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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Forgive Us Our Debts (Matthew 18.21-35)

Sermon by: Mariah Woodbury; July 26, 2015
Text: Matthew 18:21-35; Colossians 2:13-14

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Song of Praise: "You Have Been Raised" (Sovereign Grace; Kauflin, Altrogge)
Song of Praise: "Merciful God" (Getty/Townend)
Offering of Music: "Who Am I" (Hall)
Hymn of Sending: "Come, Thou Fount" (NETTLETON)
Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf

:: Affirmation of Faith ::
from the Westminster Longer Catechism
What do we pray for in the fifth petition, ‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’?
Acknowledging that we and all others are guilty both of original and actual sin, and thereby become debtors to the justice of God-1, we pray that God would freely pardon all our sins for Christ’s sake.-2 We are encouraged to ask because, by his grace, we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.-3
1-Rom. 3:9-12,19; Matt. 18:24-25; Ps. 130:3-4; 2-Ps. 51:1-2,7,9; Dan. 9:17-19; 3-Luke 11:4; Matt. 18:35

:: Video - "Lord's Prayer Series"

:: Sermon Manuscript: 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

   This week we are continuing on with the Lord’s Prayer and we arrive at one of the more difficult verses. Not only is it difficult to obey and follow what Jesus is trying to teach us it is also a bit difficult for me to say. I grew up in an Episcopalian Church and we said trespasses instead of debts. I realize they basically have the same meaning and both refer to our sin or wrong doings, but I still find myself boldly saying trespasses then quickly backtracking realizing where I am and I mumble debts hoping no one has noticed. Whether you grew up saying trespasses, debtors, or have never said it before, it is a verse that takes contemplation and careful thought. If you are familiar with the Bible and Jesus’ teachings then I have no doubt that you have seen the theme of forgiveness show up. One interesting thing about this line is that it is the only one that is expanded on, and for this reason I really find it difficult to say. I think Jesus knew we would have a hard time following it and understanding what we were really praying for, so he added two extra verses to make it really clear. In Matthew 6: 14-15 He says “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others than your heavenly father will not forgive your transgressions.” Why did Jesus have to add in these lines? I really have a hard time  because there have been times when I have not forgiven others. And it isn't that I just haven’t been able to forgive someone but it's that I have gone as far to say that I will never forgive someone. I really thought that I would be able to forgive. So then how can I read this and obey it? When I pray this am I really praying and saying that I will forgive others of their debts against me and if I don't then I am not forgiven? Yes I do think that is what Jesus is saying but we must look at what else he has taught us to better understand it.

   I want to talk about to passages this morning so that we can understand what forgiveness is and how we are to forgive. First I want to talk about the parable that Jesus tells his disciple Peter  to look at what forgiveness is, and then I want to talk about what Paul says in Colossians so we can understand how we are forgiven.

What does Jesus say about Forgiveness?

   Luckily for us Peter had questions about this line as well. He had heard Jesus say it in the prayer and then heard the teaching from Matthew 6 and he still wasn't sure what Jesus was teaching. So he asks the question that I would probably ask as well. Peter, like us wants a concrete answer and to know the number of times that we are to forgive, so that way we will know what is required of us.  Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive a brother that sins against him and Peter thinks he has come up with the perfect number- seven. Rabbi’s commonly agreed on forgiving three times, so seven in Peter’s mind is generous and it surpasses Jewish tradition, making it the perfect number. But Jesus retorts back by saying saying seventy times seventy, which if we are Peter would seem like a ridiculous number. How could we forgive that many times? Jesus wants us and him to realize that forgiveness cannot be limited. To ensure that Peter and the rest of his disciples fully understood forgiveness Jesus employs a parable. Many of you might be familiar with the story of the unforgiving sinner, which was read to us this morning but I want to make a few points about how we should read this. This applies for any parable that we read. There are 3 things we should keep in mind. First, we must take note of who the audience is. In this case it is the disciples. Second we should not get too caught up in the details and make line-by line comparisons because parables are not suppose to be able to be perfectly translated into today's world. They are just stories that Jesus tells to illustrate a point. And lastly parables usually contain something that is surprising. In this parable there are two things that would have been surprising to the disciples. The first is how the King treats the servant. The servant owes the King an unthinkable amount, 10,000 talents which equals around 4 billion dollars today, and the servant begs the king to get rid of his debt and the king had mercy on him.The king cancels the servant's debt!! Not only does he cancel the debt of ten thousand talents but he allows the slave to be free. For the slave to repay the king he and the rest of his family would have had to be enslaved for the rest of their lives. This is so surprising! We see this and we think wow, the king has a huge heart and is full of compassion. This is not something that would normally have happened in this time period, so the disciples would have found this to be an extremely gracious act of the king! But the slave doesn't see it this way. He accepts the king’s forgiveness and grand gift only to abuse it.

   The second thing that is surprising happens. The slave seeks out someone who owed him 100 denarii or 4,000 dollars and demands he pay him. Not only does he demand to be repaid he goes as far as choking the man and then throwing him in jail. How could he do this after what the king had done for him? How could he not extend at least a fraction of the compassion he had been shown?  The conclusion that we are brought to is that the slave must not have truly understood the forgiveness and mercy that was shown to him.  He did accept the King’s mercy but not to the extent that it penetrated his heart. Forgiveness must come from the heart. That is how Jesus describes it at the end of the parable. He says we must forgive from the heart. And that is what I want to talk about next. How we forgive from the heart. In order to forgive from the heart we have to realize how we have been forgiven. To do this I want to look at what Paul says in Colossians 2:13-14.

