We’re in week two of a series that we’re calling Have Mercy. If you weren’t with us last week, let me catch you up. We talked about the biblical principle of overlooking an offense. That offenses are things that are just trying to sort of drown us into a pool of our own despair and… See more
We’re in week two of a series that we’re calling Have Mercy. If you weren’t with us last week, let me catch you up. We talked about the biblical principle of overlooking an offense. That offenses are things that are just trying to sort of drown us into a pool of our own despair and they weigh us down. They take us off course. And the heart of God is that we would be people that have the faith not to just disregard the offense or to push it aside or sweep it under the rug, but instead that we would have the faith to rise above it. Because as we said last week, Satan wants to bring you low by making you bitter, but God’s purpose for you is to rise above it. That was last week.
And let me tell you what we’re going to talk about this week. And let me just warn you, this week is gonna be a little bit heavy. But I believe that on the other side of difficult, we often find what is best. And on the other side of hardship, we find freedom. And I want to warn you, as we start the sermon, today may feel a little bit longer because the text that we’re gonna study is really very rich. And I want to handle it carefully so that we can, as a family of believers, continue to be transformed by the beauty and the depth of God’s word.
Today, we’re going to look at Luke chapter 17.
Who betrayed you?
Do you know somebody in your life who’s lied to you? Or maybe they lied about you? Someone who took advantage of you? Someone who mistreated you? Who brought you pain that even today you’re dealing with? Did someone in your life betray your confidence? Did they get you fired? Has someone tried to make your life a living hell as an ex-spouse or an ex-partner? An ex-friend?
Or maybe it’s somebody that invested so much in you and then abandoned you along the way, who lived a double life. Broke promises. Someone who broke your heart. Someone who broke up your family. Was it a child who you poured everything into, who you raised as best as you could And then they grew up and jumped off the proverbial cliff?
Who do you know that changed the lens in which you look at life? Who turned your joy into pain? Was it an employer who was cruel to you? Treated you like trash even though you were loyal to them? They dropped you in a matter of moments, even though you had followed them and been loyal to their own cause?
Was it a teacher? Was it a mentor who abandoned you? A friend who dishonored you or destroyed you? A partner or a parent who deserted you as you were growing up? Was it an authority figure who molested or maybe stole your purity? Someone with sick and twisted motives who broke you down? Maybe it was someone who you didn’t even know whose space is now burned into the core of your being, who betrayed you, who took advantage of you, who hurt you, smashed your dreams, collapsed your will.
And out of just a spirit of transparency, I’m gonna share a story, but this obviously isn’t the largest betrayal of my life, but it’s the only one I feel really confident sharing in public. It happened when I was young, when I was in third grade. I had a teacher who constantly throughout the entire third grade year called me, and I know this word is offensive, but this is what she called me, she called me retarded day in and day out. She would bring me up to the class and she would hang my test scores over my head. “This is what stupid looks like.”
I was in third grade. I tried to laugh with the kids, with the teachers own cruelty, but it burned in my heart. One day, it got so bad that I came home and I asked my mom if she could try to find me a class with a teacher likes dumb kids. Also, it wasn’t that I wanted another teacher who wouldn’t call me dumb. I wanted her to accept that I was dumb.
I was in third grade. It turns out I was dyslexic. And so reading and writing were really hard for me and in some ways they’re still hard for me. But that feeling of being and feeling stupid is a label I’ve worn my entire life.
It’s damaged me. It’s caused me a lot of pain. I just wanted to be liked, even if I was the stupid guy. That’s just one of my stories.
And you have your story, don’t you?
You have your story of about people or systems that tried to rob you of joy. We all have them. We have our stories. So, the question is, who hurt you as you think about your own story?
And as this question stirs in your mind, let me tell you about what we’re studying today.
Today, we’re looking at Jesus’s instruction to his disciples where he gives them the principle of what they are to do when they are hurt and the way in which he views that feeling of being hurt.
We’re going to look at Luke, Chapter 17. Again, you can turn there with me, but I want to tell you a little bit about Luke, 17. Luke 17 is a place where Jesus is teaching his disciples. He’s been teaching them for a couple of chapters. And basically he’s trying to tell them about what life is gonna be like after he leaves. And so, as often is the case, he is teaching them the opposite of what the religious leaders at the time have been teaching.
The religious leaders at the time had kind of a worldly system they subscribed to. Jesus exposes the religious leaders as purveyors of false doctrines, as inventors of oppressive systems. And he calls them hypocrites because they claim to be righteous, but they were foul and corrupt. And he calls them whitewashed tombs later in the Book of Matthew. They had no interest in the people they were supposed to be serving.
