There is in the city of Los Angeles a rather famous place, certainly well known among our Jewish population, it’s called the Simon Wiesenthal Center. I’ve had the privilege on a number of occasions to participate in the Larry King television program with the rabbi from the Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Hier, an interesting and a gracious man. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him a little bit. You might know of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and not know anything about Simon himself. Let me tell you a little bit of his story.
He was a prisoner in the Mauthausen concentration camp – a Jew, of course. One day he was assigned – because all the prisoners had certain duties to perform – he was assigned to clean out garbage from a barn in the middle of that concentration camp that had been converted into a hospital which was used to give medical treatment to SS German soldiers who were wounded. Toward evening, when he was fulfilling his duties of cleaning out the rubbish in that place, a nurse took him by the hand and led him to a bed where there was lying a young SS trooper. The story goes that the young man was twenty-one years of age. The biographer says his face was bandaged with puss-soaked rags, eyes tucked somewhere behind the gauze. He grabbed Wiesenthal’s hand and clutched it. He said that he had to talk to a Jew. He could not die before he confessed the sins he had committed against helpless Jews, and he had to be forgiven by a Jew before he died. And so, he told Wiesenthal his sad tale, how he belonged to a battalion that had gunned down many Jews – men, women, and children – on one occasion, a number of them who were trying to escape from a house that the troopers had set on fire, and when they ran for their lives they were mowed down.
Wiesenthal listened to the dying man’s story. First the story of his youth, his innocent youth; and then the story of his participation in evil and the massacre of Jews. After hearing the story, Wiesenthal pulled his hand away, “No.” The biographer says he jerked his hand out of the hand of that dying SS trooper and walked out of the barn. No word was spoken, and no forgiveness was given. Wiesenthal would not, could not forgive. But he was not sure he did right.
He has written his own story in a book called The Sunflower. That book ends with this question: “What would you have done?” Thirty-two eminent persons, mostly Jewish, contributed their answers to Wiesenthal’s hard question. Most said Wiesenthal was right; he should not have forgiven the SS trooper, it would have not been fair. Why should a man who gave his will to the doing of monumental evil expect a quick word of forgiveness on his death bed? And what right had Wiesenthal to forgive the man for evil he had done to other Jews? And if Wiesenthal forgave the soldier, he would be saying that the holocaust was not so evil. One respondent said, “Let the SS trooper go to hell.”
Well, that’s a far cry from what the Lord asks of us, isn’t it? And yet many of us feel the same way when we are unfairly treated, when we are hurt, when we are wounded, when we are maligned, when we are mistreated in far less horrible ways than this. And sometimes our hate is the only card we hold. Our only weapon is our contempt. Our only way of consolation is to get even. And why should we forgive anyway?
It was some years ago I wrote a book called The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness. People always ask me, which is my favorite book of the books I’ve written. And that’s like asking me which is my favorite child or grandchild. That’s very hard; in fact, it’s impossible to pick.
But of all the books that I have written, this one seems to me among a handful that are the most important. For never are you more like God than when you forgive, never. Never are you less like God than when you will not forgive. And that comes straight from Jesus who said, “Forgive your enemies and demonstrate that you are children of your Father.” Never are you more like God than when you forgive.
Forgiveness is critical in our lives. In fact, every violated relationship that is ultimately ended is ultimately ended not because of the violation, but because of the unwillingness to forgive. You can recover from any violation, from any breach, if you forgive. But when there will never be a reconciliation, it will be so because someone will not forgive. Among those who are Christians in the fellowship of God’s people, this is absolutely unacceptable. Unforgiveness is a serious sin.
Now open your Bible to Matthew chapter 18, and we’re going to learn from our Lord Jesus about forgiveness. In the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, we have a message from Jesus. From beginning to end it is one great message, interrupted only in verses 21 and 22 because Peter poses a question; and Matthew tells us that Jesus gave him an answer. Everything else is right out of the mouth of Jesus after the beginning of verse 3. It is a long presentation by our Lord on the childlikeness of the believer. We’ve been working our way through the chapter.
