9/12/99 P16A

“Forgiving Again, Again”
Matthew 18: 21-35

e hear a lot about “Tough Love” and not forgiving repeated times; however, the New Testament teaches that we are to forgive 70 times 7, which is 490 times; or essentially, an infinite number of times.

The story is told about a “Hanging Judge” who would often repeat the phrase after a sentencing, “String him up it will teach him a lesson!” Then one day the old judge died and appeared before God at the Judgment Seat. He feared that God would repeat the same judgment that he had so often pronounced on others. And then God said, “Forgive him, it will teach him a lesson.”

This is, of course, not a true story for we know that after death our fate is sealed and that there is no amnesty, and there will be no need of it because in our “Glorified” state of purity, there will be no sin. Of course, in this world of evil, the one who commits the crime must do the time. There indeed are “jailhouse conversions.” Sometimes it takes prison to get some peopleís attention. The original model of “Correctional Institutions” was based on the Christian ideal of forgiveness and rehabilitation. Our willingness to pardon other sinners is a mirror of the great mercy that God has extended to us in Christ.

Jesusí story of enduring forgiveness underlines a core ideal in the New Testament that unless we forgive others, God will not forgive us. (see Mk. 15:25)

Soon after the Watergate Debacle of the Nixon White House, and prior to beginning his prison term for his part in the cover-up, the media picked up a story about Chuck Colsonís New Birth experience. Many were quick to call it “Jailhouse Religion,” but I felt a genuineness in his television interviews. He had been led to come to Christ after reading C.S. Lewisí Mere Christianity. After reading about his conversion, I wrote Mr. Colson a note expressing my support and good feelings about his new birth experience. He wrote back thanking me for my support and for my forgiveness. Later Chuck Colson wrote the best selling book, Born Again, in which he told the story of his own salvation and vital new relationship with Jesus Christ, and the founding of his worldwide prison ministry, which continues today.

Can we deny forgiveness to anyone when we remember how much forgiveness it took, and still takes, to redeem us? (see Eph. 4:3) If we could practice Christís forgiveness, again and again, we could begin to heal broken hearts, mend relationships, and restore many to the fellowship of the forgiven. Or, we could end up like the unforgiving servant who received forgiveness from his master but would not give forgiveness to anyone else.

Yet, many have refused to forgive Chuck Colson even after all these years, and no doubt, some have refused to forgive you. Perhaps there are folks out there who could benefit from a phone call or note from you. Just as everybody everywhere is a candidate for our evangelical efforts, everyone needs to hear, and see, our message of loving forgiveness. This is a high ideal, but also a centerpiece in the divine plan of redemption as revealed in Jesus Christ.

I knew a family that was being torn apart by a teenage sonís evil antics. He had been involved in about every scrape that a kid could invent. He was expelled from the disciplinary school for behavioral disorder children. He had been in juvenile detention for robbing a convenience store. His parents asked me, in a kind of passing way, “What have we done wrong?” I asked them if they ever wept with their son, if they ever told him how much they loved him, and that they forgave him for all the problems that he had caused himself and the family. They just shook their heads no. I asked them what the school psychologists had said about their family structure. “They say we are a dysfunctional family and that we do not communicate,” was their reply. I asked them what they thought might help them get through to their son. The father spoke up, “Whippings did not work, it did no good to ground him, what else could we do?” I asked, “Did you hear me suggest hugging him and forgiving him, and asking him to forgive you for whatever he feels that you might have done wrong--- perhaps you could allow him to see into your broken hearts.” They just kind of shook their heads like I was suggesting an impossibility, and they did nothing. A few months went by and one morning I received a call that the Dad had had a heart attack and was in the hospital. When I got there I saw the most beautiful sight: The whole bunch of them, Parents, daughters, and the prodigal son, were all embraced and crying together. The Dad had a slight heart attack and would be fine, but the scare precipitated an event of forgiving grace that allowed them to all come together in prayerful tears. And the rebellious kid began to straighten up immediately. He removed the earring and found a job. His parents helped him buy an old car and he started back to church. Later I talked to him and he recommitted his life to the faith that he had rejected. He still bears scars from his past, and a few tattoos too, but he now has hope and is on a new pathway.

All of that is really very simple stuff. It has to be because we are simple folks. Sure, problems can become severe: Folks get hooked on drugs, and all kinds of destructive patterns and obsessions; but the message of forgiveness still lies at the core of all rehabilitation and restoration of sinners to new life.

But some of us think that we are too sophisticated and educated to need forgiveness and this idea of perpetually asking God for forgiveness every time we pray, and having to forgive others and even ask others to forgive us, is outside the parameters of our self image. However, with God, forgiveness is a two way street. His Good News is that He always forgives , but the bad news is that sometimes folks will not. Would His love for us seem genuine if He had created us without the capacity for rebellion? Would we not be robots, trained to love Him, if we did not have the freedom to shake our fist in His face and yell NO! But as the story goes, itís His love that grabs us every time. Has it done its work in you?

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

9/12/99 P16A