Years ago when I was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Cedar Grove, WI I was invited to speak at the local high school baccalaureate service. After preaching a clear Gospel message about finding the meaning of life by living our lives for God, a trio of students got up and sang the old classic rock and roll song “All We Are Is Dust in the Wind.” Really! Is that true, is that all we are is just dust in the wind? From dust we come and to dust we shall return. Psalm 103 says we are dust: Psalm 103:14-16 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
If you’re thinking this is one of those head-scratching passages in the Bible you aren’t alone. Almost every commentary I read on this passage begins the same way. John Calvin, “The parable seems hard and far-fetched.” J.C. Ryle, “The passage is a difficult one. There are knots in it which perhaps will never be untied, until the Lord comes again.” Leon Morris, “This is notoriously one of the most difficult of all the parables to interpret.” Michael Wilcock, “In the task of detecting Luke’s train of thought, many find this section one of the most difficult in the whole Gospel. The majority of commentators give up the attempt.” It shouldn’t surprise us that some passages are hard to understand, after all this is God’s Word and God is a good bit smarter than we are. Passages like this are meant to humble us and remind us that our understanding is finite and faulty. When you come across a passage like this, what do you usually do? Guess at it? Decide it’s crazy talk? Just skip over it and go on to something easier? Or do you study and dig for truth? And if you start digging how do you do it, where do you start? What’s the first rule of interpreting Scripture? Pray, pray, pray. These things are spiritual discerned and we need the Holy Spirit to open our minds and help us. What’s the second rule of interpreting Scripture? Context, context, context. A text without a context often becomes a pretext for a proof text.
There are many subjects and topics in Scripture that are profoundly personal and practical, some that get to the deepest places in our hearts. The subject before us is one of them, the forgiveness of personal injuries and offenses and sins against us. We live in a world full of sinners and sin. We sin and we are sinned against. It’s impossible to live in this world of ours and escape from being hurt, wounded, offended, insulted, slighted, ill-treated or just plain sinned against. I have said many times to engaged and married couples that it’s impossible to maintain a significant relationship without forgiveness. In every significant human relationship there will be sin. Relationships can’t survive without dealing with the sin that comes along. Not one of us in this room is so perfectly well behaved all the time that we never need to give and receive forgiveness. So to know how to deal with personal hurts and injuries and offenses is a great blessing and benefit to our own souls and to our relationships with those around us. Our text is about personal offenses and wrongs done against us which are in our power to forgive. This text isn’t about crimes, people who break the law must face justice and the consequences. Let’s begin with a simple definition. Forgiveness simply means not holding a person's sin against him. It means let it go. Because Christ has forgiven me, I will forgive him.
Nearly all religions of the world acknowledge some form of divine government and control. Even the pagans have their fate or luck or chance, something that guides the destinies of men and nations. Nearly everyone believes in God, but there are many who have trouble with Him being in control. They can’t bring themselves to believe it for a variety of reasons. Some look at the great disasters or human tragedies and ask, “If there was really a good and powerful God, how could He let this happen?” Others aren’t affected so much by what happens in the world, but when faced with overwhelming personal troubles God seems too small or powerless for their needs. Wars and cancer have done much to wreck man’s confidence in a sovereign and good God. Suffering and sin are huge hurdles to our confession of the sovereignty of God. For others providence smacks of fatalism or determinism to them and leaves them thinking they are puppets. The rejection of any notion of God’s total sovereignty over all things is one of the biggest challenges facing the church and Christians today.