We are converted, we become like children; and that’s how we enter the kingdom of heaven. We enter the kingdom like children. Once we are in the kingdom, we are still children. We are to be protected like children, not doing anything to lead any other believer into anything harmful or sinful. We are to be cared for like children. We are to be disciplined like children. We’ve been working our way through all of these elements, all of these features and characteristics of life among the children of God. We protect each other. We care for each other. We confront each other’s sin, and put each other through a process that calls us back to holiness and obedience.
And now we come, in verse 21, to the responsibility to forgive one another like children. And I might add at this particular point, remember our Lord is in a house in Capernaum – very possibly Peter’s house – and as a living illustration of what He’s talking about He’s holding in His arms a little child. And the little child is the illustration of believers, and here He’s going to tell us that it’s critical as children that we forgive each other. Typically we don’t have much trouble forgiving children, because we know they’re weak. We don’t have difficulty forgiving our own children when they wrong, when they disobey us, when they talk back, when they sin. We are eager to forgive them because we love them, and because we understand they’re weak. And so, it is in the family of God. There has to be vast room for forgiveness.
And as I said, never are you more like God than when you forgive. And Proverbs 19:11 says, “It is a man’s glory to pass by a transgression.” Never are you more noble, never are you more exalted as a human being than when you forgive, when you pass over a transgression. Ephesians 4:32 says that we are to forgive one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. Or in the words of Colossians 3:13, “Forgive one another; even as Christ forgave you, so also do you.” We are to forgive, because it is godlike. We are to forgive, because we understand that we are weak, and we fail, and we sin, and we are ever and always in need of forgiveness. We are to forgive, because it is the noblest thing we do. We are to forgive, because God in Christ has forgiven us.
You have some wonderful models of forgiveness in the Old Testament. Genesis chapter 50 you have Joseph forgiving his brothers for the horrific deed of selling him into slavery. In 1 Samuel 24 you have David in verse 7 forgiving his enemy Saul. In 1 Samuel 25 you have David forgiving Nabal. In 2 Samuel 19, David forgiving Shimei who cursed him. You have a lot of illustrations of forgiveness. The greatest illustration of forgiveness is God in Christ.
Forgiveness is basic to Christian experience. Paul wrote a letter to his friend Philemon, who had a runaway slave named Onesimus. And Paul had met him in Rome, led him to the knowledge of the gospel. He was converted to Christ. Paul says, “You’ve got to go back.” And he writes the letter called Philemon, pleading with Philemon to forgive him and take him back. Forgiveness is so basic with God’s dealings with us that it must also be basic to our dealing with one another.
Yes, we admit we’re weak, sinful, foolish, prone to disobedience, ignorant. We need lots of forgiveness. Instead of being eager to condemn, we need to be eager to forgive. Paul addresses this if you look at 2 Corinthians chapter 2. And I think in a very personal way there was a man in the assembly of the Corinthian church who had given no small amount of grief to Paul himself and consequently to the church. Paul didn’t have an ounce of vengeance in his own heart. He knew himself as the chief of sinners in need of much forgiveness. And he writes with regard to this case, beginning in verse 5 of chapter 2 in 2 Corinthians, “If any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree – in order not to say too much – to all of you.” He admits that there’s somebody who’s brought sorrow to all of us, somebody who sinfully has inflicted us all.
Verse 6 he says, “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority.” Somehow, someway in the church there was inflicted upon this man a proper discipline for that sin. “Sufficient is that punishment, so that” – verse 7 - “on the contrary you should rather forgive.”
“It is now time. You have inflicted the man; he has been confronted by his sin, he has been demonstrated to be culpable. You’ve gone through the process,” – obviously some process of restoration – “now it is time to forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Look, that’s enough. You confront the sin, you deal with the sin, you gain your brother,” – as we learned earlier in Matthew chapter 18 – “and now it is time to flood him with forgiveness and encouragement.”
So, in verse 8, “Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For to this end also I wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you’re obedient in all things. By whom you forgive anything, I forgive also. You don’t have to be vengeful toward him, thinking that I am. You don’t have to imagine that I want to inflict him with pain, that I want to get back at him. You forgive him, and you will be doing what I have done. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan, for we’re not ignorant of his schemes.”
