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God has been speaking to us about discipleship, becoming better followers of Jesus. This evening we are continuing in that theme and looking at Forgiveness. If someone were to ask you, “what is forgiveness?” How would you describe it? I think this is vital for us as followers of Jesus to understand and be able to talk about and explain because Forgiveness is at the very heart of our faith. The Kingdom of God is all about forgiveness. In fact, it’s a prerequisite for entry into the Kingdom. Without it, we are lost completely. And you will find that as we follow Jesus there are plenty of opportunities for forgiveness. There are two sides to forgiveness. There are the times we need to forgive others...and there are the times we need to be forgiven. Let's look first at Matthew 18:21-35 Just give this a bit of context… Jesus had just been doing some very practical teaching on interpersonal relationships in the church. Jesus knew that when you bring people together there is always the opportunity for people to sin against each other. So he outlines a process for dealing with these situations that provides protection and safety for both parties. Peter has some questions about the nature of Forgiveness. He wants to know how many times he has to forgive someone. His question though, reveals a misunderstanding of what forgiveness is and even what it is for. There is a misunderstanding that because Jesus told us to forgive people, that makes us doormats. I think that maybe what Peter is worried about. Because when someone hurts us, or abuses us, we want to be able to protect ourselves. And if we think that as Christians, we have to just let people walk all over us, then it is really hard to actually trust that Jesus has our best interests at heart. I think it can be helpful for us to start with what Forgiveness is NOT… ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Forgiveness is not a feeling Forgiveness is not forgetting Forgiveness is not pretending you were not hurt or covering up crimes committed against us Forgiveness is not denying that it happened or diminishing its evil Forgiveness is not condoning what the person did to you Forgiveness is not enabling sin Forgiveness is not trusting the offender Forgiveness is not relieving the person of responsibility Forgiveness is not trust Forgiveness is not reconciliation Jesus’s answer to Peter actually helps us to understand not only what forgiveness is, but what it is for. Peter thinks he is being very generous by forgiving someone 7 times. I can hold out and allow myself to be abused up to 7 times…. Jesus says, no, forgive 77 times. Jesus is drawing our attention to a time in History. There is only one other time the number 77 is used in the bible... You remember Cain? He was the first murderer. Killed his brother for no real reason. God punishes him by making him a restless wanderer. And Cain is all worried that someone else is going to kill him. And God says, if anyone kills Cain, they will suffer vengeance, 7 times over. So Cain goes out and builds a city and a few generations down the line a guy named Lamech comes on the scene boasting about how he killed a guy for basically bumping into him. (Genesis 4:23-24) And he references What God said about Cain, If Cain is avenged 7 times, then Lamech 77 times. Lamech is sort of speaking for the thinking of his day, with the attitude that says, if you come after me, or if you injure me in some way, no matter how small, I will come a million times as hard. I will have my vengeance and it will hurt. You come at me with a knife, I will drop a bomb on your head. What Jesus is saying is that we all have a bit of Lamech in us. That is the result of the sin nature. We have a desire for justice but it has been tarnished. But he takes the heart of Lamech and turns it on its head. What he is saying is “don't go pursue vengeance with such tenacity. Take that same tenacity and pursue forgiveness. For us to really understand forgiveness, we have to understand how God sees sin. God views sin as a debt that we owe Him. We see that in the parable. A man who owes God 10,000 bags of gold. It's an enormous debt and one that could never be paid off. This is because God made us in His Image. You were made in His image. The person sitting next to you, all of the people you drive or walk by on a daily basis, the people you like, the people you don't like...We are made in God’s Image. And sin tarnishes that Image. But it doesn't tarnish it by adding something to it. In the Hebrew context, the word sin comes from a word that means to miss the mark. It is incomplete, it’s a taking away of something that God intended to be there. And every time we sin, a little of what God meant to be there is lost. Sin cuts both ways, when we sin, not only are we taking something away from someonelse, we lose a bit of ourselves in the process. The very nature of sin dehumanizes us. And Jesus views that as a debt that we owe Him. As we see with the king in Jesus’ parable, forgiveness is one of the ways that He deals with debt. Our response to God’s Forgiveness has a huge impact on our ability to love and serve him The response of the guy in Jesus Parable is a perfect example of what not to do… But it is also the tendency we have. He goes out and finds someone who owes him a small amount and starts to choke him. Have you ever felt like that? People can be so frustrating sometimes… Pay back what you owe me! And when they can’t, we put them into a prison where there is no hope of redemption. It’s Vengence. It the Lamech in us that is trying to meet out a perverted form of justice. It's perverted because all it does is dehumanize the other person...who is made in the Image of God. And the sin just gets compounded because when we dehumanize someone else, we dehumanize ourselves in the process. There is another account in Luke​ 7:36-50​​ where Jesus deals with the response to Forgiveness. There is so much in here but I just want to draw your attention to a few quick points. Notice the difference in response to Jesus. Simon, makes a big show of inviting Jesus in for lunch. But he doesnt welcome him, doesn't serve him, doesn't recognize him as saviour or lord...And he treats both Jesus and the woman with contempt. He’s not going up and choking anyone, but he is being very passive aggressive and Jesus calls him out on it. Jesus tells Simon with a very short parable about two men who owed money to a moneylender. One owed a large sum, the other a small sum. Neither one could pay so he forgave the debts of both. Then he asks Simon, which one will love the guy more? The obvious response is the one who had the bigger debt cancelled. And Jesus says right, this woman has been forgiven much so she loves much. That was her response. Here is what Simon missed though...if you can’t pay your debt, what difference does it make how big the debt is? How much of a sin debt you or I think we owe God is much less important than our ability to pay it off. Because both debts, if not paid, end up with the same result… the difference is in the response. Hers is the response of someone who recognizes not only the enormity of her sin debt but also her inability to pay it. Jesus responds by assuring this woman that her sins are forgiven and to go in peace. Our Debt has been paid Forgiveness is not an escape from consequences. Jesus showed us that when he died on the cross. The debt still had to be paid and Jesus paid it in full! That means that not only are the sins we have committed are paid for, but the ones committed against us are also paid for too. Forgiveness is so much more than just letting someone off the hook when they hurt you. Forgiveness is something that happens in our heart. It is an act of will. It is letting go of resentment and giving up any claim to be compensated for the hurt or loss we have suffered. It’s letting go of the vengeance the Lamech in us would want, and embracing Jesus. It does not require an apology. It does not require anything from the other party. Forgiveness takes one.Reconciliation takes two. That is why you can forgive someone even if you cannot be reconciled with them. That is how God can forgive the sins of the world and yet there can be so many who reject that reconciliation and relationship with Him. You may have heard this before but living with unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness releases you from the prison of bitterness and vengeance and the destruction that comes from it. It also releases the other person and creates an environment where healing and reconciliation can happen. That’s the Kingdom. The only way we can really do this is by living in the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for us on the cross for the debt we owe God ourselves. Recognizing the size of the sin debt we owe God does not mean we live under the condemnation of that sin. It just means we recognize how much we no longer owe. Our debt is paid by Jesus, and so is theirs. That gives us the freedom to forgive others. The Forgiveness that Jesus purchased for us on the cross created that environment where we can be reconciled to God. That is what the Kingdom is, a place where there is always opportunity for reconciliation, healing, restoration. As we follow Jesus, we bring the Kingdom with us and a very large part of that is to forgive those who sin against us. We don't send them to the debtors prison where there is no hope of redemption. We forgive because we have been forgiven and in doing so, we create that space where there is an opportunity for reconciliation and healing.
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