Isn’t it amazing what a little change in perspective can do? What’s your perspective on forgiveness? Do you know what the Bible teaches about forgiveness? Every single one of us has been hurt by someone. We’ve all been a victim to one degree or another at some point. This week, Adam Tarnow walks us through Matthew 18:21-35 in the first part of a two-part series on forgiveness.
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Isn’t it amazing what a little change in perspective can do? What’s your perspective on forgiveness? Do you know what the Bible teaches about forgiveness? Every single one of us has been hurt by someone. We’ve all been a victim to one degree or another at some point. This week, Adam Tarnow walks us through Matthew 18:21-35 in the first part of a two-part series on forgiveness.
Good morning, Watermark. My name is Adam Tarnow. I'm excited to be with you guys today. It's going to be a fun morning. I'd love to celebrate with a little story to set up our time. This past December, my wife and I celebrated 15 years of marriage. Isn't that amazing? We have been married for 15 consecutive years, and it may be a record somewhere. Our anniversary always is a special time for a lot of reasons, but it is also the anniversary of how long I've been eating vegetables.
I had a really bad relationship with vegetables before I got married. I don't know what kind of relationship you had with vegetables in your young years or your teen years, but my relationship with vegetables was awful, and I blame my mother. We've already had this conversation. I'm sure she's watching. We've reconciled, and we're all good, so she's probably nodding her head right now. My mom was an amazing cook. She really was, but she made one dish that was called (it makes me nervous even to say it) tuna noodle casserole. Anybody like that? Let me ask it another way. Anybody under 60 like that dish?
Tuna noodle casserole was the worst. I did not like it, because it was the tuna and the noodles, and then the casserole piece I guess meant throw green peas in it, because it was full of green peas. I'd wake up some mornings before I'd go to school, and I had this habit of always asking my mom, "What are we having for dinner tonight?" The time when she would tell me, "We're having tuna noodle casserole" was always the worst day of my life…until the next time we had tuna noodle casserole, and then that would be the worst.
So I had this really bad relationship with vegetables. I remember very specifically broccoli was just as bad as peas. I would put broccoli in my mouth and would literally start to gag. I had no control over my body at that point when I would put broccoli in my mouth. It was so dramatic. I'm just sitting there at the table dry heaving. My mom is like, "Quit being so dramatic," and I'm like, "I can't casually throw up. It's a dramatic thing when you throw up." Oh, I just had a bad relationship.
So I grew up basically eating carbohydrates, protein, fat, and applesauce. That was all I ate growing up. My wife, when we were dating, knew I had these bad eating habits and knew I had a bad relationship with vegetables. As we got closer to the wedding day, she didn't say she was going to change me; she just said she wanted to help me. I remember after we got married this one meal in particular. It was early on. We might have just gotten back from the honeymoon, the second or third meal we had when we got back from the honeymoon.
I remember she said, "I'm going to start you with roasted asparagus." What I know now…I did not know then…is roasted asparagus is the marijuana of vegetables. That's the gateway drug that leads you to all kinds of other… I mean, nobody starts with cauliflower rice right out of the gate. Nobody starts there. You always start with something a little bit easier. You start with roasted asparagus. So, she made roasted asparagus and maybe chicken or something that night.
I remember I sat down and ate the first piece of roasted asparagus. I was expecting my body to start convulsing, and it surprised me. It tasted delicious. I was like, "This is amazing." She made a comment right there that completely changed my perspective on vegetables. She goes, "See? Plants don't taste bad, do they?" I don't know why. As silly as it sounds, I had never thought about vegetables as a plant. I had always thought about them as this evil thing to make me sick.
I had never thought, "Oh, they're just simple little plants." Even right there at that meal when she said that, I was like, "The chicken should be disgusting. That thing had blood in it, and it was out there alive on some farm. It had kids and dreams and aspirations. Then this farmer came and just cut its head off, and the feathers were ripped out, and somebody butchered it up. Then we cooked it, and now it's here on my plate. That should be disgusting. The meat should be disgusting, not the little plants. We'll just plant more. They're just plants. What are they going to do?"