You want to put yourself in a position to be overtaken by a scheme of Satan, then be unforgiving, be unforgiving. That’s a wide-open door for Satan to move in. “I forgave the man; that’s enough. Love him, forgive him, encourage and comfort him. Enough is enough, it is time for forgiveness; and if you don’t forgive, you’re going to put yourself in a position to give advantage to Satan.
Forgiveness then in the New Testament is a very, very important issue. Back to Matthew 6 for a moment. In Matthew 6 it comes down to this in the words of Jesus, verse 12, in this familiar prayer often called the Lord’s Prayer; really the disciples’ prayer. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Or, “Forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who sinned against us.”
There’s a sense in which we’re not going to enjoy the fullness of God’s forgiveness if we don’t forgive others, because if we don’t forgive others, we’re in sin. And that’s why verse 14 follows it up: “If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. If you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” You’re going to be in a situation even as a believer where before the Lord you have sin that has not been dealt with, and you’re going to be under discipline and chastening rather than enjoying the joy of confession, repentance, and forgiveness.
How important is forgiveness? Never are you more like God than when you forgive. Never are you more noble than when you’re forgiving – that is, it is the glory of a man to overlook a transgression. When you forgive others, you free yourself of the sin of unforgiveness, and you open the flood gates of God’s blessing, and He forgives you. Forgiveness is critical in the life of the church of Jesus Christ.
Individual families break up, marriages break up, churches break up. Why? You often probe and say, “Well, wait a minute; why did this happen, why did this happen?” In the end, it happens ultimately because somebody, or more than one somebody, won’t forgive. There isn’t any relationship where sin doesn’t exist. There isn’t any relationship where offenses don’t happen; whether you’re talking about a marriage, a family, a friendship, a Bible study, a church, we can’t survive without forgiveness. I need it, you need it; everybody related to me needs it, everybody related to you needs it as well. We have to live in the midst of a constantly forgiving environment. This should be our highest joy. It should be our delight, because it is God’s joy and delight to forgive us.
Now the whole subject is introduced by Peter. And you can return to Matthew chapter 18, and the Lord has been talking about sin. He’s been talking about when somebody sins in the church, you go to him. If he repents, you’ve gained your brother. If he doesn’t repent, take two or three witnesses, confront him. If he still doesn’t repent, tell the church. Send the church. If he doesn’t listen to the church and repent, put him out.
Now Peter’s listening to all of this. Peter usually speaks for himself and the rest, he’s kind of their spokesman. We can well assume that they were all probably having the same thoughts. Okay, so you’re going to confront somebody who sins, and they’re going to repent, because that’s usually what happens.
Sometimes at a Communion service here at Grace Church, I give you a name, and I describe a sin of someone who will not repent. They won’t respond when some individuals go to him. They won’t respond when two or three go with him. They won’t respond when the church goes after them. And so, finally when we mention their name, the category of their sin, we put them out. But that is very unusual. All kinds of things are being resolved before you ever get to step four, because as true believers, when we’re confronted by somebody who says, “That’s a sin,” if we love righteousness and hate sin, the basic response is going to be, “Oh, I’m sorry; forgive me.”
Normally no one wants to have their name announced in church. That’s a pretty resolute sinner who may well not be a believer at all, but only a sham believer, who will run that all the way to that extreme. So, most of the time you’re going to go to your brother, you’re going to confront your brother, and your brother’s going to repent. Or, if he’s a little resistant the first time, by the time you take two or three, he’s going to see this thing as you see it, and he’s going to repent, or she’s going to repent. Most of the time that’s resolved at that level.
So that poses the question: “Just how often do we do this?” And that’s the question that Peter asks, verse 21: “Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?’” Peter’s getting the picture. When somebody sins, you go to him, you confront him, he repents. And guess what? We tend to be creatures of habit, don’t we? Not just nominal, marginal, nondescript, inconsequential habits, but sinful habits. We all have our sort of bent categories where we are more susceptible to temptation and sin.
