Twenty Second Sunday after Trinity
The Central Truth of Godís Word and our Life
October 23, 2005
The Lordís Prayer has seven petitions in it.
In only one of those petitions do we promise to do something.
We promise to forgive those who sin against us.
Next Sunday we will be celebrating the Reformation of the church
through Godís servant, Martin Luther.
Luther discovered the central truth of the Holy Scriptures that
had been neglected for so long in the church.
This central truth is that a sinner is forgiven of all his sins
freely by Godís grace through faith alone in Christ the Savior.
We daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment, as we
confess in the Catechism. This
is why we forgive those who sin against us.
We forgive them because we know that we Christians cannot live as
Christians without giving and receiving the forgiveness of sins.
We cannot live before God if He is standing in judgment against
us. We cannot have any confidence before God if He refuses to
forgive us. Since God
forgives us of all our sins without requiring that we deserve His
forgiveness, we will forgive those who sin against us without demanding
that they deserve it. Since
we live by mercy we will show mercy to others.
Todayís Gospel Lesson is from Matthew chapter
eighteen. Earlier in this
chapter Jesus teaches us how we are to deal with a Christian brother or
sister who has done us wrong. We
should not take him to court. We
should not complain about his sin to others.
We should not hate him in our heart or hold a grudge against him
for what he did. Instead,
we should go to the one who did us wrong and show him that he has done
us wrong. Show him.
That means there must be something to show.
We should show him that he has done us wrong in order to be able
to forgive him. The purpose
is always forgiveness and reconciliation.
There is not a topic of Christian theology that is
unrelated to forgiveness. Nothing
God teaches us anywhere in the Bible makes any sense at all apart from
knowing that we are fully and freely forgiven of all our sins for
Christís sake when we believe that God, for Christís sake, is
gracious to us and forgives us. Consider
what we believe, teach, and confess about the Trinity.
We believe that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy
Spirit is God, yet they are not three gods but one God.
But how could God be our loving Father if He did not forgive us
our sins? What benefit
would Jesus be as our Redeemer if we were still enslaved by sin and
guilt? How could the Holy
Spirit make us holy if He charged our sins against us?
We cannot truly confess the Holy Trinity unless we confess that
we are justified freely by Godís grace through Christís redemption
and that it is through faith alone that we receive the forgiveness of
all our sins.
Doctrine and life go together. What God teaches and how we live cannot be separated.
True enough, our lives will never be perfect as long as we live
in this world, while Godís teaching is pure and true and perfect.
But when God teaches us He does not do so that the teaching would
be filed away somewhere and ignored.
The teaching of God is life-changing.
It not only captures our mind, but our heart as well.
It penetrates into our soul and it transforms our lives. The divine doctrine is never dead letters or cold and
lifeless formulations. It
is always the almighty power of the Holy Spirit to convert us and in
converting us to purify us from the hatred that would seek to claim us.
When the king in the parable forgave his servant a
debt of ten thousand talents it was a debt that the servant could not
have repaid in a dozen lifetimes. Jesus
deliberately chose a debt of such a magnitude that it was impossible for
the servant to pay it. It
was millions and millions of dollars.
The man was talking foolishness when he begged the king, ďBe
patient with me and I will pay you all.Ē
Still, the king had compassion.
We confess our sins to God.
We may make promises that we cannot deliver, but God graciously
ignores our foolish promises. He
is full of mercy. His mercy
is sufficient not only to cover all our sins but also to cover our poor
confession of sins. This is
the nature of divine mercy. Divine
mercy is not the denial of divine justice.
The same king who had mercy had previously order that the servant
and his family be sold in order that payment be made.
What is implicit in this parable but not actually stated is that
somebody had to pay the debt the servant could not pay.
Debts must be paid. When
debts are forgiven, this doesnít mean that no one pays the debt.
It simply means that the debtor doesnít pay the debt.
The one to whom the debt is owed must pay it.
Godís grace has a cost.
Jesus paid the debt we could not pay.
When we cried out, ďBe patient with me and I will pay you
everything,Ē God in mercy forgave us, but did not require us to pay
anything. He required that
of His dear Son. Jesus
offered His obedience in the place of our disobedience.
He suffered in innocent silence for our disobedience.
