Reading: Matthew 5:38-42 & 48, 18:21-22
Preacher: Rev Kevin Kim
Forgiveness #1 – What does the Bible say about forgiveness?
Kevin is starting a new series of ‘forgiveness’ this Sunday. We read the concept of ‘forgive’ in the Bible many times. The word ‘forgive’ appears in the KJV (95 times), ESV (109) and CEV (206) respectively, but we would think a theme of ‘forgiveness’ can be found in many other verses like “Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” — Isaiah 1:18. Kevin will bring up many biblical verses about ‘forgiveness’ first and then focus on how we achieve Christian Perfection (v 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.) The Greek word (teleioi) used here for ‘being perfect’ is about achieving your goals and being mature. This is part of God’s attributes. In Matthew 5:38-47, Jesus talks about how a ‘mature/perfect’ person should behave. Following the messages ‘key person’ and ‘helper’s high’, Kevin would like to say that ‘forgiveness’ is how you achieve and practice the essence of Christianity.
What is the biggest thing you’ve ever forgiven someone else for?
What is the biggest thing you’ve ever been forgiven (for)?
Ernest Hemingway wrote a book entitled Capital of the World. In this story, Hemingway told the story of a father and his teenage son, Paco. The son had sinned against his father and in his shame he ran away from home. The father searched all over Spain for him, but still he could not find the boy. Finally, in the city of Madrid, in a last desperate attempt to find his son, the father placed an advertisement in the daily newspaper. The ad read:
“PACO MEET AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVEN. – PAPA.”
At the time of the meeting, when Paco’s father got to the Hotel, he was not prepared for what he was about to see. Because Paco was such a common name in Spain (a nickname for Francisco), the next day at noon, there were 800 young men with the same name waiting for their fathers – waiting for the forgiveness they thought they would receive that day.
The world is full of people in need of forgiveness and reconciliation.
If we needed education, God would’ve sent a teacher.
If we needed finances, God would’ve sent a businessman.
If we needed technology, God would’ve sent a scientist.
But God knew that our greatest need was forgiveness. That’s why He sent His Son.
We read the concept of ‘forgive’ in the Bible many times. The word ‘forgive’ appears in the KJV (95 times), ESV (109) and CEV (206) respectively, but we would think a theme of ‘forgiveness’ can be found in many other verses like “Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” — Isaiah 1:18.
Following the messages ‘key person’ and ‘helper’s high’, I would like to say the ‘forgiveness’ is how We achieve and practice the essence of Christianity. That is what I am going to focus on over the next four weeks during this forgiveness series.
What does the Bible say about forgiveness? There are a great many Bible verses about forgiveness.
Proverbs 17:9 – “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.”
Genesis 50:19-21 – “But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, … So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus, he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”
Mark 11:25 – “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Luke 17:3-4 – “Pay attention 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, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Colossians 3:12-13 – “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
What Does Jesus Say about Forgiveness?
Jesus himself stressed the importance of forgiveness, but he was doing so in a culture that stressed very legalistic ideas.
Peter hears Jesus give his instruction on forgiveness before the today’s passge, but his legalistic side kicks in and he asks in verse 21 how many times he has to forgive someone before he can write them off. Seven times?
Seven represented completion in the Bible. Peter wanted to know at what point he could be completely done with someone that constantly seemed to need forgiveness. If we are honest, we all have been here. There is someone that you know who always seems to be doing something that wrongs you. It is very likely that you have already written them off and avoid them as a matter of trying to preserve your own inner peace.
Jesus knows that these issues arise, but his instructions don’t let us off the hook so easily.
He tells Peter in verse 22 that he must forgive the offender 70 times 7. That sounds like a high number (490), but it is still a number, right?
We can go to 490 and then forever we don’t have to see this person because Jesus said this, correct? Sorry. Seven represents the idea of completion. 70 as 10 times 7 is an expression of magnitude, not a specific number. This means that our responsibility to forgive goes far beyond what a legalistic world would consider complete. Forgiveness, like God’s love, has no end.
Then I would like to look at forgiveness in the Bible in relation to ‘Christian Perfection.’ ‘Christian Perfection’ is the name given to theological concepts to describe a process of achieving spiritual maturity or perfection.
This concept of ‘Christian perfection’ was significantly emphasized and promoted by John Wesley. Today’s passage, in Matthew 5, Jesus says to his disciples: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48)
The Greek word for ‘being perfect’ here is ‘teleios’ and it can mean ‘perfect’ but is more usually used to refer to maturity or wholeness. If we have a quick look at where this word is used elsewhere in the New Testament you will see what I mean – Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind (Philippians 3.15)
Today’s passage from Matthew 5 instructs how we could be mature Christian. Forgiveness is something that mature Christians could truly practice and achieve.
Jesus said “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” But first century Jews and Roman citizens would not have had the same approach to the sermon that we do.
Why is this important? In first century Palestine, Toilet paper wasn’t used until the sixth century in China, and it wasn’t commercially available in America until 1857. During ancient times in the Middle East, people used their left hand for sanitary purposes. The Jewish crowds who were listening to Jesus preach would have considered their left hand to be unclean. They would only strike someone using their right hand.
Please imagine yourself hitting someone. They are facing you and you must punch their right side using your right hand. It’s a little bit awkward.
If you use an open palm with your right hand, you’d slap their left cheek. If you want to strike their right cheek with your right hand, you would slap them with the back of your hand. This is where it gets interesting. It is embarrassing to get slapped. That has never been a kind gesture in any culture. But in the Roman Empire, a backhanded slap makes that you are inferior. In other words, if I were to slap your left cheek with an open fist, I would be insulting you, but I would see you as my equal.
But if I were to deliver a backhanded slap, I would still be insulting you, but I would also be demonstrating how I think I am better than you – you wouldn’t be worth an open fist.
This understanding makes the words of Jesus much more radical. He begins, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek,” and ends with instruction “turn to them the other cheek.” Modern audiences miss what Jesus is trying to say.
The Jews of His day wore two principal garments, an interior “coat” or “tunic” (an undergarment), and a more costly exterior cloak (outer garment). This cloak was used, not only as a jacket or overcoat during the day, but also as a covering to sleep under at night. By Mosaic law, the outer cloak was an possession that could not be withheld overnight (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:12-13 – 12 If the neighbour is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession. 13 Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbour may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the Lord your God.).
Jesus now offers a command that is insane by the world’s standards. Someone wants to sue you and take your tunic. In Jesus’ day, this was the inner garment. Jesus calls His disciples to let this person have the cloak, too. This was the heavier outer garment, and the Old Testament law prohibited people from taking this garment because it would cause great hardship for the person losing that covering.
What do we make of this command? Jesus is again calling His disciples to think less of their rights and more of the needs of others. In this case, He is commending risky generosity. It is generous because you are not giving up something that is useless and unwanted, but something that is useful and necessary. It is risky because you do not know when you will get another garment.
So throughout the Bible, message on forgiveness constantly challenge us. Particularly today’s passage from Matthew 5 even more challenges us for us to achieve Christian perfection and maturity.
Rob our treasurer currently is visiting Berlin and he send me the photos of the Kaiser Wilhelm II church today, the church which was destroyed in World War II but which has been left as a reminder to the world of the devastation caused by war. Rob and Jill saw the attached prayer by the bishop of Coventry whose own church was itself destroyed by bombing. I will read this prayer as I finish my message.