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TEXT: Luke 17:1-10

SUBJECT: A Lesson in Forgiveness #5: Increase our Obedience!

With God's help, we will finish the series today which we started several weeks ago; it's called A Lesson in Forgiveness.

Our teacher is Jesus Christ, who has a double authority to teach it. Firstly, because He is God, and this means His Words are orders to be obeyed, and not advice to be mulled over, taken or not, as we think best. Supporting His authority is our Lord's example. What kind of Man was He? Many things could be said here: He was a holy man, a wise man, a brave man, and so on. But, most of all, He was a Suffering Man, and not just suffering the expected problems of living in the world, but suffering a deep and wide and, finally, a deadly hatred. How did He respond to the malice of His enemies and the disloyalty of His friends? Here's how-

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

His prayer was not offered in heaven, after all the pain was in the past, but on the cross, when it was getting worse by the minute. If I tell you to 'forgive', you can dismiss me because I haven't suffered what you have. But how can you wave off your Savior, who-

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead, and buried

Not only because of Pilate's sin-or Herod's or the Rulers of Israel-but because of your sin! You too nailed Him to the cross, and while He hung there, He prayed God to forgive you for what you were doing to Him!

No one, looking at the cross, can hold a grudge. Yes he can hurt, of course he can, but he cannot hate. If the cross stands for anything at all, it stands for love and what goes with it: forgiveness.

If Christ teaches the lesson, He is not teaching everyone, but only the disciples. Whether 'other people' ought to forgive the ones who do them wrong He doesn't say. For their own health and peace of mind, along with happier families and quieter neighborhoods, I think they should. But this is not about 'health', 'peace of mind' 'happy families' or safe 'neighborhoods'. It's about discipleship, which is another word for.

Salvation.

Wanting to guard 'justification by faith alone', some have separated salvation from discipleship, as though you could have one without the other. You can't: they're two ways of looking at the same thing. The Hebrew Christians were Christians; the writer says they were not of those who draw back into perdition, but those who believe to the saving of the soul. Yet the same writer-without a long and detailed explanations, goes on to urge them to-Follow after the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Thus, you can be an unforgiving person and many other things: you can be a good citizen, a hard worker, a nice neighbor, a loving husband, a caring mother. What you can't be is an unforgiving person and a disciple of Jesus Christ! You can be one or the other: you can't be both. Which will you be? If it were someone else, you would know the answer: you too would plead and pray and argue and warn and do everything in your power to get him to give up the hard feelings that keep him from following Christ (and going to heaven)-

Physician, heal thyself!

Before I say another word, why don't you forgive the one who did you wrong? Without thinking about it any more or praying about it or going to counseling, or anything else. Why not drop the matter-and good riddance! You have nothing to lose but your.damnation!

The lesson our Lord taught His disciples is, in a word: forgive. But we need more than 'a word', for pretty much everyone believes in some kind of forgiveness-if the wrong isn't too bad, if it's only done once, if he's really, really, really sorry, if X, if Y, if Z. The Lord however, isn't telling you to forgive some people, some time, some wrongs under some conditions. He's telling you to-

Forgive everyone, everything, every time.

This is the Lesson in Forgiveness. Let go of the offense, give up the hard feelings, walk away from the pain. I assume you've seen my favorite movie, Lord of the Rings? I hope you've read the books, too. If you have you remember Gollum, the hollowed-out Hobbit who held onto the Ring of Power, what he called, My Precioussss. Near the end, he clutched the right to his breast, and with eyes full of love and devotion, fell into the boiling lava of Mount Doom.

Let him serve as a warning to you! You can hang onto your grudge as tightly and as long as you want to, but-if you do-you will fall into the Lake of Fire, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

If your brother sins against you, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in day, and seven times in a day he comes to you saying, 'I repent', you shall forgive him.

THE RESPONSES

How do you respond to the radical demands of Jesus Christ? It seems to me there are only three possible things you can do with them.

You can say No. If you're a proud and bitter person, you can spit, cuss, and say No Way! If you're well-bred and courteous, you can say, With all due respect, Sir, I cannot comply with your wishes, but thanks anyway, and maybe we can work together some time in the future.

Good manners are better than bad ones, of course, but here it makes no real difference. No is no. And if you say No to Christ, you are not His disciple-even if you think you are and want others to think so too. Discipleship means obedience. Not perfect obedience-or there would be no disciples-but obedience nonetheless.

A second response is Yes. You hear the Master and you do what He says. Whether you feel like it or not; whether you'd say the same thing if you were in His place or not. To hear is to obey. This is what He's after-Doers of the Word. You don't have to be wonderfully mature to do what you're told. Here's a line from the Bible; do you know who said it-

Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.

The one who said it was Samuel-but not when he was an old man, after years of judging Israel and prophesying for God. But when he was a boy, who.Did not yet know the Lord, I Samuel 3:7.

If he didn't know the Lord, he knew what Samuel, Samuel meant. And, if you don't know all the ins and outs of forgiveness, you know enough to know 'forgive' means 'forgive'.

What will say to the command? Yes? No? Or something else?

WHAT THE DISCIPLES SAID

The disciples opted for 'something else', v.5-

'Lord, increase our faith'.

This seems to be an appropriate response implying, as it does, the hardness of the command and their inability to keep it. If asked to explain himself, Peter might have quoted the Lord to the Lord-

'With men, it is impossible' or 'Without Me you can do nothing'.