How to Forgive

Colossians 2:13-14 says “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt, consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and has taken it out of the way having nailed it to the cross”. Paul is explaining what how we have been forgiven. We must humble ourselves and think about the spiritual debt we owe God. We have sinned against God in more ways than we can imagine, and the price of our sin is death. We owe God our life. But God gives us another way. Paul says we were dead in our transgression meaning that we had no chance of living a free life and having a relationship with God. We let our sin rule us. But by the death of Jesus we are made alive. We are made alive because he takes our place. He pays the price of death and dies on the cross for our sins. That is how we are forgiven. He completely cancels out our debt. And like the slave we are free. The slave owed his life to the king like we owe our life to God. Do we understand what this means? Do we really comprehend that we are forgiven? Our debt was nailed to the cross and Jesus died so we could be forgiven! That is amazing!

   That is grace beyond belief! The fact that God would send his most precious item to us to suffer for every sin that we have ever committed or will ever commit is something I don't think I will ever be able to truly grasp. And not only is God forgiving us of our our debts but he offers us multiple chances to forgive others. Unlike the slave in the parable we arent thrown into a prison to be tortured.The slaves punishment seems harsh to us, but to the disciples that would have been a normal reaction. God is different from the king and our salvation does not rest upon whether or not we forgive someone else. God always gives us the choice of accepting his forgiveness. And we can accept it endlessly.

   Once we let the reality sink in that we received a forgiveness that could never be matched Jesus teaching at the end of Matthew 6 doesn't seems so crazy. What is crazy is the fact that we have first been forgiven! We did nothing to deserve it, nor is it something that is owed to us. It is a gift. This gift has the ability to transform our heart and our actions.  In the same way that we love because he first loved us, we forgive because he first forgave us. It is hard to genuinely love someone until you realize the love you have received just as it is hard to genuinely forgive someone until you realize the gift of forgiveness that you have received. Forgiveness starts at the heart.

What happens when we don’t forgive?

   It seems that it should be easy to forgive after hearing what God has done for us but this isn't always the case.That is what I want to talk about next. I want to tell you about a time when I chose not to forgive, which I mentioned briefly in the beginning, then I want to talk about a women who did forgive.

   Forgiveness is hard. And sometimes it seems impossible to extend. Earlier I talked about a time when I didn't forgive. Not only did I not forgive but I said I would never forgive the person that had hurt me. I thought there would never be a way for me to find it in my heart to forgive. I didnt think that I needed to forgive and I most certainly didn't think that I was in the wrong. I held on to bitterness, resentment and anger for years. During this time I also would have said that it wasn't affecting my relationship with God. It wasn't until I forgave that I realized just how much it had affected me. I realized that even if I didn't think that I needed to forgive it wasn't up to me. It is up to God, because he first forgave us. I also realized that holding on to all the hurt really only hurt me. I was the one who was suffering. I had been self, self righteous and prideful and I didn't understand how I had been forgiven.I couldn't and I am still not able to understand his forgiveness if I don’t know how to forgive. When we forgive it doesn't mean that we forget or change our minds and think that whatever action the other person did was right. It doesn't mean that they don't deserve to be punished. It just means that we leave that to God. Not forgiving robs us of the chance to experience the joy and the freedom of the cross. And it can make it impossible for us to experience God’s peace and harmony.

What happens when we do forgive?

   Now I want to tell you about a woman who did forgive. Most of us are probably familiar with the shooting in Charleston and as tragic as it was I think we really saw Christ at work. I am still amazed at how some of the family of those who passed away were able to respond. One woman named Bethane Middleton- Brown said this when she was interviewed “We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul. And I also thank God I won’t be around when your judgment day comes with him.” She does exactly what Jesus teaches us to do. And it is hard to believe that she was even able to do it in a situation like this. She did the unthinkable. She forgave someone who took something so dear and so so precious to her. Not only is she verbally forgiving him but she is letting go of the need to seek justice and revenge. She is refusing to carry around that burden. I wonder if I would react the same way? I am not sure that I could have extended the same grace she did. This women could have easily said awful things to the man and said she would never forgive him and we probably would not have been surprised, but instead she choose to share the forgiveness that she herself had received as a believer and she showed Christ’s love. We know that she understands the forgiveness that she received because of her actions and the fruits of her spirit. It makes me believe that her heart really has been penetrated by the forgiveness that God has shown her.

  Forgiveness is not earned nor is it always deserved but it is given to us and we have the choice of whether or not to accepted it. We did nothing to earn God’s forgiveness we just get to accept it. The salve did nothing to earn the King’s forgiveness yet he too got to accept it. We get so caught up in wanting the person who wants our forgiveness to earn and to deserve it, but what if we treated them the way God treated us? We have to continually remember and realize the great gift we have been given, which is a forgiveness that could never be matched!! In the same way that we ask for our daily bread we ask for our daily forgiveness. I said that I was able to forgive and release a lot of the resentment that I had carried around with me, but it doesn't mean that it will necessarily get easier. But I just have to remind myself of who first forgave me. What would it look like if every time we prayed “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” for us to extend the same forgiveness that God has shown us? We have to search our hearts and remember who first forgave us.

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