They cared mainly for power, position, and prosperity. They had just nothing but contempt, and maybe even disdain, for the people they were supposed to give their hearts to. And they build this system of oppression that spanned the entire Jewish religion because it was manifested through this thing called the synagogue system.
Synagogues were in every single village and every single town. It was the hub. And because the religious leaders were in charge of those systems, that system of cruelty was allowed to thrive. They ruined people’s lives, causing them to stumble.
In Matthew Chapter 23, Jesus is just shouting out distain for those people.
He says, “you shut the doors of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” He’s saying you had the power to help, but you don’t care.
And so, Jesus is trying to instruct his followers and he’s juxtaposing what the Pharisees do with what he wants his people to do. And that’s what we are in.
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their necks than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourself.
If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day, and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.’
The apostle said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!'”
There’s so much here that we want to take it piece by piece. Today is going to feel a little bit less like a sermon and more like a Bible study, because I noticed that that I needed to really have a little bit more of a nuanced approach to this subject because it’s so challenging. And there really is no pitchy statement that I could throw up on the board that could synthesize all that it is that we’re going to learn today.
I couldn’t really do justice with a text, with just a quick line on the screen, so I really want to walk through it.
Let’s talk about Jesus, the statement to the disciples as we begin and we’ll see the way it enlightens the heart of who God is in the presence of such a difficult time. First thing he says things that cause people to stumble are bound to come.
This is an important statement because what he’s saying, as we will see very clearly, is that evil is inevitable. Broken people, breaking people is all too common. He’s helping them understand that they live in a broken world, that they will be hurt, that they will be disappointed.
He looks at the religious system that had bound men for centuries and he says this system will hurt you. This world will destroy you, will betray you. You will be betrayed by people you love, by the powers that be. You will be hurt.
There’s another version of this text in the new King James that says this, “It is impossible that no offense should come.” It’s impossible. It’s inevitable. It will happen.
And obviously, if it’s true for them, it’s also true for us as well.
And I don’t even have to tell you that. Evil is everywhere.
The World is Evil
So there are evil things every single day, every single second that happened to wonderful people.
Children in our country go hungry. Children around the world starve to death. Infanticide is rampant. Racism continuously oppress people. People are killed by the authorities and those in authority are killed by those wanting authority. People are lied to, savagely taken advantage of, taken on a ride. Children face hardship and challenges and they’re suffering everywhere. All it all happens in the hands of a corrupt system of living led by the King of all lies, Satan himself.
Jesus, speaking to his disciples, very clearly mentioned to them that evil is inevitable.
He wants you to understand and me to understand that there is going to be wickedness in the world we live in. And just to be totally clear, this does not lessen the seriousness of evil. It’s just an acknowledgement of it. The reason I believe Jesus begins with these words and I believe Jesus begins with this idea as he starts diving into this really difficult subject, is because he wants you to know that God sees.
God wants us to know that he sees what’s happening in our world, that he sees every drop of human blood shed at the hands of hateful men and it is mourned by the heart of our benevolent God. God sees it.
We worship a God who knows our pain, worship a God who sees our suffering, who sees the scars. He knows all the labels we wear. He knows the feeling like we can’t escape. He knows the anger that that’s in our hearts towards sinful men. Evil is inevitable. Yes, absolutely. But God sees it.
And so when Jesus addresses his disciples, he acknowledges it. In Young’s Literal Translation, it says “it is impossible for an offense not to come because we live in a world full of sinners and sinful people.”
Sin is everywhere, through everything, and lives in every one. And then Jesus continues, “But woe to anyone through whom they come.”
Evil is inevitable, yes. God sees it. Yes. But woe to any one through whom it comes. The first statement reveals God’s mercy. The second reveals his righteous anger. Woe. We don’t have a word like this in the English language.
It’s an onomatopoeia, which means it’s a word that is a sound. Basically, woe is an eerie sound. It’s ominous. It’s a dreadful noise. One commentator said it’s like the cry of an eagle. That’s the way it sounds. I don’t know how to do that.
But you get the sense and that’s what’s expressed in this cry. It’s a cry of distress. It’s a cry of horror. Jesus used ‘woe’ frequently, primarily talking about the religious leaders. But he also used that to talk about the cities that were unrepentant. It’s kind of like an explosion of anger.
Woe. That’s supposed to leave you startled when you hear that word. Woe! There is dread coming in the next sentence. So in this context, what you have here is that evil is inevitable, that God sees it, but woe to anyone to whom it comes.
