"Unleash the Power of Forgiveness in Your Life "#85-03
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 17, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: Matthew 18:21-35
"Then Peter came up to Jesus and said to Him, 'Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him 10,000 talents, 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 be made.'"
"So, the servant fell on his knees imploring him, 'Have patience with me. I will pay you everything,' and out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denari, and seizing him he began to choke him saying, 'Pay what you owe,' so his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you,' but he refused, and he went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt."
"When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed. They went and reported this to their master, all that had taken place, and then his master summoned him and said, 'You wicked servant. I forgave you all that debt, because you pleaded with me, and should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you," and in anger, his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt."
"So, also, My Heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
Christ has risen. He has risen indeed. Hallelujah!
What happens when someone who has power over you, has authority over you, suddenly demands an accounting of your life? What then? No excuses, no passing the buck, no evading responsibility and, worse, no power to overcome the predicament we find ourselves in. What then?
Jesus today talks about the Father having authority over all of creation. In fact, the Bible talks about Jesus Himself coming again someday to judge the living and the dead. All things are ordered by Him. All things-all people-are accountable to Him. The day is coming when the right questions must be answered, when the new heavens and the new earth-made possible by Jesus' death and resurrection-they'll become a reality for all to see. Will you be ready for that day?
Well, let's assess our abilities then. Will you give yourself an honest look with me? How much control do you have over your own life? I mean if you're honest, it's a bit terrifying to think about how vulnerable we are to so many things.
Let me illustrate. A few years ago, I traveled to Australia, beautiful place. We were in the south, and it was lovely. It was serene. But I'm told that if you go out to the east coast of Australia or travel to the more rural parts of the country, there are some critters there that will bring terror into your life in mere moments. Yes, I'm talking about the spiders. Let's just put it this way: I don't like spiders or snakes. No, I don't. But in reality, thank God, they tend to stay in their God-ordered place in this world and, by and large, they are blessings to human beings, not curses.
But then I read this terrifying headline from The Washington Post. For some reason, The Post wrote a story that considered what would happen if spiders suddenly turned on us, or left their God-ordained places in the ecosystem. The headline read, "Spiders could theoretically eat every human being on earth in one year." Yikes! You heard that right. Spiders could eat every human being on earth in one year, and what's even worse, they would still be hungry!
Spiders eat four- to eight-hundred million tons of prey each year. Now, that is a lot. But thankfully, it's mainly insects. But what if they turned on us? According to the article, all of humanity weighs somewhere around 280-million tons. That means the spiders could deal with us, and they could venture through the drive-thru for another round. Wow!
But here's where the article gets more personal. It said something even more disturbing. Researchers found that spiders exist in 100 percent of homes, and they found spiders in over two-thirds of the bathrooms and almost three-quarters of the bedrooms. So even if a portion of this article is true, I'm thanking God right now that these little critters are basically afraid of us, that they look to eradicate the bugs and the mosquitoes around our house, and that they aren't ornery and cantankerous in relationship to me. Thank God!
Now, why do I talk about these spiders today? Well, I talk about their place and our place in the world. Well, the article showed me again how vulnerable we are just to the things of this world. That article showed me how little of this life we actually have in our control. There are so many forces that actually keep things in order, that keep things from going off the rails, and even in the little things, we often don't have much power over any of it.
Jesus is talking about our place in things and what God ultimately wants for every one of us. The story Jesus tells us is compelled by a question. Peter asked him a question about forgiveness, living the way God wants us to live and, before answering, Jesus has to teach them-and us-that life and salvation-those aren't things that are in our hands. Why? Because this is God's world, and life is ordered, judged, and redeemed on His terms.
You might say that when Peter asks about forgiving-how to do it-Jesus simply teaches His disciples what things look like when God is King. He then called them to live in that Kingdom on God's terms.
You see, when God runs things, love and mercy are the most important forces. When God is in control, love seeks opportunity to forgive and to have mercy. When God is ruling, the Kingdom looks much different than when we're in charge.
In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches that when God is in charge, greatness looks like weakness and humility. When God is in charge, greatness is found in mercy and forgiveness. When God is in charge, greatness is love: God's love on His terms.
Peter heard all this talk about forgiving, and he still wanted to reduce the discussion to his terms. It's like he said, "Hey, Jesus, tell us the rules of God's game. How many times do I have to do this or have to do that? How often do I have to live this way?" He then asked Jesus, "How many times should I forgive my brother when he sins. Seven?" In other words, "Tell me the rules that I have to follow to do things my way in God's kingdom," and, by the way, we would have asked a similar question, but we probably would have said, "Hey, Jesus, how does three times sound?"
