Forgiveness and Reconciliation – Mark Ottaway
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Turn to Matthew 18. I have decided to push the new series, our study in the Gospel of John back one week. Last Sunday, since it was Easter, I spoke on the work of the reconciliation of God at the cross. Therefore, I felt that we needed to look at our response to such grace in our lives. In other words, God has done this wonderful act, so how do we respond? Today’s message will deal with both reconciliation and forgiveness, a topic that we did look at briefly one and a half years ago in regard to Joseph, but more needs to be said about it. For there is much to consider in such a discussion. Do we simply forgive people who sin? What about discipline or the punishment of the sinner? Is there a difference between God’s eternal forgiveness to us and our forgiveness to each other? What about the whole matter of forgiveness and reconciliation? And what about the saying to forgive and to forget? So, let me give you our headings first and then we will dig into them:
- There is a difference between us and God.
- There is a difference between reconciliation and forgiveness.
- There is a difference between temporal reconciliation and forgiveness and eternal reconciliation and forgiveness.
- There is a difference between forgiveness and consequence.
- There is little difference between forgiveness and forgetting.
So, let’s pray before we begin. Lord, we desire to be obedient people. Grant us wisdom this morning that we would know Your heart in these important areas of forgiveness and reconciliation. We thank You for Your Word that gives to us a depth of knowledge that otherwise we would have never known. So, help us to listen and respond to Your truth, amen.
- There is a difference between us and God.
That seems to be a pretty obvious statement. But there are a few things that need mentioning under this point. I believe that as we approach such a topic that not only is difficult for us. But may also be a topic that can have such emotions attached to it. In other words, we may know what is right to do, yet because of our feelings, it can be really hard. It can be one of those topics that we might have the proper biblical view, until we experience it personally. So, from the get-go this morning, good to be reminded of God and His truth, as some of this is God’s thinking, but it may not be ours. Yet knowing that we cannot have God or claim God unless we claim and obey His Word. For this is what many churches do. They have a form of godliness. There is still some kind of sense of God. Yet His Word has lost its power in their churches and in their lives. Remember when Moses stood before Pharaoh, when Moses said to Pharaoh, let my people go. And Pharaoh responded, “Who is Yahweh [the Lord] that I should listen to His voice to let Israel go? … I will not let Israel go.” In other words, though man might acknowledge God, he places himself on the same level as God. This is Romans 1, “For even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God … Professing to be wise, they became fools.” So, under the heading there is a difference between us and God. It’s important to know that God’s purposes may not be understood by us, but may we trust God in all matters, as hard as that may be.
But secondly, under point number one, there is a difference between us and God. For when we are considering this whole issue of reconciliation, we cannot finely detail everything that God does, with what we are to do. For the plan to reconcile mankind to Himself is both an eternal plan of God and part of God’s sovereign decree. For God knows all things, God has decreed all things. We do not. When God says that He will reconcile all things to Himself, this includes passages such as John 10:
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish—ever; and no one will snatch them out of My hand”
John 10:27-28 (LSB)
This ownership of Christ and those whom He will reconcile includes His sovereign power and will. His divine election is all wrapped up in this. So, when God reconciles sinners to Himself, there is so much that is going on behind this. Whereas our need to reconcile with others and to forgive others is much simpler, in that we are to do these things out of obedience, even if we do not always understand why or even when we may struggle “feeling” that we should. And yet, I wish to say this, reconciliation and forgiveness is the heart of God. So, in this way, we too must have that same desire.
- There is a difference between reconciliation and forgiveness.
Reconciliation is a “change.” Reconciliation is a change in the relationship between two people, or maybe between two groups of people. And this must be our hope with all people. Paul taught the Roman Christians:
“Never paying back evil for evil to anyone, respecting what is good in the sight of all men, if possible, so far as it depends on you, being at peace with all men.”
Rom 12:17-18 (LSB)
Jesus Himself said, blessed are the peacemakers. We are not to be troublemakers, as our intention is to be a peaceful people. Now look at Matthew 18:
15 “Now if your brother sins, go and show him his fault, between you and him alone; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
Here is the hope of the Christian to reconcile with his brother, wanting to be at peace w/him, this is his heart, as this is God’s heart.
16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.