So how many times is this going to happen? Peter also knows his own heart, and he knows that he also falls into the similar trap again and again and again. So, “Lord, how often am I going to confront my brother, have my brother repent, and I’m going to forgive him? How often?” And then feeling very magnanimous he says, “Up to seven times.” And he’s patting his own back when he’s saying it. From among the group in the house in Capernaum, Peter comes forward – probably came close to Jesus – and asks this important question, a question that may have been rumbling through the crowd. You know, Peter does have a quick tongue, but he also has got a very inquisitive mind.
I love inquisitive people. I am a very inquisitive person. There are people who know me well who label me as the most inquisitive person they have ever known. I hope that you’re the beneficiary of that. I’m not satisfied with a superficial understanding of anything. I drove my parents crazy asking them questions. Thank God if you have an inquisitive child. That is potential, because kids who want answers solve problems, and problem solvers move the world.
And by the way, I would much prefer hanging around inquisitive people. It can get pretty boring around people who ask no questions. Why? Because I’ve got tons of answers just waiting to be given. I love inquisitive people.
That was Peter. I like him for a lot of reasons, that’s one of them. And so, he says, “Now just exactly how many times am I supposed to do this; seven times?” Now there is some magnanimity in that. You remember it was Louis XII who said, “Nothing smells as sweet as the dead body of your enemy.” Well, that’s a little different approach, the approach that caused the French Revolution, by the way. But forgiveness is foreign to fallen man’s nature. What is consistent with fallen man’s nature is anger, hatred, vengeance, retaliation, grudge, grievance. It shows up in our culture in the ubiquitous lawsuit.
But God’s people are to be like Jesus, who hanging on the cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” or Steven falling on his knees while they’re crushing the life out of him with stones in Acts 7:60, crying out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And having said that, he died. That’s a Christian attitude, to forgive at once every sin the sinner sins at once, because God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. We hold nothing against the person who has wronged us, whether he has settled his sin with God or not, whether he has settled his sin with me or not; I forgive. The restoration of the relationship may not come immediately, but I free my own heart from any grudge, and I forgive.
Now certainly this is the attitude implied in the discipline process in 15 to 18. He comes to the sinner, confronts the sinner; the sinner repents, you’ve gained your brother, that’s it – reconciliation. Gain your brother is reconciliation. That’s the whole idea. When he confesses the sin, you don’t hold it against him, you forgive; and you’ve gained your brother.
We always forgive in our hearts. Full restoration comes when true repentance comes. But that’s the picture here. You go to the person, you confront the person, the person repents; now you’ve got not only forgiveness but reconciliation.
And so, Peter’s getting the message, and he asks, “What is the extent of this? What’s the extent of this forgiveness; seven times?” Jewish tradition limited forgiveness to three times. You get three strikes and that is it. They based it on Old Testament prophet Amos – several passages in Amos – and a statement in Job 33:29 that didn’t say this; but the rabbi said all kinds of ways of tweaking the Scripture to make it come out to their liking. They said three acts of forgiveness was the limit. If three transgressions filled up the measure that God would forgive, then we couldn’t go beyond God.
Rabbi Jose ben Hanina said, “He who begs forgiveness from his neighbor must not do so more than three times.” Rabbi Joseph ben Yehuda said, “If a man commits an offense once, they forgive him. And if he commits an offense a second time, they forgive him. If he commits an offense a third time, they forgive him. The fourth time, they do not forgive.” So, the rabbis put boundaries on forgiveness. Peter was raised in the culture; that’s the way he would have understood it.
So doubtless, when Peter says seven times, he thinks he has reached the heights of generosity. He probably thought he would be commended by the Lord for being so kind. And, you know, Peter’s been three years with Jesus, so he understood something of the Savior’s heart, something of His attitude, something of His mercy, something of His forgiving spirit. He caught something of the love of Jesus, something of the forgiveness of Jesus that broadened him from the narrowness of Judaism. He advanced, let’s say, beyond the men of his age and the men of his nation. And so, he says seven, to which our Lord replies, “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’”
Whoa, that must have taken his breath away. He could do the math. Four hundred and ninety times? Now that is not to say you count and when they hit four ninety-one it’s over. The number is so large that keeping count would be impossible. There’s nothing binding in the four hundred and ninety. The Lord just picks up on Peter’s choice of the number seven and multiplies it by the numerical ten and seven to show the endlessness of forgiveness.
