IN NOMINE JESU
The mathematics of Christ is not equal to the mathematics of the world. It is greater than that. It’s not “common core”; it’s our uncommon Lord who gives us His numbers, the equations He and the rest of the Trinity alone can solve. Here’s an example: The Father is 100% God; the Son is 100% God; and the Holy Spirit is 100% God. How much God, then, do you have? You have 100% God. Another example: Christ is 100% true God and 100% true Man. How much Christ do you have? You have 100% Christ. You see, Christ’s math is above our heads. It doesn’t make sense to us. As the ancient Greek philosophers would say, the finite cannot comprehend (or contain) the infinite. This is why we accept it on the basis of the faith in Christ that the Holy Spirit has given us. Here’s another question: What is seventy times seven? In the light of our text, the answer is “infinity.” What? Are you saying seventy times seven is not 490, Pastor? Not here. Not today. Not a chance.
Not what Peter wanted to hear. He asked Jesus the wrong question. It was wrong for two reasons: 1) It was not a question the Lord had already answered, and 2) it was motivated not by the Gospel but by the Law. Peter betrayed himself by the very nature of his question. He showed he did not have the mind of Christ but of his own legalism. He wanted to know what the minimum requirements were to do right by God. It would be like a student in confirmation class asking the pastor how little he or she needed to do in order to be confirmed. The student doesn’t like the pastor’s answer. The disciple doesn’t like the Lord’s answer, either. The Lord calls Peter and us to a much higher standard. Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am perfect. I do not say to you [forgive your brother] seven times, but seventy times seven. It’s easy to count to seven. It’s harder to count to 490. That’s the point. Keep forgiving to the point you can’t keep track anymore, and keep on forgiving.
Why should you even bother? It’s what God has been doing for you, forgiving you over and over and over again, because you have sinned over and over and over again and have needed to repent over and over and over again, more times than you can count. In the Preparation to Divine Service and in the Introit this morning we are brought to remember the confession of the Psalmist in one of the “Penitential Psalms,” Psalm 130: “If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). If the Lord kept a record of your sins and counted them against you, you wouldn’t stand a chance of being forgiven, no chance of being saved. This is why you confessed your sins this morning. This is why you will pray the Lord’s Prayer in a few moments, keeping in mind its Fifth Petition: “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Why focus on this petition today? It squares well with our text, especially as Luther teaches through his Small Catechism:
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. …
If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? Indeed, who could stand before Him? Not you. Not I. No one. We owe God a huge debt for our offenses, one we cannot begin to hope to pay, not even with our very lives because we have not lived the holy and perfect lives God demands of us. We are the first servant in the Lord’s parable. All we can do is beg for God’s mercy and forgive our debt to Him. And what do we do with that forgiveness, forgive those who trespass against us? If God is willing to forgive us seventy times seven times—to infinity and beyond—why are we so unwilling to forgive our neighbor even once, let alone seven times? Why are we unwilling to forgive someone who has offended us much less than we ourselves have offended God? We have not loved God with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. If we did, we wouldn’t withhold forgiveness from those who have actually sinned against us, or even those who may have simply offended us or even merely inconvenienced us. Somebody says something that makes us uncomfortable. Someone else cuts us off in traffic or on the highway. We get mad. We don’t want to hear an apology. We want God to send that person straight to hell. Then there the actual sins, those that break the Ten Commandments, that have us reeling, seething, frothing at the mouth, and unwilling or unable for a time to forgive. Children disobeying their parents. Aborting a baby. Denying life support to the terminally ill. Neglecting our parents after we’ve put them in the nursing home. One spouse cheating on the other. Taking something that doesn’t belong to you just because you want it and don’t think the other person should have it. Spreading rumors and telling lies about someone. God says we should forgive others when they sin against us, but the devil has us digging in our heels, not willing to forgive and not wanting to forget. Contrary to what God demands and Luther teaches, we don’t want to “sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.” We want heads to roll! We want vengeance! But the Lord reserves that exclusively for Himself to execute. We want blood!
God sees us in our pathetic state and says, “OK, you want blood to be shed? You got it!” But it isn’t the blood of our enemies or those who sinned against us that was shed. It’s the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus, bloodied and dead on the cross to take away the sin of the world, including your sins and mine. He was crucified and killed to make the full payment for us and for all people, a gift cherished and craved by those who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord—a gift for you! What was the first thing Jesus said as He was being crucified? He might have said, “Ouch,” but the Bible tells us that He prayed, “Father, forgive them!” He asked His Father in heaven to forgive those who sent condemned Him to death, those who nailed Him to the cross, and for those whose sins put Him on the cross—for you and me, for the life of the world. Jesus made us holy by being the wicked servant in our place, delivered to the jailers who arrested Him and the soldiers who crucified Him. To paraphrase the words of the prophet Micah in today’s Old Testament reading, God has given His Firstborn for our transgression, and Christ has given His body and blood for the sin of our soul. Christ died for you, paying your entire debt to God completely. Your slate is wiped clean. You are forgiven. As the Psalmist says of God in the 130th Psalm, “With You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared” (Ps. 130:4). God our Father has declared you forgiven for His Son’s sake, for He has seen you covered by Jesus’ blood. When God forgives you, He forgets your sin, for He says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34b).
The devil may want you to remember your sins and those committed against you, but he has been defeated once and for all. His accusations and lies have been exposed. The same Jesus who said from the cross, “Father, forgive them,” also said, “It is finished!” Satan has lost the war. We tremble not, we fear no ill; he shall not overpower us. He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done. Thanks be to God, who has given us the victory in Jesus Christ, who is risen from the dead and comes to us in His body and blood—not the blood of our enemies, not the blood of goats, but the blood of the Lamb of God—given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, that, moved by the Holy Spirit, you as God’s forgiven children would also be forgiving, that you would share God’s love for you in Christ and forgive those who sin against you, and that you would “do justice, …love kindness, and…walk humbly with your God” (Mal. 6:8b), and “He who began [this] good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24). God grant this in Jesus’ Name and for His sake. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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