So it completely changed. Just that little change in perspective, to go, "These things aren't disgusting; they're just plants," changed my relationship with vegetables. Now, for 15 years, I have been a vegetable eater. I love vegetables. I like just about all of them, and I think I'm better for it. I'm just amazed at what a little change in perspective can do in our lives sometimes. I've experienced a lot of these growing up, like I'm sure you have.
Also, too, growing up I didn't like running very much. When I graduated from college, I was living in Atlanta, and a friend of mine invited me to go on a run with some other friends. It was in this park and there was a river and these trails and these trees and it was beautiful. I'm like, "Okay. This is fun. This is a fun form of exercise, to be out here." That little change in perspective changed my relationship with running.
I also didn't like reading growing up, and then I graduated from high school and somebody gave me a book. They said, "This movie is about to come out. You have to read this book." It was Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. The dinosaurs come back alive. There was DNA and this mosquito. I'm like, "That probably could really happen." So I read that book, and I thought that book was amazing. I'm like, "If this is what books are like, I'm in." Just changed my perspective a little bit.
It has happened with a lot of silly things, but it has also happened with a lot of serious things in my life. I went to college with the view that Jesus was a good man and a great teacher and that was it. Then I started to meet other friends who said, "No, no, no, Adam. He's not just a good teacher; he's the Savior of the world. He's God." My perspective on Jesus started to change, which had a big impact in my life.
Then, as I start to follow Jesus, I'm sitting in a church service on a Sunday morning, much like you guys are, and a preacher was talking about how God owns everything. Everything we see in the world is the Lord's, and he is the owner of all of it and we are the stewards of everything. So I started to shift my perspective to go, "Okay. I'm not the owner of anything. I'm just a steward of everything." That little subtle shift in perspective changed my relationship with money and possessions.
If you've been around Watermark for a while… I've been around here for 17 years, and I have consistently and faithfully heard Todd try to change our perspective and remind us of what is true out of God's Word regarding who God is, that he is not some cosmic killjoy trying to rip you off, but he is up there as a loving heavenly Father, and he is trying to set you free. All of these little subtle perspective shifts can have a really big impact in our lives.
I start with all of that because this week and next week we're going to have a conversation about another area of our lives where we all probably need a little bit of a perspective shift. This is in the area of forgiveness, forgiving people who have hurt us. The reason I think these messages are going to be so important is because here's what I know is probably true of every single person in here: we've all been hurt by somebody.
Every single one of us has been the victim of somebody else's decision. Somebody else made a decision to say something to us, and that thing they said has stayed with us, and it hurt us. They have done things to us. They have abused us. They have manipulated us. They've stolen from us. They have hurt us. They have done things. They've lied to us. They have broken trust. Every single one of us has an experience of being hurt by somebody in our lives, but not every single one of us in here has forgiven.
We have not released the person from the hurt they have caused in our lives, so we are harboring this anger and bitterness and resentment toward these people, and we're just carrying it around. The reason we're carrying it around is because we probably have the wrong perspective on what forgiveness is. Some of you who are carrying around this hurt may have the same perspective on forgiveness I've had in my life. I always viewed forgiveness as letting the wrong person go free, that it was an unfair reward I would give to somebody who hurt me.
That may be the perspective you have, and that's why you're not going to let go of that hurt, because you don't want to reward that person. They don't deserve it. So we hold on to it and harbor it, and what ends up happening is we become miserable. We find ourselves in a prison to this hurt. We're thinking about it all the time, and we are withholding forgiveness. By our withholding forgiveness, what's really happening is we're drinking poison and expecting them to die. It just doesn't work that way.
What we're going to do over the next two weeks is what we try to do every week when we come in here. We're going to open up God's Word and let God's Word do what God's Word is so good at doing: changing our perspectives, opening our eyes to the reality of God and his kingdom and his way that he wants for his followers here on earth. Over the next couple of weeks, we're going to spend a little bit of time in Matthew 18. We're going to be in it most of the time today. So if you have your Bibles, let's open up to Matthew 18:21-35.
