Summary: Expository and topical look at forgiveness from the parable of the unforgiving debtor.
Matthew 18:21-35 - My Chains Fell Off
At a convention with their wives, two businessmen who had been roommates in college crossed paths. They sat in the lobby all night talking. They knew they would be in trouble with their wives. The next day they happened to see each other. "What did your wife think?"
"I walked in the door and my wife got historical."
"Don’t you mean hysterical?”
"No, historical. She told me everything I ever did wrong."
Have you ever met those people, the ones who seem to rehash the past forever? The ones who seem to live in their memories more than in the present? The ones who can’t seem to get past some issue, some hang-up, some roadblock in their past? As if they are still chained to something years ago.
Today, as we continue through our series on the Apostles’ Creed, we will look at forgiveness. Now, forgiveness really exists on two main levels: forgiveness from God to us, and forgiveness from us to others. Most of us rejoice in the first and stumble on the second. We are glad that the Lord forgives us from our sins and failures. But we are troubled when we know that we need to forgive someone else.
But then again, maybe our trouble is not when we know we need to forgive; it’s when we think we don’t have to forgive. After all, this is one of those messages that you’re wishing someone else heard. It’s someone else’s problem, not yours. Someone else is bitter; someone else has a problem. But not you. You’re OK. You’re allowed to be bitter. You’re allowed to fester and stew. You’re allowed to hold a grudge because of what happened to you. And if I knew what had happened to you, I wouldn’t expect you to forgive anyone.
Well, it’s true that I don’t know what has happened to you. But I know Jesus does. And I know what He has said about forgiveness. So today’s message isn’t from the pastor; it’s from the Lord. Well, I hope every message I have is from the Lord, but know that this is not my opinion; it’s straight from God.
I mention forgiveness fairly often, for a few reasons. 1) Unforgiveness is more subtle than most sins. It’s sneaky. It crawls into your spirit so gently, so nobly, so innocently that you don’t know it’s there until it really has you.
2) It’s also more common than most sins. We all battle it from time to time. Even though we may not stumble over the “bigger” sins, the sins of the flesh, lack of forgiveness seems to affect more of us. And
3) it’s also more dangerous. It may not cause overdoses and car accidents, but it will divide churches, families, marriages, and nations. Unforgiveness has been called the cancer of the soul. Unchecked, it will eat us alive.
Turn with me to Matthew 18:21-35 for a story that describes how Jesus looks at forgiveness on the two levels: from God and for others. And Jesus also shows us what lack of forgiveness will do to us. He compares unforgiveness to a prison. (read scripture)
In this simple story, a man owes his employer thousands, even millions of dollars. He was about to be thrown into prison. The man pleads for mercy, and the boss gives it to him. The debt is erased, and the man can go free.
How the man ended up owing millions is beyond me. But it’s clear that the huge debt is like our own. Each of us accumulated a huge debt towards God. He created the world, He created us. He loved us, took care of us, fed us, clothed us. Yet at some point each of us wandered away. At some point we each said, “I don’t need all this. I can do it myself. I don’t need your love. I don’t need you.” And we ran up quite a bill before our Maker. And the prison we deserved is hell. Each of us deserves eternal punishment.
Yet, God says to us: Be sorry for what you did, for who you are. Be willing to do anything for me out of gratitude, out of thanks to me. And the debt gets erased. Just like that. It’s called grace. It’s called mercy. It’s called forgiveness. He offers it to each of us. But whether we accept it or not is up to us.
But the story doesn’t end there. The man had someone owe him money, a few bucks. He immediately walks out from his employer’s office and demands a payment. Understand: he doesn’t need it as the start of a re-payment plan. It was purely selfish reasons why he demanded this money back. Well, the employer heard about this and brought the first man back into his courts. He scolded him severely, then threw him into prison. And in this prison, the man would face torture.