In Luke chapter 17 and verse 4, Luke says – the discussion must have gone on, and Jesus said a few other things, because in Luke 17:4 Jesus says, “If he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Four hundred and ninety times on the big picture; and even if it’s seven times in the same day, you forgive, you forgive, you forgive, and you keep on forgiving.
This is unending – no limits, no boundaries. It is relentless, endless, constant forgiveness. And then to seal this in the minds of the listeners, He tells a wonderful story. Jesus begins the story in verse 23: “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents.”
Now let me stop here for just a minute. Very familiar story. You have a king who has a kingdom – it’s a picture of God and His heavenly kingdom. This king had some slaves. These slaves, obviously in this story context, had been given responsibility. They had been given money to function in their delegated realms. Maybe they were regional governors or regional leaders. They were responsible to the king to give an accounting of what they did with the money. It would involve fiscal responsibility, collecting taxes, using the money for the expression of the will of the king. When the accounts were being settled, there was one of these responsible people who had received a delegated duty, who was brought before him, owed him ten thousand talents.
Now this is just an impossible amount, absolutely impossible. Total revenue in a given year in Idumaea, Judea, and Samaria is six hundred talents. The total revenue in Galilee is three hundred talents. Ten thousand talents, are you kidding? This is incomprehensible. In other words, the point of the story is he owed the man an amount that never could be paid, an incredible, incredible sum. In fact, ten thousand may not even be a number. It is the largest number in the Greek language, it has a word; it’s the word murion, myriad. It is the highest Greek enumeration expressed in a word. I suppose today we would say, “He owed him a zillion,” beyond the ability to calculate. This is the debt that he owes.
Verse 25 says, “Since he didn’t have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.” He could never pay it all back, so the king had every right to sell him and his wife and his children into slavery to get whatever he could get – maybe a few cents on every dollar, if you will.
He had every right to do that. The man was in his debt; the man had no ability to pay. The only thing the man had was himself and his family, and they happened to have value in a slave environment. “Let them be sold. Let me get what will be some meager compensation.”
Verse 26: “The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, I’ll repay you everything.’” Nice try, fella. Ignorant penitence. Couldn’t pay it all; no way, impossible. But verse 27 says, “The lord of that slave felt compassion, released him, forgave him the debt.”
It’s a picture of God, isn’t it? The sinner comes before God with an unpayable debt. He’s embezzled gospel opportunity. He’s embezzled common grace. He’s embezzled general revelation and privilege. He’s embezzled his opportunity to honor God. He’s wasted his life. He’s racked up a bill of sin that is beyond his capability to ever pay. And God says, “Well, it’s an unpayable debt; but I could send you to hell, and get some compensation.” Hell is forever, because the souls in hell, even though they’re there forever, do not pay back the debt they owe. It’s unpayable.
But then the slave falls down and says, “Have patience with me, I’ll repay you everything.” That’s good intention. That’s like the prodigal son who starts home and says, “Make me one of your hired servants and I’ll earn my way back.” That’s the assumption that you can buy your way to God, that you can buy your reconciliation, that you can buy your debt by good works – if you do enough good works, God will cancel out your sin, because your good works will outdo your evil ones.
He was wrong about that, of course. But for the sake of the point of the story, Jesus doesn’t go into that. It just says the lord of the slave felt compassion, released him, forgave him the debt. And that’s how forgiveness works, right? The Lord says, “Forget it. You don’t need to earn it, I give it as a gift.” Right? That’s the prodigal. The prodigal comes home. He says, “I’m going to tell my father this, ‘Make me one of your hired servants.’” When he gets home, he drops that part of the speech, because his father kisses him, embraces him, and reconciles him before he’s done one single thing to earn his way back.