Just to set up a little context to where we're going with all of this, Jesus will have just gotten done in Matthew 18 talking about conflict, which is definitely related to forgiveness. In Matthew 18, he lays out this wonderful, simple, easy-to-follow plan on how to resolve conflict. If somebody hurts you, you first go to that person individually, and if that doesn't work and you don't reconcile, you widen the circle a little bit and maybe ask somebody else to come with you, and if that still doesn't help reconcile, then you keep widening the circle.
He has just gotten done teaching about how to resolve conflicts with those who have hurt you. Peter and his disciples were listening to what he had to say, and they had a question. They clearly had been processing his teaching and were trying to figure out, "Where are the boundaries on all of this? How long are we going to have to implement this?" What we're going to see here in verses 21-35 is Peter is going to come up to Jesus and ask a question, Jesus is going to give him an answer, and then Jesus is going to tell him a story, and that story is where we're going to camp out most of the time today. So here we are in chapter 18, verse 21.
"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" Some of your translations may say "seventy times seven." We're going to unpack this a little bit more next week, but I'm sure Peter, when he came to Jesus to ask this question, probably, deep down inside, thought he was going to impress Jesus by saying "Seven times."
Jesus was not impressed with his seven times. He said, "No, no, no. It's not seven times; it's seventy-seven times," or seventy times seven, which we'll unpack more next week. What Jesus is basically saying is it's infinity. It's just something that always happens. So he asks this question, he gave him that answer, and then he tells him a story. Verse 23 is where the story starts.
"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him." I'm going to go ahead and go out on a limb here and say probably none of you are paid by your employer in bags of gold, so when you read "Ten thousand bags of gold," you don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Let me contextualize this a little bit for you.
One bag of gold was the equivalent of 20 years' worth of wages, so 10,000 bags of gold is 200,000 years of wages. If we just contextualize this and modernize it, let's assume he's making $50,000 a year. That's $10 billion is what he owes. That number is so big that if you bring out your iPhone right now and try to do the math, the zeroes won't fit. You'll have to turn your phone sideways, then the zeroes will fit. It's a crazy number. It's almost a made-up number. It's the biggest number you can imagine, because he's trying to illustrate that this man owed a tremendous amount of money to this king.
"Since he was not able to pay…" Which is obvious, because it's $10 billion. ** "…the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt."** We may be sitting there going, "Whoa, whoa, whoa! That sounds a little bit harsh," but back in the first century, there was no bankruptcy protection. This is what happened. If you couldn't pay back a debt, everything, people and property, was sold to try to pay back the debt. So Peter and the disciples would be nodding their heads, going, "Yeah, that's what happens, especially if you owe 10,000 bags of gold. You're going to have to pay for that."
"At this the servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go." This isn't necessarily the point of the parable. We'll get to the point in a little bit, but I think it's worth a pause right here, because we're going to see one of the first perspective shifts we need when it comes to forgiveness. What we need to understand is that this is a wonderful definition of what forgiveness actually is. We have a great picture here of forgiveness.
The picture we see here is that forgiveness is really an accounting term. There was a debt between the king and the servant. That debt could not be repaid, so what did the king decide to do? He decided to forgive the debt, to cancel the debt, and to basically tell that servant, "You don't have to pay me back anymore," which is such a great illustration of what forgiveness actually is. If you and I are going to be forgiving people, we need to have the right definition of what forgiveness is.
1._ Forgiveness is to release a debt owed to us._ That's what it is. You may be asking, "Why did the king do that? Why did he release the debt?" The reason he released the debt is because he had pity on this man. That's why he canceled it. Why did he have pity on this man? Because he knew this man could not pay the debt back. It was impossible to pay the debt back.
In some ways, the king was in a very difficult situation. He was the one who had a decision to make. This man had racked up enough debt that he couldn't pay it back, so now the king had a decision. "If he can't pay it back, I have a couple of options here. I can try to sell him and his family and all of his possessions and pay some of it back, but it's not going to pay all of it back."
