As everyone enters, the youth leaders are running around giving very awkward hugs, high-fives, and fist bumps… but the key word is very awkward!
So, tonight we are finishing our series entitled “The Grace Effect.” And the series is about the effect that experiencing grace has on our lives- that when we truly experience grace than we have no choice but share it with others.
Tonight as you guys entered the room, we did gave out a lot of hugs, high-fives, and fist bumps, which for some, maybe most of you was extremely awkward.
I mean, having some super excited person running up to you and welcoming you into the room with some crazy long hugs is kind of weird. And who, besides me, gives out high-fives and fist bumps all the time? It’s pretty awkward if you ask me.
Some you guys are people-people, this just means you love to interact with people. Others of you are not people-people, which means you just don’t like the idea of different people entering your space. I’m more a people-person. I love to interact with lots of people. In fact, my brain kind of shuts down when I’m not able to be around people for a long time. I’m the kind of person that loves being loud and excited and fun with lots of people. But some you in this room would be scared to death to be in a crowded room and the center of attention. It would terrify you to have to let tons of people into your personal space or interact with lots of people all the time. But there’s nothing wrong with either! Nothing more mature about liking lots of people and nothing lest mature about liking less.
Some of you have hundreds of friends on Facebook- I have like 482- others of you have closer to around 100. There’s nothing wrong with either. Being spiritually mature does not mean that you have to be extremely vocal or more of a people-person.
Tonight as we talk about grace we are not going to talk about accepting everyone into our personal space, or that being a more gracious person means being more of a people-person. What we are going to talk about tonight is when we decide to exclude people from our circles- when we decide not to accept people. A little different…
Have you ever seen a little kid, maybe when you were in elementary school or maybe for those of you in junior high, that just tried so hard to be accepted by the crowd? This kid wants so badly to fit in with everyone else. You can watch them trying so hard to fit in, trying so hard to connect, trying so hard to join the rest, but for some reason they just aren’t cutting it. It’s hard to watch this kind of kid. It just breaks your heart.
Why do you think it so hard to watch these kind of people, or maybe this kid what you? But why is it so hard?
It’s hard because none of us were made to be excluded. We were never made to not like one another. We were never supposed to hold grudges against one another. We were never made to just not like one another. We were never made to hold bitterness or frustration against others because we refuse to share grace. We were never made to be alone.
In fact in Genesis 2:18, God says, “It’s not good for man to be alone, so I will make a helper suitable for him.” Adam was chilling with the animals, he liked the deer and the antelope, but they just didn’t cut it for him. He didn’t fit in with them. So God made him a helper- Eve. And Adam was like “Alright! I like that!”
When I read this verse, I’m not just talking about Adam having a wife, but the idea that was placed was that Adam needed help. Adam needed a friend. Adam needed another person. We are the same way- we need one another. The OT and the NT talks a lot about this idea of community- people needing each other.
In the OT book of Ruth, it talks about people gleaning from the fields. Gleaning in a way is reserving part of a crop or field to give to the poor. The farmers of this day would plow, plant, and harvest all of their crops but would section off a part to give to those who were poor. Also in the book of Ruth, every seven years all debts were forgiven. No matter how much you owed someone, after seven years they would always forgive the debtor. So we see them freely giving of themselves to the poor and forgiving the debts of those who owed them something. In fact, we see these two concepts all through the Bible- the free gift of grace and the forgiveness of debts.
Jesus deals with this issue in Matthew 18, which will be where we spend the majority of our time tonight.
In this chapter verses 15-20, Jesus is teaching on how to forgive a brother who sins against you. We aren’t going to really talk about this tonight, but I suggest you take a look at it tonight when you get home or spend some time in it this week.
In verse 21, where we will be tonight, Peter asks, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven?” So Peter is asking, “When someone does wrong to me, how many times should I forgive them? Seven times?”
Now, to understand this question and the meaning of the “seven times” we need to understand the teaching of the day. The Rabbis of that day taught that you must forgive someone three times and after the third time, you’re done with the person.