Well, Peter and all his friends are listening to the story. It’s an incredibly simple story, and it’s one they would grasp. And they would think, “What a king, what a king, who would forgive an unpayable debt just because he had compassion, and who would forgive the thing completely just because the man asked without ever having to do anything to earn that forgiveness. He released him and forgave him the debt. How wonderful.”
Of course, that’s their story, isn’t it? That’s their story. They had come to Christ. That they had been forgiven of all their sin simply because they asked. By now they know that salvation is a gift, and it’s a free gift given by God. And so, they buy into the story here. I’m sure they were thinking to themselves, “Well, it was obvious; this was a picture of the kingdom of heaven, this is God, this is God forgiving us who owe an unpayable debt of sin. And He gives us a gift just because He has compassion, and because we ask penitently. This is our story. How wonderful.” And then the Lord takes the knife out.
But, verse 28, that slave went out, found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii. It’s about – well, a day’s wage was one denarii, so a hundred days. Small amount compared to ten thousand talents. “The slave went out, found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii, seized him, began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’” This is outrageous. This is frankly unfathomable.
Who’s the picture here? Who’s in the picture? This is the Christian. This is the Christian who’s been offended. This is the Christian who has been sinned against by a family member, by a fellow Christian who will not forgive, though forgiven. Now we are here to take all the forgiveness God will give, right? Would you say the Lord forgives you seven times a day? How about four hundred and ninety times a day? We’ll gladly take all that we can get. But when somebody offends us we get them in a strangle hold, seize him, and say, “Pay back what you owe,” and we hold a grudge.
“So” – verse 29 – “this fellow slave fell down when he let go of his throat, began to entreat him, saying,” – and he gave the same speech, same words – ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you.’” And guess what? He could. He could pay back a hundred denarii. He could. “He was unwilling, however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.” This is not just right.
“So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported all to their lord what had happened. The slaves who knew the story came back to the lord, the king, and said, ‘Wait a minute; do you know what happened? You know that slave you forgave completely all that unpayable debt; he went out and wouldn’t forgive somebody who owed him just a little bit that could be paid back, he strangled him and threw him in the debtors’ prison.’ And summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you asked. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’” This is outrageous behavior.
Within the family of God, among the children of God, within the body of Christ, lack of forgiveness toward any other believer who has sinned against us in any way is an outrage, because we are the ones who have accepted the full forgiveness of God. Will we not give our own meager acceptance? If God who is most holy is so offended by every sin and will forgive, we who are least holy should be eager to forgive.
And there’s a penalty for not forgiving. Verse 34: “His lord moved in anger, handed him over to the tormenters till he should repay all that was owed him. So then My heavenly Father shall do to you, if each of you doesn’t forgive his brother from your heart.”
You’re going to be in trouble with God if you don’t forgive. He’s going to hand you over to some kind of spiritual discipline and extract out of you everything He can get by way of that discipline, if you don’t forgive. You forgive for all the noble reasons, that you’re never more like God-like than when you forgive. You’re never more noble as a human than when you pass by a transgression. You forgive, because it frees your heart from bitterness, vengeance, revenge, retaliation. You forgive, because God has forgiven you in Christ. And you forgive, because if you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven, but rather God will turn you over to the tormentors.
You know, I don’t like to be on people’s bad side, do you? I don’t want to be on my wife’s bad side, my kids bad side, anybody I know; I want to be on their good side. But there’s somebody I want to be on the good side of more than anybody else, and that’s God. I don’t want God calling out the tormentors and coming after me. I want to live on the good side. I want to be on the side of blessing. I want to be on the side of joy. I want to be on the side of comfort and encouragement. And so, I want to be eager to forgive.
Simon Wiesenthal didn’t have it right; but then he didn’t know Christ, and he hadn’t experienced the forgiveness of God in Christ. We have. There’s no place for a lack of forgiveness. In fact, next Sunday we’re going to have the Lord’s Table. Jesus said, “Don’t even think about coming to worship Me if you have something in your heart against somebody else.” That just escalates your culpability, cranks up the discipline of the Lord. It doesn’t mean we forget the wrong. You’re not necessarily going to forget it. There’s some stages in this – and I’ll close with this. There’s really three stages in forgiveness. Number one is suffering, suffering. This creates the need for forgiveness.
