The Basis of Forgiveness

Steve Viars September 27, 2008 Matthew 26:20-35

 

- this morning I’d like to begin our time by asking you a question…

- how important is the mind and the heart to the Christian life?...

- is what you choose to think and want in a given situation a significant aspect of the Christian life, or an insignificant one?...

- now if you’re familiar with biblical Christianity at all, you know that the answers to those questions are…what we choose to cultivate in our hearts is a major emphasis in Scripture…

- and that flows out of our fundamental belief that God made us in His image…

- so we’re not animals…we’re not passive victims whose lives are dependent on the nature of the events around us…

- we are active worshippers, and we can choose to think in certain ways, and desire certain things, in a way that helps us respond to life in way that is focused and thoughtful and therefore honoring to God…

- so biblical Christians place significant emphasis on evaluating our hearts and cultivating our hearts…

- that’s why we read in Proverbs 4:23 - Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

- not, who I am is determined by my outward circumstances – but I have the ability, and the responsibility, to watch over my heart…that is the focus for a person who loves God…

- or Ephesians 4:23 - and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,

- students of Scripture know that this is the very center of a crucial passage in God’s Word about how we are to live every day – a major focus is on what we do with our minds…

- we can control this and we must…be renewed in the spirit of your mind…

- Peter said -- 1 Peter 1:13-16 - Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance,but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

- if you memorized that verse in the King James version of the Bible, you know the first few words were translated…”Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind…”

- just like a soldier who is heading off for battle and who understands he has to ready to face whatever the enemy might throw his way…so the focus isn’t on what everybody else is/is not doing..but instead the emphasis is on having your mind prepared for action…

- we could multiply verses like this all day…Romans 12:2 - And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

- or Paul’s words to the Philippians -- Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

- the point is – people who want to live God’s way are learning the art and the discipline of giving careful attention to what is occurring in their heart, their mind…that part of you that no one else sees except God Himself…but that part of you that has a profound impact on the direction of your life…

- now, that skill is especially important when someone in your life upsets you, or fails you, or disappoints you, or betrays you…

- what you choose to think about, and what you choose to desire at moments like that…and eventually the habits you develop that will kick in automatically the next time around…that will say a lot about whether you’re going to be able to serve God well…

- this morning we’re going to look at a passage of Scripture where the Person involved demonstrates this skill perfectly…

- the story is bookended by other people failing, and disappointing, and betraying, and deserting this individual…

- but right in the center of the text, this Person chooses to think about, and desire, and speak about the other’s forgiveness…

- that kind of focus, and mental discipline can, if we’ll let it…become of basis of our forgiveness of others…

- with that in mind, let me invite you to open your Bible to Matthew chapter 26…[page 23 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you…]

- we’re in the middle of a 5 week series on Seeking God’s Plan for Forgiveness…

- last week we studied the challenge of forgiveness from Luke 17…

- we saw the process laid out quite succinctly…in that if you believe a person has sinned against you, you can’t just cut the person off, you can’t start gossiping behind their back…you can’t just accept a stalemate…

- you have to go and talk to them about it…

- and yes, they should also be coming to talk to you, because other places in Scripture discuss their responsibilities in the matter…but not everybody does what God wants them to do…but you still have to go and talk to them…

- and Scripture says that you rebuke them tentatively…

- you ask questions, you explain what the situation looks like and how you believe they violated God’s Word…

- and maybe your understanding is incorrect…but if the facts are established and the person did sin against you, you should clearly explain that now they need to repent…they need to admit their wrong and turn around in their thinking and behavior and ask you to forgive them…

- you can’t make them do that…but you have a responsibility to clearly explain what God’s Word says about the matter…

- the passage goes on to say – if they repent, now you have a second difficult responsibility…you must forgive them…

- you make a 3 fold promise – I won’t bring this up to your face, I won’t bring it up behind your back, and I won’t dwell on it…

- I’m casting your offense as far as the east is from the west and I won’t use it as a determinant for how I’m going to treat you today – it’s over…

- and then Jesus made the astonishing statement that if the person sins against you seven times in the same day and you have to go through this whole process over and over, you are still required to forgive him…

- and when the disciples responded to that news by saying, Lord, please increase our faith…

- Jesus helped them understand…the issue isn’t the size of your faith, it’s the depth of your obedience…

- yes this is challenging…it may be one of the most challenging things we’re ever called upon to do…but obedient servants of God are willing to do what He says even when its hard…and people who are unwilling to obey God have every reason to question whether they’re truly in the faith…

- now, all of us recognize that if we’re going to do that well, it is going to require giving careful attention to the heart…

- this passage is a marvelous model of how that works…

- read Matthew 26:20-35…

- we’re talking this morning about The Basis of Forgiveness

- let’s think about this passage in terms of Two very unfortunate bookends, and one amazing central focus anyway

I. Bookend #1 – Amazing Betrayal.

- for those who are new to studying Scripture, we are at the very end of the ministry of Christ on this earth…

- this is Passover week, which was the oldest celebration for the Jewish nation reminding, them of their miraculous deliverance from Egypt because of the shed blood of the Passover lamb…

- by now the Jewish leaders have formally rejected Christ as their Messiah and they are about to carry out their diabolical plot of putting Jesus to death…

- so Christ instructs his 12 disciples to make preparations for a private time together prior to all of these events unfolding…

- ideally it would have been an opportunity for the disciples to gather in prayer for their Lord, and for them to share His burden by promising their unyielding devotion and commitment to Him…

- but unfortunately the sinfulness of man found its way into even the most intimate of settings…what happens first?....

