A few Sundays ago, I was led to preach on the important topic of Forgiveness. I chose Matthew 18:21-35 to illustrate what Christ taught and asks of us when forgiving others. To begin with, I have supplied links to the audio files so you can listen to the sermon. The first is the Introduction which included the Scripture reading and initial prayer. The second is the sermon itself followed by a closing prayer. I have also supplied the text that allows you to follow along. It is my hope that God speaks to you through this sermon.
Both files must be downloaded to listen to them. Please click the appropriate links to retrieve the audio files.
Sermon Introduction : Introduces the Scripture and opening prayer of sermon.
Sermon: “Setting The Captive Free!” : The Sermon itself along with closing prayer.
“Setting The Captive Free”
– Matthew 18: 21-35 NIV Version: 21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 8 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he could pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
– Story: Late one summer evening in Broken Bow, Nebraska, a weary truck driver pulled his rig into an all-night truck stop. The waitress had just served him when three tough looking, leather jacketed motorcyclists – like a biker gang – decided to give him a hard time. Not only did they verbally abuse him, one grabbed the hamburger off his plate, another took a handful of his french fries, and the third picked up his coffee and began to drink it. How would you respond? Well, this trucker did not respond as one might expect. Instead, he calmly rose, picked up his check, walked to the front of the room, put the check and his money on the cash register, and went out the door. The waitress followed him to put the money in the till and stood watching out the door as the big truck drove away into the night. When she returned, one of the bikers said to her, “Well, he’s not much of a man, is he?” She replied, “I don’t know about that, but he sure ain’t much of a truck driver. He just ran over three motorcycles on his way out of the parking lot.”
– In today’s verse we find ourselves in familiar territory. Yet again we are reading about Jesus saying to forgive our enemies. This time? “seventy times 7 times”. We know the words, but do we know what they mean? Seventy times 7 means infinite forgiveness. Why did Jesus not simply say to forgive once and be done with it? Because forgiving others is a battle we fight time and time again. It would be nice if we could forgive someone once and never have to remember what transpired. But because we are human, we do have these hurtful memories that come to surface time and time again that require us to forgive the person and the events more than just once. Satan uses these wounds to harm, but God can bring healing.
“Seventy times 7 times” has Old Testament roots that show us a contrast between man’s way and God’s way. The response of Jesus is like the story of Lamech in Genesis 4:23-24 (NIV). He was Adam and Eve’s great-great-great-great-grandson who had two wives. One day he said to his wives,
“ Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
In this new Kingdom of forgiveness, we reverse and invert Lamech’s plan.
As Christians, we should forgive others’ transgressions more readily than the world would avenge them. Because Christ has shown us what God’s love is, we should work to model and reflect it to the world.
I want to share a quote with you from Lewis Smedes: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
How profound a statement that is. When we harbor ill will towards others, we put ourselves in a prison governed by our anger, our pain, and our pride. Often times we discover that our feelings towards others bear no affect on their lives as our own continue to suffer physically, mentally, and spiritually. The anger and resentment we hold puts strains on our relationship with God. We are taught to forgive others as God forgives us. In a lot of ways, we can be like the servant who was forgiven of his debt. God shows us mercy and extends forgiveness to us through Jesus and then we are often hesitant to forgive others. When really, we are no better than anyone else.
CS Lewis said it best: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
We are in all sorts of battles during our Christian walk. In every battle there are trenches. Today we find ourselves in trenches we visit time and time again. The pews are the trenches God uses in our battles against our own sins and the advances of the world’s ways. In our case, trenches provide protection and shelter from the advancements of Satan and the world at large. The Bible is THE WEAPON that brings peace to our broken lives. We offer praise to God as He heals us in our trials. We battle sin, temptation, and the pain that Satan brings into our lives. But what we fight more than any of this is ourselves. We are often prideful and bring importance to ego rather than humility. We often forget that in the eyes of God, all sin is wicked. We must be careful to recognize our own shortcomings and acknowledge that we are all broken. Forgiveness requires that we break down the walls that house our pride and replace anger and hurt with love and humility. Pride IS the biggest enemy we face in our own lives. Perhaps pride was the thorn Paul was referring to in 2 Corinthians 12:7.
