Summary: Being forgiven means we become forgiving people
I know I often start each sermon with putting a passage in its context – but this morning it is vital that you understand the context of these verses if you are in any way to understand their importance for us as a church here at Holy Trinity. Chapter 18 of Matthew contains 7 things which are vital to the life and vitality of a Christian church community. Verses 1-4 deal with humility, verses 5-6 welcoming people, verses 7-9 wholeheartedness, verses 10-14 pastoral care, verses 15-20 openness, verses 21-22 forgiveness and verses 23-35 freedom from resentment. Each of these has to do with personal and interpersonal relationships and Jesus sets them firmly within the context of a church community. Hence his reference to ‘the little ones’ or ‘brothers’ when dealing with such issues. If we had time we could go through each of these things and examine ourselves and Holy Trinity concerning them, but we don’t have time this morning and so we will deal with the issue of forgiveness.
Forgiveness – verses 21-35.
Don’t you just love Peter in the gospels? I love his openness and his impulsive speaking – even when it gets him into bother. Jesus has just spoken to them how to deal with difficulties in relationships within the church (verses 15-20) and Peter now wants some answers concerning forgiveness. Poor Andrew having to listen to his brother asking such a question. At the time of Christ rabbi’s said that you were to forgive your brother 3 times and Peter probably thinks he is being magnanimous by saying 7 times. How could Jesus not fail to be impressed by the generosity and graciousness of Peter here? Yet Peter is shocked by Jesus’ answer – 77 times. I can imagine Peter’s face flushing with embarrassment at this answer from Jesus. Outrageous grace and mercy is spoken of here by Jesus. Peter thought he was offering the moon in saying 7 but Jesus shows the outrageous nature of forgiveness in the kingdom of God by stating 77 times. Now can I say to you if you get hung up on counting the numbers here you will have missed the whole point of what Jesus is teaching Peter, the disciples and us. Jesus is saying that forgiveness is a hallmark of authentic kingdom life. The Christian life is born in forgiveness and such forgiveness must characterise all who claim to be followers of Jesus. Jesus tells Peter you must go on and on forgiving – constantly forgiving – just as God constantly forgives you. Being a forgiven person Peter you must become a forgiving person. Let me repeat that for you – being a forgiven person you must become a forgiving person. To be able to say ‘I forgive you’ is not enough – we must go on forgiving whenever we feel that sense grievance arising in our hearts again. You see forgiveness is really a matter of our wills – more than a feeling – in fact feelings are not the issue at all – our wills are the issue – and we really do need to take that on board this morning. Your heart will eventually catch up with your head as we reiterate and repeat forgiveness until it becomes a very part of us and manifests itself to all. The supreme example of such forgiveness is Christ on the cross – towards those crucifying him and towards us whose sins put him there to be crucified. You know an unwillingness to forgive is the cause of many broken relationships and can I say, as humbly as it is possible to say, to claim to be a Christian and to not forgive someone is incompatible.