Luke 17:1-6 One day Jesus said to his disciples, "there will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin. So watch yourselves!
If another believer sins, rebuke that person: then if there is repentance forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness you must forgive.
The apostles said to the Lord, "Show us how to increase our faith."
The Lord answered, "If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, 'May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea,; and it would obey you!
These weren't baby disciples that Jesus was speaking to. They had been with the Lord for a while. Chapter 9 of Matthew reveals that they had already been sent out to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out devils, and give sight to the blind. Jesus was not pointing out that they had no faith when he replied "if you had faith the size of a mustard seed." He was pointing out the quality of faith, not the amount. The disciples had seen miracles, and trusted their Lord, but they thought they needed more faith to follow through with his directive in regards to forgiveness. Their request reveals what resides in most human minds when it comes to offense.
"I will cast out devils for you Jesus, believe you will hear my prayers for the terminally ill patient, and praise God for the ex-convict that gave his heart to Jesus at my church. But, I am going to need a lot more faith to forgive the loved one that hurt me."
Psalm 55:12 For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, Then I could bear it; Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, Then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, My companion and my familiar friend.
Not only did he want them to forgive, but if that person were to do the same thing seven times, they were to forgive seven times. Jesus was not talking to spoiled American evangelicals. He was speaking to Jewish men that had to know the word, and understand their surroundings. Commerce and survival revolved around knowledge of their local resources. The contrasting trees Jesus used, and the significance of the number seven, were known by the disciples.
The Sycamine tree was a common tree, and not like our Sycamore in America. It grew to an average height of 30 feet, and had beautiful fruit on it. The fruit was only attractive to the poor because it was very bitter. The only way for this tree to pollinate was for a wasp to sting the fruit. This tree was hard to kill because it grew well without water and in hot places. The root system grew quickly and deep. If you cut the tree to the base, it would do no good because the vast root system would grow new shoots. Jesus mentioned the desire for a mature Sycamine tree to be uprooted, which seemed impossible.
He mentioned a quality herb seed which was the smallest of all grains as being able to remove this giant deeply rooted tree with bitter fruit. The mustard tree grew to a height of only about 15 feet, and is more comparable to a sturdy bush than tree. The difference is that it provided shelter and a home for animals during the fall season where shade was sparse; it was profitable as an herb, and did not need to be stung to create new life in the form of pollination.
What does all this have to do with forgiveness?
Sin and Offense, Reproduction, Quality verses Quantity, and Sources of Faith.
Jesus addressed the offense and sin in the first part of this text. Basically he was saying, "people are going to get hurt, and if they hurt in such a way it causes hate (which is murder), I am madder than you are at the offender, but it happens......so, this is how you deal with it....first watch yourself, be ready, expect it, and when it happens , extend forgiveness." Two wrongs don't make a right, and man's wrath does not promote the righteousness of God. Hate in our heart murders the offended over and over when the pain is remembered. Forgiving does not mean that you condone a sinful action towards you or others. It does not mean that when they face the Lord, that if they have not repented that they get a clean slate and enter heaven. It means that you fully received the miracle of salvation because it was an undeserved gift in the first place, and if God can forgive you, he has the right to forgive anyone he pleases. Unforgiveness is like us moving God out of his throne and taking his job. Hate or unforgiveness is sin in our heart, so it has to go in order for us to be free from the chains of Hell.
Poor people would eat the fruit of the Sycamine tree in small bites because it was too bitter to eat all at once. This fruit looked like the expensive fig that only the rich could afford. Many times we eat the bitter fruit of unforgiveness because we think it is doing something to the person that hurt us. Or we assume that they have taken enough from us, and we deserve this grudge. We eat the bitter poison of hate and think it will kill the other person. We are jealous of the joy they have, or the life of ease they live without ever owning up to what they did to us. We want them to admit what they did, and every time a memory comes up, we nibble on that bitter fruit. Spit it out! Stop consuming death!
Don't we sing that God's word is sweeter than honey? He loves us so much that he has given us his promises in his word that will be sweet to our belly and bring health to our bones.
Luke 6:21 God blesses you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied. God blesses you who weep now for in due time you will laugh.
