Luke 17:3-6 Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, I repent,' you must forgive him." The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" And the Lord said, "If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
Every time I turn around, I keep running into things promoting witchcraft, magic, or access to supernatural powers that are apart from God in Christ. And it seems that every time I confront this, the argument is that it is natural, and therefore it must be right. Everything good comes from God, because God is the creator and author of life. All good power comes from God, and if there is a power that comes a part from God, or contrary to scripture, even if it can do incredible things, it is not good, and ultimately leads to our destruction. And anything with the potential of leading to destruction of soul and body cannot be regarded as harmless fun. Just as there is no such thing as an acceptable lie, so also there is no room for a little idolatry, or a little misuse of Godís name.
I expect you all know this, so the point is not something you did, as it is to make you aware of something you may have failed to do. For our text says, if your brothers sins, rebuke him. What does this mean? Very simply, when we see someone breaking Godís law, we tell them, so that they might have the opportunity to repent. This is not easy, especially when so many people say, Who are you to judge? But, we are not judging, merely warning people of Godís standard for judgement, so that they might have opportunity to repent, so that they might avoid the penalty for unforgiven sin, which is eternity in hell. Your sin is both what you do and also what you fail to do, should either of these be contrary to Godís law.
So you have gotten to the point where you are praying for the grace to rebuke your brother for his sins, and by the grace of God, on hearing the law, and how God condemns this sin, your brother repents. Here is the hard part, you are commanded by God to forgiven him. If he sins against you 7 times in a day, you are to forgive him Ė and if he should sin and 8th time, and repent and ask forgiveness, you still forgive him, for when Jesus says 7 times, he means as many times as is necessary, even as much as 7 times 70, and that would be a lot of sin for anyone to do to you in a single day.
But if it is hard to rebuke a brother who sins, it is even harder for us to forgive and forget. And if we are able to forgive once, more than that is asking a lot. The standard seems to be 3 strikes and youíre out, and its not just for baseball, but also seems to apply to much of life. Except that God says, NO! this is wrong, whenever someone repents, they must be forgiven.
How do you learn to forgive and forget, not just once, but over and over again? It would be good if we could forgive and forget, because in that way, each sin would seem a new sin. And that is exactly what God does for us, he forgives and forgets, so that each time we come to him, having turned from our sins, seeking forgiveness, we only need be concerned about the present sin, for all the past has already been forgiven and is forgotten.
Psalm 130:3-4If thou, O LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
We are forgiven, not because we have repented, but because Christ has paid our debt and in his blood our sins are washed away. Forgiveness is ours by the promise of God, repentance is merely that which we do which empties our hand to receive Godís gracious gift. Forgiveness is ours by the promise of God in Christ, and is received by faith. God gives us that hope which is able to hold the promise and believe. To strengthen our faith, God gives us the promise not just in words, but also through the sacraments, that we may see, touch, and taste the gift of forgiveness, and be assured that it is real, and for us. So God assures us that our sins have been washed away and that we are a new creation.
We learn to forgive others through our experience of God forgiving us. And as it takes faith to receive the promise and believe what it offers; so also that same faith is what we need to be able to forgive, as we have been forgiven. And if it seems that we lack the faith either to hold the promise that we are forgiven, or, to forgive others Ė then the proper response is to turn to God and pray that he would increase our faith. And faith, is a very powerful thing, better than anything the world could offer. For we learn that if one has the faith the size of a mustard seed, one could, by faith uproot a large tree and plant it elsewhere. Surely it takes less faith than that, to receive forgiveness, or to offer that forgiveness to others. And this faith also, is a gift of God in Christ for us. May God help us always to live by grace through faith in Christ. Amen.