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Author:Rev. Andre Holtslag
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Dovedale
 Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand
 dovedale.rcnz.org.nz
 
Title:The (Awkward?) Truth About Forgiveness
Text:Matthew 18:21-35 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness
 
Preached:2017-11-12
Added:2017-11-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Old Testament Reading - Isaiah 1:1-18 - Forgiveness - God cleanses/washes

Hymn of application - Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive - Rosamund Herklots

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Andre Holtslag, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

I wonder if you know that one of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer has a 'footnote'!  It is the petition, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."  For immediately after concluding the prayer, Jesus provides the 'footnote': "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."  And if we still don't get what Jesus is saying, His 'footnote' receives another 'footnote' with our text, the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. 

And I have to confess that I find the Lord's Prayer petition, the 'footnote,' and this parable, a bit uncomfortable to read.  Is it the same with you?  And that is because forgiveness does not come naturally to me.  Oh yes, I really like the idea that God forgives me, but I do not find it easy to forgive others.   And this parable ends with a very strong warning for un-forgivers!  After telling us that the unmerciful servant was sent to torture, Jesus says, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” 

Well, However, before we say anything more about the warning, we better start at the beginning! 

Jesus tells this parable to Peter and maybe to all the disciples.  And forgiveness was not a new concept to them. 

  • Way back in Exodus 34, God reveals Himself as one who forgives sin. 
  • And Isaiah 1, which we read earlier, pictures God’s forgiveness as making scarlet sins “whiter than snow.”
  • And Jesus has already taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, which calls on His followers to forgive others.
  • And in vv15-20, Jesus gives some instruction about what to do with a brother who sins against you.  And the hope is that the brother will listen to you when you show Him his sin and seek your forgiveness.   

Well, Peter has clearly been listening to the teaching of Jesus and thinking about it.  But Peter is a product of the religious understanding of his day. 

  • According to the writings of Rabbi Jose ben Judah, for example, “If a brother sins against you once, forgive him; a second time, forgive him; a third time, forgive him; but a fourth time, do not forgive him.”  And maybe Peter has heard ideas like this.  
  • And by Peter’s reckoning, Jesus has just said something similar, as in, go to your sinning brother yourself (strike 1), then take someone with you (strike 2), and then tell the church (strike 3, he’s out!). 
  • But Peter has another scenario in mind.  Peter is thinking about a person who does repent at some stage in the process Jesus outlined.  But what if he commits the same sin again?  And hoping to demonstrate that he has risen above the level of common Jewish understanding because he has been listening to Jesus, he says, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?" 

 

Now, many of us know how Jesus responds.  He says, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  But put yourself in Peter’s shoes, for a moment:

Imagine that I borrowed a worskshop or kitchen tool from you and I brought it back but when you go to use it you find that it is broken.  So you tell me about it and I apologize and offer to fix it, which I do.  All sorted.  But next week I am back for the same tool and it comes back to you broken again.  Same deal.  At what point will you ask yourself if I am really sorry?  Second time?  Fourth?  At what point will you think, “If I keep letting him use that tool, will he ever learn to be more careful?”  Third time?  Fifth?  At what point will you say, “You cannot borrow my tools anymore!” 

But of course, tools are just things.  Ask yourself the same question in terms of physical violence or some sort of abuse.  How often would you forgive a person for the same sin?  

So now consider Peter’s question again.  I think what Peter offers here is extraordinary!  I say, “Hats off to Peter!”  Peter is willing to forgive seven times!  I am not sure I would get close to that.  How about you?

But if your reaction is like mine, it just shows that we have much to learn about God’s mercy towards us in Jesus.  For Jesus’ answer is not about an actual number limit on how many times we have to forgive others.  The number He mentions is a symbol of infinity.  Jesus is calling for unlimited forgiveness.

And then Jesus provides this parable

  1. And we read about a king.  And clearly, he is a very wealthy king.  And he is a book-keeping king.  You have a debt, you pay it back.  And he has it all in his little account book. 
    1. And as the debtor’s court begins, a man owing 10,000 talents is brought before him.  Now, a talent is 165 kg.  Thus, 10,000 talents is 1,650,000 kg or 1,650 tonnes.  An average car weighs 1.5 tonnes.  So we are talking about a pile the size of 1,100 cars. 
      1. And although we are not told, if it was talents of gold, according to today’s prices, it would equal around 120 billion dollars!
      2. To put this in perspective, in Jesus’ day, King Herod’s total tax revenue for the year amounted to just 900 talents.  But this man owes 10,000 talents!  This is a vast, impossible amount.  This is a debt that no servant could ever pay back.

So here is parable lesson 1 – Judgment Day is coming

Every human being will stand before God with a debt of sin that is as immense as this servant’s financial debt.  Just one sin would make us deserving of hell, but our pile of sin is immense.  And each day, our thoughts, our words, and our actions just add to the pile.

