This parable teaches the universal need for forgiveness – both the need to be forgiven, and the need to forgive. Jesus illustrates in this parable how God’s forgiveness is to be a precursor to our forgiveness of others. If we have been forgiven, then we should forgive others. This principle is essential to our psychological well being, in dealing with two common causes of anxiety, depression, and all sorts of psychological problems; those two causes being on the one hand guilt, and on the other hand resentment. Jesus illustrates in this parable how we can be set free from the bondage of the soul that comes as a result of harboring these two psychosises.
Now before we consider this parable, we want to first understand the context in which it was given. In the preceding verses starting with vs 15, Jesus is teaching some principles regarding what is often called church discipline. What that really entails is interpersonal sins – one person sinning against another within the context of the church. In vs 15, Jesus says, “if your brother sins…” and many manuscripts include the phrase “against you.” That would seem to be the thought behind what Jesus is saying. One Christian in the church sins against another in some way. I think it could also include a sin which a person in the church commits which is outside of church relationships, but the general thrust is in the context of the church.
Jesus says concerning this kind of sin starting in vs 15, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen [to you,] take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
Notice that those last verses are given in the context of church discipline, that Christ is in the midst of the church and that He has set the boundaries for life in the church. That verse which says where two or three are gathered together in my name is often quoted out of context. I don’t have time to go into that further this morning but it basically refers to Christ being the head of the church, and thus all things in the church are subject to Him.
So Jesus says, if one Christian sins against another, the one who has been wronged is to confront the offender privately. If the offender does not repent, the one who has been wronged is to confront him again but this time accompanied by one or two other believers. If the offender still refuses to listen, the matter is to be brought before the church. And if the offender remains unrepentant and does not listen to the church, he is to be regarded as a tax collector, which was another way of saying an unbeliever. The church is to break fellowship with such a person.
One of the most difficult experiences the church may face is having to confront a church member who refuses to repent of sin. I also happen to think that it should be a rare event. But when it’s necessary, it needs to be done to protect the sanctity of the church as well as for the good of the person who is unrepentant. But the goal of church discipline is not to punish such a person, but to bring him to repentance and restoration within the church. This ecumenical rebuke is not to be used for just anyone who sins, but only for those who sin and are unrepentant. They brazenly, openly defy any rebuke, any appeal to repent from their sin and continue in that sin.
Sin is a serious thing in the eyes of God, and it should be considered as such in our eyes as well. There is a view among some Christians today that there is no need of repentance once you are saved. But this section of scripture makes it very clear that repentance is a part of the life of the Christian, and one cannot be a part of Christ’s church unless they have been born again. So it should be obvious from this scripture as well as many more that I don’t want to take the time to show you today, that repentance is a necessary ingredient in the Christian life, and the lack of repentance is evidence that a person is backslidden at best, and quite possibly not saved at all.
Then after Jesus had spoken concerning the protocol for church discipline, Peter speaks up, and asks Him a question concerning forgiveness. It’s possible that perhaps Peter is speaking up in hope that his question will bring a commendation from the Lord because He seems to be so magnanimous on this subject of forgiveness.
Peter says, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Peter was in effect asking how many times he should be willing to confront in this way a brother who had wronged him. If a brother sins against Peter, and Peter confronts the brother, and the brother then repents, how many times should Peter confront the brother if the same offense happens again? Peter magnanimously suggests that he should forgive him seven times.
But Jesus responds, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Now there seems to be some controversy there between various translations of the Bible. Some say seventy times seven, and some say seventy seven. The original language would seem to express the idea of seventy times seven times seven times seven. In other words there is no end to forgiveness.
