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(Chp 23) Forgiving in Jesus

June 16, 2008, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Elder Lui Yook Cing (Matthew 18:21-35) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: The Jesus Creed
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service

Tags: Jesus Creed, Matthew

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Sermon based on Chapter 23 of Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed

Passage: Matthew 18:21-35

References:
1. Scot McKnight (2004) The Jesus Creed - Loving God, Loving Others.
2. Bill and Pam Farrel (2000) Love, Honor and Forgive - A guide for Married Couples.
3. Everett L. Worthington Jr. (2003) Forgiving and Reconciling - Bridges to Wholeness and Hope

Jesus often talks about forgiveness. He tells people that their wrongs have been pardoned. Even while suffering and dying on the cross, he forgave those who were murdering him. It gets difficult for us when Jesus demands us – his followers – to do likewise: forgive those who have wronged us.

The issue of forgiveness arises when a wrong has been committed on someone. When regretfully we are the offenders, then we really wish the other party would forgive us and let the matter pass. But when we are the victims, we prefer justice, retribution and restitution. Nobody likes an offender to get off without being duly punished. Forgiving becomes especially tough when the offence is grave and the damage done is irreparable.

I personally struggle with forgiveness. It’s particularly challenging. Everyday I read newspaper and am horrified by the atrocities committed by monsters clothed as humans – offences beyond description e.g. torture, abuse and senseless killings of innocent people. A father locks up his own daughter in the basement for 24 years and repeatedly abuses her. How does she forgive him? What about mass murderers like Pol Pot and Hitler? They killed thousands, even children and frail elderly, and never admitted their wrong. How do surviving victims forgive?
Was Jesus’ teaching difficult to accept? Yes! Even his own people – those who supposedly know God – rejected his teaching. When it came to forgiveness, Jewish tradition overall is more concerned with justice than forgiving hopeless sinners. We don’t find “forgive one another” amongst the Ten Commandments or any of Moses’ laws. In Psalms - the people’s prayer book, we don’t find David asking God to help him forgive his enemies. More are prayers asking for God’s forgiveness or pleading God to punish the wicked. When we read the prophetic books, we don’t find the OT prophets urging their people to forgive enemies. Rather they urge people repent from wrong so that they can get back to a relationship with God. The OT points out two essential perspectives regarding forgiveness.

1. Forgiveness is a “God- thing”
To ancient Israelites, forgiveness is something God does, not something that humans do. Humans don’t have the right or ability to forgive. If pardon implies wiping clean all sinful behaviors and thoughts from one’s life, then who else has the ultimate authority to do so, apart from God? The ancient Israelites were very clear about this: God alone forgives the sin of humans.

2. Forgiveness is a “Repentance thing”
The OT concept is: forgiveness is granted on the condition of repentance. We don’t see the picture of prophets handing out pardon certificates to sinners unless and until they repent. For them, justice and forgiveness don’t go hand in hand until a wrong has been rectified. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. There’s no such thing as “forgiveness without repentance and restitution.”
Jesus and forgiveness

3. Forgiveness is a “Pre-emptive thing”
When Jesus appears on the scene, his teaching is radical. He says God’s forgiveness is “pre-emptive”. When God looks at us, he sees the mess we’re in. God knows that what we need – first and foremost – is his pardon. And God offers forgiveness. God strikes at the root of our problems before we are even aware what the problem is.

Jesus preaches God’s forgiveness as an act of grace – given even to undeserving and not-yet-repentant sinners. This is good news to us. If the only system available was justice and people can only get what they deserve, then all we can receive from God is condemnation for much of our sinfulness. Jesus, however, befriended sinners and ate with them. Jesus reveals that in God we do not just find unyielding justice but also (much needed) love and mercy. Forgiving is not “fair” because forgiveness is never something that the recipient deserves. Someone else has to absorb the injustice of the offence. Someone becomes the scapegoat for us.

The bible records an interesting incident. A woman was caught red-handed in adultery. Her behavior has ruined and severed her relationship with God and people involved. In accordance to Jewish law, she should be punished, stoned to death. The crowd taunted Jesus, “What should we do with this woman?” Jesus replied, “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and be the first one to throw a stone at her.” One by one, the crowd dispersed. They realized that they were not morally better than the woman. They may not committed adultery, but they have committed other sins in their hearts. Jesus’ words showed up their inner darkness. None of them had any moral right to condemn another sinner. Jesus didn’t imply that henceforth every judge or juror must be a perfect person in order to perform his/her duty. Rather, Jesus asks: Are your motives for judging right?
In the end, only Jesus and the woman remained. Jesus didn’t leave because he is truly without sin and has the authority to condemn her. Ultimately, every person/sinner will be left alone to face Jesus Christ and be accountable to him for their lives. The woman made no plea – she knew she deserved death. Instead Jesus said: “Neither do I condemn you. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore!”

