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This Sunday is
Michaelmas 4

05 November 2017

Today's sermon is from
Matthew 18:23-35

Old Testament Reading
Genesis 50:15-21

Epistle Reading
Philippians 1:3-11

Psalm
Ps. 130

Chief Hymn
Lord, We Confess Our Numerous Faults

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Front of church

The video of today's service will be posted later in the week.

Evil as people are, they still know that when someone breaks the law, he should be punished accordingly. This knowledge is a remnant of the natural law God put into the hearts of our first parents, when he created them, and it is based on God's justice, as expressed in these words to Adam and Eve, "On the day you sin, you will surely die."

That's what God's justice demands. And it's the reason sinful man foolishly tries to negotiate with him: his supposed good works for God's leniency. Ironically, it's also explains the allurement of atheism. If I can convince myself that there is no God, then I don't have to fear his justice.

But Adam and Eve knew God, which is why they ran and hid among the trees of the garden, when they heard him coming after they had sinned. King David knew God and his justice too. He declared, "When I kept silent (that is to say, when I refused to confess my sins of adultery and murder), my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night your hand heavy upon me." So it's no surprise to hear that Joseph's brothers feared God and what he would do to them for the cruel way they had treated Joseph.

Now with God's justice in mind, I ask you: Was the servant in Jesus' parable wrong to have his fellow servant thrown into prison? Not according to the law, which stated that a person who failed to repay his debt was to be imprisoned. And the king knew that. Still he was angry when he heard what had happened. And he delivered his unmerciful servant, who demanded justice, over to the torturers, until he should repay the much larger debt he owed him.

Though Jesus equates this parable with the kingdom of heaven, he is not implying by it that God hates justice. He is a holy God. As such, he demands that his commandments be obeyed - all of them, all the time. And he who fails to do so even once deserves to be punished not only in this life, but forever, without measure in the flames of hell. Anything less than that would make God out to be a liar.

But then, that brings us right back to the conundrum that spurred my earlier question. Why did this king, who is an image of the just and holy God, get angry with his servant and hand him over to be tortured to death, if what he did was perfectly just according to the law? Or to rephrase this question in a way that is more applicable to you: why would God cast you into hell, which is what delivered over to the torturers implies, for refusing to forgive someone who's wronged you?

Now understand. I'm not speaking about that person who did so by accident. People make mistakes. And if someone wronged you unintentionally, that's one thing. But I'm speaking about a person who did so on purpose, because he just doesn't like you, and to add insult to injury, who refuses to apologize, who even refuses to acknowledge that what he did to you was wrong, who's actually proud of it. How can God get angry with you and punish you for refusing to forgive a person like that?

Of course, if you're being honest with yourself, you'd admit that you've refused to forgive people for far less than that. But the.point is, God in his justice demands that you forgive anyone and everyone who's sinned against you regardless of what he's done or why he did it.

And contrary to what your sinful flesh thinks, that is not at all unreasonable in the light of the mercy he has shown you.

Think about it for a moment. On the day the king wants to settle accounts with you, and that day is surely coming, when the books are opened, and he reads through every single sin you've committed against him in your lifetime - sins of thought, word and deed - will you want him to deal with you according to his justice, as you often deal with your fellow servant who's sinned against you?

Hardly, which is why you don't do what this servant did: beg God to be patient with you and give you more time to repay your debt of sin to him. You know how impossible that is. So you beg him to be merciful instead and to forgive you out of pure grace.

And he does. Earlier in this Service he washed Eleanor's sins away in a Holy Baptism. Later in this Service he will feed you his Body and his Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.

And this too is justice. For the sins he forgives you were already punished according to the strict demands of his law. They just weren't punished in you. Instead your God, because he is a merciful God, punished his only-begotten Son, who bore your sins and the sins of the whole world to death on a cross. "It is finished," Jesus declared ride out just before he bowed his head and died. The punishment for sin has been served. The Law has been fulfilled. God's justice is satisfied.

That's the mercy God in his grace has shown you. And he who believes this will come to where his Savior is present for him today to receive his Blood-bought forgiveness through the mouth and from hand of his minister.

But that's not all he will do. As he has been shown mercy, so he will show mercy. As he has been forgiven, so he will forgive, as he promises to do every time he prays the Lord's Prayer. And when he fails in this, he does not make excuses, but repents. Then strengthened by God's unconditional love for him, he goes out and in love strives to reflect that love by forgiving others.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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