We Love Sinners
Bible Passage: Matthew 18:15-20
There were two brothers. Like brothers there were similarities between them. They were both farmers. One was a rancher and the other raised crops. But at the same time they also couldn’t be much different from one another, especially in their spiritual lives. The younger brother loved God and wanted to serve him. The older felt like he had to go to church…afterall the rest of his family did. There were other differences too. The younger was generous and wanted to serve others. The older looked out for himself. As time went on the older began to resent the younger. And that resentment festered and turned into outright anger.
The anger the older had towards the younger was palpable and he even received a warning, “Why are you angry? Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to gave you but you must rule over it.” The older brother gave it some thought and mulled it over. Finally, one day the older brother asked his younger brother to go on a walk with him. It’s not what you might think, this was not a walk to find reconcilation—this was a walk so that the older could kill the younger. And in a premeditated act Cain killed Abel.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain responded, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” It’s a question that is so clouded by self importance and self centeredness, yet it is a response that has echoed down through millennia.
It’s an attitude and question that had echoed down to the disciples. They actually came to Jesus with a question, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” I’m sure they thought they knew what Jesus was going to say. But Jesus flips the world’s definition of greatness on its head. It’s not how many championships you win, it’s not your success, or your strength. But instead whoever takes on the position of humility, need, and lowliness in the kingdom of heaven is the greatest. And then he goes on to speak about what living within the kingdom of heaven is like. And what Jesus makes clear is that as much as living in the kingdom of heaven is about you it is also about others. And to the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Jesus says yes.
As a Christian, you know what living in the kingdom of heaven is like. As a Christian and as a part of a Christian Church family you live in this kingdom now. There are beautiful blessings that come with it. We are connected to one another by the blood of Christ. We stand forgiven together. For those of us who may not have believing relatives we have a special kind of family here. In this family we receive encouragement and support from one another. We receive encouragement from the Word of God from one another.
But the reality is that we are not the church triumphant yet, we are still the church that struggles under the weight of sin. There are people who take issues with churches because Christians can be hypocrites and to that we have to say we stand convicted. We too can stand clouded by self importance and self centeredness. We too can become fixated on a completely wrong definition of greatness. And because of that just as much as living with in a nuclear family can be tough, so also living with brothers and sisters in Christ can be difficult. Why? Because we all sin, and sometimes we sin against one another.
So when you sin against someone, how do you expect your brothers and sisters to deal with that? Or maybe more to the point of what Jesus speaks to us about day: when someone sins against you how do you deal with it?
If someone sins against you, maybe you want to confront them and say something to them. But in your own sense of self-greatness it is only to get your pound of flesh out of them. After all they hurt you and it is only fair that the proverbial balance is restored.
If someone sins against you, maybe you know you need to confront them but you don’t want to have to be confrontational. But in a sense of self greatness you know that it could be hard, you know that it could cost you something. And so you don’t.
Do you hear the question echoing around the way in which we sometimes deal with sin today? “Am I my brother’s keeper?” To which Jesus says, “Yes.” “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
Do you see what is hanging in the balance? Winning your brother or sister over is not about getting them to see how much they hurt you. Winning your brother or sister over is incredibly important because spiritual life hangs in the balance.
That is why Jesus says “If they will not listen, take one or two others along.” And then he actually amplifies their unwillingness to listen when he says, “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church.” This is not about being a spiritual policeman. This is not about being a spiritual tattle tale—in fact Jesus makes clear each one of us is our brother’s keeper. This is about the spiritual life of our brother and sisters. This is about saying to them, “Sin is at your door, if you do not master it, it will devour you.” This is care of the other’s soul.
But what Jesus says next might cause us some trouble, “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” If you were a traditional jew in those days what you might hear when Jesus heard this is have absolutely nothing to do with this person. Remember how the Jewish religious elite were absolutely outraged when Jesus hung around tax collectors and pagans? I mean those people were sinners! Yes they were, but so am I.
And maybe to understand what Jesus is saying we need to look at how he treated these people. And maybe there is no better illustration than the man who wrote this book—Matthew the tax collector. Matthew was sitting in his tax booth one day, and it was this sinner that Jesus called into his service. Why? Because Jesus loves sinners. And he loves you. And he loves your brother and sister.
He knows full well the reality of your sin. The sins that are evident and the sins that you never want to see the light of day. He knows the sins which plague us those sins that come from our own sense of greatness. He even knows our own sins of not even wanting to deal with other people’s sin. He knows and because he loves, HE dealt with them.
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was about to accomplish salvation he went and prayed, but his disciples didn’t. Instead, they fell asleep. But Jesus didn’t get his chunk of flesh out of them nor did he ignore it, instead he brought their sin before them because he loved them and their sin was dangerous. And then he walked with them to be betrayed and even when some abandoned him he continued on to win salvation. This is what Christ’s loves for sinners looks like. He did this because he loves you. He did this because he loves you brothers and sisters.
He set his face to the cross and determined to deal with sin in the only way he knew how. By taking your sin onto himself, by being delivered over into the hands of the chief priests and teachers of the law, and by being condemned to an innocent death. And then he buried those sins in a tomb, the sins which would kill you if they were still yours he left in his tomb when he walked out of it. And he walked out, so that you might be delivered from the death of sin to the life that comes with being a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. This is what Christ’s loves for sinners looks like. He did this because he loves you. He did this because he loves you brothers and sisters.
And because he loves you he gives you all the tools you need to deal with sinners. ““Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Yes, if sin persists we may have to speak in the strongest possible terms that the person is disqualifying themself from heaven. But it is never for the purpose of retaliation or rudeness, but completely out of love so that we can also speak to them in the strongest possible terms all their realties if Christ’s love for sinners. Your words of speaking the law have real power. Your words of speaking the gospel have real power. They aren’t your words, but rather words through which convey the love of Christ.
And you are not alone in this work either, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus is with you as you confront sin. He doesn’t just send you out alone with this command, but he is with you in the Words you speak (his words). And he is there to assure your conscience and your mind, he is there to work through his Words even if you are rejected.
Am I my brothers keeper? Yes because Jesus loved him, I love him. Because Jesus dealt with his seen I show him the danger of sin. Because Jesus won his salvation I show him the beauty of Christ’s love. Amen.