So Peter presents this to Jesus. In his mind, and in yours and mine, too, seven times to him is ridiculous, and surely Jesus will say that seven is just too many times. He'll say that seven is extreme, Peter. But Jesus not only says the opposite, He says something incredible. He says to Peter that he should forgive not seven times, but seven times seventy, or seventy-seven, times, an incredible number, beyond number, beyond your ability to remember how many times because forgiveness has no end. It has no measure. Just forgive.
Then Jesus illustrates the reality of how things are when God is in control. He tells a story. The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wants to settle accounts with his servants. Jesus wants you to get the picture today about what happens when the king decides when he wants to settle accounts. And what if the king is God? How is your account before God? The Bible says that God is coming again to judge the living and the dead on our own merits. If you're like me, we're in trouble.
This is exactly what happens to the first man in the parable that Jesus tells. The king comes to settle accounts, and the servant cannot pay what he owes. As a matter of fact, it would take him thousands of years to pay off his debt. It simply wasn't possible. He needs the mercy of his master. If the king really does settle his accounts, the first servant is in deep trouble. He can't even offer his life in payment. He would require an eternity of lifetimes even to pay.
Remember this is God's kingdom. He is the King of kings. These are His rules. He's the Creator. We're not. Jesus reminds us all of just who orders things.
Here's another thought. God knows everything. He knows your secret thoughts. He knows your hidden deeds. He knows the things that you've done that you aren't proud of. He knows the things that you've stuffed back into the recesses of your memory, hoping that no one will ever find out. He knows everything you and I have ever done, thought, or said, and He knows how imperfect they really are. He knows everything, and He's coming to settle accounts.
When this king in the story comes to settle accounts-our sin, our rebellion, our lawless hearts and minds-that reality means that we're not able to dwell in His kingdom. We won't be able to stand in the glow of His righteousness and judgment. If that's the only message you know and the only part of the story Jesus told, you'd be ill informed. You might feel boxed in, helpless, without hope, and if it was up to you and me, you'd be right.
But the good news is that while God is in control, that He orders things in the face of sin and rebellion, He even acts out of love on our behalf to reconcile us to Himself, even though we don't deserve any of it.
While it's true, when the king comes to settle accounts-without any more action by the king-you and I would be in deep trouble. Like the story says, everyone owes what they cannot pay. We need the forgiveness, not just for our sins; we need it for our best efforts, too, because they are tainted with pride and arrogance as well.
The king comes to settle accounts. From the Bible's point of view, he settled the account in a way that is totally different than anything we could imagine or think. The king came to settle accounts by paying the penalty of our sin and debt so that we might have life with Him, and that's the whole message of the Gospel in a nutshell. Jesus came as the King. He came to settle accounts. He came to pay the price for our sin, our rebellion, our lack of love, and He did it by taking our eternal punishment on His shoulders, and unleashing God's real forgiveness and salvation through faith in His cross and resurrection.
Out of love, Jesus came. He lived our life. He went to the cross in order to take your debt into His account. He died on the cross to take my enormous debt unto Himself. He went to the cross to settle the accounts of every single person, and that's just what He did for you and me.
Now, you and I can live on in our debt-ridden terms, or we can live by faith in the person and work of Jesus, for us. And there's more: accounts settled, yes, but new life is possible again, too. You see, after three days, Jesus rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven 40 days later, and now He's the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and this King says that all who have faith in Him will owe nothing, even though your debt is larger than you can ever repay, even though your sins continue to make you indebted. God declares your debt is forgiven in Jesus. He says you belong to His kingdom, because of what Jesus has done.
Jesus' point-how would you live your life if all of your overwhelming debts were erased, physical and spiritual? Yes, paid in full. What would you do if you realized that God did all of that for you and that He wants you to live towards others the same way? What then?
Well, when Peter asked Jesus the question, the response from Jesus is basically, "Peter, do you really know what you're asking? I guess not, since you don't even know how utterly graced and forgiven you are by the King."
Yes, the King is coming to settle accounts. Yes, there will be no fudging of the rules, no debts left unpaid and, yes, the power of the righteousness and justice of God is terrifying, as it should be. Sin must be eradicated. Fear must be overcome. But all that righteous judgment was unleashed on Jesus. Why? So that God's love and mercy-graciously given and graciously received-could be unleashed in your life and mine.
My friend, you got to realize that God took all that judgment upon Himself, so you could have a fresh start and an eternal future with Him. He took your sins, your sorrows, your inadequacies, your fears-all of it upon Himself-and He covered you with a mercy that is full of grace, forgiveness, and peace. The most beautiful words in the story are "The master, out of mercy"-what does it say?-"He took pity on him." He released him. He forgave him the debt.
