Sermon for Sunday September 17th, 2017, the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Genesis 50:15-21; Psalm 103:8-13; Matthew 18:21-35
Victor Guaminga, an Ecuadorian Christian, is a World Vision project coordinator in his own country. Wanting to eradicate water-borne diseases in his home village, Laime Chico, Victor developed a plan for building a pipeline to supply the villagers with clean, drinkable water from a source some distance away.
Unfortunately, the best path for such a pipeline ran right through Laime San Carlos, a rival village – one with which Victor’s village had a long-lasting feud.
When certain implacable enemies in the rival village heard about the proposed water line, they announced that they would destroy any pipes laid for that purpose. Therefore, the whole plan was stymied.
In spite of their neighbors’ hostility, however, Christians in Victor’s village, knowing that the other village had no church, decided to conduct an evangelistic outreach there.
Doing so was both difficult and dangerous. Not many of the rival village’s people paid any attention to the evangelizers. But four did respond to the gospel message and became believers in Christ.
After being spiritually nurtured by believers from Victor’s church, the four converts became faithful witnesses to others in their own village. Slowly, a church formed there also.
Eventually the very man who had most vehemently opposed the water project became a believer himself. Seeing, then, how wrong his attitude had been, he asked forgiveness and gave his cooperation to the project.
Five years after that project in Ecuador had been proposed, clean, drinkable water flowed through dependable pipes not only to Victor’s village but to the formerly hostile one, plus two other nearby villages. And now there are growing churches in all four places. (“Example in Ecuador: Forgiveness Unclogs a Pipeline,” World Vision, February-March 1986, 18)
THE PARABLE OF THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT (MATTHEW 18:21-35)
The above story demonstrates the powerful effect of forgiveness, for communities as well as individuals, but Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in response to Peter’s question about how many times an individual should forgive a person who sins against him frequently. Peter’s suggestion of seven times is generous compared to some rabbis of the time who believed that three times was sufficient. The Lord Jesus Christ’s answer that it should rather be seventy times seven, or four hundred ninety times, implies that one should keep no score of how many times one ought to forgive even the same person.
The Lord Jesus elaborates his answer to Peter by telling the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. The whole parable drives home the truth that Christians must always forgive one another, with no limit on frequency or severity of sin, because Christians themselves have all been forgiven of sin far greater than any sin anyone can commit against them. The king in this Parable corresponds to God, in that he forgives the huge debt of one of his servants since it is far beyond his means to pay it, and he responds to that servant’s plea for mercy. Otherwise, that servant, together with his wife and children, would have been sold as slaves to meet the debt. The position of mankind in God’s view is similar. We could not do anything good enough to atone for our sin and be reconciled to God. Since the Lord Jesus Christ paid the debt of mankind’s sin by dying on the cross as a righteous man on behalf of sinners, all people have the opportunity to be reconciled to God by receiving His son as Lord and by believing in Him for the forgiveness of sins.
Seeing that we have received forgiveness for so great a debt of sin against God, God expects us to forgive our fellow human beings and our fellow Christians freely, as many times as they sin against us. In the parable, the servant who refused to forgive his fellow servant was handed over to the “tormentors” until his debt was paid. This is a severe warning to us all that God will hand us over to spiritual torment or torture, if we do not forgive everyone who has done us wrong. At the same time, God will continue to hold all our sins against us, if we refuse to forgive others, as the Lord Jesus teaches earlier in the same Gospel:
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.
(Matthew 6:14-15, KJV)
Whatever might be said about a person having the freedom or the right not to forgive someone else’s offence against them, the Lord Jesus Christ demolishes this freedom or right within His kingdom, just as in the Parable, the unforgiving servant found that he had no right to hold his fellow-servant’s debt against him. In this world, there are many who refuse to forgive those who have hurt them deeply. The consequences of refusing to forgive are enormous. What if all peoples who had been conquered by other nations and forced to give up their land, refused to forgive their conquerors? What if each one of us refused to forgive anyone anything? How much hurt we would still be holding onto now, if this were the case? Just as the unforgiving servant was handed over to the torturers until all his debt had been paid, so anyone who refuses to forgive another is handed over to the torments, anger, hurt and anguish of his soul in this life, and also finds out that none of his own sin has been forgiven, or which an eternity in hell remains for him.
The rule of God’s kingdom is that we must forgive one another, no matter how great the sin or how deep the hurt! Every Christian has received all the grace from God that he needs to forgive any sin committed against him. God freely supplies and extends that grace to us, so that we can forgive everyone for everything wrong we may have suffered. Since the kingdom of heaven in its final state is to be free of tears, sorrow, pain and crying, both sins and the refusal to forgive that is associated with these must be abolished. As I have said before in a sermon, in heaven we shall never come across anyone who says, “I refuse to forgive you for the hurt you caused me on earth.” Repentance from the refusal to forgive is necessary to enter everlasting heaven.
If the refusal to forgive only harms us, the kindness of graciously extending forgiveness to all who have sinned against us, brings healing and health to us, because we have walked in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ and expressed his forgiving character on earth.
In conclusion, are you sure that you have forgiven everyone who has done you any kind of wrong? The alternative to forgiveness is unbearable! Expressing forgiveness, on the other hand, brings great joy both to the one you forgive, and to yourself!