This sermon was delivered by Pastor Joel Littlefield at New City Church, Bath, ME on March 18, 2018.
First, I want to clarify the definitions of the two key components in this text, then we’ll address what Jesus is saying to us about it, and how this affects each of us today.
First, what is forgiveness? We can look at it two ways. To experience forgiveness is to be released from bondage or imprisonment. Second, to be the one to forgive is to pardon the offended, or to let go as if the offense had never been committed, and no longer hold anything against them. And let’s just say right off the bat that just because Jesus teaches it, doesn’t mean that doing it is easy.
I also want you to know that Jesus’s teaching on forgiveness is not just a moral lesson. The main goal of this text or this message is not to get you to be better at forgiving. And I’m not saying that if you forgive everyone in your life and become the most generous person in the world that God will forgive you because of it. Forgiveness from God is never earned by good works, but it is always transformational, leading to good works.
Whether we are the ones forgiving a wrong, or the ones in need of forgiveness today, there is a greater issue that Jesus is bringing up and it’s that you and I have trespassed against God. And if not pardoned, we owe God a greater debt than what we could ever owe to anyone.
The second word in play here is the word debt. In short, we know this is referring to sin. It’s a sin debt. People who don’t think of sin as debt at all probably also don’t believe in a God who judges sinners or that everyone who is not forgiven of sin will one day pay for their debt with their life by eternal banishment from the loving and favorable presence of God.
Think of it like this. God gave all mankind life at creation. Instead of giving him worship and glory, we rebelled and sinned, and now we’re in debt and the payment is death.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells a parable that we call “The parable of the unforgiving servant”. As with all parables, Jesus is painting a picture of a certain truth about the Kingdom that will be very clear to all those God is giving an ear to hear it, and will remain mysterious to the hard of heart. Peter comes to Jesus and says, “How many times do I have to forgive a person who wrongs me?” And Jesus says, not just seven times, as Peter had hoped, but 77 times, and proceeds with this story of what the Kingdom is like.
The Kingdom of God in this parable is described as having a King. That King has servants. Notice that there is a record of account between the King and every servant. Everyone owes the King something. They are indebted to Him.
Jesus narrows in on one servant that owes the King 10,000 talents. That is the modern equivalent of approximately 7 Billion dollars (20 years wages x 10.000) Impossible to pay that back, right? And because he was unable to pay, the master demanded that he be sold with his wife and his children and all their possessions in order to pay the debt. In other words, sin costs you everything. The next moment the servant is on his knees imploring his master for mercy and patience, and suddenly with a great act of grace the master forgives all the debt.
Just as he’s leaving his master with this great burden now lifted, he looks over and sees one of his fellow servants, a man just like him, who owes him only a couple hundred dollars in today’s equivalent. What does he do? He seizes him and grabs him by the throat to demands that he pay his debt immediately. The fellow servant pleaded with him, just as he had done with the King earlier, but the servant had no pity on his fellow man and he cast him into prison until he could pay. When rest of the town caught wind of this unforgiving servant they brought the news to the master. Notice what the master said.
“You wicked servant. I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt. So also will your Heavenly Father do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
So that we do not misunderstand this sermon as just a moral lesson, and think that the way to be right before God is to forgive others (a work), let me clarify what this is saying in light of the rest of Scripture.
God is THAT King. The servants are all the peoples on this globe and everyone in this room this morning. We have all owed God because we have all sinned against him, and the debt is greater than 7 billion dollars. In fact, it’s an eternal debt that none of us can pay. The message of forgiveness goes out to all this morning.
Forgiveness in Jesus, through faith in the finished work of the cross, is the only payment sufficient to carry our debts away and cast them as far as the east is from the west.
It’s a work of the Holy Spirit to bring a man to repentance and faith in the cross, and to the realization that because of Jesus’s blood shed for us we are debt free.
No guilt. No record of sin held against us.
Here’s the application. If you leave this room today and find that in your heart you cannot love those who hate you, that you will not forgive the person who has wronged you, that you will not stop trying to avenge yourself for all that the unjust and unfair people of this world have done to you, then you are only proving the very thing that this servant proved to his master. You do not know the forgiveness of God and you do not understand the Gospel, and you are still in debt with no hope of ever paying.
There is no purgatory. There is no reincarnation to try this all again. There is only one life and one hope for this life, and that is to be purchased by the blood of Jesus to belong forever to Him, to be forgiven of all sin and filled with His mercy. And with that mercy God transforms a person to go and do likewise.
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”