The Lord’s Message:  Deny Self, Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus:  Forgiveness

The Lord’s Message:  Deny Self, Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus:  Forgiveness
Date:  March 26, 2023
Where:  Tilghman UMC
Scripture Reference:  Matthew 18:21-35

            Once again, our focus for this period of Lent, is on our sermon series: Deny Self, Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus.  The spiritual tool that we are observing today is forgiveness. 

            Let us pray.

            If you would like to follow along, please open your Bibles to Matthew 18:21.  Peter and Jesus are in engaged in a conversation about forgiveness.  This comes on the heels of dealing with sin in the church.  I believe that this entire chapter, Matthew 18, is addressing how people in the body of Christ should interact with each other.  The chapter begins with the person who thinks they are the greatest must take the position of a little child and also to welcome children into a relationship with God.  Look at Matthew 18:1-5. 

            Of course, this takes us back to last Sunday’s message on Service.  To humble oneself and serve others, even those that can not repay us, such as a little child.  In John 13:1-17, Jesus displayed what it means to be a servant by washing the feet of the disciples.  Jesus goes on, in

Matthew 18: 6, to tell us that it is our responsibility; parents, grandparents, Sunday school leaders, pastors, members of the church; to love and teach children about God and His love and grace for them. 

            Jesus goes on in Matthew 18:7-9 to teach us to be aware of situations and influencers in this world that cause us to be led into sin.  Then Jesus teaches us that just because we have sinned, God never stops loving us.  God will be like a shepherd that leaves the 99 and goes out and searches for the one lost sheep, a sinner.  Even though this world has coaxed us away from God, God will search for us and bring us back, if we repent of our sin.  God is right there to bring us back into relationship with Him.  In Matthew 18:14, God does not want any of us to perish. 

            This teaching goes on to tell us how the church is to deal with a sinner.  In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus points out the steps in this long and arduous task.  First, you go to them and point out their sin.  You do this in a loving and nonjudgmental way.  If this is unsuccessful, then you are accompanied by two or three others in the church.  Again, in a loving, nonjudgmental way.  The next option is the whole church is involved in confronting this person about their sin.  The final option is to excommunicate them.  I have used these steps just a few times and it never reached the whole church being involved.

            Jesus concludes this part of the teaching saying the decision that the church makes on earth will be done in heaven.  Now, this does not mean the church or its members have control over God.  Or the church or its members are to seek their own personal agenda or political intent.  The ultimate goal and final decision are to seek reconciliation and grace in the body of Christ.  That should be the end result.

            Now Peter asks Jesus in Matthew 18:21, “if someone has sinned against me how many times am I to forgive them, seven times?”  The number seven is an interesting number which has several meanings in this incident.  First, the Rabbis of Jesus day, taught that you must forgive a person three times.  Maybe Peter wanted to show to Jesus that he was a gracious person, so he doubled what the Rabbis claimed and added one to it.  The second meaning of the number seven, which will have a more completed understanding with Jesus’ response, is that seven means completeness.  In the book of Genesis, how many days did it take God to create the world?  Six days.  He rested on the seventh day, because creation was completed. 

            Jesus responds to Peter in Matthew 18:22 takes the act of forgiveness further than what Peter was expecting.  Jesus says seven times seventy or seventy-seven times.  Some translations of the Bible differ.  I think what Jesus is meaning with either one is seven – completeness by seven completeness by 10.  How many commandments did Moses bring down from Mt. Sinai?  Ten.  Ten represents ethics or law.  In other words, do just say that you have forgiven the person, but really forgive them completely, ethically and lawfully.  In other words, don’t just say, I forgive you and then hold a grudge against them. 

            To further emphasize this point, Jesus tells a parable, Matthew 18:23-34.  In the parable a king is settling accounts with his slaves or servants.  One of his slaves or servants owes him a ridiculous amount of money.  How this person was able run up this debt, we are not told.  In my Bible, it says “ten thousand bags of gold.”  In the pew Bibles, it says, “ten thousand talents.”  Either translation would take more than a person’s life to pay it off.  This slave or servant is in some financial debt.  The king ordered him to pay off his debt at once or face having himself, his wife, his children, and all that he owns being sold off to repay the debt.  He falls at the feet of the king and begs him for patience for repaying the debt.  The king does something so outlandish, he cancels his debt and lets him go.  Now, you would have thought that this person who owed so much to the king and the king has just forgiven it all, would show compassion to someone who owes him.  He doesn’t. 