He was making a decision on, "Am I going to continue to carry around this invoice, carry around this bill that's saying this guy owes me something, and every time I see him or think about him, I'm going to be reminded that there's this invoice that is outstanding and he did not pay it all?" The king was sitting there going, "I can do that and continue to carry around this invoice or, since he can't pay it back anyway, I'm just going to release him and say, 'You don't even need to pay me back anymore.' I'm just going to cancel the debt, because you know what? I just want to move on. I don't even want to think about it anymore. The fact of the matter is it'll never be paid back anyway."
In some ways, the king made a very self-serving decision. He said, "I don't want to walk around with this IOU and this invoice any longer than I have to. He can't pay it back. That's reality. I'm going to take pity on that situation and release him of the debt owed." You may be sitting there going, "All right, Adam. I don't necessarily have a lot of situations where people owe me 10,000 bags of gold. I don't really see how this is related to my circumstance." Let me show you.
This is exactly the circumstance you and I face every time somebody hurts us. Let me use a made-up illustration of my wife and me. Let's just say this is my wife and me. We're doing well. We're pursuing oneness. We're not in conflict or anything. Everything is going well. Part of the reason everything is going well is because last night we had some ice cream. Not just any ice cream. Last night we had Blue Bell's Cookie Two Step ice cream, thank you very much. (I don't even know why other ice creams exist, honestly, when Cookie Two Step is out there.)
Anyway, let's say last night we had some ice cream. Everything is going well. She put the ice cream away after we served it to one another, and she said, "Hey, Adam, there's one serving of ice cream left, and I'm going to give it to you. You can finish it off tomorrow." And I rise up and call her blessed, and I say, "Thank you for doing that." Now I come here this morning, and let's say we're done and I drive home.
I'm going to eat some lunch, and I'm going to go, "All right. I'm going to finish off that ice cream my wife promised me." Then I open up that freezer and look, and the ice cream is not there. I look around and go, "Who did this?" and my boys point right to Jackie and go, "She did it. She ate all of it for breakfast." Things are not okay anymore. This is us. We're separated. There's a debt between us now. She told me she was going to do something, and she didn't do it.
Now, my wife is smart and recognizes that there's this debt and this gap between us, so she's going to scramble a little bit. She's going to try to bridge this gap. She'll apologize to me and say, "I'm sorry. I was really hungry. I didn't want to have cereal. I just wanted to eat the ice cream" or she'll promise to never, ever, ever do it again or she's going to say, "You know what? I'm going to go buy some more ice cream. I'll buy a whole slew of ice cream, and it's all yours."
She's going to do all of those things to try to bridge that gap, but every single thing she tries to do does not bridge the gap. The debt is still outstanding. The reason the debt is still outstanding is because it really has nothing to do with ice cream. The reason the debt is still outstanding is because she broke her word. She broke trust. She promised she was going to do something, and then she didn't do it.
So, like the king, I have a decision to make right now. I can sit there and go, "Well, that's fine. I guess for the rest of our lives there's going to be this debt outstanding between us, because she ate all of the ice cream, and I know she can't pay it back. I know there's nothing she can do. She cannot apologize enough, she can't promise enough, and she cannot buy enough ice cream to bridge that gap. Because I want to be reconciled with her, I'm going to take pity on the situation. I will cancel the debt. She can't pay me back anyway."
That's going to clear the path toward reconciliation so she and I can go back to experiencing the oneness God intended for us. Again, you may be sitting there going, "Adam, the hurt I carry in here has nothing to do with ice cream." I get it. The hurt we carry in here and the hurt we carry around with us, the invoices we're carrying around with us have to do with something a lot more serious.
It's things like the coworker or the business partner who looked you in the eyes and said, "I'm going to behave this way" or "This is what I'm going to do in this specific transaction" or "Here's what I'm going to say," and then right after that meeting they turned around and completely went the opposite direction of what they told you they were going to do. That was to their financial benefit, and you're stuck with a damaged reputation. That violation of trust is the hurt we carry around.
