March 10, 2019

Giving Up the Grudge
Matthew 18:21-22

Before I begin my sermon today, let me say a word or two about the worship services between now and Easter.

Have you noticed the cross on the communion table? That cross, and its purple drape are symbols of a Christian season known as Lent. Lent is that 40 day period (plus 6 Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter. In the Christian calendar, Lent is a time for Christians to intentionally examine their spiritual lives and to recommit themselves to Christ. It’s a time of personal revival.

At our Ash Wednesday service, I introduced Lent as a time of “Spiritual Spring Cleaning,” a time when we rid ourselves of all the spiritual junk in our lives so we can get closer to Christ. In essence, Lent is a time when we prepare our hearts for the coming of Easter.

During Lent, Christians often give up something that is important to them. Some give up some type of food or drink. Others give up some regular activity, like watching TV or following Facebook. I know one person who chose to give up an hour of sleep each day so he could spend more time in Bible study and prayer.

Why do we give up something important for Lent? We give up something important because that sacrifice gets our attention. The pain of our sacrifice is a constant reminder of our need to get closer to the one who sacrificed his life for us.

This year, our Lenten theme is “Lent – a time for giving up.” In my sermons between now and Easter, I’ll be focusing on some of the things we all need to give up so we can draw closer to Christ. You don’t have to participate in Lent, but I hope you will. Because if you do, I think you’ll find this time can enrich your walk with Christ.

Okay, now to my sermon.

Brad Braxton, Professor of Preaching at Vanderbilt University, tells about two men discussing their marriage one day at the bowling alley. One man said, “My wife and I argue a lot, and every time we argue she gets historical.

His friend interrupted, “Didn’t you mean to say she gets hysterical?”

“No,” responded the first man, “when my wife and I argue she gets historical. She drags up everything I’ve done in the past and makes me study it all over again.”

While we probably don’t like to admit it, some of us have a tendency to get historical when it comes to dealing with past hurts. Yes, we hold a grudge; and that grudge becomes a barrier between us and the person who hurt us and it becomes a barrier between us and Christ.

So as we look at Lent – a time for giving up - I want us to look at giving up our grudge; or to say it in another way, I want to ask you to truly forgive those who have hurt you.

All of us know that Christ demanded we forgive our enemies. In fact, if we take Jesus’ words seriously, it’s almost impossible be a true follower of Christ while ignoring his command to forgive.

In today’s text, Jesus talks about forgiveness as he responds to a question from Simon Peter. Listen to our text found in Matthew 18:21-22.

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.

Within the scope of Christian theology there are a variety of doctrines on which we can disagree, but there’s one doctrine that does not open itself up to interpretation, and that is the doctrine of forgiveness.

Each Sunday, as we conclude our worship service with the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Yes, when we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, one thing becomes perfectly clear. Christ commands us to forgive, and if we do not forgive others, our own forgiveness is in jeopardy. If we do not forgive others, we have no real basis on which to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ.

Forgiveness wasn’t new with Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, the people of God were instructed to forgive those who had hurt them. In Jesus’ day the rabbis had a “3 strikes and you’re out” view of forgiveness. They taught that forgiveness should be extended 3 times. So, in today’s text, when Peter suggested forgiving one’s enemy 7 times, I’m sure he thought Jesus would turn to him and say, “Why Simon Peter, you certainly are a forgiving soul, aren’t you?” Imagine Peter’s surprise when Jesus said, “Peter, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Those of you familiar with biblical numerology realize that the phrase “seventy times seven” did not refer to 490 times. In Hebrew, seven and its derivatives, signified completeness or infinity. So, in other words, Jesus was telling Peter that there should be no limit to forgiveness; that we should forgive others an infinite number of times.

Even by suggesting a number, Peter demonstrated how little he understood about forgiveness. When he suggested a number, he assumed there was a limit to forgiveness, but as he quickly discovered, the forgiveness expected by Christ is without limit. According to Christ, our forgiveness of those who hurt us should be unlimited.

Let me give you a little math test this morning. I have something drawn on this piece of paper and I want you to tell me what it is. (Hold up the paper with the line segment).

Some of you thought this was a line and, if you did, according to my math teaching wife, you’re wrong. In Geometry, we discover that this is not a line but a “line segment.” It’s a line segment because a real line has no beginning point or end point. Real lines are infinite. They stretch out both ways to infinity.

