Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Response of Forgiveness

We all know that we can’t live in this world without being hurt by someone else. We have all been hurt. It might have been by a longtime friend, a family member, or someone we just met. As a pastor I’ve heard countless stories from people who’ve been wounded, mistreated, or taken advantage of. I’ve sat in my office, my house, and coffee shops hearing painful stories that have broke my heart listening to. Some people have chosen to forgive and others haven’t. 

When we refuse to forgive someone we give that person power in our life. Think about this with me. We have been wronged in a situation. For the next day, week, month, or maybe longer we think about the injustice that took place. We might perseverate on the actions of the other person. We play the scenario over and over again in our mind. It distracts us from living our life. We rehearse the conversation thousands of times. We think about what we will say to the person next time we see them. 

This is the hard part to grasp here. Most of the time the other person isn’t even thinking about the situation. They have forgotten it while we have let it dominate our life. We hang on to the past while the other person is happily living his/her life.  

You might have walked in this post today carrying the weight of that wrong that was done to you this week, this month, this year, or many years ago. If that is your situation I’ve been praying for God to speak to you today. 
If you have ever been wronged and struggled with forgiveness this message is for you. 
If you have been hurt in life by the actions of someone else, this message is for you. 
If you have hurt someone with your words or your actions, this message is for you. 

A Gracious King
To help Peter understand the extravagance of forgiveness Jesus tells us a story about a gracious king (read Matthew 18:23-27). True to His teaching nature, Jesus gives you and I an example of forgiveness that we will never forget. In this story the king represents God and the servant represents mankind. The servant represents you and me. The servant owed the master 10,000 bags of gold. This was an incomprehensible amount of money. Historians think that the entire wealth of the Roman Empire was around four to five thousand bags of gold in this time period. For Jesus to use that amount of money would have been incomprehensible. 

The man is unable to pay his debt so the order is given to sell his family and put him in jail until he can repay the master. In the ancient world selling people into slavery to pay off a debt was a common practice. The king knew he wouldn’t get all of his money back but at least he was able to recoup some of his costs by doing that. Look at verse 26 with me. At this… It’s almost as if the words barely left the kings mouth when the servant falls on his knees and begs for mercy. He makes  a promise that he will surely not be able to keep. There is no way he can pay back that debt. 

To the astonishment of Jesus’ original audience, the master had pity on him. The king had compassion on the plight of his servant. No stopping the conversation for deliberation. No consulting with the finance department. The king has the authority and cancels the debt right there. The audience would have been awestruck. They would have never forgotten the story. We’re talking about Peter. He was in the front row when Jesus said this. I imagine Peter sinking his head down a little when he realized how gracious this king is in comparison to what he thought was being generous with forgiveness. We learn a lesson from Peter and Jesus here: Forgiveness requires more than I think is reasonable. 

You might have heard the story about Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man in his apartment. On September 6, 2018, she returned home from work and went to what she thought was her apartment. She was off duty but still in her police uniform. The apartment door was ajar, she said, and when she entered she found a man inside. She fired her service weapon, killing him. It was a tragic loss of life. But let me show what is so unreasonable about forgiveness. This is the kind of forgiveness Jesus calls us to. This is the kind of forgiveness we’re invited to participate in. 

An Ungrateful Servant
Act two of our story begins now. The camera fades from the palace to the streets of the city (read Matthew 18:28-31). This is basically the same scenario re-enacted here. Only that this scene takes place between two servants. The amount of money is significantly reduced. The amount of money is possibly equal to 100 days of work. What is so starkly different is the response of the man who was forgiven such a huge debt. He uses violence in an attempt to get what is owed him. He starts out with choking this man for a third of the guys annual salary. 

The fellow servant responds with the exact same words that the first servant said to the king. Both men asked for patience and committed to pay back the entire sum of money. Just as the sum of money is sharply contrasted so is the response of the first servant. The first servant didn’t take pity on his fellow servant. He was bent on destruction. Look at verse 30. When Scripture says: “He refused” it means that he was unwilling. The man who had been shown mercy was unwilling to show mercy. He was unwilling, it was his decision not to forgive. Someone once said: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Here is an aspect of the Biblical story we can miss. There was a group of people who saw all that transpired. Someone is always watching how we act. They saw the malicious behavior of the servant and told the master. One of the core values at Coastline is: Grace happens here. What we are seeing from this servant is not grace. The king offered grace but not the fellow servant. Which is so difficult to understand because of what he was forgiven. We too need to offer forgiveness because we know the debt we’ve been forgiven. “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” Martin Luther King Jr. Jesus is making sure we know that forgiveness isn’t natural and we must allow God to rule our hearts.

The Response of the King
We now move to act three of the story; the two original characters are back (read Matthew 18:32-35). To say the king is furious at the actions of this servant would be an understatement. The king wants us to treat others with love, respect, and compassion. He asks about showing mercy. Mercy is giving someone what they don’t deserve. It’s withholding power and showing compassion. This servant was shown compassion but couldn’t extend that same mercy to another servant for a far lesser debt. Jesus is teaching Peter that we need to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Listen to this: “Here's the problem: We have a strong tendency to think we can receive forgiveness from God but not give it to others.” -Scott Wenig.  

I bet Peter never thought that Jesus would give him the lesson that He did to his question. Peter’s question about forgiveness needs to change the way we view forgiveness. If we are honest, we can all grow in this area. We can be more like the King. Let’s think about this story from a Heavenly perspective. Jesus, the only Son of God, came to earth. He lived a sinless life. He was betrayed by one of his closest friends. Jesus is the King. He is the King who went to the cross to cancel our debt that we couldn’t pay. Jesus chose death so we could have life. It seems to be a reckless decision but He did it on purpose. For us. 

This passage requires action on our part. I have one application for us today: offer forgiveness to someone who you’ve withheld forgiveness from. Who is holding your thought life captive because you keep thinking about how to get revenge on them? It won’t help. Studies show that whatever you’re willing to pay to get revenge on them won’t help. There is someone that you haven’t forgiven. They did something minor or horrible to you. You might need to call them today. This is the eight step in AA. It is to make amends for our short-comings. I’m not asking you to make excuses for a person, or to forget what they did, or to reconcile with the person. I’m asking you to sit with the Lord. Ask God for the power to make the decision to forgive that person. You might want to write the person a letter and let him/her know that you’re forgiving them. Make a choice to grow in emotional, spiritual, and relational maturity. Make the decision to forgive and let God rule your heart today. 

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