The hurt we carry around is our dad who didn't take his responsibility very seriously, who didn't view it as a privilege to be a representative of a loving heavenly Father in your life and completely abdicated all responsibility. He left you or he abused you or he was present and just let it be clear he really didn't want to have a relationship with you, and he missed all of the milestones and all of the birthdays. That's the hurt we carry around.
Or the friendship you had for decades, and over the last years there has been some fracture, and you're not trusting one another. Now you're hearing rumors and things that are being said behind your back or they're manipulating you or using you, and there's just this hurt and these hurtful things that have been said. That's the hurt we're carrying around.
Or the spouse who one day not too long ago sat in a chapel, stood there with you with a pastor. All of the friends and family were there, and there was this grand ceremony and all of these flowers, and everybody was dressed up. You were holding hands, and you looked into each other's eyes and made a vow to one another.
Part of the vow you made is you said, "I'm never going to abandon you. I'm never going to leave you. I'm never going to forsake you. I'm always going to be faithful to you." Then your spouse, years later, betrayed you and completely went back on everything they promised on that one Saturday afternoon. That's the hurt we carry around.
I think the reason we carry that around and the reason that hurt gnaws at us so much and why it bothers us so much and why it imprisons us is because, deep down inside, we know we're exactly like the king in this situation. Deep down inside, we know there's nothing anybody can do to pay us back. If your dad suddenly walked back into your life and tried to apologize or make a bunch of promises or bring out a checkbook to try to buy you things, that would be offensive.
That's not going to pay back for the years of abandonment or abuse. That's offensive to think they could do something to bridge that gap. We know there's nothing your dad can do to pay you back. The business partner or the coworker can say they're sorry until they're blue in the face. It doesn't pay back the hurt that was caused. There's nothing they can do to pay you back. The friend who has used you and manipulated you cannot pay you back. A spouse can't pay you back.
So we're sitting here. We recognize there is a debt outstanding between us, and deep down we know there's nothing they can do. They can try to bridge that gap as many ways as they want to. None of it works. What Jesus is reminding us of in this story is that what we need to understand is if we're going to forgive that debt, it is just releasing them, canceling that debt that's outstanding. We're just saying there's nothing they can do to pay us back anyway. "I don't want to carry this invoice around all the time. I want to move on." I'm basically saying, "You don't owe me."
You may be sitting there going, "Okay, Adam. So, you're telling me I just have to release the debt. So, what, then? Is everything okay? Now we're just reconciled?" No. Absolutely not. You're not just reconciled because you forgave the debt. Those two are often very different. Forgiveness is often just the first step in the reconciliation process. It just clears the path to reconciliation, but it is not reconciliation. It doesn't mean that all is okay.
You may be going, "All right. If I just cancel the debt, does that mean I'm condoning that behavior? I'm basically saying it's okay for dads to leave their families?" No. That's not at all what you're saying. You're saying, "I recognize that there was real damage that was caused there. There's real hurt. I'm not saying it's okay. I'm just saying there's nothing you can do to pay me back anyway, so rather than carry the invoice around, I'm canceling it. You don't owe me."
You sit there and go, "Well, I would grant forgiveness if they would just ask for it. Is that what I have to do? Do I have to wait for them to ask for it?" No. Forgiveness is not contingent upon a request. You can forgive. What's really interesting about that story is the servant didn't ask to be forgiven. He asked for more time. The king took pity and said, "More time is not going to help. You're not even asking for this, but because I don't want to carry this invoice around, I'm canceling it and moving on."
"So, Adam, if I forgive, does that mean I just need to ignore the hurt that's there? The hurt is still there. Do I need to ignore it?" No. You don't need to ignore it. That's part of the debt that's outstanding. You're just canceling it. You're just reminding yourself there's nothing they can do anyway. So, the first perspective shift we need if we're going to let go of these debts in our lives is to understand and recognize that forgiveness is just the release of a debt that's owed to us.
