Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Forgiveness Without Limit

T 12th Sunday after Pentecost – September 4th, 2011 T

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit T Amen.

If your brother sins against you . . .”
            “If you brother sins against you . . .” - you go and tell everyone about it.  At the ball game.  At the coffee shop.  On your cell phone, Facebook status or twitter messages. You text it.  Email it. Breaking News!  “Did you hear what that jerk did to me?  You didn’t?  Oh, wait till you hear this… It’s absolutely shameful.” 
            Well, actually. That’s shameful. What does Jesus say? Will you listen to him again? You might not like what he has to say. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. “If your brother sins against you go and tell him – reprove his fault. Go and talk to him and no one else.”  Don’t let it fester like a ghastly wound. Don’t treat your grudge like a proud little pet and walk it around everywhere you go. Talk to them.

You see, in this life, sin is inevitable.  Wherever two or three sinners are gathered, someone, somehow, some way will say the wrong thing, at the wrong time, do the wrong thing, look at you the wrong way.  Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.  We sin in thought, word, and deed.  What we have done; what we have left undone. We will sin against each other, and the closer we live and work together, the more likely that will be.
            In a way, the popular atheist insult is right: “the church is nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.” Amen. Yes, Lord, I am a sinner. That’s precisely what the church is for: me a sinner. Here the Name of God is placed into sinner’s ears; His body and blood are placed on sinner’s tongues; His water and word drown and raise sinners to life. Here we poor miserable sinners receive forgiveness. We receive Jesus.

            But, if you want to avoid sinning against your neighbor, don't have neighbors.  Live by yourself.  Then you'll just have the 1st table of the Law to worry about.  3 commandments instead of 10. Only problem is, you'll still be a sinner in need of forgiveness. And a lonely one at that. And there’s nothing worse than a lonely sinner. That is hell – unforgiveness. Loneliness. Forever. That’s how seriously Ezekiel takes it. “If I say to the wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to him to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that person’s blood is on your hands. Ezekiel would’ve made a good Marine: Never leave a man behind.
            This works the other way around too. When the shoe is on the other foot – or rather, forgiveness is from the other mouth. When you’re the one in need of forgiveness, wouldn’t you want your brother to speak that to you? I know I would. We need forgiveness. That’s our life together in Christ. That’s how people and pastors in the church live together under the cross. That’s how our relationship works. Deny ourselves repent of sin. Deny ourselves. Forgive the sin.
            Go to the brother sinner who sinned against you.  Tell him the sin.  But that’s not the most important part.  The reason you go to the sinner is to speak an additional word.  What’s that?  “I’m here to forgive you for your sin.” 
            And if your brother sinner receives your forgiveness you’ve won your brother.  That’s the point.  That’s why you go to him personally. Relationship restored. A new life together in the freedom of forgiveness.

            That is the freedom won for you by Christ. The free man becomes the slave of death to release his captive Israel. One greater than Moses releases you from sin by binding Himself to your death on the cross. A new exodus as He parts his flesh to save you through blood and water.  The Shepherd finds the lost sheep by laying down His life as a sacrificial lamb. The King cancels your debt by taking it on Himself, paid for in blood. Here’s the only transaction that matters: He who knew no sin against the neighbor became sin – yours and your neighbors – so that we might become the righteousness of God.
            There’s no fine print on that promise. No ifs, ands, or buts. You are forgiven. Whatever sins you’ve committed against God and your neighbor – they’re swallowed up by Jesus’ death. Yours or your neighbor’s. Forgiveness without limit.

            To forgive means to let go of the offense.  To drop dead to whatever someone has done to you.  Like the farmer with the weedy wheat field who said, "Leave it all be.  Forgive it."  Like the prodigal son returning to a feast. All is forgiven. My son who is lost is found. 

            Forgiveness is not a bargaining chip:  "I'll forgive you if you promise not to do it again." Forgiveness has no ifs, ands, or buts. It’s is not like a coupon for a free taco that says in fine print: “buy one get one free.” That’s not free.  To forgive is to drop dead to the whole thing.  To forgive is to step into freedom, the freedom that is yours as a blood-bought, baptized child of God.