Okay, sure. Sorrow is going to happen, but it would be better that you or rather it would you better not be the one who brings the sorrow. Sorrow is inevitable. Yes, but you better not be the one who brings it.
Then Jesus explains how dreadful it would be for you to be the person that brings the offense. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck, then to cause one of these little ones to stumble. These little ones is a term used to talk about the people of God.
Let me tell you about a millstone. A great millstone would have been a stone that was about four or five feet wide, about a foot thick, and would weigh about a thousand pounds.
So he’s saying don’t you dare be the source of a child of God’s hardship because it would be worse for you than if you were dying a torturous death. In fact, they would be better for you to get a stone tied around your neck thrown at the bottom of the sea where you’re trying desperately to get up and you’d die. This terrible torture.
It would be better for you to die that way than to cause a hardship on one of God’s chosen people. That’s the spirit. It would be better for you to die a mafia style death. He’s not saying that’s the penalty. He’s saying it would be better for you to die. The fate is worse than death. That’s the point.
Why? Because death is but a moment. But after death comes judgment and judgment is eternal. Eternal judgment will be the result of anyone who causes a child of God to suffer. Here’s why this is important for us to understand, because knowing what God will do enables us to have confidence in what we should do.
Knowing What God Will Do Enables Us to Have Confidence in What We Should Do
So, yes, evil is inevitable. But God sees it and God will judge wrongdoing. It will happen. God is going to bring judgment on unrepentant. It will happen.
He will bring judgment on those who brutalize, those who oppress those who mistreat. He will bring judgment on the selfishly rich who hoard all their money and disregard the poor. He will judge those who are racist, who treat members of other races as though they are beneath them and banish them into a realm of obscurity. He will handle the sicknesses of sin that trap people in a lifelong path of drug use and abuse. He will deal with it.
He is not blind to the nature of our world. He knows what’s happening. God sees it.
God sees every day children being murdered in their mother’s womb. God sees vile men taking advantage of young women in the sex trade. He sees the pipeline of mass incarceration. He sees our hungry world. He sees it. And the point is, he’s doing something about it. Every unrepentant system, every unrepentant person that harms the people of God will be exposed and then brought to judgment by a living eternal, all powerful king of kings.
And the point that I’m just trying to say is that God hasn’t forgotten your hardship.
God hasn’t abandoned you during your hardship. He’s going to take care of it. It might not come in the way you want or in the speed you want. But he will break everything that bound you to a system of oppression.
Nahum, chapter 1, the apostle Nahum is speaking to the people of Israel when they are in captivity in Syria, says, “Now I will break the yoke of bondage from your neck and tear off the chains of the Assyrian oppression.”
“How awful that day will be! No other will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it. ‘In that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will break the yoke off their neck and tear off their bonds. No longer will foreigners enslave them.”
The point is that God is doing something, and you need to know that when it’s time it will end, all of it will end. I’m not saying that right now you shouldn’t fight for it. Sure, you should fight for it. But let’s try to to be a part of the solution. Let’s try to bring heaven here on earth.
But the Calvary is coming and those who are with us are much more than those who are with them and those who are in our power or are in our company are much stronger than those who are in their company. The greatest militia ever to come is going to come by way of the King of Kings. He’s coming on the cloud with fire, and with wrath, and with judgement.
And the picture is like this: with one hand he holds back his fury and with the other hand, he extends mercy.
And one day, both hands will be dropped. The mercy will no longer be offered and the wrath will no longer be held back.
God is coming. And when he does, he will restore everything. No wrath will be held back and no mercy will be given. God is doing something. Evil is inevitable. But God sees. God will judge. You better not be the person who is deserving of judgment. Better not be the person who’s putting stumbling blocks in your brother or sister’s path.
So, you might ask how you can do that. I’m just going to take a quick aside. There’s two ways to do it. And this is coming from the pattern of the Pharisees.
You Can Be a False Teacher
You could add or take things from the gospel message, acting like a teacher of scripture and you don’t really know what you’re talking about. And then that way you can crush people by teaching them they need to learn this other text in order to really be satisfied in Christ. I need you to read these other things in order to really know what Christianity means or you can take things away. Don’t really worry about that. You don’t have to worry about that situation. And in that way, you would be deserving of wrath.
You Could Be a False Christian
You could be a hypocrite. And your words can be wonderful, but you can live a life of immorality or greed or political idolatry.
And other people look at you and say, wow, you’re a wonderful Christian from their viewpoint. But you’ll be like those people that Jesus said did not drive out demons in your name and did not do all these things in your name. Jesus looked at them and said “I never knew you.”
