In this sermon, David Capoccia examines Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness in the parable of the unmerciful slave in Matthew 18:21-35. David Capoccia explains how Jesus, through the parable, gives three reasons why God’s children, the forgiven, always forgive others:
1. God has forgiven our great debt.
2. God demands we forgive lesser debts.
3. God will not forgive the unforgiving.
Dave Capoccia is going to be preaching today and if you don’t know who he is, he is our seminary student at The Master’s Seminary in California. He has one more year after this year, and he’ll be done and back amongst us and what we’re looking forward to that.
But from time to time when he comes back from the holidays I have him come to preach God’s Word. This morning he’s going to be in Matthew 18. So if you would like to take your Bibles and turn there now you can.
He and his wife, Ema, are here for the Thanksgiving holidays, and they’re heading back to Southern California. They’re suffering for the Lord there in that weather while we’re here in New Jersey.
All right so let’s just prepare ourselves for the Word of God then right after he’s done preaching we have to baptisms that we are going to witness. We’ll have the testimony of two young men who have come to know the Lord as their Savior right now.
Of course, it is really good to be with you all again today as part of this holiday weekend. Let’s pray and then hear from God and His Word. Our great God, Your Word is so sweet and so precious yet, it is also so serious. We have a wonderful Word to look at today, but it is also a sobering Word.
So God, I pray that you give me ability to speak it. I pray Spirit that You would work in the hearts of those who hear it. Convict where conviction is needed, encourage, and even save, God. I pray that You would do this for Your own glory in Jesus’ name, amen.
“I just don’t think I can forgive him. She doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. I’ll forgive but I won’t forget.” Ever found yourself saying or thinking statements such as these? Certainly our society in modern American culture doesn’t really understand the concept of true forgiveness.
Refusing to forgive and seeking vengeance are almost exhausted as virtues today. At the very least, inability to forgive is treated as normal, even the inevitable result of experiencing some great harm, betrayal, or trauma.
My friends in response to this I feel burden this morning to remind you of a crucial biblical truth and it’s this. Those who do not practice forgiveness as a lifestyle, have not been forgiven by God. Let me say that again another way. If you find that you are not able to exercise both frequent and full forgiveness with others, even those who sin against you in the worst ways, it is probably because you do not know God and have not been forgiven by Him.
This statement might sound shocking to you. It really shouldn’t because this is plainly evident in the Bible specially the New Testament.
It’s really just another application of the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This truth only follows, logically, when you understand the wonderful news of salvation, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This morning, I’d like to take to take you to one New Testament passage on forgiveness, Matthew 18:21-35. Please turn there, it’s page 978 in the pew Bible. I hope you will have a copy of the Scriptures in front of you. I want you to see these words yourself.
This is not my word. This is God’s Word but I’m going to do my best to explain it. But let me give you a word of background before we get to that. This passage is from the book of Matthew, one of the four gospels books that specifically record the life and teaching of Jesus. The Messiah in Matthew’s gospel is unique among the four gospels added, as it has an emphasis on the coming Kingdom of God.
Matthew 18 represents the part of Jesus’s teaching to His disciples about how to live in a time when God’s Kingdom is delayed and you must wait for it.
If you’ll just glance back a page over to Matthew 18:1-6, you’ll see this foundational truth Jesus explains to true disciples of His if they want to get into the Kingdom of God.
They must become like humble children. Pride, understandably, will surely keep you away from Heaven. It will keep you away from salvation and it will keep you away from God’s Kingdom.
Only those who are transformed and converted, as Jesus says, is humble, dependent, trusting and obedient. Children will know God’s mercy and see God’s salvation. This position as children will manifest in the lifestyle of God’s people and the rest of Matthew 18 shows us how you can explore the implications.
One of those is the what we will be talking about today in the final section of this discourse in Matthew 18:21-35 where Jesus shows that one implication of being a humble transformed child of God has to do with forgiveness.
This section is entitled the “Parable of the Unmerciful Servant,” and it’s engaging as it is instructive because we find profound teaching on forgiveness both on how man needs God’s forgiveness and how men need to forgive their fellow man.
A few more notes before we work through the text verse by verse. If you’re in our section now, you’ll notice the word forgive appears in verse 21. we don’t have a concept of what forgiveness means and we would be helped to have a Biblical centering and fuller understanding of what forgiveness actually is.
Central to determining the text and central to the idea of forgiveness, is the idea of release. When you forget, you aren’t releasing someone from legal or moral obligations or consequences. For example a company might forgive a debt and thereby release the debtor from any obligation of repayment or compensation.
A president might forgive or pardon a convicted criminal and release that criminal from any punishment and allow them to be reintegrated into the society. Therefore when you forgive another person, you are fundamentally releasing that person.
