in Sermons

23. October 2011
Trinity 22
Matthew 18:21-35

Each day we pray: forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. We pray in this petition from the Lord’s Prayer that our Father in heaven would not look to our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us (SC, Lord’s Prayer, Fifth Petition).

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 

Forgiving each other does not come easy. Children heckle and hate each other. Husband and wife grumble and gripe. Congregations moan and backtalk. Pastors whine and protest among themselves. All these we would rather than do than simply forgive and be forgiven.

To make matters worse, we daily sin much. For God’s part, we deserve nothing but punishment, but are forgiven out of pure grace. So, we should forgive continuously, despite the perennial sin of our neighbor. But we don’t like it.

No, we don’t like it one bit. We’d rather tell off our brother or worse yet send our fist to his jaw, rather than forgive. We’d rather give our spouse the silent treatment or yell and scream, rather than forgive. We’d rather complain about our pastor, the conduct of the service, the length of the sermon, the flavor of the wine, or simply gripe, rather forgive him. We pastors go off to our conferences, bitch and moan about this congregational issue, this synodical bureaucrat, or this errant brother, rather than forgive.

Forgiveness is the harder path. In order to forgive, you must approach each other, declare wrongdoing, apologize truthfully, and declare forgiveness sincerely. This is true brotherly reconciliation. And its hard. You have to sacrifice your ego and pride, be willing to admit wrongdoing, and call sin what it is. Only then is forgiveness received and true. That’s why St. Peter asked Jesus the question: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Its such a hard thing to do, that even Peter wanted a means of escape. He wanted to avoid this godly duty and instead give into his hatred and backbiting. Yet, we learn from Jesus’ parable that such an attitude is not only wrong, but it is damning. If you are unwilling to forgive your brother to the utter depths of his sin, then so also your Heavenly Father will withhold forgiveness from you.

22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 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. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. 

When Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead, this will be the scene. The Father reigns as the king upon the throne in heaven, while Jesus sits at his right hand. All will be called to settle accounts with him, and those who have done good will enter into eternal life and those who have done evil into the hell of fire. You and I will be asked to account for our life.

If we are completely honest, we know that the debt for our sin is far too great to pay. Everything we have will be deservedly repossessed, even our very life. We might be tempted to be so bold to ask the LORD to have patience with us while we try to make up the deficit, to fall down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ This is a false and misleading dream, that we our sins could redeem.

We know and believe that it is only Christ’s sacrificial blood that atones for our sins. We cannot merit any grace towards heaven, either from our work here or our work in the life to come. Nor could we ever pay the penalty for our sin, for we daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment.

But the Father sent his Son to die for us, to be our passover lamb, to set us free from the bonds of sin. He lavishly pours out this grace, proclaiming it in the Gospel, washing you in Baptism, declaring you forgiven in Absolution, and feeding you with the body and blood of forgiveness in the Sacrament. We daily sin much and God daily forgives us much.

This servant had been forgiven more than he could ever repay. Such forgiveness is life-changing. It changes thought and deed, word and heart. When God so abundantly forgiveness your innumerable sins, your guilt is released, your heart cleansed, your mind made charitable, and your words fitly spoken. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in you, renewing you and sanctifying you in the one true faith. Indeed, when your sins so bother you, run to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. Run to him and be forgiven, over and over. We daily sin much, to be sure, but Christ forgives all the more. Thanks be to God.

Yet, St. Peter’s question deserves a strong rebuke from the Lord: 28 “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!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 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. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

You might be tempted to think that forgiveness of sins is all about your relationship to God. Not so! God has forgiven you in Jesus not only to insure your heavenly future but that you would be a beacon of His grace for others. He wants others to experience a taste of His forgiveness in your life.

St. Peter’s question, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? betrays his own understanding of humanity. After he betrays his LORD three times on Good Friday, he won’t be so naive. Christ will look upon him and Peter will know the deep darkness that is his sin. Your LORD’s forgiveness is greater still. Jesus will absolve and commission St. Peter three times after he rises from the dead.

So it is for you. Do not think that you are beyond saving. Do not think your debt is too great to be absolved. When he says, “I forgive you your trespasses,” receive this voice of Christ declaring all forgiven. When Jesus the Master  is moved with compassion for you his servant, releases you, and forgives you the debt, receive this with thanksgiving. When Christ gives you his very body and blood, receive Him joyfully for the forgiveness of every sin.

Heed the warning of the parable. Do not make a mockery of the forgiveness that Christ so graciously gives you. Acknowledge your sin and be forgiven. But don’t let it stop there. Let this forgiveness move your heart to forgive others. Do not be like that wicked servant who could not forgive the minuscule debt of his brother, despite the Master forgiving abundantly.

God has forgiven you beyond all telling. Go and reconcile with your brother. If you hate him for what he has done, declare to him that you have forgiven him his error. If he admits his fault, this forgiveness will unburden his conscience. If he will not acknowledge his fault, so be it, you are free.

If you are holding some secret resentment for your spouse, declare your sin to her. If she is truly Christian, she will declare this sin pardoned, and receive you as forgiven, healing the one-flesh union. Reconcile with each other, declaring the sin and forgiving it, just as your LORD declares your sin and forgives it forever.

If you are bitter over something I have done as your pastor, do not let the sun go down on your anger. This anger sitting within your conscience will putrefy and fester, growing like a cancer. So also, God grant me the strength to reconcile with you, when I would rather grumble and weep to brothers than approach you. Let us reconcile and forgive each other.

There’s no point in keeping our sins or the sins of others secret. Let us bring them to the light, exposing them to the forgiving Word of Christ. Let us receive forgiveness in Christ and let this forgiveness rule our hearts and minds. Let your every thought, word, and deed be forgiving love. Then, we can boldly stand before the King, reconciled and reconciling. We pray: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana