A FORGIVEN PEOPLE FORGIVE
Walking the Road of unlimited forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35)
Matthew 18:21-35 CSB
Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?”  “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.  “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him.  Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.  “At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’  Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.  “That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’  “At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’  But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed.  When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened.  Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.  Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed.  So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”
THE FRUIT OF AN UNFORGIVING WORLD
“What are you?” A member of the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston asked at the trial of the Dylan Roof.1 In June 2015 Dylan Roof walked into a Bible study in Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and murdered eight of her fellow African-American parishioners and their pastor. Why? They were different, the other, and in an unforgiving world, those who are not like us are against us – thus they were the enemy. In a world of selfishness, one sees enemies and threats everywhere. In a letter to his mother, he wrote:
“I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed… I have shed a tear of self-pity for myself. I feel pity that I had to do what I did in the first place.”2
Daily there are moments and events like this happening around the world, the only difference is that some make the news. Yet, I often find myself pondering what sort of world do we live in that can culture someone to hate with such animosity. Even years after the event and hours of sitting in a courtroom listening to victim impact testimonies – out of which there are many beautiful moments of love and forgiveness – they can see no wrong in what they have done.3 Why mention such evil? It captures the fruit of this world: a world of selfishness, power, and domination, a world where the other is mistrusted. This and all like it are the fruits of our planet and unforgiving world where mercy and Grace are considered a weakness and we strive over one another to get to the top.
Today, one of the hardest things to watch on TV is the news, this constant seep of updates from social media feeds, push notifications, apps, radio and 24 hours cycles. We are a people with access to more information about current events that any generation, yet, we seem to be a generation that as they become more away, they become more disengaged, more disinterested in the world around us. The sad reality is that bad news sells, thus, we are continually being hit with negative news. Who really wants to hear about the latest riots, shooting, war, famine, drought, flood, storm or murder? Who really wants to be reminded about the fruit of the world we live in? Especially across these last six months as we have heard of a constant death toll of covid, R Numbers, medical experts, marches against masks, and the economic cost. Never mind the curse of fake news!
The news might stress us, but it does not surprise us because we know our own hearts and we know the fruits of this world. A world where we define ourselves by what we are not, a world where we elevate and promote those who can gather and amass whatever the cost, a world where greatness is measured not by power, prestige and position, a world where the individual dominates every aspect of our culture and way of living. We live in a selfish world that loves to hate and hates to love another, we live a world that fears different and where greed, acquisition and self-interest govern not just our personal interactions but our cultural and economic norms, and when we watch the news we are confronted with our reality, and it scares us. The rules of this world are self, take, and climb. Yet, what if there was a different way to live, a different world to call home with a different norm that government our interactions, cultures and economy. What if there was a world ruled not by selfishness and power, but selflessness and sacrifice. Would this not be the world that we would want to call home?
A CONTRASTING KINGDOM
Jesus has been teaching about the Kingdom of God for some time now. At each point, he has taught about its way and how it confronts the Kingdom of this world. To be his disciple is a summit to his Kingship and the way of his Kingdom. To the world’s notions of Hero; the Kingdom confronted with the suffering King; to worldly notions of victory, the Kingdom confronted with the Cross of Calvary; To the hoarding of the world; we have the King who provides by feeding 5000 and 40000. Finally, to the Forces of Darkness; we have the Kingdom of light. At each point, the Kingdom of God confronts some aspect of the world in a way that illuminates who Jesus is, and why we must look to him. In Matthew 18:21-35, the selfishness of the Kingdom of this world is confronted by the call to unlimited forgiveness. The question for us is what Kingdom do we want to be apart of?
UNLIMITED FORGIVENESS: THE WAY OF THE KINGDOM (21-22)
“Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?” 22 “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.” – Matthew 18:21-22 CSB
Peter approaches Jesus and asks him how many times they should offer forgiveness to a brother or sister who has wronged them. Seven times might be considered someone what precise, yet, it was double that what some of the common rabbinic teachings around that time. The amount of extended mercy would have been two or three times. Thus, what Peter approaches with is a generous offer in terms of Grace, yet, even Peters generous way is confronted by the Kingdom of God as Jesus replies:
“I tell you, not as many as seven…but seventy times seven.”
There is some discussion from here whether Jesus means 7 times 7 (49) or 77 times. Regardless, Jesus is not setting a specific target to aim for but presenting the way of the Kingdom of God where forgiveness offered is not limited by earthly norms. Forgiveness in the Kingdom of God is modelled on the way and example of Jesus. Sinners greatest offence is against God, and if he can forgive us, then we are called to model the same unlimited forgiveness. A forgiven people will forgive much and thus for those who follow Jesus, for those who citizenship is within the Kingdom fo God they are those who forgive much because they have first grasped the forgiveness they have received. Where true repentance is present, where the Holy Spirit is active – true forgiveness must be the way. The ethic of the Kingdom of this world is condemnation and selfishness, the ethic of the Kingdom of God is the Cross and the way of unlimited forgiveness – by which do you live?
