Pray2K: The Scent of Forgiveness

Fourth in a Lord’s Prayer Series,
Delivered January 30, 2000 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates.

Sermon Text:
Matthew 6:14-15
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

One of the privileges of getting to preach to a Biblically literate congregation is that when I make a mistake you all are not afraid to point that mistake out according to Scripture. You may remember last week in this sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, I made the comment on verse 13 of Matthew 6 (the phrase “Deliver us from evil”) I said that you and I are not to do combat with Satan. We are to flee from Satan and leave the combat to God. Well, one of you was kind enough, gracious enough to point out to me that’s really not what Scripture says. In fact if you look at James 4:7, what Scripture tells you and me to do is this: “resist the devil and he will flee from you”. Now I stand by the idea that you and I are not supposed to go around looking for Satan to take him on, but when he does show up we are to stand our ground in Jesus Christ, resist him, and we have God’s promise there in James that when we do that he’s the one that will high-tail it from us.

These past three weeks we’ve been looking in-depth at the Lord’s Prayer and hopefully this series has encouraged you on how to pray. Not only does Christ give us a great model for prayer here but hopefully His Holy Spirit is drawing you and me into a deeper understanding of prayer and a deeper passion for conversation with God. That’s what prayer is, so Christ gives us this great model for prayer. I’d like you now to contrast that model He gives us with how not to pray. Last Thursday morning, the General Assembly of the State of Maryland was opened with prayer by a Baltimore County State Senator, listen to the prayer, “Lord God, Yaweh, Jesus, Budda, Allah, whatever your name is, whatever color you are, whatever gender you are, you know these people, you know that they are good. Pray for them, thank you.” Now the only reason that the Maryland State House was not at that very moment struck by lightening was because deep in the very character of God is grace, mercy and forgiveness. In fact, forgiveness is such a part of who God is that our Lord Jesus Christ after he gave the Lord’s Prayer to the disciples, takes one concept from that prayer and pulls it out, and isolates it and comments on it. That concept is forgiveness. This morning, I would invite you to open your Bibles to Matthew 6 we’re going to take a look at the Lord’s Prayer in its entirety beginning at verse 9, we’re going to read from verse 9 through verse 15. And then in verses 14 and 15 we see how Jesus will take the concept of forgiveness and really zero in on it. And we’re going to wrestle with that this morning ourselves. Matthew 6 beginning to read at the 9th verse, this is the word of God,

“This, then, is how you should pray: ” `Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

And here is Jesus’ commentary now in verses 14 and 15.

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Join me as we pray: And now Father, as my words are true to your Word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

I’ll bet you that you all don’t know that the third week in February has been declared International Forgiveness Week. It’s coming folks! It’s right around the corner! We need to get ready! Let’s do so right here and now. In this text before us in Matthew’s gospel we see that forgiveness is big on Jesus’ heart. Jesus has a real concern about forgiveness. Not only God’s forgiveness of you and me but more precisely yours and my forgiveness of others. Out of all of the concepts that are there in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus only selects one to pull out and comment on it and that concept is forgiveness. And I’ll tell you this, as I worked on this text this week, just on these two verses, if you know me you know that when I work on a Scripture text I’m always looking for what I call the “bump of grace”. As I worked on verses 14 and 15, I’ll confess to you that I was taken aback. I was pretty much initially turned off by what Jesus was saying here. This text seems totally devoid of grace. Remember back during Advent I preached about Santa Claus theology? You do something and God responds. Look at this. It seems like Jesus is bordering on, if not jumping right into, this kind of Santa Claus theology. You forgive, then God’s going to forgive you. You don’t and you’re basically toast. What’s going on here? What is going on with Christ? Well, I think one of the things that Jesus is trying to do here for his disciples, and for you and me is trumpet a wake-up call. You see, Jesus knows human nature. He knows you and me inside out. He knows that often times when you and I listen to the language of grace over and over again we have a tendency to become lulled. Lulled into a presumptuousness about that forgiveness that unmerited, unconditional forgiveness that God has for us in Jesus Christ through His life, death and resurrection there at the very core of the gospel. And that presumptuousness can lead you and me to really think that we can be prayer warriors and faithful followers of Christ and growing in our faith and at the same time treat forgiveness of others as more or less an option in our lives. Not an absolute necessity.

And so Christ is trying to wake us up here. It makes us stop and think, doesn’t it? When you and I live in this real world, we’re going to be wounded. We going to be wronged by many people. And the key question before you and me today is how are we going to respond when we are sinned against, when we’re wronged? The world comes at you and me with all kinds of appealing options, but they’re all unfaithful and they’re all unhealthy. I’m going to flag four options the world presents to you and me for dealing with when we’re wronged. Let’s take a look at these.

The first option that the world offers to you and me is this: We are wronged, and the person that has wronged us comes to us and says “I’m sorry”, and we respond with, “Oh, forget about it, no big deal”. No, that’s not how we should respond. When someone comes and asks our forgiveness and says that they are sorry, they are coming with a serious heart. And when we say, “Oh don’t worry about it”, that’s treating too lightly what they are treating very, very seriously. When you and respond like that to someone what we’re doing is we are depriving them of a life and death necessity. And that is the necessity of forgiveness. Forgiveness is always hard. It is always costly. It is always weighted. And it’s always necessary.

Option number two that the world comes to you and me with. We’re wronged and we respond by very craftily designing a process of retaliation and revenge. Road rage is the currently popular game of blasphemy against God. It’s a blasphemy against God because the Lord says vengeance is mine, not yours. And anytime you and I take vengeance against someone, we are usurping God’s authority stepping into His place, playing God and that is nothing less than idolatry and blasphemy and that is not a very healthy way to live. It’s not a viable option.

A third option that the world presents to you and me is the option of self-loathing. Someone comes to us, does us wrong and we respond with, “Well, I guess I deserve it. Woe is me. I’m a worm. I am a lowly worthless person. I deserve to have the world step on me”. Uhuh, not a viable option. Folks, when you get into that kind of mode, you’re buying the lie of Satan rather than standing your ground against him. These options are not viable. Jesus Christ cares so much, so much about yours and my health and welfare in the areas of relationships, our emotions, our spiritual life and our physical life that in verses 14 and 15 I believe He purposely uses language that sounds devoid of grace in order to rattle our cage to get our attention and help us understand the vital necessity of forgiveness.

Forgiveness can never be an option. But as we read these verses, (verses 14 and 15) they sound so ungracious. But I don’t think they are at all. The fact is that you can’t talk about forgiveness without talking about grace. Grace is at the very heart of forgiveness. What Jesus is presenting here is not Santa Claus theology. Santa Claus theology says, we act first then God responds. When Jesus says, that when we forgive others God will forgive us, He knows that the only reason you and I can ever forgive anyone, the only reason you and I are ever able to forgive anyone, the only reason you and I ever even think about forgiving someone is because a preveniant, a going ahead of us grace, the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, enabling us to understand how we’ve been forgiven in Christ Jesus and therefore we move out to forgive others.

Friends, life at it’s very heart is all about relationships. And unfortunately, but there is no other option, if you and I live in this real world we have no other option but to have relationships with other sinners. People who are going to wound us, people who are going to do wrong by us and Jesus is trying to drive home the point to His disciples and to you and me that until we get this forgiveness thing right, our friendships are only going to be able to go so far. Our marriages are going to eventually buckle. You will spend your Christian life as a church-hopper, because if you haven’t been wounded by somebody here at Central yet, you will be. And if you don’t have this forgiveness thing down right, then your going to buy one of the world’s option rather than the option that Jesus holds out, which is forgiveness. And Jesus is reminding us in this seemingless graceless text that really is full of grace, that you can never separate grace from judgment. We always want to do that. We always try to look at grace at this end of the pole and judgment down here. The Bible doesn’t have it that way. It’s all of one piece. I think what Jesus is saying in verses 14 and 15 is really what Paul is saying in Chapter 1 of Romans. That if you and I are persistent in a practice of sin, and let me just say it straight, if you withhold forgiveness from someone else, you are practicing sin. And if you continue to do that long enough, what does Romans 1 tell us? It says that God eventually removes His hand from us and gives us over to our own sin. And if you and I resist forgiving someone…we refuse to forgive, what’s going to eventually happen is God will remove His hand and you will develop what you might call spiritual AIDS. Your spiritual immune system will begin to deplete. You will turn into a seething cauldron of disease, pustules of bitterness and anger and hatred will pop up. I’ve talked with many people who have AIDS. And the redeeming grace in all of that, is that often times they are more open to the gospel and to grace as never before. And sometimes you and I have to be brought to that point before we’ll turn around and get going in the right direction again. You see forgiveness is so, so important that Christ wants to shake us up and get us to understand that it’s absolute necessity if you and I are going to be authentic and faithful and winsome disciples of His.

Leonardo Devinci was once wronged by a fellow artist. And so Devinci plotted how to get back at this guy. He happened to be working on the painting of the Last Supper at the time. So he said, “Yea, I know what I’m going to do!” And he went and he meticulously and with great detail painted this other artists face into the face of Judas. And I mean he worked overtime on this. He did it in such a way that no one would be able to mistake who Judas really was and this would heap scorn on this guy. Well everything went great until Devinci got to the face of Christ. And he began to paint the face of Christ. And he just had a block, he just couldn’t do it. He was making no progress. He finally figured out that it was because of his unforgiving spirit, his spirit of revenge. So Devinci, went to that artist that had sinned against him and forgave him and surprise, surprise, you can see the results in the face of Christ in that world famous painting, the Last Supper.

“But Ron you don’t understand, you don’t understand how I’ve been wounded! You don’t understand what wrong has been done to me!” I don’t. But God does! Do you really think that God’s unconditional love for you, His unmerrited grace towards you, that He has poured out through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, do you really believe that that cannot give you and me the power of forgiving someone else? If your answer to that question is yes then I’ve got news for you, Christmas is never going to be anything to you but a fairy tale. And Easter…well maybe a little bit more than a joke.

Remember the story, Quo Vadis? There is this wicked guy Chelo. His friend Cloutus becomes a Christian. And he’s angry about that and he sells Cloutus’ wife and daughter into slavery. And meanwhile Cloutus is turned over to the Roman authorities and becomes a Christian martyr. He’s one of the Christians that gets tied to a pillar covered with pitch and then staked out at the Emperor Nero’s garden and lit on fire to provide light for the garden party. The garden party that night was illuminated by these burning Christians. Nero and Chelo begin to walk around the grounds surveying the lighting apparatus. And they come to Cloutus. And the wind blows the smoke away to the point where Chelo recognizes his friend in agony being burned to death. And the horror so strikes him that he becomes remorseful, in fact he cries out to Cloutus. He says, “In the name of Jesus Christ, please forgive me!” And through the popping of the flames and the agony that Cloutus is going through the voice is heard coming from him, “I forgive you!”. And at that moment Chelo runs out of the party, runs out into the street, into the crowds and later that night of all people he bumps into the Apostle Paul. Who sits him down and explains to him the infinite riches of Jesus’ forgiveness. And that night Chelo confesses faith in Christ and is baptized. Well, the next day he is turned over to the Roman authorities and they begin to torture him to try to get him to recant his new faith in Christ. And he won’t. In fact he says, “I’m willing to die as my friends have died.” And as they are piercing his flesh with iron rods, he actually leans down in humility and forgiveness and kisses the arms of those who are torturing him. Here is a man who has experienced the unconditional, unmerited grace of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and thereby is able to forgive in the most ungodly of situations. He dies. But he dies as a man at peace.

