7th Sunday after Pentecost July 8, 2018
11, 291, 396, 51
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
In the name of Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords, Head and Master of the Church, who took on the form of a servant to serve you and save you, grace and peace to you, dear fellow redeemed,
Hyperbole. Hyperbole is the exaggerated statement someone makes to illustrate a point, but which is not to be taken literally. An example of hyperbole would be saying, “I wouldn’t date that boy in a million years.” Such a girl is trying to make a point about how she feels about a particular boy. Another example might be, “My boss literally blew up at work today.” I doubt he “literally exploded,” but we understand what you are saying.
Hyperbole can be found on the pages of Holy Scripture. For instance, the enemies of Jesus said at one time that “the whole world” had gone after Him. At the time of the judges, there were among the tribe of Benjamin seven hundred left-handed men who could sling a stone at a hair’s breath “and not miss.” (Judges 20:16)
In the text before us today, Jesus does not use any hyperbole. He speaks to His disciples and us in literal terms about the very real danger of causing offenses, really forgiving those who sin against us, and actually being faithful in our Christian duties. As we hear these words of our Savior, we will literally conclude what the apostles concluded and pray, “Lord, increase our faith!” Hear now the word of our Lord in Luke 17, verses one through ten:
Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’”
This is the Word of God. It is given by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit. It is truth. Therefore we ask that He would sanctify us, or set us apart for His holy purposes as we pray, “O Lord, sanctify us through Thy truth, Thy word is truth.” Amen.
It is not uncommon at all to hear someone say they are “offended” at something. And sometimes people get offended at the strangest things. A man in Oklahoma was recently arrested after a fight broke out in a dispute over whether Star Wars or Star Trek was better. It seems one party was offended. It is not uncommon for people to “take offense” at just about anything that is said. When we talk about “taking offense,” we mean that we didn’t like something you said or did.
When Jesus talks about “offenses” in our text, He is talking about something much, much worse. The word “offense” here in the Greek was originally used to describe the bait that would be placed in a trap to capture an animal. Think of putting cheese or peanut butter on the trigger of a mousetrap. You bait that trap to lure the animal in hopes of either capturing or killing it.
That is how Jesus uses the word “offense” here. It is the bait that is used to lure someone into sin. Such bait might be billboards or ads, clothing or television shows. It may come from the lips of a friend saying, “We’re both adults” or “Just this once.” Potiphar’s wife tried to bait Joseph into sleeping with her. When Balaam couldn’t curse the Israelites for Balak, he gave Balak the advice to entice the Israelite men to sleep heathen women. The list goes on and on.
The reason the list goes on and on is just what Jesus says in verse 1, “It is impossible that no offenses should come.” That is not an overstatement or hyperbole. It is impossible that no bait to sin should come. The imagination of man’s heart is EVIL from his youth (Genesis 8:21), and that imagination is always coming up with ways to bait people into sin.
Offenses will come, but that does not mean that it is acceptable. In fact, Jesus pronounces a “WOE” to the one through whom they come. “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little.” This is no hyperbole—no overstatement of Jesus for effect— this is literal. Offenses will come, but instantaneous drowning with a large stone around your neck would in fact be better, than to bait one of Jesus’ little, trusting lambs, into sin.
150 years ago, when my great-grandfather O.M. Gullerud was a Norwegian Lutheran pastor in Iowa, he wore a strange collars around his neck called a “ruff.” It was a stiff, round collar that stuck out about two to three inches all around the neck and was common among Scandinavian clergymen. The “ruff” was to be a reminder of the millstone warning of Jesus about causing offense.
We need more than a collar, though, don’t we. With the apostles we pray to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” We need the Lord to increase our faith that we might always be on guard lest we bait another one of Jesus’ lambs to sin. Such baiting to sin can lead to spiritual death traps. We would certainly prefer a millstone for ourselves rather than causing someone else to stumble into sin. Therefore as Paul writes to the Philippians, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) Lord, increase our faith!
In our text, Jesus logically moves on from you guarding yourself against causing someone else to sin, to occasions when someone sins against you. Verse 3, “If you brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” I understand from experienced shepherds that before sheep will lie down at night, one of the things they need is peace with the other sheep around them. Sheep often fight with one another by biting, kicking, and head-butting other sheep. It seems that some sheep are just tougher to get along with than others.
