MATTHEW 18, 21-35
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, 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 talents 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.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. 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. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘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?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
The parable of the unmerciful servant. We know this story well. It’s a tale of two debts! One debt the servant owed his master, the other the debt a fellow servant owed him. One debt that would take him over 3,000 lifetimes to repay. The other debt his friend could pay off in 8 months. One debt was totally and completely forgiven. The other the man could never forgive. An action that caused this man to be turned over to eternal tormentors until he should pay back every last cent he owed.
And then we hear those ominous words, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart!” Now that’s frightening! We all have hurts we can’t let go of; hurts we can’t forgive. And to think that Jesus expects us to forgive these people “from the heart”? I don’t know! How can we do that? Let’s listen to this parable one more time and study this TALE OF TWO DEBTS!
This servant owed his master 10,000 talents. Even though the servant begged, “be patient with me and I will pay back everything,” and even though this man thought he could pay back everything, the truth is if this man worked a typical job, getting a typical day’s wage, and if this man paid back everything he got, and kept nothing back for food, clothes, or shelter, it would take him 192,307 years to pay back the debt. Of course, we understand the picture. The debt we owe to God, because of the sins we are constantly committing is insurmountable. We couldn’t even begin to pay back that debt even in 192,307 years.
But, the master, “cancelled the debt and let him go!” Because of Jesus’ suffering on the cross, because of the sacrifice Jesus made, our God can cancel our debt. Our debt is stamped, “Paid in full!” We have forgiveness of sins, and eternal life in Heaven, totally and completely as a precious gift from God.
The debt his fellow servant owed was “100 denarii,” or 100 day’s wages. If this man worked a typical job making a typical day’s wage, and if this man paid half his salary to pay off his debt, and kept the rest to take care of his essentials, it would take him about 8 months to pay back the debt. A sizeable debt, but something that could be paid off with a little patience. And the lesson we learn from this parable is that the debt we owe to God, the sins we commit against God are a super huge insurmountable debt, and the sins other people sin against us, are rather trivial, and don’t amount to all that much.
And that’s where the problem begins. Do you realize how much some people suffer in this world, because of the viciousness of others? Do you realize how painful it is to be abandoned by your mother, and left on the steps of some orphanage? Worse yet, do you know how painful it is to be kept by those parents, only to be beaten, abused, and neglected by those people who were supposed to love you unconditionally? Do you know how painful it is to be bullied in school, to be mocked and ridiculed because you’re a little different than the others? Do you know how painful it is to be a faithful wife for 21 years, only to have your husband trade you in for a younger model, and then works the legal system to leave you living in poverty? Do you know how painful it is to be betrayed by someone you trusted and have your entire life turned upside down? And then to have those excruciating painful experiences called “trivial,” and “don’t amount to much”?
When we are hurt, we expect to see justice served. We wait for the evil people to be punished, and us innocent people exonerated! We’re waiting for an apology from those who hurt us. We’re waiting for that person who hurt us to suffer in some way. And when that doesn’t happen, we begin to get upset, we question everything we’ve learned. And then we begin to get upset with God. Where is God when you need Him? Why doesn’t God bring justice to this situation? Why does God allow wicked people to get away with their wicked way, while innocent people like us suffer needlessly. And sometime, when we hear the pastor talking about the grace, and love and protection of our loving God, we just scoff in disbelief because that’s not the God we’re seeing. And then to hear Christians telling you, “You need to forgive that wicked people for the things he’s done to you,” we seethe with more anger. I cannot forgive! I will not forgive! And if God wants to let wicked people get away with nasty things, and innocent people suffer, then who needs that God? So, just leave me alone! And, then we live in terror that we have become the unmerciful servant, and we are going to be tossed into the hands of those eternal tormentors!
That’s not what we want! But we see no alternative. I can’t forgive that person. And if God demands that I do so or else, well I have no choice. So, is there any way that I can escape my date with those eternal tormentors? Yes! Most assuredly!
