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Forgive from the Heart

Matthew 18:21-35

Pastor Robin Fish

17th Sunday after Pentecost
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

Sun, Sep 19, 1999 

Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

23 "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 "And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 "But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 "The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.' 27 "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 "But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' 29 "So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' 30 "He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 "So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 "Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. 33 'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?' 34 "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.

35 "So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Have you ever known anyone who just didn't deserve to be forgiven?  That is what our Gospel is about this morning.  Jesus presents us with a parable about a man who wanted forgiveness, and a man who desperately needed forgiveness, and a man who received forgiveness, and a man who didn't deserve to be forgiven.  And all of those men were the same man.  Our Theme, learned from the parable, is Forgive from the Heart.

A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, at least that is what my pastor said when I was a young boy.  Few parables are quite as pointed and direct as this one.  It presents a case that is almost impossible to miss and easy to apply - at least theoretically.  It is called the parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

In the parable, a king goes to settle accounts with his slaves.  Now these are not the kind of slaves that toil in the field and wash your feet.  These are trusted advisors and managers who have full authority over the possessions their master entrusts to them.  They can buy, sell, trade without even letting him know what they are doing - unless he asks.  This king decided it was time to settle accounts - perhaps to change his managers, perhaps to reward them, and perhaps it was a periodic review of the holdings of the king.

He come to this one servant who owes him ten thousand talents.  The number "ten thousand" was the largest number conceived of by the Greeks - the word is "Myriad."  It basically means an unbelievable amount.  In today's economy, where a denarius would be equivalent to a day's wage, say, $100, ten thousand talents would be Six billion, two-hundred and fifty million dollars.  Governments may think in those terms, but no one but Bill Gates of Microsoft can imagine those numbers in their personal finances.

This servant had obviously been embezzling and living pretty high on the hog.  The standard collections technique of that day was debtor's prison.  The kind ordered the servant's property seized and sold to cover the losses, and his family to be sold at the slave market to help repay the debt.  The servant, however, was going to prison to be tortured each day until he died for his crimes.  Something like your credit card company would do when you missed a payment - if they were allowed.

The servant prostrated himself before the king.  He laid down with his face in the dirt and pleaded for mercy, and promised that he would do what was clearly impossible - repay this enormous debt to the last penny.  And the king had mercy on the servant and simply forgave him the debt!  Suddenly he had his job back, his house and properties were his again, and his family was safe and secure.  And he didn't even have to pay anything back!!  What a change a little forgiveness makes!  Well, that was more than just a little forgiveness!

Apparently confronting his own debts had reminded this servant of a fellow servant who owed him money.  It wasn't chump change - by the same standard, it would be ten thousand dollars.  So the servant grabs his fellow-servant and begins to choke him and demand his money right now!  And the other servant pleads with him for time to repay in the same exact words as the first servant had appealed to the king.  The results were different however.  This forgiven servant threw his co-worker into debtor's prison until the money was repaid.

Other servants in the king's employ were reasonably upset.  They reported this action to the king.  He called the unforgiving servant in and read him the riot act, ultimately throwing him in prison and confiscating all of his goods and selling his family into slavery for recompense.  The cause of the misery of the first servant was that having been treated with such grace and forgiveness, he could not so deal with others - others whose debt to him was significantly smaller than that which he had been forgiven.

Jesus says, So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.  The message is clear.  God is the king.  We each are the servant who has been forgiven and incredible debt.  Remember that the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6, in the Sermon on the Mount, says, And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  Then Jesus follows the prayer with the words, "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  "But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Our sins are debts before God.  We owe Him obedience and service and thanksgiving - but we all so often fail to pay what is due.  We think of ourselves.  We take His gifts so often for granted and grumble when they are not consistently of the highest quality.  When God permits a trial to enter our lives we think something has gone wrong and by doing so deny His love and care and good will toward us.  We behave as if the people around us where placed on this earth for us, and not we for them.  We daily sin much, as the catechism says, and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.  We are the servant with the six billion-dollar debt.

And God has forgiven us all our sins.  He sent His son to absorb the cost in our place.  The cross is the mark of payment and the resurrection Easter morning is the receipt marked "paid in full."  Jesus has taken your sin out of the way, forgiven you, and poured out into your lap life eternal.  We were headed for the debtor's prison of hell, and God simply forgave the enormous debt, and restored us to life and privilege and hope.

Now there are those others, also servants of the great King.  Some have run a debt up with us.  They have said things we did not like to hear, or done things that offended us in some way.  They are guilty of doing us some wrong or hurting us - perhaps by accident, but sometimes those others wrong us and injure us deliberately.  The point is that they have earned our ire and we have a cause of offense or anger with them.  They owe us.

But their debt to us is the paltry sum by comparison to what God has forgiven us.  They may have seemed to us to be truly evil and deliberately offensive and they just don't deserve to be forgiven.  So we are back at the beginning of the sermon; have you ever known anyone who just didn't deserve to be forgiven?  There are people like that!  Evil people who do wickedness deliberately, and who set themselves out to be our enemies, and, if possible, our destroyers.  They just don't deserve to be forgiven!

But neither do we.  We didn't even want forgiveness when God decided to work our salvation.  We did not feel our need or really care much when God sent His Son to pay the price of our sins by dying for us on the cross.  We hadn't been born yet when God did what we needed done to escape the awful consequences of sins we hadn't even committed yet.  While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Our sins before God run to our very nature.  Our sins are daily and numerous.  We not only do evil daily, we speak it all of the time, we entertain ourselves with it, and we think it practically continuously - and if you are saying to yourself, "Oh no!  No me!  The Pastor is wrong this time!" Then you also lie to yourself - for John says, If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  And the Old Testament teaches us that Every intent of the thoughts of the heart of man is only evil continually.

You have to call God a liar to deny that your sin is more or less constant, and your debt before God is enormous.  But He has forgiven you all that debt.  When someone else sins against you, you too must forgive, or you reject God's forgiveness for yourself.  That is what Jesus says, So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.

When someone sins against us, it is helpful to remember that our real enemy is not the person before us, but the Old Evil Foe.  Theat sinner is simply trapped by him, and enslaved.  They may be irritating, but they are not the true source of the evil.  Our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ also sin now and then, through weakness, or by not realizing that what they do is sin.  But even if they deliberately sin against us, when they ask for our forgiveness, we want to give it as freely and fully as God forgives us.  We want to forgive from the heart.  Anything less means we really don't deserve to be forgiven, and we mark ourselves as hypocrites - those who just want to appear to be God's people.

Forgive as you have been forgiven, or you will be forgiven as you forgave -- or failed to forgive.  From the heart is the standard Jesus sets before us.  May God forgive us our heard-heartedness and unforgiving hearts toward others - and may He change us and soften our hearts to that we may forgive one another from the heart!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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