But to the argument that Jesus may have said 77 times, He might have had in mind Genesis 4, which after Cain sinned and had received judgment from the Lord, Cain appealed to the Lord and said that everyone would be against him from now on, and they would take vengeance against him. And the Lord issued a statement to the effect that if anyone wrongs Cain, he shall be avenged seven times. Now later there was a great, great, great, great-grandson of Cain, and he is described in that 4th chapter of Genesis. His name was Lamech. And like his forefather Cain he was in rebellion against God and living in willful sin. And Lamech makes the statement, “If Cain is avenged seven times, I with my sword will be avenged seventy and seven times.” And so perhaps what we see in this number is the unlimited revenge of man giving way to the unlimited forgiveness of Christians in the statements of Christ.
Either way the numbers are interpreted, the principle is that forgiveness should be unlimited, even as God’s mercies are unlimited towards us. When Peter suggested that he keep count until it became seven sins, Jesus reminded him that true forgiveness does not keep score. That reminds me of a joke I heard once about a newlywed couple back in the old days when men on the prairie would order themselves a mail order bride. I don’t know if you will think it’s funny or not, I kind of doubt it. But I think it’s funny, though not exactly politically correct.
As the story goes, this man and his new mail order wife was driving their buggy back from the justice of the peace’s office to her new home. And as they are on their way, suddenly, the horse stops in his tracks. The man gets down out of the buggy and walks in front of the horse and says, “That’s one.” He then gets back in the buggy and cracks the whip and the horse starts trotting again. A mile or so further along, the horse stops again. Once again the man gets down from the buggy, stands in front of the horse and says,“that’s two.” Climbs back on the buggy, pops the whip and the horse starts off again. A couple of miles further the horse stops again in the middle of the road. The man gets down out of the buggy, walks in front of the horse and says, “that’s three” and pulls out a pistol and shoots the horse dead. Meanwhile, his new wife can’t believe what she just saw. She harshly exclaims to the man, “You must be crazy! How could you shoot the horse like that?” He turned around and looked her in the eyes and said, “that’s one.”
The point of the joke is that you don’t keep score. Peter wanted to keep score, even though he thought in his mind he was being generous by counting to seven. But true forgiveness forgets, it doesn’t remember how many previous times a person has done you wrong. Now Jesus told a much better story than I did. He told a parable about the unrighteous steward to illustrate the principle of forgiveness.
Notice at the beginning an important phrase; Jesus said, ““For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.” What I want to impress on you to begin with is what Jesus means when He says “the kingdom of heaven.” He is not talking about where you go when you die. He is not talking about what most people think of when they hear the word heaven. He is speaking of the rule of Christ in the hearts and minds of His people. That kingdom began with the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and it continues after His resurrection, when He ascended on high as took His seat on the throne of heaven. It is the kingdom of God, the rule of God on the earth in the lives of His citizens. We live now in the kingdom of heaven, and we are to submit to the Lord’s rule and reign in all aspects of our life.
If we have confessed Jesus as Lord, and believed in who He is and what He has accomplished, then we have become His stewards, His ministers of the kingdom of heaven. We are part of His family, we are a noble race. To quote Peter from 1Peter 2:9-10 “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR [God’s] OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.”
Now what Jesus says then in this parable is this is how we as ministers of the kingdom of heaven operate. We are to act like Christ.
Jesus begins this parable by telling of a king who is settling accounts with his servants. Someone has suggested that perhaps the man described here by Jesus had a significant post in the kingdom, perhaps one that he handled or took in a great sum of revenue for the kingdom, like a tax collector might. And when the time came for such servants for their accounts to be settled with the king, it was found that this man owed the king 10,000 talents. A single talent was an extraordinary sum of money, the highest unit of money in that day. A talent was equal to many years wages. So 10,000 talents would have been similar to millions of dollars that this man was short. Such a debt was far beyond any person’s ability to repay.
