Sermon on Matthew 18:21-35
Text: Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
“How can I ever forgive you?” Have you ever felt that way when someone has hurt you or sinned against you? We may not express it exactly that way, but we have all probably felt that way at one time or another. This morning, as we study God’s Word, we are going to talk about something that is easy to talk about. It is something that we want to have happen to us. However, it is, at times, difficult to put into practice with others in our lives. We are going to look at forgiveness and are reminded that THE FORGIVEN FORGIVE. 1. They Recognize God’s Love For Them. 2. They Reflect That Love By Forgiving Others.
Peter came to Jesus with a question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Verse 21) Jesus had just taught them about the keys. Peter had a question about the loosening key, the forgiving key. He wanted to know how often he should be willing to forgive someone who sinned against him repeatedly. Perhaps, Peter’s question was motivated by a legalistic view of forgiveness. He wanted to find a point at which forgiveness ceased. He was being generous by going all the way up to seven times. It may also have been that Peter was concerned that people would take advantage of this practice of forgiving. Whatever the motivation, Peter came to Jesus with a dilemma. It is also one that we face in our day-to-day lives.
In response, Jesus said, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Verse 22) Note that Jesus was not giving an exact number, as though when you hit seventy-eight times, you have reached the limit. It has nothing to do with keeping score. As Christians, we have a continuing and constant obligation of love to be ready to forgive and forgive, with no limits at all.
To illustrate this point, Jesus told a parable. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” (Verses 23-27)
A king was settling accounts and he came across the account of a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold. Today that would be the equivalent of 12-20 million dollars. How that servant could ever have racked up that kind of debt is immaterial. The fact is that he had and now he was being called to account for it. Obviously, the servant had no way to repay that debt, so the king, acting within his rights, ordered that the servant, his family, and all that he had be sold to recoup at least a portion of the debt. The servant fell on his knees, pleading for mercy from that king. He even promised that he would eventually repay the debt that he owed, which would have been impossible for him to do. Yet, the king, in his mercy, chose to cancel the entire debt of this servant. We can hardly believe our ears! What sort of a king would do this? We marvel at the mercy that he showed to that servant.
The meaning of this portion of the parable is quite clear. The king is God, himself. The accounts that he is settling are the debts of sin. You and I are the servant. Think for a moment of the debt of sin that we would owe to our God. How many times in the last twenty-four hours have you sinned against God? Care to take a guess? Multiply that by how many days you have been alive. All those sins of greed, anger, lying, lust and all the rest add to your debt to God. Now you are called on the carpet before God. He settles accounts with you. What can we say? We might beg for God’s mercy, promising to repay everything. However, just like that servant, it would be impossible for us to do so. Just as the king in Jesus’ story had the right to sell the man and his family and everything he owned to recoup part of the debt, God would well be within his rights to send us away from him for all eternity in the fires of hell. This is the cold, hard truth about our sins.
However, just as the king chose to have mercy on this servant, so our God chose to have mercy on us. He did not just say, “Your debt is cancelled.” He took the steps necessary for the payment of our debt. He chose to show mercy to us by sending his Son to be our Savior. He lived a perfect life for us. Never once in all the days of his life, did he sin. There were no sinful thoughts or words or actions. Since God, being a just God, cannot just forget about the debt, Jesus stepped in and paid our debt by suffering and dying on the cross. Jesus’ death was the only acceptable payment for our debt. Then, showing us that his Father accepted this payment, Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning. Now, when God sees you and me, he sees us as debt-free. We have been completely and totally forgiven.
Jesus continues the parable by saying, “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.” (Verses 28-30)
This servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him some money. While it was not the amount that the first servant owed the king, it was still substantial, since a silver coin, a denarius was what was paid for a day’s work. When the servant found this fellow servant, he grabbed him and began to choke him, demanding repayment. The fellow servant fell to his knees pleading for mercy, but none would be shown. He was thrown into prison for not paying his debt. We are shocked to read this. How could he treat his fellow servant in this way, considering the fact that he had just been forgiven a debt that was 600,000 times larger?
This also shocked the other servants, who told the king what had happened. At this, the king had the servant brought before him and said, “You wicked servant, I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Verse 32) Then, we are told, the servant was thrown into prison, until he should pay back all that he owed the king. Just in case, we did not get the point of Jesus’ parable, he concludes by saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Verse 35) Jesus could not be any clearer, could he?
This parable gives you and me an opportunity to look at how we react when someone sins against us. It happens all the time because we live in a world of sinners. It might be your spouse, someone in your family, a fellow congregation member, a friend, a co-worker, someone you have never met before and probably will never see again. How do we react when someone sins against us?
Our sinful nature wants us to limit forgiveness. We will only forgive so many times before we have forgiven too much. Others will encourage us to limit our forgiveness. They tell us that we dare not let someone take advantage of our willingness to forgive. ‘Enough is enough,’ they say. This is the work of the devil. He wants us to believe that we have the right to refuse to forgive someone who deliberately harms us, especially if that harm is repeated and the offender shows no repentance and does not seem to care if we forgive them. The devil wants us to derive a certain satisfaction from holding a grudge or even trying to take revenge. Such an unforgiving spirit is poison which harms us most of all and threatens to destroy us.
Dear friends, this morning we have an opportunity to examine our hearts and see if there is someone that we are holding a grudge against. Is there someone that you cannot seem to forgive because of something that they said or did? Maybe, it happened long ago, and you think that you are over it. However, when you think about it now, you get upset all over again. It is probable that they do not even give the incident a second thought. However, you are carrying it with you. Is there someone you have trouble forgiving? Is there someone, you say, that you cannot forgive?
When we come to the realization that there are people that we have not forgiven or have troubles forgiving, we come to our heavenly Father, and ask his forgiveness for our unforgiving heart. Having been assured that this is also forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ, we also ask God for the strength and the willingness to forgive as we have been forgiven. This is really the essence of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. There we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgiveness is not always an easy thing to give. It will require effort. It will mean forgiving the same people over and over again. It will mean forgiving people who do not seem to be sorry enough, in our estimation. Yet, when we look at the effort God put into forgiving our sins, we find our motivation for forgiving others. We reflect the love that God has shown to us when we forgive others.
Peter asked Jesus how many times he was to forgive someone who sinned against him. He wanted to know the limits of forgiveness. This morning, I tell you that forgiveness does have its limits. They are: 1. Forgive only with the love that God has for you. 2. Forgive only as often as God has forgiven you. 3. Forgive only as completely as God has forgiven you. May God help us to fully appreciate the forgiveness that he has shown to us. May he help us to reflect that love as we forgive others. Amen.
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