First, realize that Jesus never minimizes the pain and anguish you are suffering. He knows personally what you’re going through! And He weeps with you. Perhaps compared to the number of sins we commit against God, the number of sins committed against us don’t seem that many. But the debt that servant owed his fellow servant was sizeable. It’s going to take the better part of a year to get it handled. And the Lord says to us too, “Yes, those sins hurt! And it’s hard to live with! And it may take some time to recover from it.
The second thing Jesus wants us to know is that God doesn’t send us to hell because of our sins. But because of our unbelief. Sometimes, we are terrified that if we ever say, “I’ll never forgive my brother,” or if I go through a period in my life that I hold a grudge and won’t forgive my brother that God is just automatically going to send me straight to hell. That becomes the unpardonable sin. But that’s not the case. It’s not our sin of holding a grudge that sends us to hell. But if we allow that sin to fester and take over more and more of our heart, if we let the anger and vengeance take over our heart, we can push Jesus out of our heart. And now, we are an unbeliever. And now we have that date with those eternal tormentors.
So, how do we keep that from happening? First, understand what God means by forgiving our brother. One! God never expects us to condone their actions. When someone hurts us and then says, “I’m sorry,” what is our usual response? Don’t we say, “Oh, that’s OK!” But sometimes, the hurt is so grievous that we can’t say, “Oh, that’s OK!” But then, God doesn’t expect us to say “Oh that’s OK.!” Because it’s not OK. God never says it’s OK to hurt My children. These people have sinned grievously. And it’s not OK. So, we don’t have to say, ‘Oh, that’s OK!”
Second God never expects us to “forgive and forget.” You will forgive, but you will never forget. Our brain doesn’t work that way. The pain is etched on your brain and it will be there forever. God never tells us to forgive and forget! What will happen is that this painful experience will be like any other scar we have. At first it was huge and ugly, and painful. After a while it just becomes one more scar. And whenever someone asks about it, you will have a story to share.
Third. The forgiveness Jesus asks me to give doesn’t exonerate that person before God. It’s not like the forgiveness we talked about last week, where we are assuring a penitent sinner that God has forgiven him, and the gate of heaven are open to him. No! My forgiveness has nothing to do with his relationship with God. It doesn’t say that God forgives him, and he is free from any consequences. In fact, even though I will forgive him, he may have to suffer all sorts of consequences before God, or in the court system. My forgiveness does not exonerate him from any consequences of his sin.
In fact, the forgiveness I give this person has absolutely nothing to do with that person who hurt me. It has to do with me. The forgiveness I give is simply saying, “I’m not going to wait around for you to pay your debt to me. I’m not waiting around for an apology, or for you to get what you deserve. As far as I am concerned, you don’t owe me a thing! Your debt is paid in full. I am no longer attaching myself to you waiting for justice.” That person may need to face criminal charges if he has committed a crime. But that’s not up to me. That’s up to the court system. As for me, even though this person has hurt me grievously and has incurred a huge debt against me, I am cancelling that debt, just like Jesus did for me. He owes me nothing!
And once I do that, I can get rid of the anger, wrath, and vengeance in my heart, and I can enjoy life again, and I can rejoice with my family and friends. I can also rejoice again in the grace and mercy and love of God. I can once again remember that God is in charge of my life, not this wicked thug; and that God sometimes allows me to suffer hurtful things, so I can do something special for Him. All because I simply follow the example of my Savior. He took my debt of sin I owed him, and even though my debt was grievous, and even though I did nothing to deserve it, He cancelled it in full, and said, “You don’t owe me a thing!” And so, I do the same thing. I take this huge debt this wicked person owes me, and even though his sin is grievous, and even though he has done nothing to warrant such love, I cancel that debt, free myself from him, and tell him, “You don’t owe me a thing.” And now I have peace, because I truly understand this TALE OF TWO DEBTS!