Let's jump back into the story. You may think that after this guy was forgiven 10,000 bags of gold and billions of dollars that this would be a really good story and he's going to go out and forgive everybody now and it's going to be a great ending to this story. That's not at all the way this story goes. Let's jump back in at verse 28. He was just forgiven 10,000 bags of gold. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins."
Just that dichotomy set up of 10,000 bags of gold and 100 silver coins. You don't have to know much about math or commodities or the value of precious metals to know those are very, very different. The 10,000 bags of gold? Two hundred thousand years' worth of wages. A hundred silver coins? About three months. That's what the difference probably was. He was forgiven 200,000 years' worth of wages, and he went up and found somebody who owed him three months' worth of wages, and this is what he said:
"He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.'" He's basically saying the exact same words the servant just got done saying to the king. He's repeating back to him words he would have just heard himself say.
"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed."
This is the point of the parable. Remember, Peter came up and asked, "Jesus, how many times should I forgive?" Jesus basically said, "Infinity. Now let me tell you a story as to why it's infinity." The point of this parable that Jesus is reminding his disciples and reminding Peter of is this: "Peter, forgiven people forgive people." That's the point. Because you've been forgiven much, so you will go out and forgive much.
2._ Forgiveness is a response to God's mercy in our lives_. This is so important. Make sure you hear this. This is so important, because you still may be sitting here going, "Adam, you don't understand what was done to me. You don't understand the hurt that was caused. I'm not just going to make some decision and release that debt. I don't know where I'm going to find the motivation. I don't think I have the motivation in me."
I would say that makes perfect and total sense. The motivation to forgive does not come from you and your willpower. You will never find the willpower in your heart in and of yourself. You will never find the motivation to forgive somebody. The motivation to forgive does not come when you focus on the sin of the other person. The motivation to forgive comes when you focus on your sin, not the sin of somebody else.
Jesus is saying, "Peter, don't forget who you are in that story. You're not the king; you're the servant who has been forgiven much." He's reminding Peter of reality, and I want to remind us of our reality. This is what's true of us. This is our relationship with God. Before we came to know Jesus, we were separated. We were over there; God was over here. There was a gap, and in that gap there was a debt that was outstanding.
The reason there was a debt outstanding was because of something the Scripture calls sin, our actions, attitudes, and thoughts that are contrary to God's best for our lives. We have said things, thought things, done things that are contrary to God's best, and that is a debt that separates us from God. As Paul would say in Romans, chapter 6, the wages of sin is death. This debt is there, and there's this gap there, and just like in that fake little story, like Jackie trying to bridge the gap, we, too, try to do things to bridge the gap.
We may pray to God and try to bridge that gap or we may read God's Word to try to bridge that gap or we may give some money away to try to bridge that gap or we may try to serve other people to try to bridge that gap, but everything we try to do to bridge that gap and work our way into a relationship with God falls woefully short, because what we did and the way we have offended God with our lives… There's no way that gap can be bridged with our own effort, so we're stuck.
The reality is we were stuck, but God loves us so much he didn't want to leave us stuck. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Back again to Romans 6. Paul said, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
God did something with this debt that was there. He didn't just forgive it; he paid for it. He said, "I'm going to pay it back." The things we have done are worth way more than $10 billion, and God paid for it through the cross of Jesus Christ. So now, when we place our faith in Jesus, we get to walk across that bridge and can be in a reconciled relationship with God, not because of anything we've done but because of everything Jesus has done.
This is the gospel. This is the good news of what God has done to accomplish our salvation through Jesus. This is the motivation to forgive. What this means is if we continue to stand over here in the shadow of our own hurt, thinking of the sin somebody else did and what they did to us, we're always going to look at forgiveness as an unfair reward we give to somebody.
From that perspective, it's always going to look unfair, but when we stand over here in the shadow of the cross of Jesus Christ, it doesn't look like an unfair reward. You realize forgiveness is a gift that one undeserving sinner gives to another undeserving sinner, because forgiven people forgive people.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a text message from a dear friend of mine I've been in relationship with. I've known this guy for nine or so years. He sent me a long text message and said, "This is going to be a long text message, but I'm going to send you a lot of details, because I want you to hold me accountable." He went on to tell me that he had recently, that week, been in a room with some other people I know and had said some things about me behind my back that made him look good and made me look not-so-good.