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul”
A FORGIVING KING: A DEBT DESTROYED (23-27)
“For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. 25 Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. 26 “At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan. – Matthew 18:23-27 CSB
What is the best way to get home a teaching point? Make it real and tangible for the people who are listening to it. One of the Greatest teaching devices is a story: if you want people to know the truth, tell it to them, if you want them to understand it, then tell them a story. Jesus told many teaching stories throughout the Bible. Matthew’s Gospel contains 24 parables, of which 11 are unique to it. Thus, there are 24 separate time’s that Jesus uses stories to share something of heaven; we call those stories parables of which you will hear it spoken that they are earthly stories with a heavenly meaning. In this case, Jesus uses a worldly situation to teach something about the heart of God and the ethic of the Kingdom for those who know him as King.
A Seat of Judgement
We are presented with an image of a throne room, where a King has decided to assess his accounts and collect all that he is owed. Within the Jewish worldview, this imagery would be clear: the King will always represent God, the throne room and the settling of debt is a metaphor for divine Judgement. Thus, this parable creates for us an end of the scene of one man standing before the King with an unsettable debt. A scene that is foreign to a western worldview, where we have no sense of authority other than self and the notion is that this life is all there is. So now focused are we that we try to fit an eternities work of effort, justice, achievement, and life into this life. On the other hand, a Jewish worldview had a strong sense of the eternal, that there would be something more beyond this life and that we would have to account for our living. They lived in the knowledge that they would stand before their King one day and be expected to settle their accounts. Yet, no would think it would be possible to amass such a debt. For the disciples, they would have thought that with time the good in their life would have outweighed the bad, that they would have been able to settle their accounts before God. What Jesus teaches us that the way of unlimited forgiveness now is based on the forgiveness God offers through the Cross of Christ. It is merciful forgiveness.
An Unforgivable debt
The King has been settling the debt owed to the crown, one by one man and women have been coming before him presenting their accounts and then hopefully settling their debts. We must make no mistake, you will pay in one way or another, either you will be able to settle your debt, or you will pay through other means. One by one people come, present, and pay – perhaps some have limited debt, perhaps others have done well with what they have been lent, and perhaps still others have received more time or some forgiveness. Then comes the turn of our character: a man who has somehow amassed and unmissable debt.
Imagine what it must be like to live with such a huge debt: to have gone to sleep every night knowing that you owed something you could never pay. Imagine what it must have been like to wrestle with the knowledge that your family (perhaps unknowingly) would suffer as well as you. You can see the hopes and schemes that someone might think up in an attempt to find a way to pay the money back. This is a man with much to be forgiven and yet no way of expecting it. This was his debt, whatever he had done it was his choices that had got him here. Now he must answer for them. For context, let’s try and put the debt spoken of here into an amount we can understand. Depending on the translation used, there are different metrics used, but they each equal the same amount (an unpayable debt):
- NIV (2011): 10,000 bags of Gold
- ESV: 10,000 Talents of Gold
- CSB: 10,00 Talents
- NLT: millions of dollars
- CEV: 50,000,000 silver coins.
One talent is about 75 pounds in our weight. In then currency it is worth about 6000 drachmas, around 20 years of work. This man owed the equivalent of 20 years of his average work multiplied by 10,000! In our economy, he owed 580,180 (average UK salary 29,009) times 10,000… This man owed King 5,801,800,000. It is the unpayable debt. There is nothing he could do to save himself, his only play here is to plead for grace time to try and pay it back. Yet, time can offer him nothing, what he owes is beyond any effort he can ever make. Time will only delay, yet, this is his movement as he comes before the King and falls on his knees – he begs for more time to come up with the money.
This man represents each of us as we stand before God, our unpayable debt is our sin. We have no hope in our own efforts – we cannot save ourselves! Yet we would still try to save ourselves in the same situation, we would beg for more time even knowing that time would only add to our burden. Instead, we are challenged not to look to ourselves but to the King. This man begged for time, and instead, he was meet with mercy as the King granted him clemency. His debt was paid, he had been set free, and now he had a choice of how to respond. We too, when we come before the King with a repentant heart and seek his Grace will meet his mercy. This King is like any other king and will willing to absorb our debt into his estate because he has more than enough and more to give. What should we model our forgiveness? The way of Kingdom where the King shows unlimited merciful forgiveness.
