-so to start the new year, I thought we’d go with an idea that almost everyone knows, one that can be really helps with all sorts of New Year’s resolutions and getting along with people. But at the same time it’s probably one of the hardest ones to do. Forgiveness.
-and this was one of the hardest concepts for people to understand back when Jesus was walking the earth. It was probably the biggest hindrance to Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees always getting on Him about this.
-but at the same time it was and still is completely central to who Jesus is, to His teaching, to everything about Him and His ministry. Remember the two greatest commandments from Winter Retreats past? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.
-so let’s look at a story that illustrates this.
**Luke 5:17-26 -> 17One day as He was teaching, Pharisees and religion teachers were sitting around. They had come from nearly every village in Galilee and Judea, even as far away as Jerusalem, to be there. The healing power of God was on Him. 18Some men arrived carrying a paraplegic on a stretcher. They were looking for a way to get into the house and set him before Jesus. 19When they couldn’t find a way in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof, removed some tiles, and let him down in the middle of everyone, right in front of Jesus. 20Impressed by their bold belief, He said, “Friend, I forgive your sins.” 21That set the religion scholars and Pharisees buzzing. “Who does He think He is? That’s blasphemous talk! God and only God can forgive sins.” 22Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking and said, “Why all this gossipy whispering? 23Which is simpler: to say ‘I forgive your sins’ or to say ‘Get up and start walking’? 24Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both…” He now spoke directly to the paraplegic: “Get up. Take your bedroll and go home.” 25Without a moment’s hesitation, he did it - got up, took his blanket, and left for home, giving glory to God all the way. 26The people rubbed their eyes, incredulous - and then also gave glory to God. Awestruck, they said, “We’ve never seen anything like that!” (MSG)
-so why was this so hard to understand? Why did the Pharisees get so upset? Well, to understand that, we have to understand the Pharisees and their old way of thinking.
1. THE OLD WAY
-to the Pharisees and those that understood the Law, they were still thinking the old way.
-you have to remember, it wasn’t like it is today. You can read the Bible yourself and learn. Back then, most people couldn’t. They couldn’t read and/or couldn’t afford a Bible. The teachers told them what it said
-so first you have the idea that people can talk directly to God and ask for forgiveness. That would have been a completely foreign concept. I know today it’s common, but back then that was just crazy.
-but then you have the idea that you can just be forgiven. You can tell God you’re sorry and He can instantly and wholly forgive you on the spot! Think about how amazing that is. Now think about a group of people who for fifteen hundred years have had a list of things you do to earn forgiveness, handed down to Moses from the mouth of God, and this guy shows up basically saying you can throw that all out the window.
-I picked for an example what you had to do if you sinned accidentally. The religious leaders had all these rules for each sin, then this blanket one if you did something wrong and didn’t know it.
**Lev. 5:14-16 -> 14The Lord said to Moses, 15”If a person accidentally sins and does something against the holy things of the Lord, he must bring from the flock a male sheep that has nothing wrong with it. This will be his penalty offering to the Lord. Its value in silver must be correct as set by the Holy Place measure. It is a penalty offering. 16That person must pay for the sin he did against the holy thing, adding one-fifth to it’s value. Then he must give it all to the priest. In this way the priest will remove the person’s sin so he will belong to the Lord, by using the male sheep as the penalty offering. And the Lord will forgive the person. (NCV)
-this was the way they were used to doing things. Remember, we have the benefit of knowing for sure who Jesus is because we know He died and rose again. These guys didn’t. Jesus was still walking with them saying He’s God without the proof that we’ve already seen.
-it’s a little easier for us to see and accept now. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.
-to them, forgiveness had to be earned. This new idea of grace was kind of difficult to swallow.
-and I’m not saying that to bash the religious people, massive changes like that are always hard for people. When you spend hundreds and hundreds of years believing something that gets thrown out the window, it’s hard! For thousands of years we believed the sun revolved around the earth. Remember what happened when scientists started to say it was the other way around? Many of them were killed, many by the church! It was ungodly to think that the earth was not the center of the universe.
-even on a smaller scale, Facebook. Every few months Facebook makes some new layout or change and what do people do? They freak! You can’t change it, I don’t know what to do, even if it’s for the better I don’t want it because I’m used to the old way. Now they even put the choice on there because so many people don’t want to change, even to something that’s better. Why? Because we’re used to the old way.
-so if people can be that crazy about Facebook changing, imagine how hard it would be to hear God is changing how He interacts with you, how you pray, how He forgives, how you worship, all in one fail swoop from some guy who claims to be God.
-it’s part of why we’re so lucky being raised in a “Christian Culture”, one that looks back on two thousand years of a forgiving God who gave Himself for us.
-but that’s also telling too.
2. GOD WANTS TO FORGIVE YOU
-it was His idea. He wants it! If God would give up His Godliness in a way to come down and live as one of us only to die a brutal death, I’m pretty sure to go through all this he must be really on board with the idea it promotes.
-remember, it’s all about love, God wants to be as close to you as possible.
-and this idea of a forgiving God, yes it was not really prized highly in the old way, it was there. God has always been about forgiveness.