Forgiveness is freely given but not freely gained.
It cost the obedience and suffering of Jesus. When God freely forgives us it is because Jesus has fully
paid the price. For us to
lay claim to any merit of our own is to deny Jesus.
For us to claim to deserve forgiveness is to deny Jesus. For us to think that we should be forgiven while the one who
has done us wrong should not be forgiven is to deny Jesus.
Since God in Christ is full of forgiveness, the confession of
Christ is always made by forgiving and forgiving and forgiving those who
have done us wrong.
I preached on this text a long time ago when I was
a young pastor just under thirty years old.
After church a lady about forty five years old told me that she
had to talk to me. She was
upset and I agreed to see her right away.
My sermon had agitated her.
She said that she knew she had to forgive but that she could not
forgive and then she proceeded to tell me her story.
She had just moved to our community after leaving the town and
the congregation to which she had belonged most of her life.
She had been married to a man for twenty-five years when he
decided that he didnít want to be married to her any more.
He left her and married a woman twenty years younger who belonged
to the same congregation. To
top it off, her pastor performed the wedding ceremony.
How could she forgive her husband?
How could she forgive her pastor?
Neither one of them even believed he had done wrong.
How could she forgive them?
During our Tuesday evening Bible classes on St.
Paulís Epistle to the Romans we have been reviewing what the Bible
teaches about objective and subjective justification.
Objective justification is the biblical doctrine that God for
Christís sake has already forgiven the entire world of sinners whether
or not any individual sinner believes it.
Subjective justification is the biblical doctrine that only those
who trust in this gospel actually receive the forgiveness of sins.
God forgives but that forgiveness cannot be received except
through faith. Faith is
born in repentance.
And so it is with our forgiveness. We can forgive those who are not sorry for having sinned
against us. We can forgive
those who refuse to repent. They
wonít receive the forgiveness and they wonít be reconciled to us
unless they do repent of their sin, but that need not prevent us from
Forgiveness comes before reconciliation.
Itís what brings it about.
A negotiated forgiveness goes nowhere because it isnít sincere.
A conditional forgiveness isnít heartfelt.
If forgiveness is to be true and sincere it must be given without
any strings attached. Thatís
how the king forgave the servant. He
attached no strings. He
didnít require him to do anything.
He didnít require any payment at all.
He didnít reduce the debt.
He forgave it.
But note well what happened to that servant.
The debt that was forgiven was laid back upon him.
Why? He rejected the
forgiveness offered to him. There
is only one way to receive forgiveness and that is by faith.
When we receive Godís forgiveness in faith we acknowledge that
we donít deserve it. Faith
doesnít lay claim to deserving. It
lays claim only to mercy. When
the servant refused to forgive his fellow servant, what was he saying? He was saying that forgiveness had to be earned.
He was thereby denying the kingís right to forgive him.
He was rejecting the free forgiveness of sins.
He was consigning himself to the impossible duty of paying back a
debt that could not be paid.
Forgiving those who donít deserve to be forgiven
does not entail condoning sin. If
it werenít sin it wouldnít need forgiveness.
No, forgiving those who donít deserve to be forgiven is the
greatest worship we can offer to God.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
We praise God, we extol Him, and we honor Him when we do as He
does. God sees us trapped
in our sins. We are victims
of ourselves. We did it.
We find ourselves stuck with what we did. We lashed out in anger.
We gave in to sinful desires.
We repeated lies. We
dishonored those in authority over us.
We stood in cruel judgment.
We ignored the one in need.
This is the sin that God forgives and He doesnít just dismiss
it, He lays it upon Christ who bears it.
ďBehold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the
world.Ē The Lamb of God
took it away. Thatís what
forgiveness cost God and thatís the forgiveness He freely gives to us
whenever we call on him. We
have never come to Divine Service on a Sunday morning when God refused
to serve us with His grace, covering our sin, and clothing us with the
righteousness of His Son.
There can be no greater or purer or beneficial
expression of our faith in this central truth of our Christian Creed
than to forgive those who sin against us every day, not seven times, but
seventy times seven times, as many times as they sin against us.
For when we forgive those who donít deserve our forgiveness, we
glorify God for His boundless grace to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus