(This is also over at the sermons page.)
Forgive as Forgiven
The Gospel can be shocking and offensive. It sees no difference between people on earth, while most people see a difference between the good and the evil.
Sinners love to sin. Gossipers tell their stories. Cruel people delight in hurting others. Promiscuous people please themselves without regard for what is proper. Theives always have an eye out for the next prize,
But most sinners also think that they are not bad people. It’s easy to excuse our own little vices and indiscretions, because there are clearly other people much worse.
Sinners also assume that God thinks the way we do. So He must wish to punish the worst sinners first So He also must wish to forgive the best people first
But now the Gospel message rings clearly from God’s Word: Every one of us is covered and washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. The apostle wrote:
For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
On one hand, you and I needed this as much as terrible sinners we know. On the other hand, they are now forgiven as completely as we are. The sinner in us cries out that this is not right,
But the Gospel lumps us all together, and as God’s speaker today, I have to say: Get over it! We were condemned, but are now justifed.
Reaching or losing eternal life is not really about the number or wickedness of our sins, nor about how hard we may try to be good people.
it’s about whether or not we receive God’s forgiveness. It’s about whether we reject our Savior by clinging to any of our sins and refusing to repent.
So today, Jesus instructs us in the art of forgiveness. It’s part of being a Christian and belonging to Him.
Our theme: Forgive as forgiven. So that the truly impenitent must hear about it. So that the penitent always receive forgiveness.
Matthew 18:15–22 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that `by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” 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.”
So that the truly impenitent must hear about it
We do wrong every day: against God, and against others.
Through the Gospel, we receive God’s forgiveness when we repent and believe the Gospel.
But how can we be forgiven by our brothers and sisters on Earth?
Christians want to know when we’ve sinned against others, so that we can repent and set things right.
But Christians are not simple creatures. We are saints who want what God wants, and We are also sinners, who do not want what God wants.
We have a spiritual nature, a new man created by the Gospel; and the old wicked nature, the sinful flesh or old Adam.
Both of these work in us at the same time, so that St. Paul wrote: For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
We need to know about and repent of our sins against others, but Jesus teaches us about the other side of the coin here: when our fellow Christians sin against us.
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
Jesus doesn’t say here that we must forgive our offending brother. But that’s exactly what He means with the last part: If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
When someone sins against us, our sinful reflex is to strike back; but Jesus gives us the Christian response: to confront the offending brother privately and finally, to forgive.
That’s hard, isn’t it? It’s always hard to overcome our own sinful flesh. It’s especially hard to forgive.
But forgiveness means nothing to someone who does not know his offense.
So the first step is to tell him his fault, privately. Tell nobody else at all, or you will break the 8th Commandment.
Even if you’re sure that the person has sinned, telling another soul makes you a false witness.
Though you are so certain, you may yet be wrong! So protect your brother’s reputation by keeping it private.
Nobody likes to learn that we have sinned. But sometimes we already know, and are not sorry about it.
So we need to be told about it, or our impenitence will rob us of God’s forgiveness, and even of faith in Christ.
When someone else tells you that you have sinned, let God’s Word be the deciding judge, not the desires of your own heart. So if God’s Word says that you have not sinned, you can explain the matter with confidence. But if you have sinned, you can immediately ask to be forgiven.
Sometimes our hearts are so stubborn that we will not admit our guilt. Jesus says: “if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that `by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”
See how Jesus still protects the reputation of the offending Christian! Bring along only two or three with you. Perhaps elders from the church, or the pastor. Perhaps mutual, respected friends.
What if nobody will agree to go with you? Then you have to drop the matter, because you may be wrong.
Don’t be a false witness!
When we are told by more than one respected Christian that we have sinned, it should make us consider the matter very carefully.
One fellow Christian might be mistaken about us, but two or three are more likely right.
But again, the Word of God must be the judge: compare your conduct to His commandments, and see where you may have done wrong.
Even then, the offending Christian may remain stubbornly defiant, or may even remain convinced of his own innocence.