He said, "I'm telling you all of this because I want to meet up with you, and I want to try to clean up the mess I've created. So I want to know if you'd be willing to meet me." I said, "Sure," and we set up a time to meet. I wish I could stand up here and tell you that after I got that text message, between the time I read it and the time we met for lunch just the next day…
I wish I could tell you I immediately remembered the cross of Jesus Christ in my life and immediately went to Matthew, chapter 18, and remembered that I've been forgiven much, but that is not where my heart went immediately after reading that text message. Where my heart went is where a lot of our hearts go. I was hurt. I was frustrated. I wanted to say, "How could you? I don't know if I'm going to release you of this. I want to see how you're going to try to pay this back. I want you to suffer a little bit, because you've made me suffer a little bit. I want to get some revenge on this."
By the grace of God, as those thoughts were in there really quickly and went out, as I started to focus not on his sin but on mine, I had to admit to myself, "You know what? I've offended somebody in my life who is way more important than me. I've offended God. I've had a debt that was outstanding that was way worse than just saying something behind somebody's back, and I've been forgiven of that, so how could I not extend forgiveness to him?
Then if I drill down a little deeper, not only have I been forgiven more; I've done the exact same thing this guy is confessing to me right now. To my great shame, I also have talked behind people's backs, made myself look better and made them not look so good." So we fast-forward. We get to lunch, and he explains everything that happened.
He didn't have to, but he asked to be forgiven, and I was able to offer forgiveness, and our relationship was reconciled, but the motivation was not there when I was focused on his sin. The motivation only came when I took my eyes off of his sin and started to focus on my own. That's where the motivation came. Forgiveness is just a response to God's mercy. That's all it is.
That's not the last verse. There's one more verse in this section that we need to cover. This is the most difficult, honestly, of all of the verses in this section. Peter asked the question, "How many times should I forgive?" Jesus gave the answer. He told a story to illustrate the point, and then he has one final comment for Peter and his disciples.
Here's what he says in verse 35. Jesus now, stepping outside of the parable, says, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart." If you're in here this morning and claim to be a follower of Jesus, these words should mess with you a little bit. Jesus is basically saying that not forgiving is evidence that you are not following Jesus.
He's saying, "If you don't forgive, either this has happened to you and you have forgotten that this has happened to you, so you're being disobedient right now because you're focused more on the sin of the other person and not your own sin, so you're not responding to God's mercy… That may be what's going on here. It's evidence that you're not following or it's an indication that you think you know me but you really don't."
You think you have a relationship with Jesus, but you don't, in which case the end of that parable should mess with you. If I don't have a relationship with Jesus, then the end of that parable is going to be the end of my life. I'm going to face a judgment, and I'm going to wish I had placed my faith in Jesus Christ and been forgiven of that debt. Forgiven people forgive people. Forgiveness is just releasing the debt that is owed to you. Those are the perspective shifts we need.
To close all this up and wrap it up, I just want to share one final story with you guys. One of our own, a story of a friend of Jackie's and mine and probably a friend of a lot of you in this room too, a sweet friend named Rachel Duncan. Rachel was the victim of somebody else's decision a few years ago, and she had to walk through all of the principles we have been talking about today. She had to work on an invoice that was outstanding, a debt that was outstanding between her and somebody else. I think this story is really going to encourage you. Watch this.
Rachel Duncan: My name is Rachel Duncan. I grew up in a home that was centered on Christ. My parents taught all of us about Christ and his love for us. I was about 7 when I came to know the Lord, and my relationship with Christ really grew in college and even more so when I got to Watermark. In 2013, I was by myself at home one night. It was a normal night. Everything was fine, and then I heard a crash through a window in my bedroom. A man was breaking into my home. He ended up sexually assaulting me.
