Sep. 21, 2020

70x7? You’ve Got To Be Kidding!

 

(Subtitled, How Hungry Am I?)

See Matthew 18:21-35, especially verse 35, where Jesus makes it clear that we must forgive from the heart... But there is one little problem: the human heart is desperately wicked and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). Nothing of our natural self desires anything to do with forgiveness. (So much for “follow your heart!”) Watch the social media commentary. Most Christians would rather see their enemies “get theirs.” Forgiveness does not come naturally, and if we try to produce it ourselves, there always comes that point where we are abject failures.

There’s always that certain someone or several someones in our life who push our buttons and who keep on pushing. We find forgiveness to be impossible to dispense. “I have had it with you!” Even considering this, the faces of the usual suspects appear in our mind’s eye, do they not? “The usual suspects.” The guilty. The repeat offenders.

To truly forgive as Jesus forgives requires the very heart of Jesus Himself. We don’t have that when we're born into this life. We are born in sin! It is necessary to ask and continue to ask, “Create in me a clean heart, O God...” Psalm 51.

There must be a Holy Spirit work of the removal of our heart of stone, to be replaced by the pure and loving heart of Jesus. That is the only degree of forgiveness God will accept, in order to forgive us. It cannot be found in our natural heart! Ouch! Where to from here?

So per usual, we must “show up for work” - that of God’s work in us through the Holy Spirit via Word and Sacrament. Otherwise, if we are trying to rely on our own works to proceed out of an unregenerate heart, one of two things happen. When we think we are successful of our own powers to forgive, we become prideful. Or when we fail, and at some point we always do, we’re always in despair before a holy God who demands perfection, because we cannot produce “70x7”! So as Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller says, we wind up on a pendulum that constantly swings from pride to despair, since somewhere along the way we have bought into the lie that we have to save ourselves by good works of our own righteousness, but always find that we are unable to do so!

Yet this is what most “religion” wants us to produce and the platform it advocates and advances: self righteousness, which is essentially the righteousness of the Pharisees, the really “good” people who delight in their own righteousness and their own perfect observation of religious rituals, practices, days, and the like. Yet they always look down their noses at those who cannot keep the Law, according to their interpretation of it. And Jesus, much to our chagrin makes it clear that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven! Matthew 5:20.

So, I realize that I am seriously deficient in and of myself to produce anything like the righteousness of even the Pharisees, let alone that of God, in whatever area I can come up with. Woe be unto me if I remain so where it concerns the righteousness of God! Without holiness, no one will see the Lord! Hebrews 12:14.

Yet along comes Jesus with this wonderful promise, according to Matthew 5:6. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” The Greek Word used here for “righteousness” is “dikaiosynen” coming from “dikaiosune” which means equity, especially justification. Justice, justness, righteousness - the righteousness of which God is the author, a divine righteousness. The only one by which we ever can be justified!

However, the beauty of this verse also reveals an elephant in the room: what fallen, completely corrupt human heart would even desire divine righteousness?! Yet here is Jesus proclaiming how blessed are those who hunger and thirst for that very thing!

Here’s the clincher: that anyone even desires this is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work creating the appetite, the sense of need, for the righteousness of God is outside of and beyond the sinful self and devious, corrupt heart that is quite comfortable in its delusions that it can please Him or attain Heaven by its own works.

To desire righteousness (including the ability to forgive as Jesus forgives) is not the natural desire of the heart. If the appetite is there, it has been given by the Holy Spirit. Often this hunger awakens when we see our sin and really perceive how hopeless is our fallen condition! The Holy Spirit brings this awareness (it’s called “conviction of sin”). This is the 1st spiritual sight or awareness we have, and a vital comprehension, and so we cry out as King David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!” Psalm 51.

Then He also supplies us with the cure for the remission of our sinful condition and its manifestations, as His word directs us to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, where He has paid the penalty of all sin, the debt we could never pay.

How do we connect with this? It is vital - for one thing - to attend Divine Service and to hear the pronouncement of the absolution of sin which we have confessed and desire to repent of, to hear the Gospel - the Good News - of forgiveness, and to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Here is one place where we “show up for work” - that of receiving His work from the Great Physician, Whose benefits we must never forget: that He “pardons ALL your iniquities; Who heals ALL your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit; Who crowns you with loving kindness and compassion...” See Psalm 103:1-5.

Here is where the Gospel comes in, when the Law condemns us, and we do stand condemned before a righteous God! Yet it is by His Word, His Truth, His promises in Christ Jesus that He addresses our hopelessness with His hope, which does not, cannot, and never will disappoint us. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us. For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:5,6.

This Gospel is something that changes us, as we receive Him. Not only do we receive Him through Word and Sacrament in the Divine Service, where we gather with our brothers and sisters here on earth, as well as with all the company of heaven - God the Father, Jesus Himself, the Holy Spirit, angels, archangels, and saints now made perfect.

There is more. Beyond the church doors where we have all met, we do well to cultivate spending time with Him in our own prayer closet each and every day. Like Mary of Bethany we can sit at His feet, as we cling to His Word and imbibe it - by continuing to ask, seek, and knock for the Holy Spirit and the “good things” promised to those who ask. (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13 Read and contemplate these often in the context of their narrative!). These are the good things which are provided in Christ alone.

Mary chose this “good part” which would never be taken from her (Luke 11:42).

He is always “near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18) The Truth is that we have nothing to bring to the table of our salvation. We are utterly needy! It is however imperative for us to come to Him, to take and eat and drink, and thus taste and see that the Lord alone is good, and that He has provided for all our need, according to His riches in glory, by Christ Jesus! (Philippians 4:19)

Amen.

 

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