You Must Forgive Him!

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“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3b-4).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Well, it’s another text on forgiveness. Doesn’t Jesus ever get tired of talking about forgiveness? And the thing is, whenever Jesus talks about forgiveness He always seems to ask the impossible. Just listen again: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
But that’s not our first reaction when someone sins against us, is it? We want to attack right back. Even the score. By whatever means necessary. No matter how long it takes. “You sin against me; I’ll sin against you. Yell at me; I’ll yell louder. Push me and I’ll shove back harder. Hurt me or one of mine and I’ll crush you!”
As a Christian I know I should forgive, but Jesus’ command sounds like an invitation for someone to take advantage of me. How do I know someone is really sorry for a sin against me when they say, “I repent?” Especially if they do the same thing over and over again. When I forgive, I want there to be a change of heart. I want them to weep and wail. I want them to come crawling to me on hands and knees begging for forgiveness. Then, I’ll know they really mean it. I need to put conditions on my forgiveness. I like to wait a while to make them think really hard about what they’ve done, let them stew in their guilt for a bit before I offer forgiveness. Then they’ll appreciate it more.
And when I do forgive, I want everyone to notice. I want everyone to know how forgiving I am. I want people to say, “Wow! He is really a super Christian. He can even forgive someone who has done that really, really bad thing to him.”
The problem is that all of those attitudes are the sin that Jesus is telling us to avoid. Temptations to sin are sure to come. But the sin Jesus is talking about here isn’t the sin other people do to us—it’s our sin in not forgiving the sin of others. Our problem is that even though we believe God’s Word and want to follow it, we have a difficult time forgiving people as Jesus would have us do. And when we don’t forgive it is just like we don’t believe in God’s promises of forgiveness to us.
No wonder Jesus clearly says: “Pay attention to yourselves. When My little ones see this, it causes a scandal. It can lead them away from the faith or cause them to sin. They think they can act like this too. And if you folks are going to operate that way—let Me give you some advice: Tie a huge millstone around your neck and jump feet first in the deepest lake you can find.
It’s difficult for us because we are so easily hurt. And there is so much trouble in our lives. Every day we run into people that hurt us. The mechanic takes advantage of you. Your neighbor schemes to take away the land you’ve been working all your life. Your friend lets your secret slip. Members of the church turn their back on you when you need them most. And of course Satan has his part here too. He never lets you rest, telling you that you have every right to settle the score, to take revenge, and to withhold forgiveness when you have been hurt.
Jesus says we are to be different. We are not to listen to Satan’s word. Especially in the Church. Jesus uses the word “brother” to tell us that he is especially talking about how we live together as a Church, how we live together as a Christian community. Our relationships with each other are to be very different.
Rather than harboring bad feelings against the brother or speaking to someone else about the sin, Jesus tells His disciples to “rebuke” the sinner.  “Rebuke” doesn’t mean to go off the deep end, to go ballistic. It simply means to lovingly but firmly tell your brother: “You’ve sinned against me. This is what you’ve done. This is how you’ve hurt me.”
You say this not to win the argument, but for repentance. You want to win your brother back. You want your brother who’s sinned to say: “You’re right, I’ve sinned against you. I’m sorry I hurt you. Will you forgive me?
We Christians are to be in the forgiving business. When Jesus says forgive seven times a day, He doesn’t mean we should keep count. He means “forgive as often as it happens.” Sin is serious and should not be taken lightly, but we should never withhold forgiveness from the repenting sinner. In the Church, forgiveness always follows repentance. Jesus makes that clear when He uses that “m” word—must.” You must forgive him. When a fellow Christian comes to us for forgiveness we are required to forgive, forgive freely without condition.
But we think that Jesus can’t really mean that. It can’t be that easy. Jesus must not realize just how seriously they have offended us. Perhaps what He really means is that after someone has proved he has changed, he is to be forgiven. There have got to be conditions. We have to make sure that his or her repentance is real. Anything else just doesn’t make sense to us. Anything else is simply impossible.
That’s because we want to be in control of whether or not we forgive. And so we say or think things like: “I can’t forgive so-and-so for what they did to me. It just hurt me so much; I’ll never be able to forget it.” Or, “I just can’t forgive you now. Give me some time, then maybe I’ll be able to forgive you.” Or may even, “Well, I forgave you. Now it’s your turn to do something for me.”