What does that mean? Well in forgiveness you do acknowledge certain acts, behaviors or attitudes, or a series of acts to be evil and to be sin against you and sin against God. You never the less extend mercy to that person for what he has done.
You going to release that person from any indebtedness for his act or behavior would have obligated that there will be no punishment or penance. Nothing will be required before reconciliation can proceed.
You relinquish the right to hold that person’s sin against him. In practical terms this means, as my professor at seminary and biblical counselor, Dr. John Street, explained, that you will not remind that person of his sin unless it would be absolutely necessary for you to do so for his good.
Also it means that you will not mention it to anyone else unless it would be absolutely necessary for you to do so for his good and you will not allow your mind to dwell on that wrong done to you.
All of that is part of forgiveness. Now this kind of forgiveness happens in two places. It happens in the heart and it happens in your relationship. Before a person even comes to ask you for forgiveness, you need to have a forgiving heart. You need to be ready to forgive that person. That means that you’ve already given this offense to God and you haven’t ignored that God is in total control.
You acknowledge to God that you trust Him. You trust His wisdom. You trust his goodness, you know that He will support you even under the greatest hurts and betrayals. And you trust God in such a way that you will not seek revenge.
For what this person has done, you will leave all vengeance to God. That’s having a forgiving heart. You are called to do that by God, but heart forgiveness does not reconcile the relationship, there still needs to be relational forgiveness.
You see, sin breaks fellowship between two parties, between two people, but forgiveness restores fellowship. Forgiveness only takes place after the sinful person seeks it, and they seek sit by confessing their sin to be what it is.
They might say, “I have willfully and terribly sinned against you and against God.” The person also expresses repentance, which turning away from his sin both in his heart and in his actions. And he asks for merciful release from the sin debt.
This is what results in relational forgiveness. God has called us to both heart forgiveness, which is forgiveness from your heart. But then ask the person who seeks reconciliation through repentance to forgive them in a relationship.
In Matthew 18:12-20. There’s an even further aspect to this because we might say, “Oh, alright, I’ll just wait till he comes and ask for forgiveness.” That’s not what the Bible says.
God actually tells you to go and help that person come to you and treat them to come and ask for forgiveness to seek reconciliation. Both the one who is wrong and the one who wronged are to help the other in reconciliation.
Each of these actions actually emulate the perfect example of forgiveness which is God. God amazingly intreats those who have sinned against Him to come and be forgiven. He doesn’t just sit back and wait. If He did, none of us would ever come!
This is because God’s heart is already ready to forgive and restore! For example, Isaiah 65:2 says:
I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.
He’s ready for his heart is forgiving. The true forgiveness can only be established when a person comes in repentance and with a plea for mercy and this we also see in God and also in Isaiah. Isaiah 30:15 says:
For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, "In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength." But you were not willing.
And God’s forgiveness is full. It does not leave any lingering bitterness or price to pay, this too is evident. Isaiah 43:25 says:
I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.
When God forgets, God has full reconciliation and fellowship with those who repent. We can see this definitely in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. You know that the father represents God in the parable and the son represents the sinner. The repentant son is instantly exalted into full honor and privilege as a beloved son. There’s no time to work off some debt. There’s no time to sit in the corner.
Now when we are sinning against God in certain ways, we have a hard time going back to the way things were and have a hard time seeking full reconciliation. Indeed and some extreme cases, it will take time to rebuild trust and rebuild a relationship over certain betrayals.
But mark this, true forgiveness once and is genuinely committed to pursuing a relationship with that other person. I say you know what? “I don’t feel like we’re back to where we where we were but because I forgive you I will work toward greater fellowship of reconciliation with you, but you’re forgiveness starts.
But all of this raises an important question. How often should I practice such forgiveness with someone? This is exactly Peter’s question at the beginning of our text. So look at it. We’re actually not going to read the text all together. We are going to read certain parts as we explain it, but look at verse 21 to see the first question in our text.
Peter is Jesus’s disciple and we see him ask a question. Peter comes and says to Him in Matthew 18:21:
Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?
Peter’s asking for the limit to forgiving someone and if so, what is that limit? Peter offers the seemingly generous answer about the seven times which is nice and generous for some Jewish teachers at that time.
It was believed then that one should forgive a person no more than three times. And they got this from a strange reading of Amos 1:6, which says:
Thus says the LORD, "For three transgressions of Gaza and for four I will not revoke its punishment.
They might say, “God only forgives three times, so we should only forgive three times.” They also reasoned that offering any more forgiveness than three would only encourage people to sin. “I know there’s more forgiveness and they won’t feel bad about sinning.”
So Peter going as high as 7, seemed like a pretty pious suggestion. “I would forgive you more times than most up to seven times, but after that you’re dead to me.”