Jesus’ pardon does not imply that he is condoning sin. God hates sin. But unless God deals with sin itself, he cannot judge and forgive sinners. Jesus could offer forgiveness for this woman because he – the Lamb of God – became the scapegoat for her. Later Jesus would die in her place. Right now, the offender is given a second chance to embark a new life. We must seize it.

4. Forgiveness is “Our-thing”
It is on this basis – that we are forgiven sinners ourselves – that Jesus commands us to forgive one another. Forgiveness is not just a “God-thing”; it is also “our-thing”. Indeed, forgiving others is so critical Jesus says it is tantamount to our identity as children of God. God’s forgiveness is the basis of our relationship with Him. If God has not forgiven us, we have no part in him. When we don’t forgive others, we also have no part in him. The following are Jesus’ words:
Luke 11:4a “Forgive our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”
Matthew 6:14-15 : “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive yours sins.”
Luke 17:3-4 “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent,” forgive him.”
John 20:23 “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Luke 23:34 “At the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus urges us to have a disposition of forgiveness rather than strict justice. Forgiving others is a decisive test and characteristic of whether one as a child of God. There is no limit in forgiving others. Forgiving others is effective in the community of Jesus’ followers. Jesus is the ultimate example for us.
Just Do It - Can I Forgive?

I believe we are familiar with Jesus’ teaching. The difficult part is obeying. C. S. Lewis: “Everyone says forgiveness is a good idea until they have something to forgive.” It’s easier to watch others forgive than do it ourselves; easier to forgive strangers than those close to us. The graver the offence, the more difficult it is. But tough is not a reason for not trying. It helps to recognize that forgiveness is not something we can do overnight. Forgiveness is a long process. There are milestones in the process and we will struggle. When we overcome each stage and continue, we are making progress with God.

Joseph from the OT is someone who walked through the path of forgiveness. When he was a teenager, his brothers cruelly sold him to be a slave, despite his pleas. Many years later, they met up again and the tables were turned. This time, it was the brothers who pleaded with Joseph for their lives. Let’s observe what Joseph said and did.

1. Confront the wrong
“I am Joseph, your brother, the one you sold to Egypt.” To forgive, the victim must first confront the offence and the offender’s responsibility. There can be no genuine forgiveness or reconciliation until the person confronts “who did what”. Forgiveness is not excusing the offence. If we want to begin, we must first identify the offence for what it really is: betrayal, stealing, assault, sexual abuse, humiliation etc. The offence is a moral wrong inflicted on us; we need to acknowledge it. “I am your wife; you did me wrong because you were unfaithful to me.” “I am the paralyzed victim of your hit-and-run driving.”

2. Acknowledge impact of wounds
Joseph wept many times upon meeting his brothers. All the grievances of the past came back to him. As he opened up the old wounds, the pain was unbearable. Joseph wept bitterly. The victim must deal with the emotions that emerge due to the offence. We mustn’t deny or run away this. If we don’t handle the wounds rightly, they will fester. These will return to hurt our other relationships because we will relate and react from our wounds. However, this stage takes a lot of time. Even for Joseph. So we must not unduly pressure the person to hurry through.

3. Forgive – release and liberate
Joseph chose to pursue forgiveness. This is the definitive turning point. Regardless of the offender’s attitude – whether he has apologized or repented – the victim on his own part chooses to release / let go of all the destructive emotions that binds and cripples him. This stage is critical. When we refuse to do this, the offender (and the devil) continues to have firm grip over us. We lock ourselves in un-forgiveness.
I had this awful painful experience before. I once had difficulty forgiving someone who hurt me. For 2-3 years, I struggled. I would pray “Lord help me forgive him.” Then later on I would change my mind and pray “Lord, I won’t! I refuse to forgive because he doesn’t deserve it.” I thought: this is just one part of my life; I can compartmentalize my life, tuck it away in a corner, deal with it later and still get on with the rest of my life. But I was wrong. The thing had a grip over me. I became obsessed. A confused mix of various emotions kept tossing back and forth: forgive, don’t forgive; hate, love, regret, hurt, resentment, bitterness, anger, denial and despair. Whether I eat, sleep, work or play, all these occupy my mind and energy. It affected my health and my whole well-being deteriorated. Deep inside me I wanted out, so I never stopped praying, “Lord, help me get out of this mess. I am willing but unable. Perhaps I’m not ready yet. In your time, free me!”

