September 20, 2020

Rev. Bernt P. Tweit



Old Testament Lesson; Ezekiel 33:7-11

Epistle Lesson;Romans 13:1-10                             

Sermon Text; Matthew 18:15-20


The portion of God's Word we focus on for today is words of our Savior, taken from Matthew, chapter eighteen, looking at verses fifteen through twenty.

This is God's Word.


If your brother sins against you, go and show him his sin just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have regained your brother.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to The Church.  If he refuses to listen even to The Church, then treat him as an unbeliever, or a tax collector.  Amen I tell you:  Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.  Amen I tell you again:  If two of you on earth agree to ask for anything, it will be done for them by my Father who is in Heaven.  In fact where two or three have gathered together in my name, there I am among them.”


These are your words, Heavenly Father.  Lead us in the way of truth.  Your Word is truth.



Joe was dying.  He had some unresolved issues with a friend of his, a long time friend by the name of Bill.  So, he called Bill, and asked him to come and see him. 

Joe poured out his heart, and told Bill, “I am sorry for the sins I have committed against you.  Will you forgive me?”
Bill forgave Joe that day. 

Bill also poured out his heart to Joe, and said, “I am sorry for the sins I have committed against you.  Will you forgive me?”

That day, Joe forgave Bill.

As Bill was getting ready to leave the house that day, Joe looked at him, as he was walking out the door, and said, “If I get better, this doesn't count for anything.”

That can make us smile a little bit, and think that is a little bit of a funny story.  But, it does get us to think about how sometimes our asking for forgiveness, or sometimes our giving of forgiveness, can be superficial.

It is Jesus in our text who is instructing us on the seriousness of forgiveness.  As a matter of a fact, it has now been for a number of chapters that Jesus has been instructing His disciples.  Today, when we get to the point of our text, He is instructing His disciples on forgiveness. 

Context is important.  It is right before this Jesus talks about how precious children are to Him.  Children are so precious to Jesus that He even says this to you, and to me. 

“It would be better for a millstone to be hung around our neck, and for us to be tossed in to the depth of the sea, than to cause a little one to not believe in Jesus, or to cause them to stray from His Word.”

So serious is Jesus about this matter that He talks about a man who owned a hundred sheep, and one of them went missing.  Jesus said, “Doesn't that man leave the ninety-nine in the open field, until he finds that one lost sheep that had been straying, and erring away?”

So, Jesus gets to our text for today, and He begins with this word (again talking about the seriousness of forgiveness).  He says,

“If your brother...” 

Jesus is not here talking about an unbeliever.  He is talking about a fellow brother, and sister in Christ, who Jesus wants us to share forgiveness with.

I am going to share with us a great example from The Old Testament, that God's Word gives to us on the seriousness of sometimes needing to point out a brother's, or sister's sin against them.  I am going to use the example of the greatest person maybe who lived in The Old Testament, King David.  The Bible tells us in 2nd Samuel; chapter eleven, in the spring of the year, when kings and armies go off to war, the Israelites went off to war.  They had many victories.  But, King David stayed in Jerusalem. 

One night he was walking around on the rooftop of his palace.  As he was looking out over his kingdom, he saw a woman who was bathing.  He called for her to come to him, through a servant. 

She came, and David lay with her.  Then, she went home. 

In time, she sent a servant to David, and said, “I am pregnant.”

So, here is what David did.  David wrote to his commander and chief in the army.  He told her husband, Uriah, the Hittite to come back to him, because he wanted to speak to him.  King David asked, “How are things going at war?  How is the commander and chief doing?  What kind of work is he doing?”

He heard the report, and said, “Here is what I want you to do.  I want you to go home, and spend some time with your wife.”
Uriah left David's presence.  But, he didn't go home.  He slept in the servants' quarters. 

David got word the next day, and he was angry with the man.  He called Uriah to come back to him.  He said, “I want you to stay one more night.” 

That night the king got him drunk.  He said, “I want you now to go home and spend some time with your wife.”

