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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Seventy-Seven Times
Text:Matthew 18:15-35 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness
 
Added:2023-12-12
Updated:2023-12-15
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

The Ends of All the Earth Shall Hear     
How Blest Is He Whose Trespass      
From Out of the Depths I Cry    
I Will Sing of My Redeemer        

 

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


“Seventy-Seven Times”
Matthew 18:15-35
 
In this passage, Jesus carefully and thoroughly describes how we are to treat a brother or sister in Christ who sins against us. We are to go to them one on one, keeping the matter private. If they won’t listen to us, we are to bring one or two witnesses, and if they “still don’t turn from their sin,it becomes a matter for the elders of the church.
 
After hearing the careful instruction given by Jesus, Peter asked in verse 21, Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Quite possibly Peter expected that Jesus would be impressed by his offer to forgive up to seven times. The Jewish leaders taught that people ought to forgive three times. It was based in part on passages such as Job 33:29-30, Amos 1:3, and 2:6. Those verses were used out of context to teach a limit, usually three times, on how often to forgive someone.
 
Peter may have been thinking, “This is really a tough teaching that I have to forgive those who sin against me. Hopefully, I only have to forgive three times, as the rabbis say, and I’m off the hook, but I’ll offer seven.” Today, many would say, “Three strikes and you’re out. You hurt me again so I’m not forgiving you anymore. You had your last chance.”
 
But Jesus replied with an answer that must have totally surprised Peter and the other disciples.  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” You may have noticed the footnote to verse 22 which says, “Or seventy times seven.” The point Jesus makes is that we must always forgive. Not just three times, or seven times, or seventy-seven times, or four hundred ninety times, but always. William Hendriksen notes: “(Forgiveness) is a state of heart, not a matter of calculation. One might as well ask, ‘How often must I love my wife, my husband, my children?’ as to ask ‘How often must I forgive?’”  (New Testament Commentary on Matthew, pg. 704).
 
To drive the point home that we must always be willing to forgive others, Jesus tells us the parable of the unmerciful servant. The servant appears to have had a position of power within his master’s kingdom. Many commentators believe that he was a high official who perhaps had charge of the taxes and was to deliver them to the king at the proper time. They reason that because of the huge amount of money he owed and many believe he had probably been embezzling. 
 
The footnote in the NIV likens what he owed to several million dollars. The study Bible in the English Standard Version (ESVSB), which is an excellent study Bible, equates the amount that the unmerciful servant owed to six billion dollars in our currency today. Hendriksen, by his math, points out that the unmerciful servant owed 600,000 times more money to the king than the other servant owed him.
 
Although the sum owed was astronomical, the king forgave the debt when the man fell on his knees before him to beg forgiveness. Yet, after this incredibly high debt was canceled, what did this unmerciful servant do?  Verse 28: But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.”
 
The servant who owed the one hundred denarii responded to the unmerciful servant just as the unmerciful servant had responded to the king. He said, “Be patient with me and I will pay you back.” He undoubtedly could have. He owed a much smaller amount. The unmerciful servant could have never paid back the debt he owed the king, but his fellow servant could have paid back the small sum he owed him; it was equivalent to a few dollars. But in verse 30 we read that he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.”
 
Through this parable Jesus clearly teaches us that because our great debt of sin has been paid, we must forgive the sins of those who hurt us, for their harm to us is nothing compared to our sin against God Himself. We are always to forgive those who have sinned against us, not just three times, or seven, or seventy-seven times, but always. But forgiving someone else is easier said than done, isn’t it? 
 
Willingness to Forgive
 
Forgiving others involves, first, a willing spirit on our part to forgive. When we have been hurt by someone who has sinned against us, we can quickly build a calloused heart. But instead, we need the same compassion and the same willingness to forgive as the king in this parable had. In verse 27 we read how the king took pity on the servant who had the enormous debt. He canceled the debt and let him go.
 