One day, miraculously, I woke up and it was like – snap – I told myself: “This is it. I’m not gonna to dwell on this matter anymore from now on.” I got out of bed, and praise the Lord I actually became free from that moment on till now. Just like that, after all these years… It’s like scales dropped from my eyes. In retrospect, I now see how silly I was. I was trapped and locked in un-forgiveness but the key to unlock and free myself was actually with me all the while. We need to hand all those emotions to Jesus and don’t take them back!

Despite his personal tragedy, Joseph stopped yearning for revenge. He put the past behind and moved on with life. A disciple of Jesus strives to develop a disposition to forgive that is ready to release negative emotions caused by others.

4. See alternative reality
Joseph said, “You intend to harm me.. But it was not you who sent me her, but God.. It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” Forgiveness creates an alternative reality. We are able to see how God has intervened mysteriously to bring something beautiful out of the tragedy. We actually witness how justice and grace has evolved out of the wrong committed on us.

5. Reconcile with enemy
Joseph said, “Come back to me; don’t delay.. be near me – you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herd and all you have. I will provide for you.” Joseph reached out to his brothers and restored the broken relationship. This is the leap from “I don’t hate you anymore” to “I will shake hands with you, you are now my friend / brother.” Suddenly, one is confronted by how difficult it is to proceed. I’m not sure how many of us can achieve this. Indeed, sometimes reconciliation is too late because the offender has already died. The degree of reconciliation is shaped by many factors. Sometimes, the offender shows no sincere remorse at all. Other times, however, the offender has repented, or has been duly punished, or has made restitution for the wrong. When he reaches out sincerely, our response, according to the Lord’s command, must be acceptance.

Forgiving and Reconciling
Here is why I believe the OT highlighted “forgiveness is a God-thing and repentance-thing”. NOT that God forgives only after we have repented. We’ve seen that Jesus pardons even before people were aware of their sin and darkness.

For God, forgiveness is always about reconciliation. When God forgives, he isn’t concerned about his own inner / emotional healing; it isn’t about God needing to be liberated and feel good. No. God’s forgiveness is never for his sake, but for our sake. God’s primary purpose is reconciliation – to draw us back to him. Indeed, forgiveness and reconciliation are two sides of the same coin. The thing about repentance is that it is necessary for reconciliation. God is every ready to forgive. But unless sinners repent – turn back to Him – they remain alienated from God. The Father loves the prodigal son and has long forgiven him. But so long as the son doesn’t return home, he remains outside the home.

At its core forgiving is all about restoring relationships: with God, with others, with ourselves. Outwardly, our broken relationships need restoration. Inwardly, we have our own brokenness. When we repent, we return to and remain in God’s His love. When we forgive one another time and again, our friendships are strengthened. When we forgive ourselves, our own brokenness is healed. We find peace finally.
The Amish are Christians who know that forgiving is not an option for Christians but a necessity. In Pennsylvania, a man entered a one-room schoolhouse filled with Amish children and shot ten of them. These kind of stories no longer shock us because we are immune so many of these incidents of violence. What shocked the world was that before the blood had hardly dried on the floor of school, Amish parents sent words of forgiveness to the family of the killer who had executed their children. How could parents forgive such a heinous crime against their children and why did they forgive so quickly? The answer is that forgiveness is very much woven into the identity and life of the Amish people.

Forgiveness is a God-thing, repentance-thing and preemptive thing. Forgiveness is also our-thing. There is something strangely powerful about forgiveness. People who were forgiven have a greater likelihood of forgiving others. Recipients of undeserved grace are more likely to extend undeserving forgiveness to others. The cycle of grace breaks and replaces the self-destruct cycle of hate and vengeance. Each time we forgive, we participate in God’s work of reconciling the world back to Him. Forgiveness is never easy BUT it is not a choice for Jesus’ followers. May God help us grow more like Jesus each day in the grace of forgiving. For those who persist in un-forgiveness, Jesus has a warning. I will conclude with the reminder of Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I admit that (name the offence) was a wrong inflicted on me. The offence has hurt me in such a manner. I forgive (name the person) for (name the offence). I will not allow (offender and offence) stop my personal growth. I see how God has worked in this situation (in this way). In your strength, enable me to reach out and reconcile with (name person). I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 18:21–35 (Listen)

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

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

(ESV)