Monthly Archives: March 2021
Psalm 69:30-36 (ESV)
30 I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32 When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33 For the Lord hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
35 For God will save Zion
and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
36 the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it.
Matthew 18:32-35 (ESV)
32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
As a pastor, one of the most humbling seasons for me is that of Lent, particularly Holy Week. The Passion narrative, beginning with the Last Supper, is one of the most sobering realities that we have as a people of faith. Sometimes I think we rush too quickly to the joyous celebration of Easter, not wanting to take a good, hard look at Good Friday. The reason for this is because the Good Friday, even though we know what it means, is ugly. The Cross is ugly. Yet, I believe that this is much to our detriment because it is in the Cross that one of the most profound Christian principles is found.
We know that the Cross speaks profoundly about the love that God has for his creation. It is so humbling for me to think about this truth. The fact that the God who sits enthroned about all that is, would confine himself to human flesh and subjected himself to the cruelty of a Roman cross, taking the penalty of our sin upon himself, in order that we would be set free from the death that sin would bring, is absolutely astounding. This is love. And it is not because we first loved God, but that he first loved us and desired something so much more for us, EVEN when we were his enemies.
There is something else that is rooted deep within this love. Something that we human beings forget and withhold more than anything else there is. You see, the Cross is not only the ultimate sign of God’s love toward us, it is also forgiveness par excellence. The debt that we owed (and owe) God because of our sinfulness, is so great, that there was never a possibility that we, in our finite state, could ever repay that debt, and so our natural state, without God, is condemnation. A Holy God cannot look upon sin. We, as fallen humanity, needed someone to act on our behalf in order for us to receive the forgiveness necessary to not only restore our relationship and lives with God in the now, but also to grant us eternal life when we leave this transitory world.
God’s love and forgiveness are immense and granted to anyone who truly seeks to find it. And though I hate to use the word contingent, in a manner of speaking God’s forgiveness is contingent.
Let me unpack this.
As we reread the Scripture passage in Matthew’s Gospel, we have a story about a servant that had such a tremendous debt that he was unable to pay that debt. At a certain point, the master of the servant, calls the debt. Because the servant didn’t have the means necessary to pay the debt, the master had every intention of selling the servant, his wife, his children and everything he had to collect the debt.
The servant falls to his knees and he begs his master to forgive to give him more time. After all, this was a man who was about to lose everything. Absolutely everything. The master, knowing that the man could not repay this debt, he does something profound: He forgives the servant the entire debt, purely out of compassion. The gravity of this cannot and should not be lost. The amount of this debt was tremendous – what would equate to millions of dollars in our current day.
After receiving such a tremendous gift of grace, what happens? The servant goes out and he sees another servant that owes HIM money. You would think that after receiving the gift that he did, that he would have an equally generous heart, after all the amount that was owed to him was minuscule in comparison. However, rather than being gracious, he takes the servant, demands payment, and then when he cannot pay, he has his fellow servant thrown in prison until he could pay off his debt.
When the master hears of this, he is angry, as he well should be. Basically, his question is: after the debt I forgave you for, how could you do what you have done to someone who owed you? Thus, the master turns the servant over to the jailers to be tortured until he can repay the debt.
Jesus brings this parable full circle and it is one that we would do well to hear. This is about forgiveness. Think of the immensity of what God has forgiven us for. I know I sin each and every day and the gravity of my sin is so great that I know there is no way I could ever pay it. How could I? I am a finite sinner. And yet, in spite of all of my sinfulness, God has done something remarkable. He has had mercy on me. I mean, true, deep mercy.
Now here is the question that this Scripture leaves us with: Who are we? Are we the benevolent master who forgives astronomic debt, or are we the ungrateful servant, who even though we have been forgiven much AND given much, we choose not to extend that same forgiveness to others who may have wronged us? Jesus reminds us of this fact: the manner in which we extend forgiveness will be the manner in which forgiveness is given to us. You see, the most difficult thing to do, and I have to confess, I struggle with this as well, is to remember, whenever I perceive to have been wronged, to see that everyone is a sinner in need of grace. In other words, I have the most difficult time seeing others in the same eyes that God sees them. God sees everyone, myself included, through the eyes of profound love and deep compassion. God sees how broken we are, and yet, God reaches out to us, for no other reason than because of a love that wants to see us forgiven, healed, restored.
As we journey through Holy Week, I leave us with the question: the same Cross that we have received, is it the same Cross that we extend? Really think about this question as you ponder the Cross this Good Friday.