However, we have probably all met Christians who say that they cannot forgive someone unless that person asks them for forgiveness. In the strict theological definition of forgiveness, they are absolutely right. We are to forgive as God has forgiven us. How and when does God forgive us? Only when, by His grace, we come to Him in true repentance and saving faith. But if we do not acknowledge our sin, we are not forgiven.
 
I’ve known professing Christians who take this view, which is theologically correct, but they hang on to it tenaciously without kindness and compassion for the person who needs to repent.  One man, an elder in his church who had many marks of a kind, considerate, loving Christian man, would bristle at the thought of forgiving his brother who had sinned against him. He would say, “It’s impossible for me to forgive him because he hasn’t asked me to.”  And the brother whom he refused to forgive was his literal flesh and blood brother whom he had grown up with. 
       
That man, although he had great theological knowledge, didn’t have a willing spirit to forgive his own brother. Although we cannot forgive someone in the strict theological definition of forgiveness unless they ask to be forgiven, we still need to have that willing spirit to forgive. John Calvin, in his Harmony of the Gospels, points out that there are two ways in which offenses are forgiven. And then he goes on to outline what it means to have a willing spirit to forgive others. He writes: “If a man shall do me an injury, and I, laying aside the desire of revenge, do not cease to love him, but even repay kindness in place of injury… still I am said to forgive him.”  (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 16; pg. 364)
 
And that attitude of having a willing spirit to forgive others must be in each one of us. That doesn’t mean that we gloss over the sin or pretend that it doesn’t matter. There is a time to be stern about sin as you try to, in Jude’s words, snatch others from the fire” (Jude 1:23). But even when there is sternness, there must also be a willing spirit to forgive.
  
Secondly, we must do everything we can to facilitate forgiveness. In the verses that precede this parable, the purpose of going to our brother or sister who has sinned against us is not to retaliate, or to seek justice for ourselves. Instead, the purpose of going to the person who has sinned against us is to bring them to repentance. You go to them for their spiritual good so that they are reconciled to God, the church, and to you. 
 
If you have done that, and the person still hasn’t repented, you can still help them in a powerful way. You can pray for them, asking God to bring the conviction of His Holy Spirit into their heart and bring repentance. It is crucial to pray for them, for their good and for yours. Have you noticed that when you pray for someone, especially someone who has hurt you, your own heart is softened and healed? It is virtually impossible to hold a grudge against a person for whom you are faithfully praying.
 
And then, thirdly, when this person you have been praying for, asks to be forgiven you are to forgive them just as God, through Christ, has forgiven us. However, sometimes, when you have been hurt very badly, it is hard to forgive the one who has sinned against you, even though they come to you and ask for that forgiveness. Consider, for example, a husband or wife who has cheated on their marriage partner. They have put a dagger through their spouse’s heart. Yet, if that person is truly repentant and asks for forgiveness, then forgiveness is to be granted.
 
Jesus explains why, in verses 32, 33: “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’” God has had mercy on us and we are to be merciful to those who have sinned against us. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven.
 
This parable of the unmerciful servant fits in not only with verses 15-20, about going to your brother who has sinned against you, but it also fits in with the Lord’s prayer. We are all familiar with the fifth petition of the prayer our Lord taught us, “Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  In that petition, we see that the forgiveness of the debt of our sin is linked directly with us forgiving others. And most of us remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:14 when He said, For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
 
Those passages almost seem to teach that our forgiveness is related to works, that our forgiveness of others earns God’s forgiveness of us. Far from teaching a works salvation, Jesus is instead teaching that if we have true saving faith in Him, then, as we realize the enormity of what we have been forgiven, we will forgive others.
 