It’s much the same with us. It’s hard to have peace in church when one of your fellow Christians has sinned against you. If that happens, Jesus says, “rebuke him.” We know from the rest of Scripture, that it is the Lord’s will that such a rebuke be done in love. Galatians 6 speaks of doing it in a “spirit of gentleness.” In Ephesians 4, Paul writes of “speaking the truth in love.” In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of first examining yourself before you rebuke a brother about his or her sin. “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)
“If he repents, forgive him.” To repent in the Bible means to make a 180 degree turn and faith in Jesus for forgiveness. If your brother sees his sin, sees he was headed in the wrong direction with you, don’t just say, “that’s okay” or “no big deal.” If he repents, Jesus says to forgive him. Assure that person that you forgive them and remember their sin no more.
Jesus continues, “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you saying, ‘I repent,” you shall forgive him.” Okay, now this has to be hyperbole, right? Jesus can’t mean this, can He? Same person sinning against you seven times in a day and repents to you seven times, he can’t really be sorry for his sin, can he?
How many times in the course of the day, do you think you sin against almighty God? Do you even know? How many times in the course of a day have you had lustful thoughts? How many times in the course of a day have you lost your temper or gossiped about someone? And what is the Christian’s prayer for each of those sins? “God be merciful to me a sinner!” we plead with all sincerity and earnestness.
Rejoice, dear repentant sinner, to hear the good news from God. He says He remembers our sin NO MORE! He says He keeps no record of our sins. He says He has washed all our sins away—even our secret sins which neither you, nor anyone else realized you have done. He does this because of Jesus. All those lustful thoughts, those ill-tempered, anger filled words, those unloving stories you told about someone else, Jesus took them all on Himself and suffered the consequences for your daily load of sin. His holy, precious blood that was shed on the cross cleanses you from all your unrighteousness. His resurrection from the dead on Easter assures you that YOU ARE FORGIVEN.
Suddenly, forgiving my brother ONLY seven times in a day for his seven sins seems like nothing compared to my great, ugly load of sin that God forgave because of Jesus.
Such forgiveness is quite unnatural for us. We daily need God’s help. Therefore we pray with the apostles, “Lord, increase our faith!” We pray He would give us the faith to forgive one another, even as He has forgiven our huge load of sin, help us to keep no record of wrong, just as He does not keep a record of our sins, and help us to remember our brother’s sins no more, even as He says He remembers our sin no more. Yes, Lord, increase our faith that we may be forgiving with one another even as You have forgiven us!
After you have guarded yourself from baiting others to sin and forgiven your brother for sinning against you, what do you think you deserve? A pat on the back? A “gold star” sticker? A “special place in heaven?”
Listen to the parable Jesus tells starting with verse 7, “Which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those thing which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’”
The servant is doing the servant’s job. So too in our Christian walk of faith. When we guard against offense and forgive our brother, we are only doing those things which we have been commanded. We are followers of Christ by His grace. He has made us His children. Even the good that we do, is done by Him. “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) Whether it be as a spouse, parent, child, member of the church council, cleaner at church, greeter, or generous giver, what glory dare we claim for ourselves for doing what God has told us is right?
While we are servants and Christ is our Lord and Master, we stand in awe of this parable to consider how our Lord and Master become a servant to serve us. He is the one who waited on us hand and foot. He served us by becoming our righteousness. He has paid our debt of sin. He has overcome death and given us the victory. And our Master, Lord Jesus, has prepared a banquet in heaven for us. Compared to the service of our Master, we are indeed unprofitable servants, doing only those things which was our duty to do.
Indeed, we need the Lord to increase our faith. We need lots of help to guard against baiting someone to sin, forgiving our brother when He sins against us, and gladly doing what is our duty to do. The Lord is answering that prayer right now. Even if your faith is the size of a mustard seed, one of the smallest seeds in the garden, Jesus says it can uproot mulberry trees. That is no hyperbole. That is truth from Jesus. Faith in Christ Jesus can do the impossible, even save a sinner from hell. So too the Holy Spirit equips us through faith to guard against giving offense, forgiving your fellow believer who has sinned against you, and gladly carrying out our Christian duty. May you ever continue to feed that faith by plumbing the depths of God’s Word, reading of God’s will for you and God’s love as seen on the cross of Calvary, as you continue to pray, “Lord, increase my faith.” Amen.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.