all, God has forgiven you your entire sin-debt! Secondly, no one’s sin-debt against you can compare to the sin-debt you owed God!Finally, to refuse to forgive the sin-debt of others against you invites God’s judgment upon you!
Our text begins with Peter’s question: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Peter no doubt thought himself rather generous with his suggestion, for most rabbis in that day stated that you only needed to forgive someone three times. Jesus’ answer must have blown Peter and the others listening away: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” In other words, we are always to forgive! But, why? It is so hard to forgive at times. Some people are not sorry for what they have done and they have hurt so much. Some people just keep on hurting—they really do not deserve to be forgiven, do they? Our minds have a hard time wrapping ourselves around Jesus’ command. His explanatory parable does not permit a whole host of exceptions or allow for mitigating circumstances. Rather, in that parable Jesus addresses each of us directly and says—ALWAYS BE READY TO FORGIVE FROM THE HEART, because God has forgiven you your entire sin-debt!
The king in Jesus’ parable is God. We are His servants. More pointedly, each of us is the servant in the parable who owes his master “the ten thousand talents”—a debt so large that it could never be repaid. We have all sinned so often against our God that we owe Him a sin-debt so great that we can never hope to repay. Like the servant in the parable we deserve to be condemned with our families to be sold into slavery—to be condemned eternally. “But wait a minute,” our minds object, “we’re surely not that bad, are we? We go to church; we pay our bills; we try not to cheat on our taxes (well, for the most part—who really cares about exact mileage anyway); we try not to break the speed-limits (well, most of the time anyway, except for last Friday when I was late for my appointment). Can’t we work something out? Can’t we pay God back with better behavior over time in the future?” The answer is “No!” Were it not for the grace of our God we would be condemned forever!
Just as the king in the parable had compassion on that servant and forgave him his entire debt, so God in Christ has forgiven us everything we owe Him—our entire sin-debt! That is grace! We do not deserve God’s forgiveness, but it is given—freely, completely, removing all of our sin and enabling us by faith to enter into a glorious Father/son…Father/daughter relationship with our God. How does God want us to respond to such mercy? ALWAYS BE READY TO FORGIVE FROM THE HEART, because God has forgiven you your entire sin-debt!
Yes, ALWAYS BE READY TO FORGIVE FROM THE HEART, because no one’s sin-debt against you can compare to the sin-debt you owed God! This is where we so often run into trouble. We tend to minimize our sin-debt against God—“He has only a few things to forgive me, because I am, after all, a pretty good guy.” Needless to say, we are not even aware of many of the sins we commit against God, but we are pretty good at seeing, recording, and remembering the sins of others against us. Those lists get pretty long, and they often loom large in our minds. That is why it is so hard to forgive, as we have been forgiven.
The servant in Jesus’ parable, once freed of his debt, soon found a fellow servant, who owed him “a hundred denarii.” The two money-debts cannot really be compared. Ten thousands talents was ten life-times of wages, if not more, while a hundred denarii was a mere hundred days’ wages. Yet that unmerciful servant refused to share his good fortune and mercifully forgive his fellow servant as he had been forgiven. No, he grabbed him by the neck, demanded immediate payment, and when the money was not forthcoming, he cast him into debtor’s prison.
Let us each take a good look in the mirror of our relationships. The sin-debt owed us by others does not even compare with the sin-debt we owe God. “But he was drunk and killed my father with his car!” “But she left me for another man!” “But he abused me as a child!” “But she ruined my good name!” “But he humiliated me in front of the whole team!” “But she stole my boyfriend!” “But he hit me, Mom!” “But, she started it, Dad!” It’s hard to forgive, isn’t it! It is so very hard, because the effects of sin often hurt so much! But, Jesus tells us—ALWAYS BE READY TO FORGIVE FROM THE HEART, because God has forgiven you your entire sin-debt, and because no one’s sin-debt against you can compare to the sin-debt you owed God! Those are the facts straight from the mouth of Jesus!
But there is a third reason why you and I are to ALWAYS BE READY TO FORGIVE FROM THE HEART. It is because to refuse to forgive the sin-debt of others against you invites God’s judgment upon you! How serious is God about forgiveness? He is very serious about it, as Jesus’ parable indicates. When the actions of the unmerciful servant were reported to the king, he was incensed. The king immediately recalled that servant into his presence. He addressed him directly and forcefully: “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” He then withdrew his gift, re-imposed the debt, and delivered him to the torturers. Jesus’ words that follow ought to send chills down our spines: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
My dear friends, God is serious about forgiveness! To refuse to forgive others, deprives us of God’s forgiveness and invites His divine judgment! But why should God care if you forgive your brother or not? He cares, because He loves both you and your brother. His desire is for both of your salvations. God sacrificed His only-begotten and beloved Son so that you both can spend eternity in heaven. He has that end in mind. He knows that sin-filled situations will arise, for we are, after all, sinners. But remember we are by His grace also saints! God knows that we at times will become angry, but He also understands the potential harm that can come into our lives because of anger. That is why the Holy Spirit moved the apostle Paul to write: “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). Satan wants to destroy all of our lives. He wants to embitter our lives and prevent God’s kingdom of grace and mercy from coming to us. He wants all of us to dishonor God with our unforgiving thoughts and actions, because then he wins! God wants just the opposite. He wants us to be filled with joy. God wants us to live in hope and with confidence. He wants us to support others and be supported by others. God wants us to have a close relationship with Him and with our fellow believers. That can only happen and will only happen as we are led to forgive one another…and not just with our words, but from our hearts!
Yet it is so hard at times! That is why God has given us His Holy Spirit to dwell within our hearts—to change those hearts and bestow upon us those spiritual fruits so necessary for us to live forgiven and forgiving lives. Momentarily we will be singing the Offertory: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence; and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation; and uphold me with Your free spirit.” My dear friends, if you have been wrestling with the problem of an unforgiving heart, humble yourself before God and pray those words with sincerity. Satan always lurks about as we are wounded by the sins of others with the intention of sowing seeds of bitterness within our hearts. Look up to heaven for the help of your God. Look into the mirror of His law to see the immense sin-debt you once owed Him but which He has forgiven you in Christ. See those who sin against you not as your enemies, but as fellow travelers lost in this world, endangered by Satan, and in need of being blessed by the gracious forgiveness of our Savior God. To that end Jesus tells us ALWAYS BE READY TO FORGIVE FROM THE HEART! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting
Soli Gloria Deo!