Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”” (Matthew 18:21–35, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
You know what? Peter doesn't get it. That's what Jesus is telling him in this parable. Peter asks Jesus "How many times do I have to forgive?" Jesus blows his expectations out of the water. Peter was being quite generous, after all seven times was one more than double the conventional wisdom of the day. The church leaders of the day said you and to forgive someone three times. Peter doubles that and adds one. Seven times, seems like a lot. For me too it seems like a lot! Seven times seems more than generous. I know how difficult it is to even forgive once. But when a person does the same thing over and over again it becomes down right impossible. It's a great question for Jesus. "How many times do I have to forgive?" "What about that guy I can't stand?" "What about that co-worker that keeps doing rotten things to me at work?" "What about the unspeakable things that were done to me?" "How many times do I have to forgive them, Jesus?"
These questions show that we don't get forgiveness either. I know. We think we get it. We've been raised to get it from the time water was dumped on our foreheads, every Sunday school class, every sermon, every time we pray the Lord's prayer! And yet, we still have trouble in the forgiveness area. We still want there to be a limit to our forgiveness. I've heard it. You may have even said it. "I can't forgive you now, maybe later when it doesn't hurt so much." "God may forgive him, but I'll never forgive him." "I forgive you, but I'll never forget what you did to me." We don't get it. Jesus explains it to us, again in this parable.
It really is an amazing story. The first servant owes a tremendous debt. It's the national debt. It's 200,000 years worth of debt (one talent is 20 years wages). It's absurd. How does one person get to owe so much. He is brought before the master. "Throw him in prison, and his family, until every penny is paid." It never will be. It's and impossible debt. He and his family will rot in prison. He begs on his knees. ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' The thing is he can't. He won't. His whole life's work will only pay a tiny fraction. He'd have to work 200,000 years! The amount of the debt is staggering. And then comes the thing that would never happen. The master has compassion and forgives it. He doesn't set up a payment plan. He doesn't forgive part of it. He forgives it all, every penny. Talk about what would never be done. He releases the man and forgives the debt, a clean slate. You know this is a picture of Jesus. He does what would never be done. He forgives our debt of sin. This is what we have learned from Baptism day one. Jesus died on the cross for my sins. So what's the problem that we have with forgiveness. Well, we miss the unforgivable debt. We simply take our sins lightly. Especially when we compare them with the sins done by others, especially the sins done by others to us. My sins are small. Your sins are great. What we don't seem to realize is the magnitude of our own debt, the unforgivable nature of our own sins. We are the servant begging the master to allow us to pay back our impossible debt. We want God to accept our tiny good works as some sort payment for our sin. To us when we put our goodness on one side of the scale and our sins on the other we think they balance out in our favor. But the debt of sin is insurmountable. You couldn't pay it back in 200,000 years! It's just like the servant in the parable. He's forgiven a unforgivable debt. But he takes it lightly and treats it as if it was nothing. He goes out, seeks out and finds the first guy who owes him and tries to choke the money out of him. The other debt isn't chicken feed. It's about 100 days wages. But, of course, it is nothing in comparison to 200,000 year. When the other servant says he'll pay it back, it's doable. But the guy won't have it. He wants the money. He refuses to forgive as he has been forgiven. He betrays the master's generosity. He throws his fellow servant in prison, to rot. When the master finds out he becomes livid and treats him just like he treated his fellow servant. The master throws the unforgiving servant back into prison... forever.
We have been forgiven a great debt. The amount of it is unforgivable. There are lots of ways to think of just why that is the case, but the easiest one to understand is this. If you were the only person on earth, God would still have sent Jesus to the cross for you. Your sin, your debt, the cost of restoring you to a clean relationship with God, is so great that yours alone require the death of God's only son, and the eternal punishment of hell. This is exactly what Jesus does. He has compassion and suffers the eternal punishment of sin on the cross for you. He suffers God's great anger over your rebellion, your sin, your disobedience, your refusal to forgive as you have been forgiven. This is no small matter. It is in fact, the greatest price that could ever be paid. And Jesus Christ, your Savior, pays it for you and forgives you your great, impossible debt.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, ESV)
This love, this compassion, this forgiveness is God's free gift to you. You see, it has to be free because you couldn't earn it in 200,000 years.
And then we ask the question. "How many times do I have to forgive?" or we think we have the right to only forgive when the conditions are right. "I'll forgive her when I know she is really sorry for what she did to me." Dear Christians, we have no right to demand anything from anyone in order to forgive. We are required to forgive. Our faith in Jesus Christ demands forgiveness. It isn't as if we don't get forgiven if we don't forgive, but our lack of forgiveness shows we don't understand forgiveness at all. Our lack of forgiveness threatens to destroy our faith. It belittles God's sacrifice for us. Our lack of forgiveness forgets the value of what we have received. It betrays the Master's generosity. If you are a Christian you will and you do forgive.
But you know what the issue is, we don't feel like forgiving. We hold grudges. We can't forget the hurt. We what to see some sign that our forgiveness is worth giving. But for Christians, forgiveness is an act of the will, not a feeling. We know that feelings are faulty. Forgiveness comes from Christ on the cross. Forgiveness from Christ is perfect, and perfectly free. When we are sinned against, because we have been forgiven, we forgive. What we give is Christ's forgiveness, not ours. We have no right to withhold it. It is given freely to you, freely to all. It's then that the sinful nature perks up and complains. But I've already forgiven them seventy times seven. They don't deserve forgiveness. Our sin becomes bold again. And there is only one thing to do with sin. Take it to the cross and kill it. Drown it in the water of your baptism. This is the Christian life of repentance. Every day seeing our sin, our unforgiveable debt, that is in fact, forgiven.
In this broken, sin driven world, it is not always possible to bring complete reconciliation between people. Forgiveness is perfect. We are not. We live with the worldly effects of our sin every day. That is our burden, our cross to bear. That is the reason we look forward to our Lord's return when all the effects of sin will be burned up with this sin stained world. We will then be raised from death to live in perfect bodies, in a perfect world, free from the devastation of sin. And to that we say, Come Lord Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.