That's right. The Bible is about God wanting you to receive, not His righteous judgment on your own terms, but His gracious forgiveness because of Jesus Christ. He also wants to unleash the power of His gracious forgiveness in your life and in the lives of those around you. Strive for holiness and excellence, yes, but with the joy of new life in Jesus as pure gift. If that's true, you won't take yourself so seriously. You can't be self-righteous or full of yourself because your life is in Christ for others.
Jesus wants Peter to get the picture. Life with God is not about sinners keeping score, or we'd all be judged and condemned. It's about living in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, earned for us, gifted to all who trust in Him, and then unleashing it in our lives towards others, now and forever.
If you're going to be one of His disciples, that's the way it is. That's the message of the King. That's the essence of His kingdom, and His kingdom is the one, the only one, that lasts.
So, remember, the King has come, and He has forgiven your enormous debt, the one that earned you an eternal life of punishment, and He did it freely. Well, at least free to you. It cost Him dearly.
So, how do you react when people then sin against you, when people are indebted to you? What do you do when someone owes you a debt? Well, you love as He loves you. You forgive as He has forgiven you. You speak His truth in love to others and unleash the power of His forgiveness, life, and salvation in your life towards others by His Spirit.
What other way would you want to live? Well, I invite you then to follow Him together with us here at The Lutheran Hour, by His grace, in His Name. Amen.
Action in Ministry for September 17, 2017
Guest: Mark Eischer
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action in Ministry, your call to action in response to all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ.
Gregory Seltz: Mark, speaking of forgiveness, today, we all need it, and we like receiving it. However, giving it is sometimes really tough for us.
Mark Eischer: Peter asked Jesus how many times he should be expected to forgive someone. Maybe as many as seven times. He thought he'd be doing really good at seven times, but Jesus very quickly adjusted Peter's thinking when he said, "No. How about seventy-seven times." In other words, you forgive so often that you lose count and you stop keeping score.
Gregory Seltz: And because we know from experience that forgiving someone who has wronged us or hurt us, is not easy. To forgive is a choice, something we choose to do by the power of God's Spirit, because God commands it, but also because we know that Christ forgave us. That's the power to do it.
Mark Eischer: And we have a print resource for you this week that explores this subject in depth. It's titled Forgiveness Is a Choice. It was written by our friend, Dr. Steve Hokana, and pastor, your sermon today made me think about what life might be like if there were no such thing as forgiveness-if accounts were never settled.
Gregory Seltz: Well, just think about that bill that just keeps getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and how it weighs on you, and weighs on you, and weighs on you. Well, there's an even bigger account that needs to be settled: our sin and our guilt before God and before each other. And that's why the Bible's words reconciliation, redemption-those kinds of words-they're about actually living human lives again, when sin and brokenness are overcome. And so sin and guilt are the great challenges, and forgiveness is God's solution.
Mark Eischer: So when there is no forgiveness, it's like a debt that keeps compounding with interest.
Gregory Seltz: Exactly.
Mark Eischer: And forgiveness breaks that cycle.
Gregory Seltz: It does. Like I said, the national debt, as we think about what the impending doom of that is unless we fix it. Well, there's a debt that you can't fix, and God had to get involved.
Mark Eischer: And do it for us. Well, this booklet points out even that there is a physical aspect to forgiveness. Theologians and medical professionals seem to agree that withholding forgiveness can harm the body as well as the soul.
Gregory Seltz: Yeah, it can.
Mark Eischer: And certain physical symptoms might show the need for forgiveness.
Gregory Seltz: And that's all human beings practicing forgiveness on their own terms. That just shows us that there's an even deeper need, and that's the need that when it's rooted in Jesus Christ, all this comes back to our need for forgiveness, and Christ is the One who take care of the root problem of that. We're all broken. He took the punishment of our sin. He settled our account because we never could. So, if we count on our efforts to find peace, to make things right, we are always going to hit a wall if we don't go to that deeper root of Christ's forgiveness.
Mark Eischer: And this resource also addresses some improper understandings of forgiveness. For example, what sort of things might we be getting wrong about it?
Gregory Seltz: Well, sometimes people think to forgive is to be weak, and that's not right. Sometimes people think that forgiving invalidates the pain of the reality that they're dealing with. That's not right as well. And it's not a tool of manipulation. Here's the point: it's not easy; it's not optional. God has forgiven us, so, yeah, we must forgive, but here's how I like to say it. We get to forgive in the power of Christ's forgiveness of us.
Mark Eischer: I was surprised to read also that forgiveness can actually bring about healing from addiction, and I'm wondering how that's possible.