            And to receive the forgiveness means to admit that you’ve sinned.  So you may have to try numerous times with your brother.  But if you get nowhere all by yourself with your brother who refuses to listen to your forgiveness, then take 1 or 2 others with you.  They are witnesses to the sin.  But more importantly, they are witnesses to forgiveness.  “Dear brother you have nothing to fear.  We’re all beggars.  Please receive my forgiveness and all will be set right.  We can live together in peace.”

            Who wouldn’t want that?  Your brother might not.  So if the one on one fails.  And the 2 or 3 witnesses fail after repeated attempt.  Enlist the whole congregation of forgiven sinners.  “Tell it to the church,” Jesus says.  Let everyone in the congregation beg him to receive the word of forgiveness. Week after week.  Month after month.  Year after year.
            Who would dare to not listen to such begging?  Tragically, some would dare to hold their sin outside of Christ’s forgiveness.  Andif he refuses to listen even to the church,” Jesus says, “then treat him the way he wants to be treated – like an unbeliever.”                Don’t want forgiveness?  The Lord won’t force it on you.  Neither will the church.  Want to be bound in your sin, then bound you are.  Not only on earth but also in heaven.  And believe me, that’s not good. 
            That’s why Matthew 18 isn’t some list of guidelines you have to check off  and finish. It’s how you live daily in the freedom of forgiveness won for us by Christ. Forgiveness with limits is no forgiveness at all. That’s how the world works: Get out your score-card and No. 2 pencils, start an Excel spread-sheet. Have you fulfilled your forgiveness quota?
            Dear children, Christ’s forgiveness has no limits, no bounds, no mathematics, balanced budget.  Forgiveness is lavish, reckless, outrageous and crazy.  "I tell you, not seven, but seventy times seven." And just about the time you begin to lose count, you're on your way to learning what it means to live under the Gospel instead of the Law.

            That’s Jesus’ forgiveness: reckless, prodigal, more than we could ask for. Outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners. Christ died for you. Debt paid. The books are closed. Jesus tomb is open and He lives. He lives to announce His forgiveness to you. Jesus dies so you walk off free and clear. Forgiven. Restored. Reconciled. On earth as it is in heaven. And that is the best news there is.
            Free to receive forgiveness in the absolution from your pastor here in church or in private confession– it’s all Jesus’ good news in your ears; Free to receive forgiveness as you inwardly digest that Word. Free to wash yourselves daily in your Baptism: dying and rising in forgiveness of sins. Free to eat and drink His flesh and blood to forgive your flesh and blood.
            And you are free to live for others. Free to forgive the neighbor when they sin against you. Christ has forgiven our sins as we have sinned against him. And so we pray, “Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

            That’s the truly remarkable thing about Jesus’ forgiveness. The One who holds all authority in heaven and on earth, gives this authority to His church, He gives the authority of the forgiveness of sins to sinners. You are forgiven.

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit T Amen.


  1. If all is forgiven, why is every bad thing we have done in our lives (even the bad things we did after we came to Christ and repented of those sins) -- why are all those sins brought up again at judgment? It seems a contradiction in scripture.

    1. First of all, thanks for reading. And thanks for asking a great question.

      After a careful and discerning reading of Scripture I think you'll find that there is no contradiction here at all. perhaps a paradox of sorts, but that is much different. Scripture is full of paradoxes, not contradictions.

      Second, let me answer your question by asking a series of questions; I pray you'll see the point at the end. How many people did Jesus die for? How many sins did Jesus die for? How many of your sins did Jesus die for? What then do you have to fear on Judgment Day?

      Third, Which passages are you referring to specifically with regards to the account of the Last Day? I think you'll find the context to be vital here. The Scriptures speak both about the judgment that has already occured in Jesus death on the cross. And the Last Day which is yet to come. Jesus was judged for you on the cross. So, when it comes to the Last Day there is nothing to fear. No

      Fourth, Check out Jesus' parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. Notice how he addresses the two. The things they are not judged on the basis of what they have but rather who they are. And who they are in turn effects what they have done. It's similar to the illustration Jesus uses with fruit and trees. A good tree makes good fruit; a bad one makes none. A sheep who has been called a sheep by the Good Shepherd does good; a goat who has rejected the shepherd does not.

      Hopefully that clarifies things a bit.