September 7, 2008: Forgiveness, the Greatest Work of a Christian

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we have come today to beg Your forgiveness for all our many sins against You, and now we have received it. Now our hearts are cleansed and the weight of our guilt has been removed by You from our shoulders. Our thanks seems small in view of so great a gift. Therefore, enlarge our thanks by moving us to practice true forgiveness toward those who sin against us, have come to that realization, and desire to make amends. Yes, move us to practice the very core of our faith: true forgiveness. Amen


TEXT: Matthew 18: 21-35

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

Last week you heard an entire sermon, based on Christ’s words which directly precede this text, in which He lays out the process of how to resolve conflicts among Christians. At the end of that lesson Jesus tells us that if all our efforts toward leading that person to repentance fail and they continue to hold unto their sin, we need to practice tough love. We need to bind them in their sins and pronounce Godly judgment upon them. To do so is to love their soul. To do otherwise and forgive them anyway cheapens God’s grace. To do otherwise makes a mockery of repentance. To do otherwise only confirms in them the idea that their sin really wasn’t a sin at all and God is toothless and impotent and doesn’t really care about them.

I bring all this up because today many believers have bought into the misconception that repentance isn’t necessary to receive and benefit from genuine forgiveness. I’ve heard people on the news who have suffered at the hands of rapists, murderers, and thieves say: “Well, I forgive them, it’s the Christian thing to do.” They say that even though those miscreants are totally unrepentant. They say that because society seems to think that Christians are patsies who don’t ever want to make a judgment against another. And I believe that attitude stems from a misreading of the lesson before us this morning. So, let’s examine this text by considering:



So, just what is forgiveness? Is it just a pious sounding concept? Is it a word we use to somehow let go of emotional hurts that others inflict upon us? No. Forgiveness means a sin has been committed against us and against God Almighty. Forgiveness means that we announce to another that God’s not angry with them any longer and as His disciples, we’re not either! Forgiveness therefore includes a profound acceptance by all that God has taken away all such human evil by putting it upon Christ Who died for it and because of it. Thus, forgiveness is the most blessed gift you can give another human being. It is the greatest work a Christian can do because it encompasses and includes the greatest work ever done: God’s Son dying on a cross and rising from a grave so that we will never have to face eternal destruction. Yes, true, Christian forgiveness is a far different concept than what society passes off as forgiveness.

St. Peter was steeped in Jewish tradition and understanding. He knew his bible. Thus, when he asks Jesus: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”–When Peter asks that he was thinking about an obscure concept from the Old Testament. In Amos chapter 1 vs. 3 we read: “This is what the Lord says: ‘For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.’” Peter thought, as did most in his day, that if God gives unrepentant people a 2nd chance, so should they. So, Peter expands on that idea and picks the number 7 as the necessary amount of patience to provide another. It sounds quite magnanimous. But, Peter was wrong! God certainly has limits on His patience when it comes to uncaring, unrepentant people. But from what follows we see that God has unlimited patience when it comes to dealing with humans like us who recognize their sins and say they are sorry! When dealing with repentant people we need to practice forgiveness “77 times” or as some texts convey it: 490 times! Since no sane human keeps that detailed a scorecard, the point is: when sin is confessed, we forgive on an unlimited basis. Think of how wonderful that is! It means that every Sunday morning when you come and confess your sins to God, He will continue to take them away, literally forever! Indeed, having that burden removed is the main reason we go to church.


The parable that follows is meant to teach this truth. Note well that servant # 1 has a huge debt that is unpayable in modern dollar terms. His whole family is to be sold into slavery by the King he owes it to and even then, the King will receive back only a fraction of that debt.—Talk about a bad loan! It dwarfs the modern day mortgage mess. But, the servant falls on his knees and begs forgiveness, he repents as it were.—“Be patient with me and I will pay back everything.” Even though such a payback is impossible in this life, the King takes him at his word, is merciful, and forgives the debt. That’s God when it comes to our confession of sins each week. He takes us at our word and forgives us in Christ.

Servant # 2 owes servant # 1 a small debt. With a little time it is totally payable. He also begs for forgiveness and tells servant # 1 to be patient with him. He, too, confesses as to the mess he’s gotten himself into. But, servant # 1 is anything but forgiving and merciful. He grabs and chokes the man. He sends him and his family off to debtors’ prison. Obviously servant # 1 has learned nothing about genuine repentance and handing out genuine forgiveness. Obviously he brings forth absolutely no fruits of faith.
When the king hears of this he is incensed. Servant # 1 has abused his trust and his kindness. Servant # 1 is an ingrate. So, being King, he has servant # 1 hauled before him where the King rescinds his previous words and metes out punishment instead. And then comes the spiritual kicker: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

The chief work of Christ was the forgiveness of sins. The chief work of His followers on planet earth is the same. As long as someone who has hurt us, sinned against us, asks for forgiveness we are to hand it out to them. For that is how God treats us every day in Christ. We may get frustrated when they slide back into the same sin again and again. Obviously we cannot read their hearts when they say they are sorry and try for a while to make amends. Nonetheless, since we often act the same way in our relationship with God, we must forgive unless and until such a person turns their back on God by becoming hardened in their sin.

The one over-arching principal behind such forgiving behavior is: patience. Recall that patience is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus, patience is part of God’s core being. And through faith in Christ, patience is given to us to use and employ on a daily basis. When we do, forgiveness becomes the chief work of a Christian. For in the end only Godly forgiveness can change a heart and make it humble and accepting of God’s ways. And as Christ says elsewhere of such grateful people: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” Amen