Job was accused by three of his friends, that he had somehow offended God to deserve his great sorrow and suffering.
But their accusation was mistaken; Job was innocent! He was vindicated by God Himself.
Some matters of sin can’t be resolved in private.
So Jesus says: if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.
On earth, the Church makes the last decision about matters of sin. If someone sins against you, and will not repent after both preceding steps, it’s your responsibility to bring it to the Church.
It may be that the Church will decide in favor of the accused, but if the Church sees that a real offense has happened, a sin against God’s commandments, and the offender has not repented,
then the Church must confront the sinner.
As Christians, we want to forgive as God has forgiven us. But first, those who sin must hear about it.
Forgiveness means nothing to those who don’t acknowledge their sin, even when they think that they are good Christian people.
God’s Word says in Galatians 6: For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
Only God’s commandments can say what’s right and wrong, but sometimes we need to be told by other Christians.
Sometimes we are so stubborn that it takes the whole Church to show us our sin.
What if all of that doesn’t work? even from the Church?
Jesus says: let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. An unbeliever. A prospect for evangelism.
That’s true excommunication, to bring an impenitent sinner to his senses, so that he may receive God’s forgiveness, and be restored as a child of God.
It’s not about how terrible the sin may be, but about saving the person’s soul from stubborn impenitence.
The Gospel forgives us all, but those who do not wish to receive forgiveness, can’t.
This is part of a Christian life: forgive as we are forgiven, so that the truly impenitent must hear about it.
So that the penitent always receive forgiveness
As hard as it may be to believe that we are guilty when we are told by another person or two or even the whole Church,
It can be even harder to believe that we are forgiven.
Some people can’t imagine that sinful humans like us have any authority to bind or to forgive sins at all.
In a sense, they are right. We don’t have that authority in ourselves.
But Jesus Himself said, Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
So Christians do have the authority to bind sins, not on their own, but according to God’s will.
That’s why it’s so important that we allow God’s Word to judge matters of sin.
Christians also have the authority to forgive sins: we can all give our own forgiveness to those who have wronged us. but we can also give God’s forgiveness according to His will.
That means that we can all speak for God to forgive our fellow Christians who repent.
We can also tell our unbelieving friends that Jesus has won forgiveness for them, too.
When two or three Christians agree about something, and it’s in harmony with God’s Word, Jesus tells us here that the Father will do what they ask.
Jesus Himself is present with those who are gathered in His name. Jesus Himself!
He’s here in His Word. He’s present in the Sacrament of the Altar, just as He said. He’s here according to the promise in our text.
It doesn’t matter what size the group is, what other people may think of them, what sins they may have committed in the past.
He’s here to forgive us to comfort us with His Word to train and instruct us in righteousness to make us His representatives in the world.
At this moment, He would have me tell you as His minister that His blood was shed for you, to forgive you all of your sins.
Jesus wants us to regard and love one another as brothers, equally disobedient, equally forgiven.
Peter asked Him an important question. Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
It’s hard to say “I’m sorry,” but harder to say, “I forgive you.”
What is it that your brother or sister in Christ has done to you? Is it so terrible compared with your own iniquity before God for which He has now punished His only-begotten Son?
What is your grievance? Do you know? Just as important: does your brother or sister know? You have to bring it up! Just as you have been forgiven in Christ, so now it is your responsibility to forgive. If you refuse, then you are also refusing God’s forgiveness.
Peter knew that sometimes a person keeps making the same mistake. It’s frustrating. He was willing to forgive, but at some point there has to be a limit.
How about seven times? Seven chances to learn better.
But God has forgiven us so many times that we’ve lost count.
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” In other words: there is no limit.
If we recognize our own guilt before God, then now we also see how deep is His love for us, and how perfectly precious is the death of Jesus Christ.
This is how God handles our sin, and so it’s also how we, His Church, handle the sins of each other: forgiveness, without limit.
Soli Deo Gloria!