The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity
+ IN NOMINE IESU +
“And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt” (Matt 18:34). The master delivered him to the jailers. This is true. But it’s not quite accurate. The word for jailers is more specific. The master put him in prison, to be sure, but he delivered the unforgiving servant not just to the jailers but to the torturers. The master delivered him to those who would exact pain to punish and coerce the servant until he should pay all his debt.
This should give us pause, especially in light of what our Lord says next, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt 18:35).
We know we are to forgive each other, we pray for this very thing in the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt 6:5–14; Luke 11:1–4). We often, however, don’t. We short circuit this by simply saying to ourselves that we don’t hold grudges, that we don’t let it bother us, when in fact it does, and it colors all of our interaction with them in the future. We want to make them pay. We subtly try to torture them. But we only end up tortured ourselves, in this live and in the next. For we let this one sin be the excuse for us to withhold mercy, to withhold forgiveness, we let this one sin define who we are and how we interact with everyone around us. And in the end, as our Lord says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from you heart” (Matt 18:35).
But just for a moment, let’s consider this: What if the Bible is true? What if it’s true that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:34–35)? That the Son of God (Matt 3:17; John 3:16), the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the only-begotten of the Father (John 1:18; Heb 1:5), became man (John 1:14), that He lived and walked among us, that he spoke to us, that he performed miracles among us. What if all that is true? And what if it’s true that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate (Matt 20:19; John 19:18; Rom 5:6–8; 2 Cor 5:15; 2 Cor 13:4)? That he suffered, died, and was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb (1 Pet 2:21; Heb 2:10; Mark 15:56; 1 Cor 15:4)? And what if it’s true that on the third day he rose from the dead (Matt 27:63; Matt 28:1; 1 Cor 15:4; Mark 16:6; 2 Tim 2:8). That he first appeared to the woman at the tomb, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, then to the Twelve, and then to five hundred at once (1 Cor 15). What if it’s true that he was crucified for our transgressions and raised from the dead for our justification, so that we are reconciled to God (Rom 4:25; Rom 5:24; 2 Cor 5:18–20)? What if it’s true that He ascended bodily to heaven, as a man, as our brother, as one of us, to sit at the right hand of the Father (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9–11; Mark 16:19; Psalm 110:1; Matt 26:64; Acts 7:56; Heb 1:3), to rule heaven and earth according to what He did for the world on the cross? What if it’s true that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)? What if it’s true that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16)? What if it’s true that He makes Himself present in His very body and blood, according to his word and promise, in, with, and under the bread and the wine, and not just present, but present in order to forgive us our sins, to take them away from us as far as the East is from the West (Matt 26:26–28; Mark 14:22–24; Luke 22:14–19; 1 Cor 11:23–26)? And what if it’s true that He is coming again? And that when he comes again he will raise us and all the dead, and bring all believers in Christ to the eternal joys of heaven (1 Thess 4:16; 1 Cor 15:12–13, 16, 52; Rev 22:5)? What if that is all true? What if the bible is true?
Well, it is true. And we all know this. Then why do we act as though this statement, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart,” is not true? Or at the very least, that God will understand why we have not forgiven our brother from our heart for his sins against us?
God does not understand, and this truth is clear because the Bible is true. Repent.
Christ became man, lived and walked among us, died in our place, suffered in body and soul. He did it to save us from the torturers of hell. He did it so that we would be reconciled to the Father and live with Him in eternity. He did it because he loves us. And the Father sent his son for the same reason, for his great love for us, out of his fatherly divine goodness and mercy. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross not only reconciles us to our Father in Heaven, but also to one another. It allows us to forgive one another’s sins so that we live out God’s love toward us with one another.
And when we refuse to forgive others we refuse and reject the mercy and the love that God has shown us and given us in his son.
This isn’t easy. It’s painful. But so was the cross. So was Christ’s enduring the wrath of God against all sin, being forsaken by His father for us on the cross. Forgiveness isn’t easy. It is costly.
And some may take advantage of it. And if that is your fear, you have come face to face with the Gospel, you have come face to face with God’s grace. That it is given without any merit or worthiness is us, but solely by grace, by his undeserved love and kindness.
So what are we to do when someone sins against you? “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[f] in heaven” (Matt 18:15–18).
And if you win your brother, if he repents and asks to be forgiven, how many times are you to forgive him if he sins against you again, even with the same sin? Our Lord tells Peter, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21).
So what are you to do if you struggle with forgiving others? You confess it. You plead guilty and pray. You pray “Lord I believe, but help my unbelief.” “create in me a clean heart, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.” Work in me, through your word and spirit, to have a heart full of mercy toward those who have wronged me just as you have had mercy unto me whose sins crucified you.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you by His Word and Sacraments will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. That as Christ has forgiven and loved you, you will forgive and love one another. Amen.