November 7, 2020 A+D
St. Matthew 18:21-35
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Peter came to Jesus and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Jesus might have added, “We are, after all, talking about your brother, and this is a Kingdom of forgiveness for sinners.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: We expect, as the Church has always expected, persecution to increase. That is not an abstract concept or a history lesson. It is our reality. We must prepare for it. We must increase our prayers to Christ, our refuge and strength, the Author of all godliness, that what we ask in faith we may obtain, trusting that He forgives our sins and works all things together for good.
In the midst of these trials we need to be even more compassionate, supportive, and encouraging to one another. Mistakes will and have been made. Sometimes we will and have misjudged the situation or overreacted. Some of our ancestors were overly subservient to the Nazi regime in the name of Romans 13 and the 4th commandment. We must learn that lesson well. We never again wrongly apply honor to wicked authorities and tyrants who step beyond their authority and limits or beyond God’s law. Yet at the same time, we know that even wicked leaders can serve God’s purposes and that God did not ordain a particular form of government. We are called upon to live in this world but not be of the world and to honor and obey legitimate governments.
The times have not yet been as hard as it now appears they soon will be. We know from experience that weariness and fatigue make us easier prey for the devil. We have, at times, caved in. We have done the easy thing instead of the right thing. Our emotions have gotten in the way or our concern for physical health and money have been so overwhelming that we haven’t even understood what the right thing is. Our weaknesses are and will become even more evident in the coming persecution. We have in the past sinned against God and against one another. It is likely we will do so again. And even as we sin against others, so also we will be sinned against. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are weak even as we are weak. Sometimes we respond with fear instead of faith or we act self-interest or with a desire for material things or an easy life instead of love.
Nonetheless, your brothers, for all their faults, are not malicious. They are not the devil. So be compassionate. Forgive. Reconcile. Don’t ignore sin, but look upon one another with empathy. Do this because that is how God, who became a Man for your atonement, looks upon you. All who are penitent and believe are washed in the Bloody waters of Baptism. They all eat one Food in the Holy Supper. They all rest on Christ’s work not their own. Yet none of them, none of us, is good enough to be part of this Kingdom. The Kingdom is a Kingdom of grace for sinners. So be quick to forgive, to reconcile. The day of wrath is drawing near. Now, more than ever, we need each other.
And know this: as many times as you yourself need forgiveness from your brothers, Christ the Lord, Himself, forgives you whether they will or not. He is not slack concerning His promises. He became a Man and was born of the virgin to gain this authority, as a Man, to forgive men and to estable the Office of the Ministry in men and for men that repentance and forgiveness might be preached and bestowed in His Name. We marvel that such gifts have been given to men. For this He died, is risen, and has ascended. How many times have you sinned against Him? How many times has He forgiven you? Every single time. For His love surpasses our wickedness and is not worthy of comparison to it. He is eager to be reconciled to you, to bring you to His Father washed and clean, restored and renewed, immaculate and pure according to His Word and grace.
This is the defining reality of our faith. We are sinners forgiven by grace through faith. God’s Name is upon us. His Body and Blood enter into us to join us to Him, bestowing life, forgiving sins, and strengthening faith. And as we have received, so also we ought to give, even as Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
This is the point of the unmerciful servant. Christians must extend the love of Christ to one another. To refuse to do so, to refuse to repent and be reconciled, or to refuse to forgive the penitent cannot be done in faith or by faith. It is the work of the devil to nurture grudges, to encourage judging, to direct men to mammon and gain. The work of God in the Spirit is reconciliation and restored fellowship. God doesn’t only make us His children. He also makes us brothers and members of one another. We belong not just to Him, but also to each other. It is a relationship defined and sustained from top to bottom and side to side by forgiveness. How many times should I forgive my brother? As many times as he needs it.
So it is that the father of the prodigal eagerly watched for his son, the shepherd left ninety-nine to go after the one who was lost, and Jesus spied Zaccheaus in the tree and pronounced that he would eat at his house that day. He comes to seek and to save the lost, to restore the fallen, to proclaim the Gospel to the poor. He sets the solitary into families of forgiveness, by forgiveness, for forgiveness.
Therefore if you cannot find it in your heart to forgive sinners for whom Jesus died, handing them over to God and His mercy even if they refuse to be reconciled to you, then you deny the goodness of His death and the reality of His mercy. You make yourself the judge of the world and insist on vengeance that belongs to Him alone. The Kingdom suffers violence. It does not afflict it. If you insist on daydreams of revenge and won’t let go of them, then you are no Christian, but are of your father the devil. According to Jesus, if you will not forgive your brothers but disown them and make them pay every last penny, then you will be handed over the torturers yourself and required to answer for all your sins. Repent.
The eye of the needle is hard to pass through. You can’t bring your stuff with you. But all things are possible with God who has overcome death, who has made satisfaction in Himself and stood in our place against His Father’s wrath. He keeps His promises. Let go of your hatred. Let go of your vain desire for vindication or financial gain. Stop trying to be proven right or wise. Stop saying “I told you so” and listing the offenses of your enemies and betrayers. Trust in God and His mercy. He is the one who is wise and good, who was willing to die for the sins of all the world even of those who refuse His forgiveness. Do not tell Him whom He can die for or reconcile to His Father.
This world is fading, but before it is gone all the way it will bring its fury against the Church. We were meant for one another. In times like these, more than ever, we need one another. You don’t deserve it. You have sinned against God again and again. And yet, by His grace, with His forgiveness, you will march into the Kingdom for free. You will march in the company of the sinners and tax collectors, pharisees and Gentiles, drunks and fools, all washed in His Blood, all named with His Name, all forgiven and singing His praise.
As many times as you sinned against Him, He has forgiven you. Your debt is paid. Your account is full. There is no one to accuse you. Your name is written in heaven. This is all yours if you simply believe it and receive it. That is the one thing needful. Hand all else over to Him. Wait for Him. He will not fail or disappoint.
Persecution is coming. Life is passing away. It ends quicker than we expect. We need to prepare. We need to remember who we are and where we are headed. We need to walk together in the forgiveness that God delivers in Word and Sacrament. Let us pray:
O faithful God, thanks be to Thee who dost forgive iniquity. Thou grantest help in sin’s distress, and soul, and body dost Thou bless.
Thy servant now declares to me: “Thy sins are all forgiven thee. Depart in peace, but sin no more and e’re my pard’ning grace adore.”
O Lord, we bless Thy gracious heart, For Thou Thyself dost heal our smart. Thro’ Christ our Savior’s precious blood which for the sake of sinners flowed.
Give us Thy Spirit, peace afford, now and forever gracious Lord. Preserve to us toll life is spent Thy holy Word and Sacrament.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.