So basically someone could do wrong to you 3 times and then you can write them off as a friend or disowned them as a family member. You no longer had to talk to this person again. They were threw! Finished! Done! Over! 3 strikes you’re out kind of policy, which seemed to work pretty well.
But Peter, understanding that Jesus was kind of an extremist when it comes to His teachings, guesses a little higher- seven times instead of three. I mean, seven seems like a good number to me; wouldn’t seem like a good number to you? Four extra times to the three original times seems pretty extreme to me!
Jesus answers Peter saying, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” When I read these words of Jesus to Peter, I’m asking myself, “77 times 7 equals…” I’m thinking, “Why is Jesus throwing math into His teachings?”
But the disciples understood exactly what Jesus was talking about. They understood exactly what Jesus meant.
You see, one of the ways a teacher of this day would teach his disciples was to make bold or exaggerated statements based upon OT passages. Jesus was doing this here. Jesus disciples knew Scripture and would automatically know what Jesus is referring to in the OT. If you have a pretty decent study Bible, sometimes you can see a word with a reference to another passage in the OT. It’s important most of the time to go and check those out to see what is really going on the story.
So Jesus was referencing a passage here in the OT, so let’s take a look! Turn to Genesis 4. Now, in this passage there’s this guy names Lamech. Lamech was a man’s-man. In my mind I think of Lamech as one of those ancient warrior types from one of those Lord of the Ring movies. Maybe he’s one of those guys who carries a big axe or a bow and is covered in animal skins and a long nasty manly beard.
Lamech says this in Genesis 4:23-24 [imagine a barbarian voice]
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me and a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”
Basically, Lamech is saying, “I am man! Hear me roar! I am a Barbarian, don’t mess with me!” This dude was like the most manly man you could ever imagine! Jk
Lamech is saying, “I will seek vengeance and I will go after vengeance like crazy- 77 times.”
Back to Jesus…
So Jesus referenced this story and I doing so is saying that as eager as Lamech was to seek vengeance, you are to be in seeking forgiveness. Lamech is this dude who was saying, “I am the man. I am going to seek vengeance to the fullest. I will not stop until vengeance is mine.” So, Jesus is telling us that He wants us to reach to the same lengths in forgiveness. Jesus is telling us that He wants us to do everything in our power to forgive, everything possible, to not give up until we can go no more.
In much of Jesus’ teachings, He doesn’t separate loving God and loving others. In Deuteronomy 6 there’s this passage called the Shemah. It was a Jewish prayer that was prayed every day before leaving the house; and it simply says, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
In the NT, Jesus teaches on this passage but adds one small thing to it. He says to love the Lord God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. In much of Jesus’ teaching, He doesn’t separate loving God and loving others. In fact, it seems as if He sees them as one command.
The Way of Scripture is often a way of forgiving and offering grace. A passionate pursuit for true love, if you will.
Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the remembrance of God rather than burnt offerings.”
In Colossians 3:12 it says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, 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 must also forgive.”
Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Do you see the pattern? We forgive because we were forgiven; we love because we were loved first. We take care of the poor and the widows because God takes care of us. We offer grace because it is pouring out for us.
Jesus, in Matthew 18, kind of hits for the fence when he tells the story of a servant. Let me read it to you.
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all they had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the master of the servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, “Pay what you owe!” So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all the debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
How could we say that we are followers of the ultimate Forgiver and not be willing to forgive others ourselves!? How could we say ever say that we love God and not be willing to love others as well? How dare we say “God accepted me as I am, but I will not accept you?”!
For Jesus, loving God and loving others was a single command. For Jesus, saying to love your neighbor as yourself was like saying prove your love for the Father by showing love to others.
So I leave you tonight, with a single thought: Do you have someone who you are unwilling to forgive? Do you have someone who you are not accepting, for whatever reason?
We were never made to be rejected but to be accepted by an all-forgiving Father!