Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 17:1-10
Dear believers with faith like a grain of mustard seed: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do not cause one of Jesus’ little ones to sin. Jesus says it would be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea than to cause one of His little ones to be scandalized and fall away.
How do you cause one of Jesus’ little ones to sin? Jesus mentions two ways: failing to rebuke him, and failing to forgive him.
Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him.” If your brother sins, you are to rebuke, reprove, and warn your brother so that he does not fall away. You must point out your brother’s sin to him so that he will turn away from his sin. If you do not reprove his sin, he may become hardened in his sin and turn away from God. If you do not warn him of his sin and the danger of hell, your brother may end up in hell because of your failure to do what Jesus commands you to do. If you do not rebuke your brother who sins, it would be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea.
That’s not what the world tells you to do. The world tells you to live and let live. Be tolerant. Be easy-going, non-judgmental, and accepting of sin. The world claims that the loving thing to do is to accept your brother and the depravity in which he is engaged.
That’s not the loving thing to do! Your failure to warn your brother could mean that he goes to hell. How loving is that? Of course, the world doesn’t believe in hell, only in heaven, and they think that everyone ends up in heaven with or without Jesus, but that’s why they’re not going to heaven.
The loving thing to do if your brother sins is to rebuke him. If you love your brother and don’t want him to go to hell, warn him when he sins. That’s what Jesus tells you to do. No, don’t go tell your neighbours. No, don’t go tell your friends. No, don’t go tell your pastor. Go to your brother who sinned and tell him. Show him his fault between you and him alone (Matt. 18:15).
Are you going to let your brother die eternally without concern? Are you not grieved at all, even though impenitence is the true death of the soul? Do you look on without concern? Do you show careless neglect? Then it’s back to the millstone for you.
Jesus continues, “and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
This can be difficult, especially if he has badly hurt you, repeatedly. It’s difficult enough to forgive one sin. The memories of hurt can still linger years after the fact. We can still remember sins against us even if the offending party has passed away. This memory of sin leaves a wedge between you even if it is forgiven, because it is remembered.
Jesus speaks of continuing to forgive, even if the offender continues to sin against you. Each time he asks you for forgiveness, you must forgive him. If you do not forgive him, we are back at the millstone again.
To top it all off, Jesus says that if you do these two things perfectly, then you haven’t done anything special; you’ve only done what you were commanded by your master. If you’ve lovingly rebuked every sinner and forgiven everyone who has sinned against you (grievously or otherwise, repeatedly or not), then you have only done your duty. Jesus says you’d still be an unworthy servant. Do not expect God to give you any thanks for doing what you are supposed to do as His servant.
No wonder the disciples responded to Jesus by saying, “Increase our faith!” They recognized how impossible this is. They realized how often they turned the other way when their brother sinned because they didn’t want a confrontation. They recognized how difficult it is to forgive at all, and even more so to continuously forgive a repeat offender who says he repents but shows no sign of repentance. They were cut to the heart and understood that they deserve the millstone hung around their necks.
But more faith is not the answer. Faith like a grain of mustard seed is the answer. The tiniest speck of faith is all it takes. Why? Because faith gives you all the benefits of Jesus fulfilling what you cannot fulfil. Faith gives you the forgiveness of sins because it clings to Jesus not to your own attentiveness to rebuke your brother’s sin or your own ability to forgive those who sin against you.
Faith realizes that your sins of holding your tongue when you should rebuke and struggling to forgive were already punished. Jesus already took the punishment for your sins. Jesus already took your millstone, my millstone, and every millstone and was plunged into the abyss of death for us.
It is faith that enables us to avoid causing Jesus’ little ones to sin. It is faith that enables us to rebuke now where we have failed to rebuke and to forgive now where we have failed to forgive. It is faith that can give thanks for the rebukes we ourselves have received and for the forgiveness we have received.
And God’s forgiveness is not like the forgiveness of man. God completely forgives and actually forgets your sins even if your neighbor cannot forget and you cannot forget. God says, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is. 43:25). He says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34; cited also Heb. 10:17).
What this means is that each time God forgives you your sin, it is like the first time that He forgives you. He is not counting up your sins on a tablet throughout your life. He doesn’t add your sins onto His scales of justice, weighing them out for punishment. Every time you are absolved, your sins are wiped clean and removed from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Every time you receive the true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins God treads your sins underfoot and throws them into the depths of the sea (Mi. 7:19). Your sins are washed away and God remembers them no more.
God’s forgiveness is perfect. It is complete. Jesus’ death was the perfect and complete sacrifice for all sin and all sinners, so no sin remains for those who are in Christ. Jesus crushed the scales of justice since He took the weight of and paid the price of everyone’s sin. God throwing your sins into the depths of the sea is like Him taking the millstone from your neck, tying it to your sins, and throwing them altogether into the sea.
Jesus’ love for you is also seen in His command to your brothers that they rebuke you and forgive you. Jesus is looking out for you through your brothers in Christ, by having them rebuke you when you sin, and by having them forgive you when you sin.
The answer is not more faith. The answer is the faith that we already have, faith like a grain of mustard seed, and clinging to the promise of forgiveness for Christ’s sake who has taken our millstones and our sins away. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.