He doesn’t give up, but he pursues.
17 And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as the Gentile and the tax collector.
In other words, though he tries desperately, reconciliation is not achieved. Therefore, treat him as a tax collector or Gentile. Now this does not mean that we do not care for him, but for the betterment of the church, it is best that he is no longer part of the fellowship. If he is a true believer, he will eventually repent and come back. But if he is not, then better he knows this, so that he may truly come to Christ. Do not hate him, for we are to love even our enemies. But pray that he might truly someday come to Christ or see his need to repent. So, reconciliation is our prayer, hope, and desire. And there will be times when this will be accomplished and times when it will not. But this is what we pursue.
However, this is different from forgiveness. The question becomes: Can I forgive someone who is unwilling to reconcile with me? and should I? What about someone who has sinned against me and shows no remorse or repentance? So, should I forgive the one who sins, yet does not repent of that sin? Let me give you three examples from the Bible that I hope will help us with this. The first is Luke 23:34a where Jesus is dying on the cross. “But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’” Luke 23:34a (LSB). Website Got Questions stated this:
“Even in His agony, Jesus’ concern was for the forgiveness of those who counted themselves among His enemies. He asked the Father to forgive the thieves on the cross who jeered at Him. He asked the Father to forgive the Roman soldiers who had mocked Him, spit on Him, beat Him, yanked out His beard, whipped Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, and nailed Him to the cross. Jesus asked forgiveness for the angry mob that had mocked Him and called for His crucifixion.”
Got Questions, https://www.gotquestions.org/Father-forgive-them.html
Jesus asked the Father to forgive the crowds who crucified Him. Was this prayer answered? The next example is when Stephen had completed his sermon to the Jews in Acts 6:
54 “Now when they heard this, they became furious in their hearts, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.
55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;
56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 But crying out with a loud voice, they covered their ears and rushed at him with one accord.
58 And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 They went on stoning Stephen as he was calling out and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”
60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And having said this, he fell asleep.
Stephen asked the Father to forgive the crowds who stoned Him. Was this prayer answered? The final example is in the story of Joseph where he stood before his brothers in Exodus 50:19-21. Joseph says:
“But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to do what has happened on this day, to keep many people alive. So now, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke to their heart.”
Gen 50:19-21 (LSB)
Joseph seems to have this great awareness of the Lord’s presence in his life. In other words, he trusted in the Lord’s promises. And this one outstanding quality of Joseph. The one thing that sets him apart from most, is his great forgiveness. As probably no other character in Scripture, apart from Christ displays such remarkable forgiveness as Joseph. As few exhibit such forgiveness. Was this dependant upon a great repentance by his brothers? And were they forgiven? Let’s move on.
- There is a difference between temporal reconciliation and forgiveness, and eternal reconciliation and forgiveness.
The reconciliation that we are commanded to pursue is on a temporal level. And when I say on a temporal level, I do not mean that it is not important, but that it pertains to our present-day earthly relationships. We said this last week that we may forgive each other, and we may restore a relationship with one another, as even unbelievers enjoy relationships with each other. But these do not mend eternal issues, as a person could be the nicest guy in the world from a human perspective, yet he still requires to be reconciled to the Heavenly Father. The reconciliation that we receive from God is in regard to eternal issues. For you and me to be saved for eternity, we must be reconciled to God and there is no other way in which that can be accomplished, except by being reconciled to the Heavenly Father. Again, this does not downplay the importance of one-to-one reconciliation. For Paul said that before partaking of the Lord’s table that we must make sure things are right between our brothers and sisters. But the point is, that one is dealing with one-to-one issues, while reconciliation with God is to do with our eternal destiny. I am sure the thief on the cross had many with whom he had not made amends. Dying on the cross as a thief meant that he had stolen from someone. He may also have been unfaithful to his wife. He may have cheated on his boss. Yet he was eternally reconciled to God just prior to his death. And therefore, his eternal destiny, Paradise, was secure.
