November 12, 2017
It is written in Matthew chapter 18: Then Peter came up and said to Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to Peter, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Thus far the text.
Let us pray. Blessed Father, You have caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, and inwardly digest them that, by patience and comfort of Your Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.
Peter wants to know what we all want to know: How long must I put up with my neighbor? God, I know, is merciful to ME! He puts up with me. He forgives me all my sins. But how long must I forgive my brother?
This is a dreadful thing! We must all learn some repentance today, before we are thrown into prison forever!
That's what Jesus says, and what are we to make of it? Don't try to make Him say that God's forgiveness really does depend on YOU and how forgiving YOU are to your neighbor.
Jesus doesn't teach against the Gospel. Jesus knows that God's mercy rests entirely on the Giving of His Son for you - into death - and now, through Word and Sacraments.
God has paid the penalty for sin in killing Jesus on the cross. All your debt is paid. What you owe, Christ took. Though YOU deserve to be cast into prison till you've paid the final cent, JESUS went to prison for you. He paid your sins and mine. He paid them all, for every man, woman and infant; the vilest sinner and whatever Grandma still is guilty of while sitting in her chair.
Jesus rescued us from ever thinking there is ANYTHING we have to do or give or show to gain God's heaven. So, PLEASE don't make Him a preacher of that popular religion which only knows how to withhold God's grace and mercy until sinners make SOME kind of effort to pay off their debt!
But also don't make Him the author of that evil thought that rises in St. Peter's heart and yours and mine each time we think of casting off our patience, calling it quits, or making someone suffer a little longer before we give them our forgiveness.
Jesus speaks today the way a king would if, having forgiven one servant an incredible amount of money, then finds out that that SAME servant turned around and had a fellow servant put in prison for a debt FAR less than what was owed the king.
I'm not sure how best to help us understand this. Several years before this altar gives me SOME perspective. Pastors hear the sins that people confess. They watch the lives of God's people fall apart because of sin. They hear criticisms and accusations and complaints, sometimes against the pastor. Still, a pastor stands before the altar and he says: "I forgive you all your sins." He hears confession and absolves, admitting poor sinners like themselves to Jesus' altar. By the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ in bread and wine, our sins are ended, done away with, forgiven and forgotten.
Then, what? After such forgiveness, a harsh word gets spoken between sinners, a responsibility is forgotten, a promise isn't kept. We sinners, though forgiven by the King of All, prove become impatient with our fellow slaves. Someone gets upset! God looks past our sins, no matter what they are! But we cast one another off - for what? An indiscretion. Being just like WE are?
This is a dangerous thing for all of us, since the question today is posed by one of Christ's first pastors.
Peter wants to know - PETER - who on one occasion will confess that Jesus is the Christ, and the next moment will be reproved by Jesus for being Satan!
Peter wants to know how far forgiveness goes. Peter - who walks on water and then sinks; who promises that he will die beside his Lord and then denies he even knew Him - not just once, but three times in an evening! Peter - who after Christ restores him to the Office of the Ministry, must be reproved by Paul for leading Christian brothers into sin.
On again off again Peter wants to know how far forgiveness goes. Oh, he's sure it's ALL THE WAY for HIM! But how many times must HE forgive his brother?
Dear people, this is a great sin, and our Lord and King will not be understanding if we presume to LORD so over Jesus' Gospel as the man does in our text today. If you want to Lord over the Gospel, take forgiveness for yourself, but then tight-fistedly treat others like there's no forgiveness, no patience, no understanding, no mercy for the things somebody does against you, then expect your heavenly Father to treat you just the same.
Any questions? It's the Law, cold, hard and in your face. And it is aimed at the chief apostle of Christ's Church.
Learn from the Ministry that's here for you! Learn from it how to be toward one another. Jesus takes your sins, dies for them, then pours out His forgiveness in their place.
Pay attention to the Ministry that's before you, dear people. Has there EVER been a time when a sinner couldn't come, repenting, confessing, saying: "I have sinned and done what is evil in God's sight," and NOT receive the absolution? EVER?
If you don't know, you've not been paying attention. I can be removed from Office if I don't forgive repentant sinners. So, come and LEARN from the Ministry of Jesus.
Learn that when you sin, the Lord will hear of your confession and He'll speak forgiveness over all your sins. He'll preach to you that Jesus died, so you will live. Your sins are not your own. They're HIS. And Jesus calls them all forgiven.
He will even feed you with His Body and His Blood; the bread and wine that carry to your lips forgiveness, life and salvation. From these, you learn to use your lips toward others.
Maybe if you'd make more use of private absolution, you'd learn a little better how to speak when someone comes repenting.
We all get angry. We all dig in our heels and try to make each other pay. We are sinners and we should be damned.
Come. Confess that. Hear how JESUS speaks, so you will learn the way to use your lips. Let the LORD'S forgiveness rule your hearts and minds and mouths, so you become a blessing, not a curse toward others or yourself.
Stubborn? Angry? Fed up? Holding onto sins that are not all that different from your own?
Don't expect that God will let you act like that. If tiny little sins - or even big ones - are just beyond forgiveness, so much so that you'd cast others off, refuse them mercy - then clearly you do not believe the Gospel. Clearly, Christ must not have died at all and sins must now be paid by sinners. So, get ready!
You cannot expect to be received at Jesus' altar in such unbelief, if you won't forgive your neighbor. So, come confess it. Plead the Lord for mercy and beg Him for forgiveness on account of Jesus. Lend your ears to the hearing of the Gospel over all YOUR sins, so God's astounding love might have its way with you toward others. Let nothing stand between you and your pastor filling you with God's forgiveness, mercy, patience and kindness might spill from you to those around you.
You will NEVER do that as you should. So don't expect that God's forgiveness given here or there is all you need. Learn it daily, how much - how long - how never-endingly the Lord forgives. Sometimes, with the children at school, a little treatment with the Gospel turns their hearts around. But when cancer grows, and it's been growing since conception, it takes some effort. It takes God repeating to you how forgiveness goes; how HE is in HIS ministry toward sinners, before sinners start to breathe the same toward one another. So, come!
With Peter, I am under orders to forgive as often as you come repenting. If you are not yet strong enough to let go of someone's sins, confess your weakness and your lack of faith and love. For Jesus' sake, and in His stead, I'll tell you what you need. I'll give you what you haven't got. I'll tell you, "I forgive you all your sins." I'll even urge you to the Supper. And with such forgiveness, we who ought to pay forever, "sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us." INI, Amen