This would have pleased me if I had been the Lord. 'They're finally getting it: faith, not works!'

But He says no such thing-

'Lord, increase our faith'.

'If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you might say to the sycamore tree, "Be plucked up by the root and be planted in the sea" and it should obey you'.

Let's translate. What are the disciples saying to our Lord and what is He saying back to them?

What they're saying is: 'Forgiving people takes a miraculous faith (which we don't have). Give us this faith and we'll forgive those who do us wrong'.

What the Lord says, in effect, is this: 'Miraculous faith? Why, even a speck of faith would do harder things than forgiving people. You don't need a better faith than you already have, you just need to knuckle down and do what you're told.'

Forgiving others is not a colossal act of faith; it's a simple act of obedience. And, as I just said, this does not take superhuman faith. To illustrate my point, let me tell you a story about a couple of men who.had issues.

The two men never got along. In fact, their quarrel commenced earlier than most others, that is several months before.they were born. Their mother had a tough pregnancy and when she asked God why, He told her the babies were at odds with one another, and always would be. The births proved this was so, as the younger son was yanking on his brother's heel, trying to get out first! When this failed, he came up with other ways of acing out the firstborn.

First, when the older boy came home hungry one day, the younger one sold him a bowl of soup for his birthright. Later, when the older son was about to receive his father's blessing, the younger impersonated him to the blind father and got that too!

Needless to say, the older son was not pleased with his kid brother. But, not wanting to hurt their father, he put off his revenge until the old man died.

Knowing how serious her son was, the mother packed her baby off and sent him back east to stay with the family for a while. There he lived for twenty years, during which time he married and became a rich man. One night, the Lord told him to go home, which he did, though worried sick about what his brother would do when they met.

On the way home, the younger man got bad news: Your brother is coming this way-and four hundred men are withim!

The man spent all night wrestling with God, praying and hoping that, somehow or other, he wouldn't have to face the brother who had a score against him-and knew how to settle it.

His prayers were not answered. That very day, the two brothers met: one had only his wives and children to back him up, while the other had an army, ready for easy pickings.

Making his way to the man he had so shamefully treated, the younger brother bowed down seven time (not from the waist, mind you, but rolled in the dirt).

Here's the end of the story, Genesis 33:4-

And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.

After a lifetime of struggle and being cheated over and over, the mean, sneaky, selfish, and hateful Jacob is freely and fully forgiven.

Who forgave him? It was Esau. Was he a giant of faith? To the contrary! The New Testament makes him a model of unbelief, Hebrews 12:16 calling him-

A fornicator and profane man.

If this godless, immoral, and unbelieving man can forgive the brother who did him wrong, don't say forgiving others takes a faith the size of Texas! What it takes is submission to the Lordship of Christ. It's telling the Lord, 'I don't want to, but because you want me to, I will'.

To obey is better than sacrifice,

And to heed is better

Than the fat of rams.

A SERVANT AND HIS MASTER

Our Lord wraps up the Lesson in Forgiveness with a little story drawn from everyday life about a slave and his master. Here's how it begins, vv.7-8--

Which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once, sit down to eat?'

But he will not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'.

Stop for a minute. What's He saying? He's saying 'servants serve their masters: they don't serve them until they're tired, but until they've done all they're told to do'.

Of course. Here's the second part, v.9-

Does he thank the servant because he does the things that were commanded him? I think not.

What does this mean? It doesn't mean 'all masters are rude and ungrateful for the work their servants do'. Instead, it means 'Because masters expect their servants to obey them, they're not impressed or amazed when they do'.

So what's He getting at? He tells us in v.10-

So likewise, you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'.

Jesus Christ is the Master who has commanded us to forgive everyone everything every time. When we do that, we're simply doing what any decent servant does and that is: obey his master.

Therefore, it doesn't take a super-sized faith to forgive; what it takes is a little obedience. And if slaves serve bad masters from the heart, how much more ought we to serve a Master who loved us and gave Himself for us?

APPEAL

I have one last appeal, and God help you to answer it. Is there someone you need to forgive? If there is, it's time to do it. You cannot boast of tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. You may be dead tomorrow, or something far worse than dead: you may be hardened in your sin, so hard that you cannot forgive. If you reach that point-of being unable to forgive-you yourself cannot be forgiven. Our Lord said-

If you do not forgive men their trespasses,

Neither will your Father in heaven forgive you.

I don't believe you have reached that point (though Satan may be telling you you have). I think your here, hearing the Word of God in the Presence of Jesus Christ Himself and His Body the Church means God has not given up on you, that He wants you to forgive and that-under His Word and Spirit-He will give you the grace to do it.

Please God! Please, please, please! Enable us to forgive others as we ourselves would be forgiven. Don't leave us to ourselves, to brood over our pain or humiliation! Give us new hearts, hearts of flesh that can feel for others, who are no worse than we are, and can feel the prickings of conscience, and the Holy Spirit's leadership.

The time is short. The Lord may come back before our second service or even before this service is over. Will He find you harboring a grudge? Or walking away from it? Because He wants you to. And because He has first walked away from the grudge He has against you.

Be kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another just as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you.

That's your Lesson in Forgiveness. Now Go learn it. And the love of God be with you!

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