So, if you’re one of those two people and maybe you don’t know, maybe you need to get some help. But I encourage you to repent.
So, evil is inevitable. God sees and God will judge. And that’s the setup. That’s the context. Just before we hear the heart of this discussion about forgiveness. Why?
Knowing what God will do enables us to have confidence in what we should do.
See, if God is the judge that means that you’re not the judge. If God is the one that brings the wrath, that means you don’t have to be the one that brings the wrath.
You learn what your role is if you understand what God’s role will be at the end.
“If you’re brother or sister sins against you, rebuke; and if they repent, forgive them.”
So, there’s evil in the world perpetuated by evil people and evil systems, and God will judge them. But knowing that God will judge them enables you to practice this idea of rebuking and forgiving.
Giving Corrections and Having Mercy
Because you understand all that God is doing, you understand that God sees, that he will judge. You can now have confidence in doing what you’re supposed to do, which is giving corrections and having mercy.
Believers do not give offenses. They do not take offense either. Disciples of Jesus do not sin against others, nor do they hold a grudge when people sin against them. We don’t lead people into sin. What we do is we lead them out of it.
And we do this in two parts. Correction and mercy or rebuking and forgiving.
This principle is explained in more detail in Matthew, chapter 18. We don’t have a lot of time to read this or walk through this, but I want to just tell you snippets of it.
And Matthew, chapter 18, verses 15 through 20, we’re given the process of what rebuking and correcting is supposed to look like. It’s an order to bring people to repentance. But it plays out in detail. Matthew 18, says that if your brother sins against you, you are to go to them directly. You go, “Hey, bro. Hey, sis, I want to help you with the sin because you did wrong to me.” If they repent, you won them over and you let it go.
If they don’t repent, you take two or three witnesses with you the next time. Why do you take two or three witnesses? Because, one, they need to clarify that you’ve actually been sinned against. And two, they need to clarify that that person has actually been unrepentant. So, they’re kind of arbitrators of the discussion. So, that’s what happens. You bring the people, they go with you. You have this discussion and hopefully they repent.
If they still don’t repent you bring them in front of the entire church with hopes that that process will then draw them back. If they don’t listen to the church you have nothing to do with them.
Those details are written and laid out in Matthew, chapter 18. You can go back and read that on your own. But suffice to say, the Bible teaches us that some forgiveness is conditional.
That’s important to know: some forgiveness is conditional. And I want to tell you what type of sins are listed in Matthew, chapter 18 and Luke, chapter 17, because these things are really important.
Matthew 18, and Luke 17, are talking about sins that are of a regular lifestyle. You know, they just continue to do it that way. The reason we know that is because of two things. One is because of the way that he says. I mean, if they do it seven times a day. So there’s a sense where it’s continuous. Someone does it again and again and again and again.
And the other reason we know that it’s a type of sin that’s about recurring is because if it wasn’t, we would live in a crazy world where every time anybody does anything, it’s like we have to bring them out before the church and have this long discussion. It would just be way too much.
So common sense tells us, that this is about recurring action. But the question comes then, is there any other way that you’re supposed to handle sin? Do you ever just forgive? And I want to tell you that then, in fact, there are times when you are supposed to forgive unconditionally. This text says if they repent, you forgive. But there’s other times when you’re supposed to forgive unconditionally.
1st Peter 4:8
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sin.”
Love should blanket over a lot of sins. There are sins that should just hide because of how much we love people.
“Love covers all Wrongs.”
The New American Standard Bible, 1st Corinthians 13
“Love does not take into account a wrong suffered.”
Now there are some sins that just need to be forgiven. The reason we know this is because in Psalm Chapter 32, verse 1, it says, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”
And so covering equals forgiveness – those are parallel statements. There are times when you just cover over a sin. Just let it go. It’s OK. You know, it’s been wrong. I’ve been wronged. But I’m going to let it go.
But if it becomes a recurring sin, then you begin to deal with it.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so your father in heaven may forgive your sins.”
There’s no conditions in this text. It didn’t say go grab them. Go run over and have a discussion. You just forgive them.
How do we know if I’m supposed to forgive in a moment or if I supposed to correct? Here is my opinion. Here’s the way I try to go about it in my own life. This isn’t necessarily what the Bible teaches verbatim, but this is my perspective on the text. I believe that we should always be humble in correction and urgent in forgiveness.
Humble in Correction and Urgent in Forgiveness
We should just always follow that system. Someone sins against you, you can be humble in your correction.