But the Lord gives a surprising response to Peter in verse 22. Let’s look at that now. Matthew 18:22 says:
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
This either means 77 or 490 times. You may be saying to yourself, “The limit is further out than Peter thought and I know you got to do more times and 777 is the limit or 490 is the limit.
No, no, that’s not the idea here for the parable. Jesus is making a point by contrast. “You think seven times is generous? Try 10 times that. The point is forgiveness has no limit.
No matter how many times a person comes to you in repentance seeking forgiveness, you are called by God to forgive him. We see the same idea and Luke 17:3-4, which says:
Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.
Jesus says that even if your brother sins against you seven times a day. He repents each time, and you forgive him. This is only possible if you have a humble childlike heart that loves and trusts God and is therefore ready to forgive. And this is real forgiveness.
This is not you gritting your teeth and saying, “I forgive you.” Verse 35 of our passage emphasizes the real forgiveness is from the heart not just words, not just a formality.
It’s from the heart. You fully forgive someone and release them from any debt that they have to you by their sin. That’s a high and holy stand. How can anyone do it? Immediately, repeatedly, and fully forgive anyone for any sin when they repent, even the worst offenses and betrayals. Does that sound impossible to you? If so, then my friend you need to become acquainted with God’s forgiveness.
This is what Jesus is going to help you with by presenting this parable. In the verses that follow, in Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus will show us three reasons why God’s children, the forgiven, always forgive others.
I’ll give you these reasons as we go along in a text. Our first reason is because God has forgiven His children’s our great debt. We see this in verses 23 to 27 so let’s read that.
For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 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. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
Where’s the phrase Kingdom of Heaven at the beginning of verse 23? Jesus is going to tell us something in this parable about how God’s coming Kingdom operates, which means that knowing it and understanding it will be key to your entering into that Kingdom and your receiving of salvation.
The situation presented by this parable is a lord or king calling his slaves to account for their debts to him. These slaves are clearly no ordinary slaves since you may notice in the text it says they are allowed to use a vast amount of wealth and they can own property. They can also be sold along with their families into slavery. For this reason someone suggested here that the picture in this parable is evocative of an oriental king like a great king of Persia or Babylon who is settling accounts with his vice ministers or his vice governors who were servants to the king and in a sense they were even slaves.
Regardless, certainly the situation of these slaves is unusual, but for one slave it is particularly extraordinary. In verse 24 it says that one slave is brought before the king who owes the king ten thousand talents. You may say that that doesn’t mean anything to you and that you don’t know what a talent is. Well let me explain. Anyone listening in the original audience to Jesus would have gasped at this amount because it is a staggering debt.
You see, a talent was a large unit of money. One talent was worth about 6,000 denarii. And the denarius is a common silver coin that was the wage that the average manual labor could expect to earn in a day’s work.
This slave by owing 10,000 talents owed the equivalent of 60 million days of labor. The underlying crushing nature of this debt is that there were not even 10,000 talents in circulation as money in the ancient world.
Could you imagine having a debt that was greater than the amount of money in circulation today? One source I looked at estimated approximately 80 trillion dollars in circulation in the world right now. Can you imagine having a personal debt that is greater than that? That’s what this slave has.
Thus those who listened to Jesus would have thought of this debt in only one way. Unpayable. There is no way that any slave could ever pay off such a debt. This parable also shows us two important implications.
This slave first of all, must be the worst money manager of all time. How could a person manage to rack up a dead this extreme? It’s like he was trying to mismanage the king’s money.
But this slave is only a figure. Remember, this is a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. So who does this first indebted slave represent? You and me! You are the slave whose sin is so vast and unpayable that it can never be repaid.
Your mismanagement is the disobedience of your life. You were born a sinner. And everything you do is sin, it is evil before God. I mean think of all the sin in your life! The lies you said, the mean words you’ve uttered, the lustful thoughts you’ve had, the worries you’ve expressed, the complaints you have said, hateful thoughts and deeds! And these are just the beginning of your sins!
Fundamentally apart from Christ you do not love God with all your heart, and that is the greatest commandment. You don’t serve Him as He deserves, you do not honor Him as He deserves. Even the supposedly good things you do are tainted by selfishness and pride and are there for an offense to a holy God.
You have an incredible debt that you owe God. And like this slave you cannot pay it.
There’s another application from this detail of the slave’s debt, and that’s about the king. This slave is the incredible mismanager of money, but the king is incredibly and almost irresponsibly generous. I wonder the ineptness of this slave to recrue such a debt, but we have to ask why did the king let him get away with it?
Either the king is similarly inept and irresponsible, or this king is so good, powerful, and patient that he not only desires to but can afford to be patient with this terrible slave, even up to a debt of ten thousand talents.
