Text: Luke 17:1-4

1 Now he said to his disciples, “It is impossible for stumbling blocks not to come, only woe to the person through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a mill stone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble into sin. 3 Be on your guard! If your brother should sin rebuke him, and if he should repent forgive him. 4 And if he should sin against you seven times a day and should return to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”


Some times things never turn out as they were intended to. We embark upon them with the greatest of intentions, but things go awry, and they turn out like nothing we had ever planned.

If we can feel the disappointment of this, what must our gracious Creator have felt when the world turned out like it did? He never intended it to be like it is. Through his Word he revealed his feelings from a human perspective about how the world turned out. We are told in Genesis 6:5, 6: “And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth and every tendency of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. And the Lord was sorry that he had made the man on the earth and he was grieved in his heart.

Sin is what corrupted the world that our Lord had created. But then, he knew beforehand that sin would corrupt the world, even before he created it. The only reason he did not destroy the world, once sin had corrupted it, was the greatness of his love for us sinners who had been misled into sin. He did not wish us to perish. Therefore, before the world was created he had already planned how he would save us through his beloved Son, Jesus, and how he would through the good news of his gift of salvation have the Holy Spirit bring us to faith in Jesus.

Our Lord has worked out our eternal salvation. But the problem of sin still remains in this world, corrupting and destroying souls continually. We ourselves are infected with it and must deal with it. Thus our dear Savior Jesus addresses us this morning on the problem of sin, teaching us, “Don’t Incite It. Forgive It.”

In the sermon text of Luke 17:1-4 Jesus addressed his disciples. They were those who were his pupils, who had heard and believed the love God had for them in sending him to save them. To those children of God through faith in him Jesus said, “It is impossible for stumbling blocks not to come, only woe to the person through whom they come! It would be better for him if a mill stone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble into sin. Be on your guard!

Jesus forewarned his disciples that sinful things would be done in the world that were offensive, objectionable, lawless deeds in the sight of God and his Christian people. Those scandalous, sinful things could not not come to pass. They were inevitable, bound to happen, because the heart of fallen mankind was absolutely corrupt and inclined only to evil all the time. Man’s sinful thoughts and desires would inevitably end in sinful deeds of all kinds, whether spontaneous cursing by the blessed name of Jesus Christ, or immoral conduct and sexual perversions, or hatreds, murders, slander, and so forth.

We suffer and must contend with the sins of others every day. Such sin makes our lives miserable. But let us remember two things about the sin with which we must contend. First, our beloved Lord and Creator never intended such sin within his creation. Sin was the devil’s doing to make us miserable, wretched, and condemned. He was a murderer from the beginning, who instigated sin to rob us of the life our Lord intended us to enjoy -- a life that was perfectly loving, righteous, and peaceful, a life that was intended to be everlasting. Let us thank our Lord that our life will not always be like it is now, for he will deliver us from all this evil through our Savior Jesus when he appears at the last day.

Second, let us remember regarding the sin all around us that our Lord forewarned us how bad it would become in these last days leading up to the end of the world. He told us, “Know this for sure! In the last days times that will be hard to bear will be at hand. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, braggarts, arrogant, having abusive mouths, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked, without natural affection, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, savage, not lovers of what is good, betrayers, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having an appearance of godliness although they have denied its power. Now turn away from these people!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

The hurt such sins inflict on God’s dear children are bad enough. But here Jesus has an even greater evil in mind that ruins the souls and the lives of his believers. He has in mind the sinful things that inevitably happen which cause God’s own dear children to fall into unbelief and sin. The sinful, objectionable things that are done incite the children of God, the simple believers in Jesus, to fall into sin to their souls’ damnation.

If we are observant, we can see how the sins of others in our society incite believers to commit sins of their own. Within our society we hear foul, filthy language so repeatedly that we can become hardened to it and start using it ourselves. Movies and television programs so popularize sexual sins and immorality as a way of life that the minds of God’s own people become inflamed with sexual lusts, and they lose their self-control to indulge those lusts. Greed and the love of money is so commonplace in our society that it has influenced us to the point we cannot think in terms of being content with what we have and trusting in our Father to provide for us one day at a time. Thus we grumble and complain about what we want and don’t yet have, rather than give thanks for what we do have.