So, he left David's presence.  That man left, but he did not go home.  He slept in the servants' quarters. 

He came back to David, as he was requested.  David asked him, “Why didn't you go home?”

Uriah said, “My men are fighting out at battle.  They are sleeping in the open field.  How could I go home, and spend time with my wife?”
And so, here is what David did.  He took out his pen, and he wrote orders to be sent to the commander and chief of the army.  He said, “I want you to put Uriah where the fighting is the fiercest.  When the battle comes to its highest point, I want you to ask the men to withdraw from where Uriah is.”
He signed that letter, rolled it up in a scroll, and put it in Uriah's hands.  Uriah carried his own death orders to the commander and chief.  And, what was written on the scroll came true.  Uriah died.

In time, David asked Bathsheba to be his wife.  No one in the community knew about any of this background stuff that had taken place.  They thought things were all well, and all good.  David was living as if everything was all well, and all good.  But, David was living with unresolved and unrepentant sin.

So, God sent the prophet Nathan to David.  The prophet Nathan came to David, and used this illustration with him.  He said, “King, there was once a man who was rich.  He had everything he ever wanted.  He had all of the sheep that he could possibly have.  And there was a poor man.  All he had was one little lamb.  That rich man had some company come.  And instead of taking one of his own many, many sheep, he took that one little lamb that belonged to that poor man.  He slaughtered it, and offered it as food to his guests.” 

And before the prophet Nathan could go any farther, King David was enraged, The Bible tells us.  King David said to the prophet Nathan, “That man deserves to die, because of what he has done.”
That is when the prophet Nathan looked at David.  He said, “King, that is a picture of you.  That is an illustration of you.  You are the man I am talking about.”
Filled with remorse, King David looked at the prophet Nathan, and said, “I have sinned against the LORD.  I have sinned against the LORD.”
The prophet Nathan was able to look at his king, and say, “The LORD has taken away your sins.  You are forgiven.”

Early in my ministry, when I was here at Holy Cross, (nobody knows the person I am talking about), they came to me, because they had gotten pregnant out of wedlock.  They wanted to get an abortion. 

I counseled them through God's Word.  “Don't do that.  Don't sin against the Lord.  Don't go against what God's Word says.”
She got an abortion, anyway.

In time, she came back to me, and she was sorry, because of what she had done.  She wanted to be forgiven.  So, I was able to have a little service of confession, and absolution with her. 

She said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” 

I was able to look her right in the eyes and say, “The Lord has taken away your sin.  You are forgiven.”

Well, this exercise Jesus is talking about in our text for today is an exercise of love.  It is an exercise in humility.  It is an exercise The Church has called, “The Office of the Keys”, for this reason.  A key can be used for one of two things.  It can lock something, or it can unlock something.  And so, Jesus says,

“Whatever your bind on earth, will be bound in Heaven, 

and whatever you loose on earth, will be loosed in Heaven.”

If somebody is not sorry for their sin, it is right, proper, and good to tell that person, “You are not forgiven.”  You are binding the Kingdom of Heaven to them.

But, on the other hand, if somebody comes, and says, “I am sorry.  Please forgive me.”, we are to open the Kingdom of Heaven to them, and say, “Whatever is loosed on earth, is loosed in Heaven”, and open the Kingdom of Heaven to them, by telling them, “You are forgiven.”

I know we are told not to point.  I know that.  But, I want you to quickly do this, whether you are sitting here at the sanctuary, or you are home watching, or reading this sermon.   Quickly take your finger, and point.  Just quickly point.  Just pause for a moment, and what do we see?  Our index finger is pointing out.  Our thumb is pointing out, but we have three fingers pointing right back at ourselves.  As Jesus asks us to do this exercise in humility and love, with forgiveness, we go to our brother and sister in Christ, (again in love and humility), recognizing our own sin, as we are called to be watchmen for each other, and point out another person's sin. 

