Based on: Matthew 18:21-35
Last week I said that Matthew Chapter 18 was a chapter about love and I still believe that is true. The offer still stands, if you read in Matthew 18 and you have concerns about the connection between that chapter and love (after all the word “love” is not mentioned in this chapter), the then let’s look at it together. Last week we talked about how in love we as Christians will sometimes say tough things in order to call our brother or sister back to Christ so that he or she may receive Christ’s forgiveness. Today, as we continue reading in Matthew 18, we see that the forgiveness and love that God gives us motivates us to forgive others. We will see the great difference there is between the debt that God has forgiven us and the debt that is owed to us by others, and by understanding that, we will see God’s great mercy.
Before we talk about this story where Jesus tells about forgiveness, let us say a few things about forgiveness and also define forgiveness. It is very clear from this parable that it is a sin to not forgive. Jesus leaves no doubt when he describes the unmerciful servant being thrown into prison and then says, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
But forgiving is not necessarily forgetting, as some people say. If you were hit by a drunk driver and you were paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of your life, you could never forget what that other person did to you. Or if someone is continually hurting you, God doesn’t want you to forget about what he has done so that you get hurt again. No, to forgive means that you are going to let God deal with the person who hurt you. It means that you’re going to let go of your anger. It means that you are going to let go of whatever right you think you have to punish this person or get revenge. It means that you are not going to continue to remind them of their sin in order to get your way. It is important to know that when we forgive someone it does not release them from God’s judgment. If they remain unrepentant for what they did, they will suffer God’s punishment. On the other hand if you hurt someone else and you have repented, you are sorry for what you have done and you have asked God to forgive you, you can be sure of God’s forgiveness even if that other person says, "I can’t forgive you."
Forgiveness can be difficult. God is perfect, and when God forgives he forgives perfectly. We are not perfect, and when we need to forgive it can take time to work through the issues, and we continue to go to God’s word for strength. Forgiving does not come naturally to sinful human beings, and so it is something that only God can work in our hearts as we look at what he has done for us. It is important to know what forgiveness is when we look at how God expects us to forgive others.
The thing that prompted Jesus to tell this parable was the question Peter brought to him, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Peter, perhaps thought he was being generous. Peter knew Jesus wants us to deal with each other in love, and so he suggests seven. Three was the number the Pharisees would have suggested as the maximum that someone would forgive another person for hurting them. Peter’s number is more than twice as much. Jesus responded, “not seven times, but 77 times.” Jesus isn’t telling us to carry a little book around with everybody’s name in it and keep a tally of every time they hurt us until the count 78. No, his point is that we don’t keep track at all, and that becomes clear from the parable.
As the parable begins we see the king calling his servants to him so that he can settle accounts. This is not a picture of God on Judgment Day. Even before that final judgment God leads people to recognize that they owe him a debt – that they are sinners. He does this in a variety of ways as he convicts people of their sin and exposes their need for a Savior. One of the ways he does this is through preaching which is faithful to God’s Word. It is part of my call here to point out to you that you are a sinner, that you owe God a great debt because of your sin. He wants you to come to him and ask him to forgive the debt . (It is also my job to tell you that God forgave that debt in Christ Jesus, but more about that later. )
In the parable we hear about the one man who is brought before the king to pay his debt. This man owed the king 10,000 talents. This is a huge sum of money. To put it in perspective, it would take the average field laborer of that time over 300,000 years to pay back that debt even if he had no other expenses. There is no way he could pay this back. It might as well have taken him an eternity to pay it back. Doesn’t this describe well the debt that we have before God? Even if we spent an eternity in hell, we would still not even began to pay back the debt we owe God for our sin.
When the king forgives the debt, it is out of great mercy. The same is true of God when he forgives us. Then comes the sad part of the story. The part which, I am convinced, is Satan’s favorite part, because he loves to see people show such ingratitude for God’s gifts. This man who received such great mercy would not in turn show even a small portion of that mercy to someone else. He demanded payment from someone who owed him 100 denarii. This was equivalent to perhaps three to four months wages. It was certainly not an insignificant debt, but a manageable one. The debt that this same unforgiving man had owed the king was a million times greater.
Sometimes we also fail to forgive small debts. Someone cuts us off to get the last parking spot, and it bothers us the rest of the day. Someone offended us in church years ago, and to this day we avoid that person. The offenses may be greater than that, but God still tells us to forgive. Is it a broken relationship? Did someone cheat you financially? Was there some physical harm from which you still have not recovered? God still says, “Forgive.” As I mentioned earlier, it is sometimes difficult. It can take time and continual reminders of God’s mercy from His Word.
When we hold a grudge, when we are unwilling to forgive others we are saying to God, “I don’t want your forgiveness.” It is like a child who has a hundred new toys and is unwilling to share even one. Satan loves that kind of ingratitude.
When we understand the great difference between the debt God has forgiven us and the debt others may owe us, then we can see the magnitude of God’s mercy.
Imagine a debt equal to 300,000 years of your wages, and imagine what it would be like to have that burden lifted from your financial shoulders. Your debt before God is actually much larger, and God knew that you couldn’t pay your debt so he paid it for you. He lifted that burden from your shoulders and put it on his own. Now we are free to forgive others.
When we find it difficult to forgive and we struggle with this sin, remember that this is also a sin for which Christ died. That doesn’t mean that we are free to hold on to our grudges. Christ’s death is never a license to sin, but as we work to forgive others in our lives, we can be certain that God has already forgiven us.
We know about God’s forgiveness. We know that on a hill called Golgotha God removed our sins from us as far as the East is from the West. He gave us clean white robe to wear. He declared our debt paid in full