I remember my mom and dad telling me of the time they went down to the National Presbyterian Church in Washington to hear Corrie Ten Boom. This was back in the 1970’s. And they told me how she got up and told the story of the crisis of forgiveness in her life. Right after W.W.II, she was speaking in a church in Hamburg, Germany. And she had been recounting the horrors that she had experienced in a concentration camp. She had seen her whole family killed, in fact she had seen her sister personally killed. And after her talk, she was standing at the front of the church, and people were lined up to shake her hand and say “nice talk” and that kind of stuff. And as she was shaking her hands, she looked back and, horror of horrors, she recognized the face that she knew she would never forget her whole life. It was the face of the SS guard who was in charge of the actual killing of her sister. She said at that moment “I had my crisis of faith. This man was going to come. Would I be able to shake his hand?” Not only that, when he gets up to her he looks her in the eye and says, “Miss Ten Boom, will you forgive me?”. By the grace of God she extended her hand and took his and said, “I forgive you”.

Small village in South Korea, during the Korean War. A North Korean company of soldiers came through and captured the village. The commander of the company was a corporal who hated Christians. In fact he asked around the village, he said, “Whose the most vibrant, vocal Christian in this village?”. And they pointed out a 19 year-old young man who was a college student. That corporal took that young man, asked him to recant his faith in Christ. He wouldn’t do it. He said, “If you don’t, I’m going to make you kneel here in the town square and I’m going to put a gun up to your head and I’m going to blow your brains out.” The young man would not recant. He was made to kneel. The gun was put to his head and his brains were blown out.

A few days later the South Korean army came through and recaptured that town, captured some of the North Koreans including that young corporal. And when the commander of the South Korean army heard what this young man had done, he took him and said, “We’re going to execute you in the same way you executed that young man. Kneel down here in the town square”. And he did. But he said,”Wait a minute. I want to get the dead boys parents to come here and witness this.” He found where they lived and knocked on the door and said, “I’m here to tell you good news. We’ve caught the executioner of your son. We want you to come out and witness his execution. That man, a Presbyterian pastor, responded this way. He said, “You must be mistaken, we have no son. But we would like to adopt that young man to be our son.” And they did. And he gave them hellish fits for a number of years. And they kept responding with forgiveness and one day that ex-corporal of the North Korean army professed Christ. Then accepted the call into the ministry, went to seminary, and was one of the most effective Presbyterian pastors in South Korea. He led dozens of people to Christ. He just died a few years ago of cancer.

Well how about Tim Streeter. Two decades ago, he was a fifteen year old kid living in a suburb of Indianapolis. One day it snowed and he and his dad went out to shovel the driveway. A car with a few young black men from the inner-city of Indianapolis came by demanded money and then shot Tim Streeters father dead before his eyes. And the world said to Tim Streeter “Hate blacks, get even!”. But Tim Streeter didn’t listen to the world. You see he had a higher allegiance. He’d already committed his life to Jesus Christ. In fact as he grew out of adolescence he felt God’s call on his life to work, where? In the inner-city of Indianapolis with African Americans. In fact, Tim Streeter wrote to the men who killed his father. They were now in prison. The shooter was on death row. I didn’t write back. But the driver of the car did. And so Tim Streeter make an appointment to visit that man in prison. Now, are you getting the feel for the healthiness of a guy like Tim Streeter? Wouldn’t you like to have this guy as a friend? I mean, can you see God working in this guy? Physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally, health all over the place. But what about the felon in prison? He would later write to his mother that when he saw Tim Streeter walk through the gates of that prison for the first time the gospel became real to him and he too became a Christian.

Who has wronged you? Maybe mildly sinned against you? Or violently wronged you? Who? What is your response? What will it be this week? Someone has written that forgiveness is the fragrance of the violet that still clings to the heel that crushed it. You and I can forgive. We will forgive. Because if we’ve met Jesus Christ at more than second hand, then we have gotten more than just a whiff of the scent of forgiveness.