But I believe the harder issue for us is in the area of forgiveness. For to be forgiven by God, a person must repent of his sin. So, many teach that for us to forgive them, someone must ask us for forgiveness, otherwise, we do not forgive. Yet how do we justify this with Christ’s statement from the cross? And Stephen’s statement while being stoned, “Father, forgive them.” Were these simply hopes and desires of Christ and Stephen that were not answered by God? Or were these words spoken to convict those standing nearby to repent? Or did God answer each of their prayers? Now if this was Sunday night, I would say at this time, what do you think? I would suggest that we must ask the question of what kind of forgiveness this is referring. Is it temporal forgiveness or eternal forgiveness? In other words, is Jesus and Stephen asking for the Father to forgive these people in a temporal fashion, or is He asking for forgiveness for eternal sin and therefore asking for their eternal souls.
Something else that needs to be considered is the verse is James 5:16, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” Jas 5:16a (LSB). When James makes this statement, his meaning is that those who are righteous their prayers are really the heart of God and they are answered. This could likely be said of Stephen. And this must be said of Christ. In fact, every prayer that Christ made was answered by the Father. Even His agony of going to the cross, He prayed, not My will, but Yours (the Father’s). What Stephen was doing and what Christ was doing from the cross was asking that the Father would not destroy them for what they had just done, forgiving them in the sense of being merciful to them. Jesus was saying that though they have done such an evil deed, killing an innocent Man, they were unaware that they had just murdered the Son of God. He said, “For they know not what they are doing.” When, in reality, fire should have come down from heaven to destroy them for killing His Son. When God’s anger should have burned against those who stoned Stephen, God’s prophet, God was merciful to them in answer to Christ’s prayer and Stephen’s prayer.
Important to understand that not only is Christ God in the flesh, but Christ is also fully human. And we see here an example of forgiveness as demonstrated by Jesus Himself, as a human; as well as by Stephen, a human. We see no repentance from these people. We see no remorse. No one is saying, will you forgive me? And yet forgiveness is given. This is all over the Bible and must be the heart of the Christian. And that is to forgive, even if someone does not ask. For if we have been forgiven by God, how could you ever hold back forgiveness from those who may offend you? Remember the story of the man who owed ten thousand talents and his debt was completely forgiven. And the insinuation is that it was an eternal debt that he could never pay. For ten thousand talents would be considered an infinite amount, like billions of dollars today. Then that same man went to his neighbour who owed him one hundred denarii, an amount equal today to about fifteen thousand dollars, and demanded that he pay now or be put in prison, an earthly amount.
True, God’s eternal forgiveness demands repentance. But what about our forgiveness of someone? Can I, should I, forgive someone who does not ask for forgiveness? Can I, should I, forgive someone that openly has no regret for their sin against me? And this is not an off-the-wall question, for there may be many here this morning who have been sinned against. And the sin has caused great hurt in your life. And the sinner against you has no sorrow for that sin. And would do it again if they had the chance. Do we forgive anyway? I would understand that yes, we do. Now what are they forgiven from? Eternal death? No. Yet they are shown mercy for what they had just done. The men before Christ and Stephen were not saved, they did not become believers, yet they were shown grace by God and they got up the next morning and went to work and came home and played with their kids. And let us not forget the Roman centurion, who, after this prayer of Christ, was shown mercy, for he did not immediately die. And who, upon the death of Christ, understood that this was the Son of God. And therefore, received eternal life.
How could we forgive, when the crime against of may have been so great? Think of those who have had children killed and they have forgiven an unrepentant murderer. I believe we find the answer in the story of Joseph. When his brothers were fearful of him and offered to be his slaves, Joseph says, “Am I in the place of God?” That is a key statement. For we see Joseph’s understanding of forgiveness. He goes on to say, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Joseph believed that somehow God would use even the sin of his brothers, to someday, maybe even in eternity, turn out for good.
So, understand that the forgiveness that demands repentance, is the forgiveness of sin to gain eternal life. That is a forgiveness from God dealing with a sinner. Eternal forgiveness. Perfection towards a sinner. Our forgiveness to our fellow man is on a sinner-to-sinner level. When you and I forgive someone, we are not extending eternal forgiveness. I cannot forgive your eternal sin. You cannot forgive my eternal sin. For we are only forgiving on an earthly level. Temporal or earthly forgiveness. Sinner toward sinner. This is why Joseph understood that he was not in the place of God, and realized the difference. In other words, Joseph may have said, “Brothers, I forgive you, but you need to deal with God regarding your eternity.”
