Summary: # 9 in a series on the "The Stories That Jesus Told" - The Parables. This sermon examines the cost of unforgiveness in our lives.
The Stories That Jesus Told
Sermon # 9
“Parable of The Unforgiving Servant”
“The World’s Worst Prison”
“One of my favorite stories concerns a man who was bitten by a dog, which was later discovered to be rabid. The man was rushed to the hospital where tests revealed that he had, in fact, contracted rabies. At he time, medical science had no solution for this problem, and his doctor faced the difficult task of informing him that his condition was incurable and terminal. ‘Sir, we will do all we can to make you comfortable. But I cannot give you false hope. There is nothing we can really do. My best advice is that you put your affairs in order as soon as possible.’ The dying man sank back on his bed in shock, but finally rallied enough strength to ask for a pen and some paper. He then set to work with great energy. An hour later, when the doctor returned, the man was stilling writing vigorously. ’I’m glad to see that you’re working on your will.’ ‘This ain’t no will, Doc. This is a list of the people I’m going to bite before I die. Many of us live and die with that kind of list, written in our minds, if not on paper.” [Gary Inrig. The Parables: Understanding What Jesus Meant. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1991) p. 63]
It is easy to proclaim the virtue of forgiveness. But the reality is another matter. C.S. Lewis put it so well, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word until, you have some -thing to forgive.” But why is forgiveness so hard? First, forgiveness is difficult because it is not natural. The natural human impulse is to get even, to exact revenge. Forgiveness goes against the grain of human existence. Secondly, forgiveness is hard because it is not fair. To forgive without just repayment offends our sense of justice. We want to be vindicated.
Today in our series “The Stories Jesus Told” the apostle Peter also struggled with the issue of forgiveness. In Matthew chapter eighteen Jesus has been dealing with the subject of dealing with a brother who has sinned. As Peter listens to the LORD teach he fastens on one aspect, “What does this mean about how much I must forgive someone who has wronged me?” Peter directs his question to the Lord asking in verse twenty-one, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"
Peter makes two mistakes that are apparent to us. First, he assumes that his brother will sin against him and not he against his brother. And secondly, Peter wanted to set some kind of limit on forgiveness. In all fairness to Peter he was generous in his limit. He asked if forgiving seven times would be sufficient. The Rabbi’s of the time taught that one must forgive three times, this is drawn from a misunder-standing of the book of Amos, which says that God would revoke punishment against them for three transgressions but not for four. Thus they taught that God himself never forgave more than three times. To Peter’s credit he is more than doubling what the Rabbi’s taught.
I believe that Jesus dumbfounds Peter with his reply in verse twenty-two. "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” The term “seventy times seven” is literally “seventy seven” and is a little ambiguous it can mean either “seventy plus seven” or “seventy times seven” but the meaning is the same it is a call for unlimited forgiveness. By the time you have forgiven someone that many times, you are in the habit of forgiving and will not need to set limits.