Trinity 22 2019
November 17, 2019
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
“How often” is not a safe question to ask Jesus. When asked the sort of questions that St. Peter asks of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, “how often” typically becomes one of those questions where a limit is trying to be defined. In this case, Jesus had just finished speaking to His disciples of forgiving a brother. He had spoken of the power of forgiveness, that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt 18:18). When St. Peter asked Him how often he should forgive his neighbor he is asking how often he should use these keys that Jesus had bestowed to the church. Is seven times enough? During this time in history, it was promoted that forgiving the same sin three times was enough. Seven times would have been extraordinarily generous. Yet Jesus answered him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
To illustrate this point Jesus speaks the parable of the unforgiving servant. Jesus teaches in this parable that God forgives far more than you could ever deserve or even would be called upon to forgiven others. He concluded His parable with the summary that if we do not forgive our neighbor, our heavenly Father will deal with us the same way as the king deals with his servant. To ask how often should I forgive my brother is, in fact, to ask how often should I be forgiven. To the one who refuses to forgive, who limits forgiveness to what seems reasonable based on human understanding, who refuses to receive and share the mercy of God in Christ, that one will be delivered to pay off the debt of sin.
If you want to remain with the world and follow the world’s ways and the world’s standard of justice, then there you will stay. If you want to live in God’s kingdom, you must forgive. It is not optional for a Christian. The blessing of forgiveness is the defining gift of the Church. Nowhere and nothing else can offer this heavenly blessing. Make no mistake, forgiveness is not acceptance of sin. It is not saying that the sin doesn’t matter or that it is ok if it continues. Sin is never ok, and once confessed and forgiven it should stop. Call sin what it is: “evil” and “sinful” and “wrong”, and whenever there is repentance, exercise your God given right to forgive sins.
It’s not just that you are called to forgive, but to forgive for Christ’s sake and in His name. Your willingness, therefore, and even ability, to forgive a neighbor is grounded on Christ’s mercy. Are you struggling with the weight of sin? Repent, come to Christ and receive His forgiveness. Are you struggling with forgiving others? Repent, come to Christ and receive His forgiveness. The result of this is rather simple: Christ continues to forgive you when you sin, therefore you forgive those who sin against you as often as they sin. He has cancelled your debt that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (SC 2nd Article meaning).
At the heart of the matter is God’s declaration that your sins are forgiven, for Christ’s sake, freely by grace, and this is received through faith. The purpose of this is not forgetting or excusing sin, but to deliver a good conscience before God through the forgiveness of sins. Now, conscience is more than you think. In popular usage, it’s a person’s moral compass, his personal standard of right and wrong. The problem is that our conscience has lost its true north. It’s broken, sin infected, so it doesn’t work right. If there is no reference point for a moral truth, people will live their lives according to wherever their passions will lead. That was part of the problem with the unforgiving servant. That’s why God’s law as revelation of His good and gracious will is so important.
But that’s not really what Scripture means when it speaks about conscience. The word for the conscience in the New Testament is συνείδησις. From its root word, it means “to know together” or an awareness about something. In the Bible it typically references a soul’s perception before God. Conscience, then, is not as much a moral compass as it is a referee, or the ability to see yourself as God sees you.
When understood in this way, it’s easy to see how damaged our conscience can be. Every child of God struggles with this scarred conscience every day of life. The devil attacks the conscience with the accusation that you are unlovable, unforgivable, unredeemable. Indulgence of sin and damage from other’s sin scars the conscience so it can’t see himself as God sees him. The world tries to pull the wool over your eyes and pretend that sin doesn’t exist, that it isn’t evil or wrong, and therefore forgiveness is not really needed.
Forgiveness is not about making you feel better, nor making someone else feel better, or moving past something. It is about the conscience, about your standing before God and a right recognition of it. As a sinner, you stand guilty before a holy and righteous God. For Christ’s sake, you stand pure and blameless with His righteousness credited to you by faith alone. A superficial band aid won’t heal the wounds, nor the scars, from sin. It takes medicine much stronger, much more lasting. It takes blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.
It is by the holy blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world that you are declared righteous in God’s sight. It is the holy blood that you receive in the Sacrament which is shed for the forgiveness of your sins. It is by the holy precious blood and Jesus innocent suffering and death that you are redeemed, that your sins are paid for, and carried them away. When people sin, there is forgiveness through faith in Christ. But when people are sinned against, there is also healing through faith in Christ. Jesus takes the guilt and shame upon Himself and into His body, and He forgives your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteousness.
A conscience healed by Christ’s forgiveness is now a conscience that can now see aright. It is a conscience captivated by the Word of God, by Christ and His declaration that you stand justified by grace alone for the sake of Christ alone, that you are pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:10-11). Amen.