In Christian homes, too, the sin of one family member incites the other members to sin. A parent frustrates his children, driving his youngsters to exasperation, anger, bitterness, and finally defiance and rebellion. The parent is so wrapped up in his own pursuits that he fails to provide the love and home life his children need to become healthy, properly adjusted, respectful human beings, who feel they belong and can fit into a home life and society. The parent treats his children unfairly or punishes them unjustly, because he fails to differentiate between what is a youthful mistake and what is outright disobedience or sinful behavior. The parent further infuriates and embitters his children by denying them the opportunities to live, to be themselves, to grow up to become independent human beings, and to do those things that children of their age should be able to do as a part of their growing up experience. So the children, in turn, are incited to lash out in sinful behaviors of their own. Their parent does not love them, care about them, or respect them, so they do not care about their parent either. They begin to feel that perhaps their sinful behaviors will finally attract his attention.

On the other hand, the children’s sins incite their parents to sin. Motivated by their sinful natures and lack of self-control, the children disobey their parents. They refuse to accept their parents’ authority. They refuse to acknowledge that their parents know more about living in this world than they do. They think they know better and must do things their own way. They provoke their parents to anger and resentment, to a loss of patience, to outbursts of rage and unkind words, and to over reacting with stern discipline that they have not first thought through.

Now these sinful things happen in our Christian homes too. The sinful things we do incite others in our families to sin also. Against this we must guard ourselves, as Jesus said, “Be on your guard!” The reason we must be so careful is that if we cause another believer to sin, we store up God’s horrible wrath against ourselves in hell for having caused a believer to be separated from his God by sin and to fall from saving faith. God is jealous about his believers, not wanting even one to be lost as a result of us inciting them to sin against him.

On the matter of sin Jesus’ message is clear: don’t incite others to sin. On the other hand, after others have sinned against us, we should forgive them when they apologize to us. Jesus said, “If your brother should sin rebuke him, and if he should repent forgive him. And if he should sin against you seven times a day and should return to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.

When another person sins against us, we are not wrong in pointing his sin out to him. This does not mean, however, that we have the right to attack him with abusive anger and insults, or to lord it over him like we are so much better than he is. No, when rebuking another for his sin our Lord tells us to do it with meekness and gentleness. He says, “Brothers, and if a man is detected in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a one with a spirit of gentleness, looking out for yourself, not that you should be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

We rebuke the person for his sin to warn him of the danger it poses to him and to win him over from it for his salvation. At another time Jesus said, “Now if your brother sins against you, go, correct him when you and him are alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15) When he does repent of his sin, we must forgive him from our heart and not hold that sin against him. And if he sins against us and apologizes repeatedly, we must forgive him repeatedly.

On this teaching of Jesus rests, not only our relationship with him, but the well-being and permanence of every human relationship, especially marriage and the family. The well-being of the marriage and the family are built upon the rock of reconciliation.

This teaching of how we are to deal with one another reflects how our Father deals with us who are the members of his family. We, his sons and daughters, commit sins of weakness against him repeatedly each day. We repent of our sins and ask him to forgive us. He does forgive us for Jesus’ sake, time and time again. He holds us as his own and gives us salvation from the punishment we truly deserve for our sins against him. He blesses us with everlasting life in the blessedness of his perfect love and righteousness and peace, which he had originally established for us at creation. And he does not hold our sins against us as we proceed on our journey through life to our heavenly home with him.

Being forgiven and restored to his favor through Jesus Christ, we are likewise to forgive those who sin against us, as Jesus teaches us here and taught us to do in the Lord’s Prayer, saying, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It is this daily repentance of our sins against each other, and our daily forgiveness of one another’s sins, that hold our marriages and families together and preserve them. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage or family. All spouses and family members sin against each other. But it is the marriage and family that repent of their sins against each other, and forgive each other, and are reconciled to each other, that succeed and stay together -- the very thing we so desperately want and need.

Sin is a plague our Lord never intended. Nevertheless, because of the devil, it is here now and we must deal with it on a daily basis as the forgiven and restored children of God through Jesus Christ. We cannot eliminate the sin in this world. However, especially in our church, marriages, and families, let us be careful that we do not incite those around us to sin, but rather repent of our sins and forgive one another as our Father forgives us and is reconciled to us, now and forever. Amen.