Summary: The radical nature of God’s forgiveness for us, and why it is essential that we forgive others in turn.
Erasing the Debt: Matt. 18:21-35
“Your Kingdom Come”; July 20, 2003
A pastor’s son and his mom had been to a shopping mall and the boy had acted badly, wanting this and that, running off, etc. As they were driving home, he could sense her displeasure and said, "When we ask God to forgive us when we are bad, He does, doesn’t He?" His mother replied, "Yes, He does." The boy continued, "And when he forgives us, He buries our sins in the deepest sea, doesn’t He?" The mom replied, "Yes, that’s what the Bible says." The boy was silent for awhile and then said, "I’ve asked God to forgive me, but I bet when we get home, you’re going to go fishing for those sins, aren’t you?"
DL Moody once said, “God has cast our confessed sins into the depths of the sea, and He’s even put a “No Fishing” sign over the spot.
As we continue our summer look at what the Kingdom of God is like, we come to another parable of Jesus in Matt. 18:21-35. It tells us first that the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of incredible forgiveness – of grace beyond what we could ever imagine. But there is an edge to the parable, which takes it one step further: our forgiveness from God is contingent upon our forgiving others. Let’s read the parable:
The parable is Jesus’ response to Peter’s question. You might be interested to know that the rabbis around Jesus taught that you should forgive a person for the same offense three, or at the most, four times – then you were free to act however you wanted towards the persistent offender. So Peter is starting to get that Jesus’ message takes things to a higher level, and he suggests maybe seven times is appropriate. If I could paraphrase Jesus’ response, I think He is saying, “Seven!?! Ha! You think that is complete?? How about this: seventy times seven” and then He tells the parable. In its simplest form, Jesus’ response is this: “don’t keep track.” Seventy times seven is a lot – 490 – which if we were to put it into perspective is someone sinning against you, the same sin, every single day for one year and four months. Hurting you, asking for forgiveness, then doing the same thing the next day, every day, for 16 months. Jesus says keep forgiving, and don’t keep track.
That sounds a little crazy. I mean, how many of us would put up with that kind of thing from someone else? How many of us would even put up with that kind of thing happening to someone else we knew and cared about?? We would likely pull them aside, tell them to stick up for themselves, tell them to fight back, put an end to this situation, walk away. Jesus says, in the Kingdom of God, we keep forgiving. Grace doesn’t wear out. Forgiveness is not a finite thing, in danger of being used up. And I’m not here talking about God’s grace to us, or God’s forgiveness to us – though the statement is true of that also – but rather of the grace we are to have for one another and the forgiveness we are to have for one another. If we take the parable seriously, I can assert that our salvation depends on it.
That is pretty radical, don’t you think? Why would we do such a thing – continually forgiving one another time after time after time? Why would Jesus expect such a thing as that from us – doesn’t He understand what it is like down here, doesn’t He understand how difficult it is to live with some of the people around us?
This is the question the parable answers – the “why” question.
The Kingdom of God is like…
It is basically a three act play. In act one, the King decides to settle some accounts. One of the servants brought before Him owes an absolutely huge sum. Jesus says, “ten thousand talents.” A “talent” was the highest denomination of currency, and “ten thousand” the highest number in their language. It is a story, and Jesus is clearly using hyperbole in describing how much is owed. The exact amount would be roughly sixty million days wages – if (for simplicity sake) we set an average day’s wage in today’s currency at $100, that would make 6 billion dollars. Obviously, the point is that this servant owed an incredible debt that he could never, ever repay. So the king did what was right, and ordered that all the assets of this servant be sold, and that he and his family be sold into slavery, to recoup as much as possible. Act one ends with the servant begging for mercy, making a rather silly and impossible promise to pay back the entire amount, and hearing the amazing, incredible, unimaginable response of the king: “oh, all right. I will have mercy on you and forgive you the entire debt. It is cancelled. Go a free man, owing nothing.”