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TEXT: Luke 17:1-10

SUBJECT: A Lesson in Forgiveness #1: Introduction

Today, with God's blessing, we'll begin a short series of sermons called A Lesson in Forgiveness.

THE MEANING

The Greek word for 'forgiveness' appears nearly 150 times in the New Testament and with some variation. In its non-moral use, it means to leave or to walk away, or something more decisive than these: to forsake once and for all. Luke first uses the word in 4:39 where he reports what our Lord did for Peter's mother-

So He stood over her and rebuked the fever and it left her. And immediately she arose and served them.

The word, 'left' is the same as 'forgive'. What happened to the woman's fever? Did it go down from a life-threatening 105 to an uncomfortable 101? No it didn't. At the words of our Lord, it left her then and there. One minute the dear lady was sick in bed, the next she was in the kitchen, cooking for the Lord, and feeling great! This is what it means to forgive: to leave.

Luke uses the word a second time in 5:11. There he tells the story of how Peter, Andrew, James, and John became disciples-

So when they brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.

The word, 'forsook' is the same as 'forgive'. The men were fishermen, as their fathers had been. But when called by the Lord, they quit their old trade and became followers of Christ. Three years later, they went fishing again, but they never returned to the family business. From then on, they were fishers of men. They had forsaken their old job for a new one. This is what it means to forgive: to quit; to make a clean break with the past.

I bring up these irregular uses of the word to impress you with its force. Forgiving others is not being 1% less mad at them today than you were twenty years ago when they did you wrong. It means walking away from the offense; it means forsaking the grudge and all the malice and self-pity that go with it.

THE DUTY

This is what our Lord has in mind when He tells us to forgive others. Twice in one paragraph He issues the order, vv.3,4-

Forgive him.you shall forgive him.

He doesn't tell us to say we forgive the one who has done us dirt; He says to forgive him! Not to put him on probation, but to forgive him; not to give her one more chance, but to give her seventy times seven more chances! Not to forgive him only after he has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is a new man and will never do it again, but to forgive him eagerly and on the flimsiest evidence. In other words, to forgive him on the same terms you'd like him to forgive you when you do him wrong.

And don't worry. Given enough time, you will do him wrong. Because you too are a sinner-no worse than he is, maybe, but also.no better.

Do not be overly righteous

And do not be overly wise.

For there is not a just man on earth

Who does good, and does not sin.

THE IMPORTANCE

No part of the Bible can be dismissed as unimportant (as though anything God ever said didn't matter!). But if every word is important, some words are more important than others. No one respected the whole Bible more than our Lord did, and He saw that some things in the Law were weightier than others. While not waving off tithing spices, He said that justice, mercy, and faith mattered more (cf. Matthew 23:23). Of course they do.

How weighty is forgiving others? Is it more like a feather or a cannon ball? Should it be a top priority, a thing that just won't wait-or can we get around to it in our own sweet time? How important is it forgive others?

Let me answer this question with two others, the first of which is: How important is it to be like God? Paul thinks it's very important-

Be imitators of God as dear children.

Does God forgive? Does He forgive all sins or only the little ones? Does He forgive sins only once or over and over again? Does He forgive eagerly or reluctantly? Does He forgive on easy terms or hard ones? Micah 7:18-19 answers all of the above-

Who is a God like You,

Pardoning iniquity

And passing over the transgression of

The remnant of His heritage?

He does not retain His anger forever,

Because He delights in mercy.

He will have compassion on us

And subdue our iniquities.

You will cast our sins

Into the depths of the sea.

He pardons iniquity-and that means 'perversion' a very serious sin. He passes over transgression-and that means 'rebellion' and not an innocent mistake. He delights in mercy-and that means you don't have to twist His arm to get some. He buries our sins into the depths of the sea-and that means He doesn't keep a list of our sins to be broken out every time we commit another one!

This God, whom Micah and the people celebrated is our God, and the God whom we ought to imitate. Our Lord spoke of Him, too, in His parable of the Prodigal Son. A son tells his father, in effect, to 'drop dead'. He takes what's coming to him and throws it all away on prostitutes. Nearly starved, he comes home in rags, hoping to find a pinch of mercy-Make me one of your servants. But he doesn't get a pinch of his father's love: he gets it all! New clothes, a new ring, new shoes, music, veal-everything he lost he got back. Including his Father.

The Prodigal's Father is our Father! And, unlike that man's 'other son', we ought to be generous in doling out forgiveness!

How important is forgiving others? Well, think of it this way: How important is being forgiven by God? In the middle of the Lord's Prayer, we are taught to say-

Forgive us our debts

As we forgive our debtors.

Unless we're simply lying to God, we're asking Him to forgive us in the same measure we forgive others. Is this what we want? Or do we really want God to forgive our debts as we don't forgive others'? If that's what we're really asking for, we won't get it, for right after teaching us how to pray, He adds-

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 7:14-15).

Forgiving others is important, therefore, only if being like God and being forgiven by God are important. Which they are. Very important.

Where is forgiving others on your list of 'things to do'? It ought to be at the top. It's that important.