            Look at verse 29.  This person only owes him a hundred silver coins or denarii.  An amount that could have easily been paid off.  Instead, the forgiven person chokes him and demands his money.  And even after the other person begs him along the same line that he begged the king for mercy, he does not show mercy or forgiveness.  Instead, he has the person thrown in jail to pay off his debt. 

            Now the king’s other slaves or servants witness this interaction in verse 31 and they go and tell the king.  In verses 32-35, the king is furious with his forgiven slave or servant and the king punishes him. 

            Chapter 18 concludes in verse 36, with Jesus pointing out to the disciples and all of us that God is only going to forgive us if we forgive our brother or sister.  The chapter begins with how we treated children to how we deal with sin and concludes with how we forgive each other.  Who is our brother and sister?  It is all of us.  We are all made in the image of God. 

            I would like to close with this story.  The Vietnam War was a war where, for the first time, we were seeing the horrors of war up close and personal.  It was on our TV every night.  Now, we need to honor and support those men and women that were in that war.  One of the most horrific and defining photos from the war was on the cover of Time magazine on June 8, 1972 of a little girl, only 9 years old, completely naked, scarred from head to toe by Napalm.  She was known as the Napalm Girl.  Let me take you deeper into this story and the forgiveness that resulted.  Rev. John Plummer, pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church in Purcellville, VA was the person partly responsible for bombing this village in which the girl was living.  He was a staff officer whose task was preparing bombing runs for the South Vietnam Air Force.  Before the bomb run, he sent in soldiers to make sure that all the civilians were out of the village.  Neither the soldiers nor John was aware that the family was hiding in a pagoda.  The first plane flew over and dropped a bomb on the building.  The family ran out just as the second plane came overhead and dropped the Napalm bomb.  Two cousins were killed by the Napalm.  This little girl named Kim Phuc tore off her burning clothing and ran. 

            The Time photographer and journalist poured water from their canteens on her burns and rushed her by car to a hospital.  The girl spent fourteen months in hospitals and was finally operated on by a plastic surgeon at a hospital in San Francisco.  Back in the states, the war and John’s part in the war continued to haunt him.   Failed marriages and too much drinking were the results.  John heard that Kim Phuc was speaking at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.  He went and heard her say that if she ever met the pilot of the plane, she would tell him she forgives him and that they cannot change the past, but she hoped they could work together in the future. 

            Overcome with emotions and knowing that he was partly responsible for her loss of her village, her family, and her wounds , he sent her a note asking for her forgiveness.  She reached out to him and embraced him.  All he could say was, “I‘m sorry; I’m sorry; I’m sorry.” She responded with, “It’s all right; It’s all right; It’s all right; I forgive; I forgive.”  John later found out that even though she was raised as a Buddhist, she had accepted Jesus and became a Christian in 1982.  This meeting and the forgiveness that followed, would change John’s life.  He stopped drinking.  He worked on becoming a good father and husband.  He recommitted his life to God and became a United Methodist Pastor. 

            Because God has forgiven us of all our sins, we should forgive others.  The spiritual discipline of forgiveness is how we deny self, take up our cross and follow Jesus.   Amen.

Prayer of Confession:

Forgive us, Gracious Father, for the limitations we have placed on our graciousness toward others.  We often treat others well only if there is something in it for us.  We apologize, but only if we see no alternative.  We justify our grudges when others have hurt us.  We remember offenses that we should have long ago forgotten.  We are too comfortable with brokenness when we should be reaching out with healing.  We expect You to forgive us when we find it hard to do the same for others.  Grant us Your pardon, O Father, and equip us to share Your graciousness with others.  For the sake of Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.

March 28, 2023 10:26 am