An Ever-Increasing Debt
 
Do you think this parable describes a unique situation?  Another one of those interesting little stories Jesus told?  Nothing more? Actually, the parable describes the situation of every person who has ever lived. It describes you, it describes me, it describes our children, our grandchildren. It describes everyone who has ever lived because it speaks of our debt of sin. And we are all sinners. As it is written, ‘There is no one righteous, not even one… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:10, 23)
 
Have you thought about how many sins you have committed?  The example used by Dr. James Kennedy, founder of Evangelism Explosion, is well known. I’ve used this example before, but I use it again without apology because it is so effective in giving people – including you and me – at least a small inkling of the enormity of our debt of sin. 
 
Kennedy’s illustration is based on the example of committing just three sins per day. We all know it is far more; we all have sins of commission, omission, words, thoughts, deeds, and motives. But let’s just say, for the sake of example, that we sin three times per day. When we multiply those three daily sins by 365, we come up with 1,095 sins per year. By this example, you ten-year-olds have already committed 10,950 sins!
 
And it only gets worse. Most debts are reduced. You pay the orthodontist and you count those coupons. Eventually, the last one will be paid and the bill will be paid in full. The same is true for the mortgage, the car payment, or an installment loan. But not so with sin. A ten-year-old would have 10,950 sins by Kennedy's example. Parents, if they’re pushing forty, have 43,800 sins. And grandpa and grandma?  Opa and Oma?  Mimi and Pops? Those saintly looking people of God, how many sins have they accumulated in their lifetime? By this illustration, which is way low at three sins per day, would put a seventy-five-year-old at 82,125 sins.
  
How do you pay a debt that keeps on growing? It’s like paying the minimum payment on a credit card with a high interest rate as you continue to charge the card beyond its maximum limit. You will never pay it off. In an even deeper sense, none of us can pay the debt of our sin. We can’t even make a minimum payment. None of us are able to pay the debt for even just one of our innumerable sins. As Psalm 49:7-8 puts it: No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough…”
 
That is a second truth that Scripture drives home clearly: You and I cannot pay the penalty for our sin any more than the unmerciful servant in the parable could pay his debt. The debt of your sin and mine is far too great for us to pay. Christ alone can – and has – paid the debt of sin for those who repent and believe in Him. Verse 27 describes how the servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” That is exactly what God has done for us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement” – “propitiation” – Romans 3:25 explains, “through faith in his blood.”
 
And when we truly see that Christ has paid the debt of our sin – an amount far greater than we could count – then out of gratitude we have, through the gift of saving faith, a new nature – a Christ-like nature which is willing to forgive. Our willingness to forgive is directly linked to our realization of God’s forgiveness of our sins.
 
As fallen human beings, it’s not easy to forgive others. Yet our willingness to forgive reveals how clearly we understand and appreciate the forgiveness that God through Christ has extended to us. 
 
May the teaching of this parable, the verses that precede it, and the whole of Scripture, mold in us by God’s sanctifying Spirit, a willingness to forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven. As Ephesians 4:32 puts it: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Amen.
 
 
Sermon outline:
 
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I
forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
     
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”                                                                                                                                                                              Matthew 18:21, 22
 
                                 “Seventy-Seven Times”
                                       Matthew 18:15-35
 
I.  This parable teaches us that we are always to forgive those who have
     sinned against us (21-22).  This includes:
     1) Having a willing spirit to forgive others (27)
 
 
 
     2) Doing all we can to facilitate forgiveness (15-20)
 
 
 
     2) Forgiving others as God has forgiven us (32, 33; Eph. 4:32)
 
 
 
II.  If we realize, through true saving faith, the enormity of what we
      have been forgiven, we will forgive others (32-35) because:
      1) We are all debtors to God’s grace (23; Rom. 3:10, 23)
 
 
 
      2) None of us are able to pay the debt (25; Psa. 49:7-8; Rom. 3:20)
 
 
 
      3) Christ alone can, and has, paid the debt of sin for those who
          repent and believe in Him (27; 20:28; Rom. 3:24-25; 2 Cor. 5:21)
 

 

 




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

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