He took an experience that I had been waiting for for so long. He took the joy and the pleasure out of that for me. He took any feelings of safety. He took the future I had planned and completely changed it. I thought, "How could I ever forgive someone who did that, who took so much from me, who didn't even know me and chose to cause me this much pain and hurt?" I really struggled with forgiveness.
I knew because of the faith I had in the Word that that was something he wanted me to do, that God wanted me to forgive him, that it would be for my benefit. I could not have pictured that and at that point thought that was ridiculous, if I'm honest. I would say it took me a little bit of time to process what had happened to me to start the healing.
I started getting to a place where I said, "Okay. I want to forgive because I know the Lord has forgiven me of so much more." That's what I believed, and I said those words, "I forgive you." It felt like a burden just lifted off my shoulders. It felt like freedom. In light of what Christ has done for me, I am not a fool for forgiving my perpetrator.
[End of video]
Adam: Amazing story. Some of that story may be familiar to some of you who have been around Watermark for a while. We shared a portion of that last Easter. We filmed that about a year ago with Rachel. I remember I had an opportunity to be in the studio when we were interviewing her, and when we asked her that question, "What did he take from you?" she just rattled off that list of all of the things this man had taken from her.
I remember when she went through that list I had this thought of, "She has done her homework. She has thought through this." She talked about this process she engaged in to really think through and try to piece together what it was this man had taken. She had her invoice. We know about invoices. They're line item. They're specific. She had gone through and looked at that invoice and said, "He took this. He took this. He took this. He took this."
She, too, went through that process of recognizing, "Nobody can pay this back. He's not going to pay this back." Then, as she took the focus off of what he had done and put it on herself and thought about that, she realized that motivation to forgive was just going to be a response to the mercy that had been shown in her own life. It's an unbelievable story and such a testimony to the changing power of Jesus Christ in our lives.
I think in there there's a challenge for all of us. Some of us in here this morning walked in and we just have a lot of hurt. We know the name of the person who has hurt us or the persons who have hurt us. We know all that, but we can't do what our friend Rachel did. We don't know how to itemize out exactly what this person has taken.
If that's you, if you've walked in here and you know you have all this emotion and all this hurt, my challenge to you is to go through and begin that process Rachel went through to itemize out and think about what this person took from you. Get some friends around you. Come here on Monday night to re:gen and engage in that process.
Get others to help you think through what it is that has been taken from you so you can look at that invoice and go, "Okay. Nobody can pay that back. I'm not saying what they did is okay. I'm not saying we're okay. I'm not saying everything is all right and I don't hurt anymore. I'm just saying I recognize they can't pay this back, so I'm ripping it up."
Others of us in here have been through that process, and we know what's on that invoice. We know the debt that's outstanding, yet we're holding on to it because we hope there's going to be another way. Either you think you're still somehow punishing them by not forgiving them or you're hoping they're going to figure out some way to bridge that gap or there's going to be some other way to pay it back.
I just want to remind you that it's not going to happen. They can't pay you back. There's no other way. The best decision you can make for yourself is to rip that invoice up, just go, "Lord, I'm going to forgive this person. I'm releasing them of what they owe me." We can cancel the debts that are outstanding against us because our debt that we had outstanding against God has been canceled through the cross of Jesus Christ. Let me pray that we will be people who do that.
Lord Jesus, we thank you that you love us. We thank you that you came down here to die for us. God, we thank you that you did not leave us in that stuck situation with that outstanding debt, that in your grace and mercy you sent Jesus to die for us. Now, Lord, we can just respond to that mercy that has been exhibited in our own lives. We can just respond to that. I pray you will help us to do that.
Lord, my friends who are in here who haven't gone through that process or started that process to identify what the hurt is, I pray you will give them the courage and the insight and the wisdom and surround them with friends who will help them identify what is on that invoice and that they will find the courage to rip it up and release that person for their good.
Lord, those of us who know what the invoice is, know what the hurt is, have done that work and are just hoping there's another way, I pray you'll motivate us to rip it up. May we, Lord, be a forgiving people because we've been forgiven through Jesus. It's in his name we pray, amen.