  1. Now, this debtor was not able to pay.  And so the king orders his wife and children and all that he had sold to repay the debt. 
  2. But then the servant falls down and begins to beg.  He pleads for time so that he can pay back what he owes.  Literally, he says to the king, “Be big-hearted.” 
  3. And we are told that the king “took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.”  Now, note that the servant did not ask to have the debt cancelled.  He really thought that if he was given more time he could pay off this enormous debt. 
    1. And here is how foolish his thinking was.  When I was giving you those calculations about the weight and value of 10,000 talents earlier, I had to enter 1,650,000 * 63,750.  That is the total weight in KGs * the $ value per/kg of gold.  And when I pressed equals, the screen said E – error.  The number was too big for the calculator!
    2. Now, eventually, I got the figure using Google.  But not even Google could calculate the debt of your or my sin.  According to modern medical research we process 10,000 thoughts per day.  So let’s say, for argument’s sake, that sin is somehow attached to just a quarter of those thoughts, that would mean around 912,000 sin affected thoughts every year of life.  So, at age 7, that is already over 6 million sinful thoughts.  At age 47, that is 43 million sinful thoughts.  And that’s just our thoughts!

So here is where we see parable lesson 2 – You see, many people really do think that they can earn eternal life.  The Jews of Jesus’ day thought that they deserved heaven.  They saw themselves as law-keepers.  They thought that on JDay, God would check His ledger and find more obedience than disobedience.  That is why they hated Jesus so much, because He told them that they were sinners who could only find salvation in Him.  But today also, if you go out there and ask people what would happen if they were to die and stand before God?  Most will reply, I should be OK.  I’ve been pretty good.  I haven’t murdered anyone.  There should be enough on the credit page to outweigh what’s on the debit page.  God will ‘let me in.’  I deserve to go to heaven.

  1. But in Jesus’ parable, the King does not give the servant more time to pay off his debt; the King chooses, instead, to cancel or forgive that impossible debt. 
  2. So what happened next?  Well, the servant went out, found someone who owed him just a hundred denarii, or about 4 months wages – a quite re-payable, affordable debt – and refused that servant’s cries for patience, throwing him, instead, into prison. 
  3. And those who witnessed this were deeply distressed.  They saw that this was horribly wrong.  And so, they went and told the king.  And the king hauled the servant back before him and said, in effect, How could you?  How could you not show mercy as I showed you mercy?  And then, that wicked servant was thrown into prison where he would be tortured until the debt was repaid. 
  4. And finally Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Well, these words don’t get any easier to read, do they!  There really is no way around the force of these words: God takes very seriously whether or not, and to what degree, and how often, I forgive others. 

But again, let’s think about the Bible’s big picture first in terms of this parable.

This servant is every single human being.  God has given us life and every good gift.  But we have an impossible debt of sin and guilt against Him that we simply cannot pay for.

So what is the good news about God that this parable reveals?  It is that God is a God who cancels sin’s debt and sets people free.  And He did this by sending His Son, Jesus, to earth.  And Jesus came and died on the cross.  And He died on the cross to pay the debt that we cannot pay.  So salvation is as simple as this, believe that Jesus died for you and your sins are forgiven; your debt is wiped away.  So believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and instead of receiving the justice of God on Judgment Day, you will receive His mercy now and forevermore!  That’s forgiveness in the vertical - us and God.

And the point that Jesus is making is about forgiveness in the horizontal - between us.  So we are talking about cross shaped forgiveness!   Anyone who experiences the forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ will forgive others.  You cannot truly understand the forgiveness you have been shown in Jesus and not forgive others.

And that was the unmerciful servant’s big problem; how he treated his servant revealed that he did not truly understand the mercy he had been shown by the King. 

Brothers and sisters, young people, and boys and girls, the message of this parable is that The forgiven will forgive.  Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Yes, because we still struggle with the weakness of our humanity, and because we will not be fully free of sin until we are in heaven with Jesus, it maybe that we struggle with the temptation not to forgive someone at first, but as the Spirit of God reminds us that in Christ all our sins have been forgiven, we will forgive others.

So the persons who should be jarred by how Jesus closes this parable are those who refuse to forgive others.  The warning from Jesus is unambiguous: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” 

Now, I know that some of you will thinking to yourself, Well, its alright for you, Reverend, to trot out the command to forgive.  But you don’t understand how deeply I have been hurt!  You don’t understand my pain!  And the person who hurt me won’t even acknowledge that they have done wrong!  I just cannot forgive them. 

But what you have heard today is that whatever sin has been committed against you is nothing compared to the sins you have committed against God!  So whether it be something small or something big, God’s word calls on you to forgive the person who has sinned against you. 

And just to be clear, there are two parts to forgiveness.  And I am just borrowing from others when I call one part transactional and the other part attitudinal.  Verse 15 describes transactional forgiveness.  This is when the sinner repents and apologizes to the person he or she has sinned against and receives forgiveness.  But that doesn’t always happen, does it.  Some people refuse to apologize for what they have done to us.  Well, then we are to have an attitude of forgiveness toward them.  It should still be our desire that they repent and apologize, but we don’t hold this over them and avoid them and hate them.  That is a bitterness that will just chew us up and affect relationships.  We choose, instead, because of the love that God shows to us undeserving sinners, to be loving and kind and generous toward them.

Well, I think I am on safe ground when I say to that all of us need to grow in the grace of forgiveness.  So let us call on God in prayer and ask Him to help us forgive others as He has forgiven us in Christ: “O God, we see that we need the forgiveness of our sins, and that we want your abundant mercy.  But we confess that hatred and a desire for revenge and an unwillingness to forgive others rise far too easily in our hearts.  Please help us, O Lord.  Remind us, again and again, of the free and full forgiveness that you have shown us in Jesus Christ.  Create in us that forgiving spirit which better reflects the grace and mercy that you have shown us.”   Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Andre Holtslag, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Andre Holtslag

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