We need to forgive. Paul told the Ephesian believers to “graciously forgive each other.” He told the Colossians that if someone has a complaint against someone “forgive them.” However, this does not necessarily restore a relationship. For in order for a relationship to be restored, a sinner must come to another sinner and ask to be forgiven. Then you have a restored relationship. Then you have reconciliation. True, we are to forgive. But we also must have a heart to fully restore a relationship. So that we are reconciled with each other. You know, without forgiveness, life is impossible. How could a family even exist without an attitude of forgiveness? To think of a husband or a wife withholding forgiveness from each other or to their children, waiting for someone to come and ask for forgiveness would be an impossible way in which to live. True forgiveness is the command to the Christian. Reconciliation is the hope of the Christian.
- There is a difference between forgiveness and consequence.
You and I can forgive someone, and the person who sinned against us may have come to us for forgiveness and we were able to reconcile our relationship, but there still may be some consequences for the sin. The murderer who is forgiven by the family of the child he killed, may still have to spend the rest of his life in prison. Someone does something wrong in society, and the one they wronged forgives them, yet they may still have to serve a sentence or pay a fine. Someone may sin against a spouse and their spouse forgives them, but there may still be some consequences for their actions. An employee may steal from their boss and the boss may forgive them and not fire them, yet they may not be rewarded with the trusted promotion. Because there is a difference between forgiveness and consequence. I think of Moses, a great man of faith, eternally forgiven by God and was able to live for one hundred and twenty years. The Bible says, “His eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.” Don’t you love that! Yet the Lord would not allow him to go into the Promised Land because Moses dishonoured the Lord at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, for there may be a difference between forgiveness and consequence. Finally:
- There is little difference between forgiving and forgetting.
- W. Beecher said this:
“‘I can forgive but I cannot forget’, is only another way of saying ‘I will not forgive’. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note – torn in two, and burned up, so that it can never be shown against one.”
- W. Beecher
We may remember the actual incident, but we are able to live without the anger and feeling of revenge. This is a good reminder with our children, something that we act out many times daily. Our child does something wrong, and we may spank them and then we forgive them. And what is so beneficial about this type of discipline, to make sure that it is fast, quick, over with, forgotten, and never mentioned again, so that the child is restored to the family. As opposed to constant threats and warnings and naggings, making it miserable for the child and everyone else in the family.
I wish to close with some thoughts from John MacArthur, which I gave you during the Joseph series, but worth repeating. True forgiveness, is this: no matter what you have done, there is no anger; no matter what you have done, there is no hatred; no matter what you have done, there is no desire for vengeance; and no matter what you have done, there will never be any retaliation. Therefore, I pass by that transgression completely. I do not hold you guilty. I do not blame you. I feel no self-pity for myself because I have been offended. But I pass by that transgression completely and extend my love to you fully. Wow! Some of you have strived for such forgiveness in your heart. Because that’s God-like forgiveness. Exodus 34 says, “God is merciful, gracious, longsuffering, abounding in goodness and truth, merciful, forgiving iniquity.” MacArthur said this, it’s very hard to divide a church that is full of forgiving people.
A passage in Ephesians 4 says to be kind to one another. I said to the youth group the other night that our world is anything but kind. Ready to pounce on athletes and government and church leaders. We live in an unkind society. Might we not be that. For we must understand the great offense we are to God. And then to think of His willingness to send His Son to provide forgiveness for us. And if God can forgive you and me, surely, we can forgive those who offend us. The Bible says that the one who will not forgive, will not be forgiven. A general once said to Charles Wesley, “I never forgive,” to which Wesley responded, “Then I hope you never sin.” Yes, in this life, there will always be sin. And therefore, there will always be a need to forgive. Forgiveness is the command to the Christian. Reconciliation is the hope of the Christian. In the conclusion of the story of the wicked servant who would not forgive little though he was forgiven greatly, Jesus said:
“And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. [then Jesus said] My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your hearts.”
Matt 18:34-35 (LSB)
Let’s pray. Lord, make us holy, for we desire to be like Christ. And make us forgiving, for we will still fail. And thank You for Your great forgiveness toward us—sinners. And all God’s people said, amen.