Dear friend, God's word is alive and active! It is what brought you to faith in in him in the first place. All of his promises are true, not just the one of salvation. If you seek him for provision for your home and children, he will provide you the sweetest meal in his word to heal a bruised heart and mind. If you hunger for that meal you will be satisfied. Give time to search his word for that scripture that touches your wound and brings peace in such a way that you are closer to God, and know that he heard your prayer. If you haven't gotten it, be patient and don't give up. The least effective Christian is one that tells you to come to Jesus but spews hatred and unforgiveness .
Pollination takes place without us ever really knowing that it is happening, likewise with our interactions with others. If we have allowed the sting of offense to go unchecked, it will reproduce in areas of our life and relationships that were never meant to be tainted with the scars of our past. Were you hurt by a lover? Don't allow that to cause you to bring garbage into your relationship now. Did your parents hurt you? What you wish on them, will happen in future children, or the children you have. We reap what we sow, remember? If we sow seeds of death, we will reap seeds of death. The one promise we have in the commandments is to honor our parents, and we will have long life. Honoring your parents in the Lord is easier than you think. You don't have to lie for them, or paint a different picture than what was, but it does mean that you release them to the loving hand of God, and don't charge him with making a mistake in who he gave to you as parents. By the same measure we judge, we will be measured. If we use parenting as our ruler to judge people, the heavenly father will hold that same ruler up to us.
Jesus gave the disciples two different paths they could walk in their faith. It was more about the quality of their faith than the quantity. Quality is dependent on the source. If your faith comes from love, then it covers a multitude of sin. We can walk the path of forgiveness in faith that God will free us from the sting of offense, heal our hurt, and not reproduce or grow roots. If the source of our faith comes from bitterness, it will lead to death. When we walk the path of unforgiveness our faith is in God's inability to heal, based on the quantity of hurts or size of offense.
They hurt you for years? Who is your source? If it is Jesus, and even if your faith is as small as a mustard seed, then you can speak to that tree with ugly roots to be uprooted and cast into the sea and it will be so! So you have tried in your own strength many times, and the unforgiveness just came back? Who is your source? If it is Jesus, then it doesn't matter how long you have been carrying this burden Jesus can lighten your load. Many times we let a hurt get so embedded in our mind, that our present is riddled with scattered seeds of bitterness disabling us from loving and living. But, we don't realize it until we have years of broken relationships. I know someone that can speak in detail about a hurt from 30 years ago. Every detail is remembered but the past 30 years of their life is fuzzy because it was spent remembering the source of that one wound.
Seven represents completion in the bible. Jesus used it intentionally to say "let your forgiveness be complete on the day you need to forgive, so that no other days are spent re-living the ugly." If it hurt that much, why would you want to relive it?
One time, when his disciples were afraid of the storm that surrounded their boat, he asked them where was their faith? Was their faith in the power of the storm, or was it in His power to calm and rebuke the storm? Hurt and offense can quickly grow roots if not dealt with. Have faith that Jesus will give you strength to forgive as he forgave you. If we have salvation, it means that we were saved from something. What were we saved from? The wages we earned for our sin against the precious faithful Creator. While we were yet sinners he died for us. If Jesus is the source of your faith, let him be the object of your faith. He will not fail you.
Jesus once asked ,"Is it easier to forgive sin, or to heal?" He did both, so you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Be encouraged today. You are an overcomer. Jesus is your prize. If you trust in him, you will provide shelter to those seeking shade from the pain and hurt of Autumn. Our pain can be used to testify of the goodness of God to others that have two paths before them. Let tree in your garden be the tree of life and forgiveness. The seeds of love and forgiveness picked from your branches will go to the ends of the earth sprouting life.
Have branches and leaves from Autumn cluttered your garden? Allow the North wind which removes chaff and debris to clear and clean. Receive the warm and moist wind from the South to grow new life. Remember the roots of a Sycamine tree thrive in areas without water. The wind of the holy spirit wishes to invigorate your prayer life and fellowship in his word to water the roots of your faith and relationship in him. Let the bride say:
Awake, north wind! Rise up, south wind! Blow on my garden and spread its fragrance all around. Come into your garden my love: taste its finest fruits.(songofsolomon 4:16)
Psalm 84:5-7 : What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The Autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. They will continue to grow stronger and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.