Not every hurt needs to be forgiven. I’ve actually had people come to me right here when I’m talking to folks after the service, and say, “I need to ask your forgiveness.” “Really, who are you? I don’t know anything about you, I don’t even know who you are.” “But I know you don’t know who I am, you’ve never met me, but I need to ask your forgiveness.”
“Well, I just want to let you know that I don’t have any reason to forgive you, because I don’t have any knowledge of anything you’ve ever done.” “Oh, but let me tell you what I’ve done.” “Why? Why?”
Forgiveness is elicited in suffering to start with. Not everything needs forgiveness. Not the things I don’t know; how silly is that. And I try to stop him, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, I don’t want to know. Why do I want to know?”
Not every hurt requires forgiveness. Not every little annoyance, every little slight, “Oh, so-and-so didn’t speak to me when they passed by, oh. Do you think they’ll come and ask for forgiveness?” Get over it. Get over it. Get over it. Things that need forgiving are morally evil. Things that need forgiving are morally evil; they are acts of injury, disloyalty, betrayal, unrighteousness, transgression. That’s the first stage. There needs to be some moral suffering.
Second, I call the stage of surgery. Here is the inner response where the forgiver performs spiritual surgery on the wound. And you’re your own surgeon on this, aided by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. You begin to cut out the attitude of unforgiveness, and sew up the wound.
Third stage is starting over. Forgiveness is complete when the alienated people reconcile. Suffering, and then that heart surgery, and then start all over – it’s a new day, it’s fresh, it’s clean. That doesn’t mean you forget the wrong. But you remember it; and every time you remember it, you rejoice in forgiveness. Did you get that? It doesn’t mean you forget the wrong, it means that every time you remember it, you rejoice in the forgiveness. It doesn’t mean you excuse their sin. No, you acknowledge the sin, you blame them for the sin, and then you forgive the sin. And it doesn’t mean that we free ourselves permanently from the cycle of pain. There can still be recurring emotions from past pain; but when they come again, you rejoice that you have forgiven.
This is the only way we’re going to make it in the body of Christ and keep our unity, isn’t it, because we are going to offend each other. Be a forgiver. Be known as a forgiver. Be a constant forgiver, a generous and magnanimous forgiver, a forgiver who goes from forgiveness to demonstrable affection. If you’re having trouble with that, start praying for the person you’re having trouble forgiving on a regular basis. So never are you more like the Lord then when you forgive. Forgiveness is critical to the life of the people of God at every level: marriage, family, all relationships, and the life of the church.
What has kept this church together all these years in this amazing and remarkable unity? It’s not that we’re a perfect people; far from it. It’s not that you have perfect leaders; far from it. It is that we are eager to forgive. This is a reconciling community. This is a group of people who embrace, and forgive, and set aside. We treat each other like children. We care for each other like children, protect each other like children, discipline each other like children, and we forgive each other like children.
Frankly, I’m convinced that on the one side paradoxically this is not a good place to sin, because you’re probably going to get confronted. But paradoxically on the other side, this is the best place to sin, because when you repent this congregation is most likely to embrace you in forgiveness and love. That’s what we’ve been called to do as children of God.
Father, thank You for Your Word again on this subject; and we certainly have just touched the surface of it, but it’s such a rich and magnificent subject for us. Fill our hearts with affection, love, and forgiveness for our enemies, those that wound us and hurt us and mistreat us. We heard a wonderful testimony of that tonight from Choysen in baptism, how when you came into his life, all of a sudden all the people he hated because of their abuse of him became people that he cared for and loved, and desired to come to know You.
This is Your mighty work in our hearts. You have forgiven us an unpayable debt; may we be eager to be gracious and forgive those around us, and to be reconciled to them for your sake, the unity of Your church, the solidarity of the testimony of Your transforming power through the gospel. And we thank You that the Spirit of God makes this happen. It is the Spirit who is the glue, the bond that holds us together in peace. We desire that to honor You in Christ’s name. Amen.
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