Summary: "The Freedom of Forgiveness" is an exposition of Jesus' Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Point: You are not really free until you sincerely forgive the ones who have sinned against you. As a Christian, you must forgive because God ha

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Matthew 18:21-35

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus teaches his disciples how to respond to a sinning brother. Much attention is given to the final steps of this process, which excludes stubbornly unrepentant people from the fellowship of the church. But the ultimate goal of the process is reconciliation, not excommunication. Peter got the point. In verse 21, he asked “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” Then he recommended a standard: “As many as seven times?”

Peter knew that rabbinical tradition required that an offender be forgiven three times. There was no obligation beyond that, as four offenses would be seen as proof of a lack of genuine repentance. So Peter was being quite generous when he more than doubled the standard. Jesus was not impressed. Verse 22 says: Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” The Greek here is difficult to translate. Some versions read “seven times seven”; while others read “seventy seven times.” Either way, the point is the same. Jesus commands us to forgive our brother without limits. In fact, Luke 17:4 says: “and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” EUGENE PETERSON’S The Message paraphrases 1 Corinthians 13:5 to say that love “doesn’t keep score of the sins of others.” Christians must forgive without limits.

C.S. LEWIS said it well: “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.” Indeed, the actual process of forgiveness is often ugly business. This is why Peter’s question is so relevant. How far is too far? At what point does God deem it okay for me to withhold forgiveness? Why forgive? Jesus answers these important questions by commanding Peter to forgive without limits. And to make it clear how seriously God views this matter of forgiveness, Jesus tells THE PARABLE OF THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANT. The story has three scenes. Scene 1: A king forgives one of his servants of an astronomical debt he has incurred. Scene 2: This servant refuses to forgive a fellow servant a comparatively small debt. Scene 3: The master revokes the forgiveness he extended to the servant who refused to extend forgiveness. These three scenes make one point: YOU ARE NOT REALLY FREE UNTIL YOU SINCERELY FORGIVE THE ONES WHO HAVE SINNED AGAINST YOU. As a Christian, you must forgive because God has forgiven you, because no offense is beyond forgiveness, and because unforgiveness is too costly.


In the opening scene of this parable, a king settles accounts with the servants who had been entrusted with his financial affairs. In the process, he discovers that one servant had misappropriated or embezzled 10,000 talents of his money. This king represents God. You are the debt-ridden servant. And the interaction between the king and this servant in this scene describes your relationship to God in salvation.


MARTIN LUTHER used to say that we are all beggars before God. This is exactly what Jesus teaches us in the opening scene of this parable. Like this servant, you and I have sin-debt for which we have to answer to God. It is an incalculable debt. Jesus says that this servant owed the king 10,000 talents. A talent referred to a weight in coins that was roughly the equivalent of 6,000 denarii. A common worker was paid one denarius for a day’s labor. And one talent was the equivalent of 6,000 denarii. Jesus says that this servant has wasted 10,000 talents of his master’s money. This would have been more than the Roman taxes levied against Palestine and the surrounding provinces combined. Commentators calculate that the debt be multiple millions, even billions, of dollars in our day. The point is that we do not know. It was an incalculable debt. And the fact that it was an incalculable debt means that it was an unpayable debt. There was absolutely no way this man could ever begin to repay what he owed the king. This is the way our sin is before God. We owe a debt that we cannot pay. And we are fooling ourselves if we think that more time or effort will allow us to pay this debt. No future obedience can pay for past transgresses. Psalm 130:3 rightly asks, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” If God gave us what we deserved, all of us would be condemned. We owe a debt we cannot pay


The compassion this master had for his servant illustrates the free, full, and faithful forgiveness of God. First of all, the forgiveness of God is free. The master rejected the servant’s plea for more time. And he did not demand full repayment. For that matter, he did not demand a partial repayment. He freely forgave him. That is what God does for us through the blood and righteousness of Christ. He freely forgives. Likewise, the forgiveness of God is full. Verse 27 says that the master did two things for the unworthy servant: He released him and forgave the debt. This is a picture of grace and mercy. The master both held back the punishment the servant deserved and gave him favor that he did not deserve. It was full forgiveness. That is what God does for us. Thirdly, the forgiveness of God is faithful. Do not let the tragic ending of this story taint your view of the master’s compassion. When he declared the servant forgiven, it was a faithful promise. And you can count of the word of God that declares you forgiven.

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