From the Red Letter Challenge Week 3 sermon:
Brandt Jean sat in the witness chair of a Texas courtroom, and forgave Amber Guyger. Not only did he say, “I forgive you,” but he added “I love you” (twice) and “I don’t even want you to go to jail.” She had killed his brother Botham. He also encouraged her to find God in her life. Where Jesus is, forgiveness is sure to follow. Then he asked the judge, “I don’t know if it’s possible, but can I give her a hug? Please?”
Could you do that? For the person who was found guilty of killing someone you loved: forgive them, love them, and even hug them? I hope none of us ever has to find out.
Sin is the second most powerful force in the universe. It kills everything in its path. Sin is especially effective at destroying relationships. Take a close look at every broken marriage, broken family, and broken heart, and you find the fallout of sin doing its worst. Sin separates. Sin divides. It kills.
We live in an intensely divided world. We divide ourselves geographically (East Coast, Midwest, Deep South, West Coast). We divide ourselves generationally (Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials). We certainly divide ourselves over our favorite sports teams. We are even divided over pets (cats v. dogs) and toilet paper (over v. under).
But the division doesn’t stop at those comparably trivial things. We are divided over issues of race, politics, morality and spirituality. Even in the Church, division has lived on far too long, for a people who were told, “Let there be no divisions among you.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
Forgiveness is the antidote to division. Forgiveness swallows sin whole, and what sin has destroyed, forgiveness rebuilds, even if the new structure may not be exactly the same.
Peter asked Jesus about this in Matthew 18 – an entire chapter that focuses on the sin that divides and the forgiveness that reunites. Peter approached Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times? (Matthew 18:21). The rabbinical law from Biblical times called on three times forgiveness, then cut them loose. Peter thought he was being generous with seven.
What he really wanted was a formula for forgiveness. That way he could program his laptop to chime a notice when he was approaching the limit, or use his Forgiveness FitBit to count the exact steps he needed to take.
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not as many as Seven times, but 77 times.” (18:22). Some translators say “seventy times seven.” Either way, you can picture Peter staring daggers at his brother Andrew and thinking, “OK, that was 72 … 73 … 74…,” or licking his chops when he got to 489. And Jesus didn’t just pick a number out of his head. The 77 comes from Lamech in Genesis 4:23-24, who vowed to avenge anyone who wronged him 77 times over. With Jesus, though, it’s not 77 times the vengeance; it’s 77 times the mercy.
The point is that Jesus wants us to be so merciful, so forgiving, so loving, that we lose count. Like He does, when He tells us, “I will remember their sins no more,” (Jeremiah 31:34) or, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12). That’s the only separation we ever really need!
So here comes the parable: “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.” (18:23-25). In today’s dollars, one talent equals 130 lbs. of gold, so 10K talents amounts to over $24B – in other words, an unpayable debt. Jesus continued, “The servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.” (18:26-27).
With those words of Jesus in mind, here’s what forgiveness requires:
Now you know how it feels. The compassion. The release. The freedom from a bill you can never repay. That’s the lengths Jesus goes to for the sake of forgiveness.
So ask yourself: How far am I willing to go just for the sake of forgiveness? It may not mean a hug. But what if it does?