Some of us don’t even realize that we are being led by our pride instead of God. What are some of the reasons we have for not forgiving others?: “I’m a better person than they are.” , “They don’t deserve to be forgiven”, or “I’m going to get them back for all the pain they put me through”.
When we say these things we are putting a wedge between our way and God’s way. God wants us to forgive others and share His love with them.
Prayer is an absolute necessity in the trenches. We must make it a habit to lift up our trials with the world and out inner struggles with ourselves to God. When we do this, we hand over our hurts to the Healer. God is faithful to help us overcome these hurdles and these hurts. He is willing to bandage the wounds and dwell completely in your heart. It only takes a few minutes out of your day to just talk to God and let Him know what is weighing so heavily in your life. He is willing to hear you and help you, but you have to go to Him. Daily prayer is an absolute necessity in life.
We are literally on the frontlines of battle every day of our lives. The world is constantly telling us that harboring anger and resentment towards others is acceptable. Sometimes, we have pride in our anger and resentment towards another person. However, all harboring anger and resentment does is keep us in a prison.
Jesus can set the prisoner free.
Two Sundays ago we heard a sermon about love. Last Sunday we recognized Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples in the Upper Room and God spoke through Peter leading to a conversion of 3,000 people in 3 short minutes. What we get when we combine love with the power of the Holy Spirit is Forgiveness. Forgiveness is impossible without God’s intervention. The Holy Spirit has the power to change lives, redeem the lost, and give new purpose to once hurtful wounds. We are Easter people and in that respect, we have been made new through Christ’s Resurrection in order to proclaim the great love of God for all people.
Jesus is explaining in this passage that we must forgive others just as God forgives us. When we examine the sacrifice that Jesus made for our sin, we have to recognize that sin brings death, but Christ has reconciled us through God’s forgiveness. Because we are called to be like Christ, we are called to forgive our enemies. We can sit in the pews and recite the Lord’s Prayer so much that I feel some of us do it out of habit without realizing what Jesus taught us to pray for. The Lord’s Prayer says “forgive US of our trespasses as WE forgive those who trespass against us.” Think about it for a moment. What it is saying is that we are asking God to forgive our sins AS we forgive the sins of others. “AS” is a key word to consider. What it means is “at the same time” in this instance. We must be honest with ourselves before God and recognize when we are denying others the forgiveness He allows us to receive. We are able to forgive others because He has forgiven us and shown us HOW to forgive.
When we forgive others, we show them an aspect of God that brings Him glory. Even Jesus broke bread with Judas knowing Judas would BETRAY HIM and offer Him up for death. It is hard for us to wrap our head around that aspect of Jesus’s teachings. He still extended an aspect of grace to a man who wanted to bring nothing but death itself to His life in exchange for a few pieces of silver.
We need to free ourselves from our prideful prisons.
Now I recognize that situations vary and some are more complicated than others. I also want to make it clear that forgiving does not always mean a relationship is possible. But there is no situation that has occurred, is occurring, or will occur that is out of God’s control to use to bring comfort to our lives. We have a calling as Christians to show mercy and forgiveness to others. Forgiving a person frees yourself from a prison of hurt, anger, and depression.
Sometimes we even have to forgive when the other person is not open about finding fault in their own actions. This does not make us a bigger or better person, it witnesses to one of our greatest callings as Christians.
Instead of holding onto all these regrets and events, we should bring them to God and trust Him to work in our lives to get rid of the pain. The weight of the hurt and the weight of our pride hold us down when God intends for us to be lifted up. They are counterproductive and keep us in the past. God desires for us to use forgiveness to create a new future. God can use these broken pieces of our lives and mold them into something beautiful. But He cannot do this is we do not seek Him and lower our pride defenses.
We don’t have to suffer alone. Jesus is always with us. Jesus died on the Cross to break the barriers imposed by pain and suffering. But we have to work against our pride to recognize that the only freedom we will ever have in our prison is forgiveness. It won’t always be easy, but God doesn’t call us to do the easy things. God calls us out of our comfort zones to step into a bright future.
It may take time, but God is always available to help us. WE ARE. NOT. ALONE.
Forgiveness changes lives, opens doors, heals the heart, and sets the prisoner free.