-in the middle of all the minor prophets is a small book by a guy named Micah. Micah was just a regular guy, he wasn’t a prophet, he was some guy who lived in a small village in Judah. So his message from God is a little different because it wasn’t written from the perspective of those in Jerusalem who talk with kings, it was written by a guy in a small town looking at how the evil kings who were rebelling against God were killing people, very much a small town social justice kind of guy.
-and he writes what God told him to, he writes about the evil kings and how if they don’t change how they treat God’s people they will lead to the downfall of Judah, which eventually happens. But right at the end of his letter, after talking about all these social evils and false prophets, and even how a Savior will come to change everything from Bethlehem (who could that be?), he ends with this:
**Micah 7:18-20 -> 18Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. 19Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! 20You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. (NLT)
-God would rather show mercy than punish people, even those who were doing things really evil like the kings.
-have you ever had your parents promise some punishment, then feel really bad they had to carry it out? They don’t want to spank you or take away something of yours or make your life miserable, but there are consequences to actions that take place. God wants to work out those consequences and make life better. Let Him!
-so if God wants to forgive us, what stops Him? Us!
3. WE HAVE TO DO OUR PART
-forgiveness is not just a one way street. It’s something we have to do as well. We can’t just ask God to do everything for us.
-I’m not talking about we have to go kill a goat now. But, we have to forgive too! How fair would it be to be forgiven for what we’ve done against God, only to not forgive others who do petty little things against us?
-most people seem to know the Lord’s Prayer. Do you know what Jesus said after it?
**Matt. 6:9-15 -> 9With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. 10Set the world right; Do what’s best - as above, so below. 11Keep us alive with three square meals. 12Keep us forgiven with You and forgiving others. 13Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes. 14”In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without forgiving others. 15If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part. (MSG)
-so basically, however far you’re willing to go, that’s how far God is willing to go with you. If you want to stay mad, God can do that. If you want to forgive and completely forget, God can do that too.
-that’s where it gets hard. It’s easy to lie in bed at night and say to God you forgive someone for spreading rumors about you at school, but then how do you act towards them the next day?
-if you truly forgive someone, you have to totally forgive them, like this couple…
[SHOW SIMPSONS CLIP]
-what did she say? You can’t keep throwing it back.
-Eph. 4:32 and Col. 3:13 both say to forgive as God forgave you. He sent His Son to die on a cross to make sure it was completely over and done with.
-but it’s not just tough when someone wants forgiveness the first time…
4. WE HAVE TO FORGIVE CONTINUALLY
-what about the person that does something to you twice? Three times? Five times?
-I know you’ve all heard it, but here it is again.
**Matt. 18:21-22 -> 21Then Peter came to Him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times? 22”No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!” (NLT)
-we can all do math, it’s 490. Think about it. Can you think of anyone who has told 490 rumors about you at school? Lied to you 490 times? Now, how many times have you done something you know God would not be happy about?
-so Jesus picks a number that’s pretty big. Not to sound insulting, these were first century fishermen, math was probably not their strong suit. They counted fish, but they probably didn’t multiply them.
-so Jesus picks a pretty big number. But to help explain, He goes on to tell this story.
**Matt. 18:23-35 -> 23This story will show you what the kingdom of heaven is like: One day a king decided to call in his officials and ask them to give an account of what they owed him. 24As he was doing this, one official was brought in who owed him fifty million silver coins. 25But he didn’t have any money to pay what he owed. The king ordered him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all he owned, in order to pay the debt. 26The official got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you every cent I owe!” 27The king felt sorry for him and let him go free. He even told the official that he did not have to pay back the money. 28As the official was leaving, he happened to meet another official, who owed him a hundred silver coins. So he grabbed the man by the throat. He started choking him and said, “Pay me what you owe!” 29The man got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you back.” 30But the first official refused to have pity. Instead, he went and had the other official put in jail until he could pay what he owed. 31When some other officials found out what had happened, they felt sorry for the man who had been put in jail. Then they told the king what had happened. 32The king called the first official back in and said, “You’re an evil man! When you begged for mercy, I said you did not have to pay back a cent. 33Don’t you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?” 34The king was so angry that he ordered the official to be tortured until he could pay back everything he owed. 35That is how my Father in heaven will treat you, if you don’t forgive each of my followers with all your heart. (CEV)
-so let’s think about this. A guy owes 50 million silver coins. So I went and checked today’s silver prices against the Roman weights used in the gospels. This guy owed, in today’s money 351 million dollars! 351 Million! That is certifiably insane. And when the king finds out he has nothing he says he’s good for it?! He’ll pay back every cent he owes? Yeah right!
-then he sees his buddy, guy owes him a little over 700 dollars, and has him thrown in jail for it. You know that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” Think he missed that day.
-when the king finds out he decides to have this guy tortured until he can pay back everything he owes. Tortured until he can pay back 351 million dollars. How much torture do you think that would be, until you get 351 million dollars worth?
-but here’s the key. The last line. Jesus says this is how His Father God will treat you if you don’t forgive with all your heart.
-this whole wonderful idea of grace is based upon forgiveness. You give grace by forgiving. If you don’t forgive or aren’t forgiven, the whole thing falls apart.
-so with this new year, and as you get into discussion groups, think about the power of forgiveness. How you feel when forgiven, and how you can forgive others and live a longer happier life.
-remember back to our original story. Jesus was more concerned with forgiving the man’s sins than with healing him and letting him walk. So how important it forgiveness to Jesus then?