Unexpected Mercy for our Great Debt
God has cast our confessed sins into the depths of the sea, and He’s even put a ‘No Fishing’ sign over the spot. – Dwight L. Moody
Mercy is always beautiful. Moreover, unexpected mercy is perhaps the most beautiful thing to witness – it is in those moments we are transformed. Our debtor today received unexpected, beautiful mercy from the King. His debt was paid, and he was set free! That man is each one of us. We will one day stand before the King of Kings and Lord and Lord with an unpayable debt that makes 5,000,000,00 look like a lost fiver floating in the park. That debt is our sin, and like this mans debt, it affects every part of our lives and our eternity. There is nothing we can do about it, in fact, the more we try to do the more we add to it! We have no hope, and barely any hope of mercy. Yet, our King is a Merciful King, who willingly went to the Cross and absorbed the cost of our sin into his estate so that we might be free. We are forgiven people who have received mercy from the King of Kings. Forgiveness is offered to all through the work of Christ on the Cross. Do we see the unexpected mercy of God in the Cross of Christ? A moment of unexpected transforming mercy for all who will receive it? If so, then we must consider how we live in response to it!
Mercy Should Transform
Imagine what it must have been like at that moment – on your knees begging for you and your families life (with no hope), when against all the odds the King goes beyond what is required or asked for ignoring your request for time and instead grants you freedom. As he takes this debt upon his estate and free’s you from its impossible burden. You have been set free, and now you can go and live your life in response to what the King has done for you. Surely you would be a changed man, more joyful and free, perhaps more appreciative of the smaller things…. You no longer live trying to survive or find a way to pay back an unpayable debt – you are free! Free from the worry of debt and burden of carrying it, safe in the knowledge that you are living under a good King. How could you not be changed? Yet, the forgiven servant shows nothing of what he has received and only the fruit of this world, the very fruit that got him into this situation. Mercy should have transformed him, but it did not. An indictment not of the mercy received but of the heart that received it.
Those in Christ are a forgiven people, they have been freed from the biggest problem humanity faces – the curse of our sin. Freedom that must bear fruit in our lives. Mercy rightly received will transform, especially God’s mercy! As the Holy Spirit comes into our lives to sustain us in the things that God has called us to. A forgiven people forgive, and free people live freely because, in Christ, our needs our meet. Thus, we who are in Christ live lives that display his unlimited forgiveness, Grace and mercy where we live now, in how we live. Something is bearing fruit in our lives, the question is is it the forgiveness we have received through the Cross. God’s mercy rightly received should transform us if it does not it is
TRUE FORGIVENESS BEARS FRUIT (28-32)
“That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’ 29 “At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. 31 When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. 32 Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. – Matthew 18:28-32 CSB
Imagine yourself in the servants’ situation, imagine the adrenaline of freedom as he walked dazed out of the throne room. Amazed at all that had just happened and somewhat of it, yet, free. What would you do? What would be your first act as you now lived in response to a great act of forgiveness? Forgiveness bears fruit, and a forgiven people live out forgiveness, those who receive mercy display mercy. Yet our forgiven servant displayed none of what he had received and only what he had known. What we give our lives to bears fruit in our lives, Christians should bear the fruit of Christ. The forgiven man displays a heart of unforgiveness.
He who has received much has little to give, for no sooner does he walk out of the crown court in freedom does he set out to find someone in bondage to him. It is a devastating movement, in one action, the servant shows that the forgiveness he has received has had no impact on his life. Furthermore, he displays a sign of what he has received. Even worse, he displayed a consistent fruit – a fruit of this world. He displays a heart set on power, possession and selfishness – an unforgiving heart as he finds a colleague who owns him by comparison of his debt of billions a minuscule amount. The scene is set, as now not the forgiven servant finds himself in the position of the King, with someone making the exact same motion he had made moments ago in fear of his life. Falling onto his knees and begging for mercy:
“At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.”
It is an amazing comparison: the unforgivable debt was forgiven, and the forgivable debt unforgiven as now the forgiven servant in the position of the King shows none of that which he received. Why? Because his heart belonged to this world, his heart rang to the beat of unforgiveness and selfishness. Thus it was impossible for him to see the beauty of what he had received, only the opportunity. Now free from his own debt, and thus free from the demand of repayment, he was free to acquire and amass without fear of losing. His idol was money, and now he could strive after it all!