THE PREACHER

Who says so? Our Lord Jesus Christ, v.1-Then He said to the disciples. A preacher's character will affect the way you listen to what he says. Suppose a pastor preaches a sermon called Aging with Grace. His text is well chosen, his outline is perfectly organized, the illustrations are right-on-target, and he closes with five first-rate applications. It sounds like a good sermon to me, and very helpful as we move into our later years.

But there's one thing I forgot to mention: the pastor is twenty-four years old! Now, what do you think of the sermon? From a technical standpoint, it's still very good, and insofar as it came from the Bible, it is true. But the effect of the sermon has got to be lessened by the age of the preacher. Somehow the words, Trust the Lord to provide your medicine ring holly when he says them (even though they're true).

Now suppose the same pastor preaches the same sermon sixty years later. It will have far more power. Because he has lived the sermon and not just prepared it.

This is what our Lord did. The Man who told us to forgive the ones who do us wrong held out the same forgiveness to the ones who did Him wrong. And the wrongs they did Him included.crucifying Him. The first thing He said on the cross-and the first thing He felt there were-

Father, forgive them,

For they know not

What they do.

This doesn't make the verse any truer. If Judas Iscariot had said this (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), it would have been every bit as true. But it adds power to the Word. For, when Jesus Christ says, Forgive, He says it as a Man who knows what it is to be rejected, hated, persecuted, lied-about, ignored, beaten, disappointed, mocked, ridiculed, criticized, condemned, and crucified.

The Man who tells us to forgive has forgiven far more than we ever will.

And.He is God. This means His authority is unlimited. Human authority is always checked by other authorities. But there are no checks on God's authority. His Word is Law. Including this word-Forgive.

THE HEARERS

Who was the Lord talking to when He taught them to forgive? We don't have to guess; v.1 tells us who they are-

Then He said to the disciples.

What's a disciple? Some say it means 'a student', and they're right-if we remember what 'a student' was back then and there. It wasn't one who 'took a class and moved on to another' until he got his diploma or degree. A student back then was a Rabbi's follower. He not only studied with him, but he also lived with him, served him, and aimed to be like him. Some students were brighter and quicker than others, of course, but if he didn't want to learn, he was sent packing. The Rabbi didn't want hangers-on; he wanted disciples.

Jesus Christ was a Rabbi. He chose the dumbest and least-promising people to follow Him, but when they refused to follow Him, they were not His disciples.

Neither are we if we won't forgive others. Publicans and harlots-yes. Non-forgivers-no. If any man will be My disciple, let him deny himself daily, take up his cross, and follow Me.

This means we have to say no to our grudges, kill the perverse pleasure they bring us, and follow our Lord down the path of forgiveness.

THE TIME

Our Lord's call to forgiveness did not occur at a random time in history, but at a particular, God-chosen time. With the coming of Jesus Christ the New Covenant was about to be implemented. Its nature has been described in thousands of books, but the libraries are not necessary, for it can be captured in a single word: forgiveness. The Old Covenant provided a certain kind of forgiveness, and the people of God were thankful for it. But they were not satisfied with the pardon it offered. They needed a fuller, deeper, and more permanent forgiveness. When the New Covenant was put in place they would have it. This is what our Lord came to do-to die in our place, and thereby wash our sins away.

If the New Covenant is the age of forgiveness, it is also the age of forgiving! How can we claim forgiveness for our own sins and not forgive the sins of other people? If the blood of the New Covenant has been shed for the remission of our sins, let us be eager to remit the sins of those who do us wrong!

THE DANGER

Forgiving others is hard because it makes you vulnerable; it allows them to do it again and to hurt you even worse than they did the first time they did it. But what's the alternative? To close ourselves up, that's what it is. At first, we close ourselves to one person, but it never stops there, for more than one person will hurt you. Before long it's two and three and ten and hundred, and soon-it's everyone! You sink into yourself and drown in your own bile.

There's a Bible word for being all alone with your resentment. Do you know what the word is? It's Hell. Bitterness is a worm that does not die (on its own) and a fire that is not quenched (unless someone puts it out).

Only God can take your grudges away from you. While I would not put Him in a box, He usually does it this way:

When the Lord does all this, you become a new person-still far from perfect-but a new person all the same. You start becoming the person God wants you to be, the person-if I can fall back on my theology-He has predestined you to be. And the person that is is Conformed to the image of His Son, who, above all other human traits, was and is a forgiving Man.

THE APPEAL

Are you holding on to bitterness? If so, ask yourself why? I know why you would hold on to a dog or a cat, because they're loving animals who bring people so much pleasure. But why would you hold on to a rattlesnake? All it can do is bite you, make you sick, and kill you.

Grudges are like rattlesnakes (only worse). All they can offer is death.

But Jesus Christ offers life-a good life now and a better life in the future. He offers it to everyone who wants to be forgiven. And that means, to everyone who forgives.

Be kind one to another, tenderhearted,

Forgiving one another, just as God,

For Christ's sake, has forgiven you.

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