A. Christ’s announcement – vv. 20-21.

- Matthew 26:21 - As they were eating, He said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.”

- the wordbetray – paradidomi

- “to give over…often used of delivering a person to prison or punishment”

- of course Jesus had told His disciples many times that He would have to die but this was the first they learned about how Jesus would be transferred to those who wanted to take His life…

- and please think about the power of His words…”one of you”…

- someone with whom He had spent the last three years…

- not just casually, but intimately…teaching, ministering, eating together, spending incredible blocks of time together…

- one of you will betray me…

B. The disciples’ response.

- Matthew 26:22 - Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?”

- I think we have every reason to conclude that 11 of them were very sincere…the thought of them being such a fake, and such an imposter, and such a hypocrite that he would actually “paradidomi” Christ – deliver Him up – that was a treachery beyond their imagination…

- what is amazing is what we read in verse 25…Matthew 26:25 - And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”

- the text is clear – Judas had already made up his mind…”he was already betraying him---the plot had been put in motion”

- but some Bible students think that perhaps Judas believed that Jesus knew He was being betrayed but wasn’t sure which disciple it was yet…

- so he had to play along by saying what all the other disciples said lest he stand out by not saying it…

- and I’ve always felt bad for the different people in our church over the years who were cast in the part in our Passion Play downtown at Easter time – “surely it is not I, Rabbi?”…the depth of that betrayal is unfathomable…

- the next words show that Jesus certainly did know…

C. The betrayer’s indictment.

- Matthew 26:25 …Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself.”

- in other words, we both know what you’re planning to do…

- and then John adds this detail, that Jesus then said, …John 13:27 - …Therefore Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.”

- at that point we believe Judas left the upper room and the rest of the events occurred with Jesus and the remaining 11 disciples…

- but it wouldn’t be long until Jesus was surrounded by soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane and He would be asking…Luke 22:48 - But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
- now, let’s fast forward for a moment to you, and today…

- do you ever have people in your life who disappoint you, and who do things and say things that are shocking…

- have you ever been betrayed?...sold out?...

- people who said they loved you, or said they’d be faithful and loyal to you ended up saying or doing something to your face or behind your back that you could hardly believe?..

- we all experience that in one way or another…to one degree or another…

- my question is – what do you think about next?...

- what desires do you cultivate in your heart next?...

- if we inserted your story of the latest time a person disappointed you, or betrayed you into verses 20-25, what would we be reading next?...

- now let’s fast forward for a moment…what’s the other bookend?

II. Bookend #2 – Astonishing Desertion.

- verse 30 says that they are heading to the Mount of Olives…and Jesus makes…

A. Christ’s announcement.

- Matthew 26:31 - Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.’

- please picture that too…at the time you need your friends the most, you’ll have them the least…

- to be in a position where He’ll have to face all of this alone…alone…

- He’s the One who led King Solomon to write these words…Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 - Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.

- and these men were supposed to be his friends…

- Solomon’s father David wrote a song about that…Psalm 55:12-14 - For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, Then I could bear it; Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, Then I could hide myself from him.But it is you, a man my equal, My companion and my familiar friend;We who had sweet fellowship together Walked in the house of God in the throng.

- it is especially painful when the person who deserts you was supposed to be your friend…

- now, what do the disciples do with this announcement?...

B. The disciples’ response.

- Matthew 26:33 - But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.”

- which shows (by the way) how our hearts can be terribly self-deceived…

- what already happened with Judas should have shaken them to the core…

- the fact that Jesus is the One telling them what is about to happen does not faze him in the least…

- as if Christ has been wrong about so many things before…

- and then Jesus tells him…Matthew 26:34 - Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”

- and you would expect Peter to ask a question at that point…

- Lord, how can I overcome this temptation?...

- is there any way out?...can we pray together?...how/where can I get the strength I need?

- but that’s not what he does, is it?... Matthew 26:35 - Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too.

- now, let’s insert you in that story…do you ever have people who fail to be there for you when you really need them?...

- who desert you…

- they said they were your friends and they could talk a good game…but in your hour of need they were nowhere to be found?...

- and it hurts…there’s no two ways about that…

- well, when that happens…what are you thinking about?...what are you focusing on?...

- what kind of inner man are you cultivating?...