Gregory Seltz: Forgiveness is for all sins-first of all, everything from yelling at the guy who cuts you off in traffic, to addiction, even murder. Christ came to forgive the root of all those things, absolutely all of it, and the other beautiful part of forgiveness is that with Christ in us, we've got the power to forgive others when they sin against us. With His freedom comes real freedom and peace.
Mark Eischer: This print resource addresses forgiveness in marriage, forgiveness in the workplace, even what to do if someone refuses to forgive you. It's called Forgiveness Is a Choice, and it's free when you call us or visit our website.
Gregory Seltz: And that's our Action in Ministry segment today, to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for September 17, 2017
Topic: Sincerity and Truth
Mark Eischer: And now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, some would say it doesn't matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere about it. Is that true and, if not, what's wrong with that statement?
Gregory Seltz: Mark, there's a lot of talk about believing these days. People talk about how strong their faith is. People feel pretty good when they say that they and all their friends believe something, often, anything. Some even say if you believe things, that's what makes them happen. Motivational speakers have often said that "belief is the key to success."
Mark Eischer: Doesn't the Bible say belief and faith are the key to our salvation?
Gregory Seltz: In a lot of ways. This talk of belief as power to receive benefits is really rooted in biblical teaching, but there's one very important difference. The Bible teaches that the power of faith is not rooted in how hard we work to accomplish things. Because even our best is fraught with sin, pride, ignorance, brokenness. Rather the Bible talks the power of faith as trust in what God has done graciously on our behalf for our good.
The Reformation started by Martin Luther called the church to focus on that kind of faith and that kind of believing and trusting in God alone, instead of the performance of our supposed good works.
Mark Eischer: Does it matter what you believe, or is it the point just to believe something?
Gregory Seltz: Actually, the whole point of true empowering faith is the object of our faith, not the faith itself. So just having faith isn't any better than having doubts. Just believing isn't necessarily a good thing. People believe in evil. They believe in destructive things all the time. Such belief or faith isn't beneficial to them or anyone else.
Mark Eischer: We're often told we should believe in ourselves in order to be happy and successful.
Gregory Seltz: Well, that's definitely what our society tells us, but that's not what the Bible teaches. God never calls us to believe in ourselves per se. As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us that our faith and belief should always be directed outside of ourselves-even the kind of faith that gives us real esteem and hope.
Mark Eischer: Okay. So the Bible is teaching us to believe and have faith in something outside of ourselves.
Gregory Seltz: Yes, but not just anything outside of ourselves, and not just anything that we consider good. Faith, from the Bible's point of view, is specific. It's to believe in something specific. Biblical faith means to truth in God, not our ideas, not our thoughts, not our country in which we live, or the political party we espouse, not the sports team or the hero we enjoy, but God and His work in our world. God directs our faith to Him and what He has done for us and for all in Jesus Christ.
Mark Eischer: And that makes it sound like it's more than just believing in God or in goodness in general.
Gregory Seltz: Yeah. Faith means to trust in God for all that we need.
Mark Eischer: And that kind of faith most especially looks to God for our ultimate life
and salvation, right?
Gregory Seltz: Most definitely. In fact, faith in God's work for us, for all, is accomplished for us by Jesus' death and resurrection: it's the foundation to all the other faiths we can have, you know. Jesus was fully God, fully Man. He lived a perfect life, whereas all of us have earned death by sinning. So Jesus never sinned, didn't deserve to die, and when He suffered and died on the cross, He did it to forgive the sins of the world, and when He rose, He rose victorious over death, and gives to all believers the promise of eternal life.
Mark Eischer: That shows us that the object of our faith really does matter. It's not just the presence or existence of faith.
Gregory Seltz: Yeah. I think that's right. The Holy Spirit gives us faith through the Word of God, and His Sacraments of Baptism and His Supper, so that we trust in God's work, in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and for eternal life.
Mark Eischer: What about all those who say they believe in God but not necessarily Jesus?
Gregory Seltz: Well, belief in God means believing in who He says He is, and His own Word says that He is known in the saving way only of Jesus. Only Christianity points all faith to God, and not to self. All religions that talk about God or gods in such a way that the follower of that god must do good things in order to be saved or to please that god, they're really teaching a faith, again, in the person, not even in the Deity.
Mark Eischer: Christianity, however, is the belief that God has done it all in Jesus for all people by grace.
Gregory Seltz: Absolutely. In fact, it's the proclamation that that's the truth, that's the way it is. The question is can you do what Jesus has done for you? If not, why not trust in Him above all else?
Mark Eischer: So the object of faith is actually more important than just believing.
Gregory Seltz: Right.
Mark Eischer: Faith is good, but only faith in what God has done for us through Jesus Christ can save.
Gregory Seltz: Exactly.
Mark Eischer: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Come Down, O Love Divine" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Seek Where You May to Find a Way" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)