Martin Luther used this very same text, as he was writing in his Large Catechism.  Here is what he said, based on The Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”, using this text.  Martin Luther said, “The right way to deal with this would be follow the rule laid down by The Gospel, in Matthew, chapter eighteen, where Jesus said, 'If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault just between the two of you.'  Here we have a fine, precious teaching for governing the tongue that ought to be noted carefully in order.  Let this be your rule.  You should not be quick to spread slander, and gossip about others, but admonish them privately, so they may improve.  Likewise, do the same, when others tell you what this, or that person has done.  Instruct them, if they saw the wrong doing, to go, and reprove the individual personally, or otherwise to hold their tongue.” 

Then, he gives this example.  “You can also learn this lesson from the day to day running of a household.  This is what the master of the house does.  When he sees a servant not doing what he is supposed to do, he speaks to the servant, personally.  If he were so foolish as to let the servant sit at home, while he went out in to the streets to complain to others, he would no doubt be told, 'You fool.  That is none of our business.  Why don't you tell him, yourself?'  You see that would be the proper thing to do for the sin would be corrected, and the servant's honor would be preserved.”

And so, here in our text for today, as Jesus is instructing us on forgiveness, and going to another person in love and humility, to take these steps he talks about. 

“If your brother sins against you,

go and show him his sin

just between the two of you.” 

Do it personally. 

“If he listens to you,

you have regained your brother. 

But, if he will not listen,

take one or two others along with you...” 

That is following what scripture says. 

“...'every matter may be established

by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 

If he refuses to listen to them,

tell it to the Church. 

And, if he refuses to listen even to the Church,

then treat him as an unbeliever...”

Now remember, we are talking about a believer, a brother, or sister in Christ.  It may come to the point where you need to treat them as an unbeliever, because they are not taking the seriousness of the forgiveness of sin in mind.

Now, don't think of these as four mechanical steps, here, ok?  You can repeat any one of these along the way, and it is done out of love, and it is done out of humility.

In our hymnbook we have a wonderful hymn.  We are not singing right now, because of Covid 19, but it is a hymn that is in the section, “Confession and Absolution”.  At the end of each verse there is a one line refrain.  That one line refrain says,

“O God, be merciful to me.”

Here is the first verse.

With broken heart and contrite sigh

A trembling sinner, Lord I cry

Your pardoning grace is rich and free

O God, be merciful to me.

Today we are reminded of the richness, of God's grace that He has given to each, and every one of us.  Here is what God's Word says. 

“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

That though He was rich,

yet for your sakes He became poor

so that you, through His poverty,

might become rich.”

Thanks be to God that Jesus left the richness of Heaven, and He came in humility to earth. 

Why did He come in humility to earth?  He came to reclaim us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and gain us back for God.

Jesus did that.  Jesus gives you His rich, and full grace.  God declares us to be not guilty, for Jesus' sake.  So, with this hymn that the refrain has been:

O God, be merciful to me. 

O God be merciful to me. 

O God be merciful to me. 

O God be merciful to me. 

It is the very last verse in which the refrain changes.  We have heard the forgiveness of sin pronounced to us, and we are able to say:

And when redeemed from sin and Hell,

with all the ransomed souls I dwell. 

My joyous song shall ever be,

God has been merciful to me.

In joy we are able to say both things. 


Please be merciful to me.  But God, also thank you that you have been merciful to me.”

So, what is the purpose of our text for today?  The purpose of our text is an instruction on forgiveness.  It is to call back those who are erring, and to save their souls for Christ.  Just as Ezekiel was called to be a watchman in our Old Testament Lesson for today, so also God's Word for today instructs us to be watchmen for each other. 

Then, Luther, as he was concluding his summary of The Eighth Commandment in The Large Catechism, said this one statement.  “Then you will have done a great, and excellent deed.  You will have gained a brother.”
Let us close in prayer.

“Loving Lord,

Help us to act as watchmen for each other, even as you care for us, and keep us by your grace.

We pray this in your name.