- now, the great news is – what we find between the bookends is amazing…

- in fact, it’s the existence of the bookends that make Jesus’ response that much more spectacular and instructive…because…

III. The Central Focus – Forgiveness.

- they celebrate the final divinely sanctioned Passover in human history…

- and Jesus transitions them from the old covenant to the new…

- and He transfers the meaning of the symbols from the Passover bread that had to be quickly eaten as they left Egypt and the blood of the lamb that was spread on their doorposts…to what He was about to do for them…

- in spite of their betrayal and their desertion…

- and that’s the point this morning – you have a choice to make when someone else mistreats you, and disappoints you…

- you can start thinking about their sin…and your hurt, or your revenge…

- or you can start thinking about the possibility and provision of forgiveness…

- and Jesus picks up a piece of bread and broke in into pieces and passed to each of these men…the ones who were about to desert Him…and said…

- Matthew 26:26 - …Take, eat; this is My body.”

- and of course the disciples never for a minute thought this piece of bread was literally becoming part of the body of Christ (as some religions teach) …any more than Jesus was speaking literally when He said that He was the vine and they were the branches…

- and please consider what was about to happen to that body…

- but He wanted them to have a visible symbol and a constant reminder of…

A. The perfection of His body.

- see, the focus right now is not on all of your failures, past, present, or future…

- let’s think about what is necessary for your forgiveness…

- what do we know about the body of Christ?

1. Born of a virgin.

- Luke 1:26-27 - Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

- did you know that was prophesied 700 years before it occurred?...

- Isaiah 7:14 - Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.

- why was that so important?...because the sin nature is passed down through normal procreation…so Jesus was born of a virgin to insure that the gift of love that God sent to us was perfect in every way…

- isn’t thinking about that more important than an ongoing discourse about the treachery of Judas?

- the apostle John would later write that…

2. God “tabernacled” among us.

- John 1:14, 18 - And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

- that Christ was willing to come and take on a body showed how much He was willing to relate to people like you and me…

- that’s the big story, not someone else’s failures --- but God’s incredible love…

3. Tempted in all points yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15-16 - For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

- Possessing a body made it possible for Christ to go through the same trials and temptations you and I face…meaning He can be personally sympathetic…

4. Able to bear our sins completely.

- 1 Peter 2:24 - and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross…

- Galatians 3:13 - Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—

- the point is – Jesus told them about their failures because they needed to know what was happening…but that wasn’t the focus…it wasn’t the main story line…what He really wanted to talk with them about in that intimate moment was forgiveness…

- please think about the last time someone disappointed you, or failed you, or betrayed you, or deserted you…

- how much mental energy did you put into focusing on forgiveness?...

- genuinely praying for their repentance…

- and reflecting on and rejoicing in all the ways God has forgiven you…

- planning how you could meet and talk with that person about the problem using words that were filled with grace so they were in the best position to repent…

- promising God in advance that you would love to forgive them and planning to avoid any bitterness or gossip in the meantime…

- the question is, do you discipline your mind to focus on forgiveness?...

- if Jesus could between these two bookends…you and I can as well…

- then He took the cup…and He pointed them to…

B. The sufficiency of His blood.

- in the Passover meal, there were actually several times when a cup would be raised…

- some students of Scripture believe that these statements were made during the third cup, known as…

1. The cup of blessing.

- that is the terminology Paul used in 1 Corinthians 10:16 - Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?

- and isn’t it amazing…

2. He gave thanks.

- for the symbol of the blood that was about to be poured out for them…and he was thanking God for the privilege of doing something that would secure their forgiveness…

3. He included them all.

- Matthew 26:27 - …He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you;

- you might want to circle the phrase “all of you” in verse 27 and then go down and circle the phrase “will all fall away” in verse 31…

- our Lord was much more concerned about their long term forgiveness than their short term failures…

- this too is why, when we observe the Lord’s table here…the cup is not just for certain leaders…it is available for everyone who knows Christ…

4. Poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

- Ephesians 1:7 - In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.

- the point is – the basis of forgiveness is a disciplined focus on the shed blood of Christ…and all that it has accomplished for you if you’ve trusted Him as Lord and Savior, and all that can be accomplished for others if you’ll follow that same process in your relationship with one another…

- now, what are the take-aways?...

1. Do you have a personal relationship with this forgiving Savior?...

- I would be remiss if I did not point out that the blood of Christ is only sufficient for those who decided to take advantage of it  (develop)

2. Christian friend, have you let Christ’s forgiveness of you impact the way you respond to others when they’ve failed?...

When I become bitter or unforgiving toward others, I’m assuming that the sins of others are more serious than my sins against God.  The cross transforms my perspective.  Through the cross I realize that no sin committed against me will ever be as serious as the innumerable sins I’ve committed against God.  When we understand how much God has forgiven us, it’s not difficult to forgive others.”

C.J. Mahaney

“The practice of comprehensive forgiveness overcomes our love of being right, our actual enjoyment and treasuring of our sense of being wronged…  The constant practice of forgiveness leaves no room for self-righteousness. Frustrated condemnation of others and treasuring of old wrongs are not part of the artillery of God, but the slithering, slimy, deadly creatures of the Prince of Darkness.”

C. John Miller and Barbara Miller Juliani

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987.  He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and they have three children. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church.  He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of Vision of Hope and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video