Consider the logic for a moment, perhaps the man left this debt uncollected because he knew whatever he gathered would be used to pay back his own! Yet, now free from his own debt rather than show some mercy for far less, or even offer time to a colleague to repay it he walked the way of the world, the way of unforgiveness. He had his colleague thrown “into prison until he could pay what was owed.” Freed from his own bondage, he had another bound – this is the heart of this world, as people clamber over one another in pursuit of false idols.
True forgiveness bears fruit in our lives as we live out the freedom we have received. As this unforgiving servant shows no sign of the King or his Kingdom, we are challenged to consider what is bearing fruit in our lives. Moreover, we are explicitly challenged here to consider how our faith is being outworked in the world. The reality of eternal forgiveness received is that it should affect the world around us, as we live in the Kingdom of Heaven now, the Kingdom of God bears fruit in our relationship and the world around us. The forgiven forgive and those who know the King of Kings show the King in their lives.
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it means to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.” – C. S. Lewis
The World See’s Who We Are
There is a Christian cliche that the only sermon some will ever preach is the life they live, and while it is cheesy, it holds some truth. How we live shows what we love and live for. Paul wrote:
“God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8)
The unforgiving servant had watched as he stood before the King and received forgiveness, then went out and acted in a way contrary to what he had received. Furthermore, he acted in a way that brought shame to the King, who had released him. The world has seen it and was disturbed by how the fruit did not match what he had claimed to receive, and then in response, the King gave him what he deserved. Forgiveness must bear fruit, and a forgiven people live forgiving lives. If we are a Christian if we claim to be a follower of Christ, what does our living witness about the one we claim to live for?
This man was not changed by his freedom from bondage, he simply used it as an opportunity to advance his own desires and designs as he continued to live by the ethic of the unforgiving Kingdom: seeking to bind another. The world around him witnessed it and was deeply distressed by it. We must be a people who as we live to speak about the forgiveness we have received in Christ, we must be a people who bear the fruit, not of the unforgiving Kingdom but the Kingdom of God else it has not truly been received. As we live empowered by the Holy Spirit, let our lives display the mercy we have received in how we interact with people and the world around us in both word and deed.
Let us be clear, God can not be mocked and nor is the world fooled if we claim Christ as our own yet display fruit that speaks a different truth. We will reap what we sow: The unforgiving servant sowed unforgiveness to one who owed him a few thousand having just been cleared of a billion, and he reaped what he sowed as he too ended up in Prison. Let us consider the spiritual fruit we are sowing and what it speaks about us this day, let us consider what our witness speaks about the God we claim to serve.
CONCLUSION: MERCY RECEIVED MERCY GIVEN (33-34)
Forgiveness is the key which unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness. – Corrie Ten Boom
No one said living a forgiving life in an unforgiving world would be easy. Yet, this is our call and our way. The Kingdom of heaven is a place where sinners are mercifully restored and then called to live merciful lives. Mercy received, mercy given. In summary, this parable teaches us two clear things. First, it is beyond our capacity to repay what we have done to God, secondly, that our offence beyond God is greater than anything that we have suffered in this world. Our debt to God is the measure by which all must be held, and if God can take that upon himself to offer us mercy, then the disciple of Jesus can in the power of the Spirit to live out heavenly forgiveness that sows seeds of mercy in the world rather than selfishness, that confronts the world at every turn and in every interaction and shows a better way and a stronger hope. Forgiven people forgive, and disciples live in a way that through their relationship’s and interactions shows people something beyond this world.
Today, let us consider which Kingdom is bearing fruit in our lives, and then if we are a disciple of Jesus show to which Kingdom we belong as we live lives of mercy, Grace and radical Spirit-empowered transformation. As we sow seeds of goodness and as we live out the forgiveness we have received. Let us be a people who see the beauty of the Cross and then who walk that road, not to earn but because in Christ we have received the fullness of our freedom now and to come. Let us be a people who have received mercy and give mercy (33) and who never grow “weary in doing good” because we know that whatever the cost in this world there is greater to receive, and at the “proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) Forgiven people forgive, so let us live out our forgiveness, as disciples of Christ let us live out the joy of the mercy we have received.
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:10
- Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah. 2017. “A Most American Terrorist: The Making Of Dylann Roof.” GQ. GQ. August 21, 2017. https://www.gq.com/story/dylann-roof-making-of-an-american-terrorist.
- Tonya Maxwell, “Convicted Killer Dylann Roof: ‘I Am Not Sorry.,'” USA Today (USA Today, January 10, 2017), https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/01/05/dylann-roof-statements/96197870/. ↩
- “Others professed love for him.” Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, “A Most American Terrorist: The Making Of Dylann Roof,” GQ (GQ, August 21, 2017), https://www.gq.com/story/dylann-roof-making-of-an-american-terrorist. ↩