It’s interesting that Jesus correlates his disciples as being like this debtor, and by extension all of us who are citizens of the kingdom of heaven are debtors like this man. We have a debt that is beyond our comprehension, a debt that we can never repay. Our sins indebt us to God. Every time we sin, we add to that debt. And because we are sinners by nature, we have a debt to God that is virtually insurmountable. Paul describes that debt we have to God as falling short of the kingdom of God. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” None of us can meet the standard of God’s law. It’s like trying to jump the Grand Canyon. Some of you might be better jumpers than others, some of you might be in better shape. But regardless of how fast and how far you might jump, we are all going to fall far short of the other side. The gap is too great. Our sins are too great.
A common problem though is we don’t really see ourselves that way. We may think we have messed up a couple of times in our lives, but overall, we aren’t all that bad. Your spouse, on the other hand, is a real scoundrel. He needs saving, but by comparison you are golden. Jesus loves us because we are lovable, and we are saved because He is happy to get such a good person on His side. We fail to realize the extent of our sinfulness and how our sin has corrupted everything in us so that there is nothing good in us. So Jesus presents this picture to show us the magnitude of our sin and our debt to God and how much He has forgiven us.
Since the servant he did not have the means to repay, the king commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, so that some repayment might be made.
The servant begged him for a chance to pay back the debt. Yet, even if the king had given him years to repay, it still would not have been long enough for the servant to repay the debt. So even though he could not comprehend the extent of his debt, he recognized that his only hope was to throw himself on the mercy of the king.
Jesus said in vs 23, “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” Instead of giving the servant more time to repay his debt, the king forgave it completely. Not just a portion of it, but he forgave all of it. The magnitude of the king’s kindness and mercy exceeded the magnitude of the debt. The king spared him of what he justly deserved.
Now obviously, this king is a picture of our Lord, who had compassion on us, and showed us such great mercy, forgiving us of all our sin, and giving us new life in the kingdom of heaven.
Now the story could have ended there and been a great picture that illustrates our salvation. But there is another side to the parable. Jesus continued, saying, “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.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.”
Now the denarius was the standard day’s wages, and it took thousands of denarii to equal a single talent. This debt of a fellow servant, which could have been repaid in a matter of weeks, was a minor amount compared to the first servant’s debt, which never could have been repaid. But although the second servant begged for mercy in the same way that the first servant had, using almost identical language, the first servant refused to forgive him his small debt. Sadly, the servant who had been forgiven so much failed to pass along even a tiny portion of the mercy that he had been given to him.
Vs 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. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.”
When the other servants told the king what had happened, he sent for the servant and delivered him to the jailers until he could pay his debt in full, because he had not shown mercy on his fellow servant, even as he had received mercy. Jesus was teaching that in the same way, when forgiven sinners refuse to show the same mercy towards others that we received in salvation, then we can expect the justice of God to fall upon us.
What God wants to see from us is first of all, repentance. If we are truly repentant, then we are not only sorry for our sin, but we turn away from sin. What this man illustrates is that he really had not repented of his sin. He was sorry that he got caught, and sorry that he had to pay the consequences of his error, but the fact that he was unchanged in his heart was revealed in his attitude towards his fellow servant. If we are truly repentant, then there will be a consequent transformation in our heart that will be evidenced in the way we treat one another.
For someone who has become saved by God’s mercy and grace, forgiveness towards others is not a option, it’s an obligation. Jesus taught us that principle when He taught the disciples to pray. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus said in Matthew 6:12, , “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Our forgiveness is contingent on our willingness to forgive others. And then at the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus says this in Matthew 6:14 “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” That’s pretty heavy. I don’t know if we truly grasp the significance of that statement. But this parable illustrates the same principle.
Unless we are willing to forgive those who sin against us, we should not expect God to forgive us when we sin against Him. Since God’s extravagant mercy towards us is the basis of our conversion, we should be transformed into a Christ like people, forgiving others even as we have been forgiven. So part of our salvation is crying out to God for a change of heart, so that we might have the heart of Christ. We must be changed, which is the full measure of God’s grace in that He gives us a new nature, a new heart, and a new life. That’s complete repentance, changing direction, which has to be facilitated by God as we are transformed by faith in Jesus as Lord.