“Hey, bro. I noticed that you said this thing and you probably didn’t mean it. But I want to ask you about it.” And they come back and they say, “Actually, I did mean it.” Then you got lucky. Wonderful. This is a process where I need to go find some people to rebuke you.
But if they go, you know, “I didn’t mean that at all” then you’re urgent in forgiveness. “I just want to say, yeah, we’re good.”
You want to be humble in correction and urgent in forgiveness. I don’t want to sit in judgment. And I also don’t want to sweep things under the rug. I want to be humble in correction and urgent in forgiveness.
Here’s a quick review
Evil is inevitable. God sees it. God will judge. That gives us the confidence to be humble in correction and urgent in forgiveness.
And then if you’re saying, “OK, but how many times?” You know those people, they keep wronging me. They keep hurting me. They’ve been brutal to me. They’ve been evil to me. They’ve been vile to me. How many times should I forgive? Well, then Jesus says this:
“Even if they sinned against you seven times in a day…” Which I bet the apostles are thinking, “no, maybe one time in a day..seven times in a lifetime..but seven times in a day sounds like way too much.” “… if they come back and go, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
This number doesn’t refer to the quantity of forgiveness. It refers to the quality of forgiveness. Seven in the Bible is the number of completion, which means it’s over.
I Forgive. It’s Finished. It’s Gone.
Then, this is what the disciples say, “Lord, increase our faith!”
I can’t do this. When I look back at my stories, when I look at all the people who have brought me down, when I look at all the situations that scarred me, comments that were said, things that were done to me that leave an etching on my heart…When I think about all that the only response is the same response the apostles give, “God, I don’t think I can do this. Would you increase my faith?”
Would You Increase My Faith?
What Jesus demands in this context seems to be an impossible standard to live up to, seems to be an impossible thing to follow. How could you possibly forgive some of the things that people have done? How could you possibly forgive some of the crazy wickedness this world has produced? How could you possibly forgive? Lord, would you increase my faith?
Forgiveness will never seem fair. As a matter of fact, there’s nothing about forgiveness that is fair. It’s not fair. It’s also not natural. It’s fair to pay people back. You hit me. It’s fair for me to bust your lip. You hurt my child. It’s fair that I get a chance to do something to you. It’s fair for me to be evil. It’s fair for evil to respond with evil. That’s what’s fair in the world.
And sometimes I’m thinking about the evil of the world. And I’m just thinking about all the terrible things that are going on in our society. I’m thinking about all the people that have been hurt. And I’m just laying on my bed and I’m just saying, God, would you be fair for a moment?
And then I stop and I remember that I don’t want fairness. Because fairness says that I deserve death. That’s what fairness says. Fairness says that the wage of my sin is the grave. That’s what fairness says.
I don’t want fairness. What I want is I want mercy.
I Want Mercy
I want mercy from God. And so here’s the thought. If I want mercy from God, shouldn’t I want mercy for others? Shouldn’t I long that others would get mercy, too?
I want mercy from God. Shouldn’t I lay in my bed thinking about the evil of the world and just going “God, could your kindness allow someone to be brought to repentance? Lord, could your mercy allow some systems to be broken? Would you please just stir someone’s heart so that they would repent of their sins? God, I don’t want fairness. What I want is mercy.”
In some ways, the idea is that forgiveness is just giving others what God gave us in Christ. That’s all it really is. At the same time, we sit back and we go, look, I’m going to forgive. I’m going to correct, but I’m going to forgive because that is what I was given in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is not easy. It’s easy to be bitter. It’s easy to get revenge. It’s easy to be angry.
It’s easy, but it’s hard to decide, you know what, I forgive, or increase our faith. Even as I say this to you right now, I’m not even sure if I believe I can do it.
Lord, today, would you increase our faith? Faith enables me to see an opportunity for freedom in my own life where there only seems like offenses.
Let’s just remember the world is evil. God sees it. He will bring judgment on the unrepentant, and that gives me the confidence to correct. As stated in Matthew 18 and follow that protocol, but also be okay with being urgent in forgiveness.
And so instead of going they deserve death, I started to ask myself, it’s not how much forgiveness do they deserve, but instead, how much freedom do I desire?
Because if I can learn to forgive, I can find great freedom. They don’t deserve forgiveness. You don’t deserve forgiveness. No one deserves forgiveness. Instead, how much freedom to live in Christ do I desire?
I know this time has been hard, but I want to urgently encourage you to learn to be humble in your corrections, but also to be urgent in your forgiveness.