That’s how we forgive. When we forgive. If we forgive. Incompletely. Begrudgingly. With string attached. And you know what? The disciples had the same problems. When Jesus says these words to them: “You must forgive,” they look at Him and say, “Increase our faith!” What they mean is: “That’s impossible! We can’t do that. We’re not even sure that we want to do that. Make us stronger so we can. Give us what we need to do the ‘must’ we must do.”
But Jesus denies their request. Not because He doesn’t want them to forgive. Not because He doesn’t want their faith to grow. But because just like they misunderstand forgiveness, they still don’t understand what faith really is. They think faith is some quality in them that allows them to do what God wants them to do. The bigger it gets, the more they can do God’s will. The bigger it gets, the more they will be able to forgive.
Jesus says it’s not the size of faith that matters. The smallest faith does the impossible. What matters in faith is the object of the faith and the source of that faith. The faith that Jesus is speaking about here is not naturally generated from within us. It is not something we offer to God. Faith is a gift of God’s grace. Faith is the instrument by which believers receive God’s blessings. It is an utter dependence on God and His Word. It is complete reliance on Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection for us. Faith is looking to God to do it all. There is no part in faith for “God does His part and now the rest of it is up to me.”
When you try to forgive, you are placing your faith in you… in your ability to forgive… in your willingness to forgive… in your desire to forgive. And if you do rely upon yourself, you will never be able to forgive.
As Lutherans, we have been taught that we are saved solely by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. We know that Jesus wants us to trust solely in Him for our forgiveness. But what we often miss is that He also wants us to trust in Him for the forgiveness we give others, too. Christ died for the forgiveness of all sin. You didn’t die for a single one. Like everything else, the forgiveness you have comes from Christ. He wants you to share it with others.
The longer I am a pastor, the more I appreciate how simply Martin Luther expresses what the Bible actually says in the Small Catechism. Let’s review his explanation to The Fifth Petition as it relates to forgiveness:
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
 What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
Notice how it doesn’t say that we forgive because we try so hard to do it. Notice it doesn’t say that we forgive because our faith is bigger than a mustard seed. Look where it actually starts: We forgive because we have been forgiven. We only give what we have already received—freely and spontaneously.
We know we don’t deserve forgiveness, so we shouldn’t expect that those who sin against us would deserve it, either. But God, in His mercy and grace, gives forgiveness to people who don’t deserve it… to people who can’t forgive each other… to people who hold a grudge… to people who take advantage of one another… to people who are very slow to forgive. God gives forgiveness to you, undeserving sinner that you are. So you can freely give that same forgiveness to those who sin against you. It isn’t really yours to give in the first place. It is God’s gift to you and through you for the sake of Jesus Christ. He does what you are unable to do, what you often don’t want to do: He forgives!
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, He forgave those who hung Him there. Just think of it. From the cross, Jesus looked out over those men who drove nails through His flesh and forgave them. He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” From the cross, Jesus looked out over the Jewish leaders who manipulated the government to kill Him in order to keep their own power and He forgave them. From the cross, Jesus looked out over the disciples who abandoned Him and left Him alone and He forgave them. From the cross, Jesus looked out over us who are slow to forgive, unable to forgive, and He forgave us.
From the cross, Jesus looked out over the whole world and said, “It is finished.” Right there, Jesus earned forgiveness for every single sin. The holy, precious blood that dripped from His hands and feet and head and poured from His side were His payment. The pain that He suffered was punishment for sins that He didn’t do. It was punishment for your sins and those who sin against you.
Three days later, Jesus rose. His resurrection is proof that He is who He says He is, that He did what He says He did. So when Jesus says that you are forgiven, you can believe that it is true. You can live in that forgiveness and share that forgiveness, even with those whose sins have hurt you deeply.
If you’re looking for that kind of forgiveness in yourself, you’re not going to find it. Forgiveness is found only in Christ, in His forgiveness. That’s why you come here, where Christ gives Himself, His Word of promise, His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.
We know this is true. We pray about it every time after the Holy Supper. “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another…”
“Faith toward You and fervent love toward one another.” Those are wonderful words. Through God’s gift of faith in the forgiveness of sins we are able to live them, even though we struggle to do them perfectly. But that’s why we are here, to receive forgiveness and to pass it on to our brothers and sisters. We forgive others their trespasses, even as we are forgiven all of ours.
That’s why it is my privilege as Christ’s called and ordained servant to once more proclaim to you this Good News: You are forgiven for all of your sin.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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