Therein lies the difference between Peter’s view of forgiveness and Christ’s view. Peter thought forgiveness was like a line segment, that forgiveness had a beginning point and an end point, and its end point could be measured by a number – a number like 7. But Jesus said that forgiveness is like a true line. It cannot be measured by 7 or seventy times seven. Forgiveness started before creation and goes on through eternity.

Now, to be honest, I can understand Peter’s view of forgiveness. Common sense tells us that we can’t forgive without limits. Let’s get real. Forgiving someone seven times seems pretty gracious if you ask me.

When most of us think about forgiveness we tend to put qualifiers on forgiveness, qualifiers that limit our forgiveness. Let me explain.
Most of us think forgiveness should be limited by the seriousness of the offense. I mean, it’s one thing to forgive someone who cheats you out of a dollar or two, but it’s another to forgive a cheating husband or wife.

Sometimes we think forgiveness should be limited by the outcome of the offense. I mean, it’s one thing to forgive someone who makes you late for work, but it’s another thing to forgive someone who causes you to lose your job.

Sometimes we think forgiveness should be limited by the pain of the offense. I mean, it’s one thing to forgive someone who aggravates you, but it’s another thing to forgive someone who forever breaks a family member’s heart.

Sometimes we think forgiveness should be limited by the attitude of the offender. It’s one thing to forgive someone who shows remorse, but it’s another to forgive someone who acts like hurting you is no big deal.

Yes, I can understand Peter, and to some extent his forgiveness formula makes a lot of sense. But there’s a problem. We are not followers of Simon Peter. We are followers of Jesus Christ; and if we look at Jesus’ life and teachings we quickly understand we are called by him to live by a higher standard than common sense.

I think there’s no better example of true forgiveness than the forgiveness Jesus gave while dying on the cross. Did Jesus limit his forgiveness by the seriousness of offense? He did not. Even when they nailed him to a cross he said, “Father forgive them.”

Did Jesus limit his forgiveness by the outcome of the offense? He did not. Even when the offense insured his painful, certain death, he said, “Father forgive them.”

Did Jesus limit his forgiveness by the pain of the offense? He did not. Even when he suffered crucifixion’s torture and humiliation, he looked at those who hurt him and said, “Father forgive them.”

Did Jesus limit his forgiveness by the attitude of the offender? He did not. Even while they mocked him and cursed him with no sign of remorse, he still looked down from the cross and said, “Father forgive them.”

And it’s that standard of forgiveness to which we are called today, that 70 times 7 standard of forgiveness that has no end.

As I conclude, let me clarify a misconception many people have about forgiveness. Have you ever heard someone say, “Just forgive and forget?” It sounds nice, but in the real world that’s not humanly possible.

Listen to me. Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is what we do when we remember. Let me repeat that. Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is what we do when we remember. Forgiving is what we do when we wake up in the middle of the night and remember the offense. Forgiving is what we do when we see the person’s face and remember the pain. Forgiving is what we do when we remember the injustice and want revenge. Forgiving is what we do when we suffer with the pain of a broken heart. That’s why it’s not enough to forgive someone seven times, because the memory of the pain may return seventy times seven and every time, yes EVERY time is another time to forgive.

As you listened to my sermon today perhaps you said to yourself, “I know Christ calls me to forgive without limit but I just don’t think I can do it.” And you know what? You’re probably right. In your own power you cannot forgive. We truly forgive only by tapping into the power we find in Jesus Christ.

Remember that old proverb first attributed to Alexander Pope? “To err is human, to forgive __________ (divine).” Yes, forgiveness is not a human trait but a supernatural work of God. Forgiveness is not an act of the human will. Forgiveness is an act of grace divine. Forgiveness is not something you can work out. Forgiveness is something God works out through you, and only as we tap into the power of God’s grace can we truly forgive.

Lent, it’s is a time for giving up, giving up the grudge that separates us from each other, giving up the grudge that separates us from the Kingdom of God. Granted, it’s hard to let go of our grudges because their roots of hate and hurt are so intertwined, but if we are to be followers of Christ, we really have no other option.

Again, the words of today’s hymn are so true:

As Jesus has forgiven me, I must forgive you, too.
It’s not a choice. It’s Christ’s command. It’s all that I can do.