Anytime before this moment in the text the king could have said, “What are you doing slave? Are you trying to ruin me? It’s time to get rid of you and get some compensation.”
But the king hasn’t done that. Instead he said in essence, “I won’t call him to account yet. I won’t call him to judgment yet. I’ll give him a little more time.”
Now the king is also a figure in this parable. Who’s the king? The king is God. God is so great, good, and powerful that He has decided to be patient with your incredible sin debt before Him.
He was not obligated to be patient with you or give you more time. But He has decided to because He’s loving and because He’s merciful.
Even though you have not serve God or honored him as you ought, God has not judged you as you deserve. He has given you more time. But what have you done with the time that He has given you? You haven’t used the time to make amends, you only use it to rack up more debt. How do you think God will react to you now? Seeing how your sin debt is so great, should you not run to God for mercy?
Look now what happens next in this parable. The king crunches the numbers and discovers what would have been immediately obvious, that this slave is not able to repay the king. Seeing how there’s no prospect of future repayment the king decides to get at least a few pennies worth by selling the slave. Or if it’s indeed a minister, by enslaving that minister, and selling him along with his family and possessions.
By the way this would hardly make a dent in the debt, but at least the sale would allow the king to see some justice after so much financial unfaithfulness and mismanagement.
Something stops the king from this course. In Matthew 28:26, the slave humiliates himself before the king, he throws himself to the ground, lays prostrate with his face on the floor and he pleas with the king for mercy. He says, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.”
Now in one sense this promise is absolutely ludicrous. More patience to you most unworthy of slaves? More patience that you can rack up more debt using my money?
The slave promises that he will pay back everything. I’m sure some of the original listeners probably laughed when they heard that line. He is going to pay back $10,000 that isn’t even payable?
Besides his track record is not exactly in his favor. It’s not like the debt has been going down over time. It’s only been getting worse. Yet how many people, maybe even some of you, are essentially saying the same thing to God?
God give me more time and I’ll make things right with you! I’ll do more good works. I’ll say more prayers. I’ll do more Bible reading. I’ll go to church more. I’ll give more. God, I’ll pay off this debt I promise!
Don’t be such a fool. You cannot pay off your debt by your works! You’re like this slave and your attempts to repay the debt is only increasing the debt. Eventually God’s patience with you and your repayment plan is going to run out and you also will be sold. Not to satisfy the debt but to satisfy God’s justice.
To whom or to what will you be sold? To the eternal punishment of hell. Not to work off your debt, that can’t be repaid not even through eternal suffering. But to satisfy God’s holiness and justice.
But such a future, will you continue to insist on repaying God for your sins? Why not instead ask God for mercy because look at what happens to the slave in verse 27:
The lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
But what I don’t understand is that the master didn’t spare this slave because the master appreciated the slave’s desire to repay the debt. Actually the king probably totally ignored what was promised.
How did the king feel compassion for this foolish, desperate debter and decide to show him mercy? He forgave the slave’s debt, and totally released him from it. No work, no penance, no compensation required. The lord merely decided to show mercy to his slave when the slave asked for it.
What incredible forgiveness for such an incredible debt to such an undeserving debtor? But how? Any bank or creditor who forgave such a massive debt would be instantly ruined. That money’s got to come from somewhere. You cannot forgive that much and not be destroyed by the financial consequences.
So how is it, bringing the figure full circle here, that God is able to absorb the consequences of his forgiveness toward sinners like you. Well, it’s not without great cost. We’ve already been singing about this today. Because God is Holy and Just, He is not able as some imagine to just sweep sin under the rug and say no biggie, just forget about it.
No, sin is a big deal to God. If He let even one sin, one evil act, one evil word or thought go unpunished, He would fail to be good. He would fail to be holy. He would fail to be just and He would contradict Himself as God.
All sin needs payment. If not by the debtor, then by some creditor on the debtor’s behalf. Who could possibly intercede to pay your great debt? There is only one. God Himself. God didn’t need to do this but because He is that good and because He is forgiving, God determined to totally pay off the sin debt of His children.
And this He did by sending His Son Jesus, God in the flesh. The Son of God came into the world to live a perfectly righteous life and die a death on the cross, suffering the wrath of God. This is the very price your sin deserves.
Though the debt of sin is unpayable for any man, it can be paid by someone whose wealth, so-to-speak, is infinite. Such is God’s case, only God can pay off man’s sin once and for all. Jesus did this for all who believe in Him at the cross. Jesus not only paid the sin debt of all sinners who believe in Him, but He even credited to each one of them His own righteousness.
He is righteous as the Son of God on Earth. Jesus’s double exchange paying for sin, giving His righteousness, crediting His righteousness was accepted by the Father, which are proven in the accounts given in the gospels. Jesus at the end of time on the cross said it is finished! The debt is paid.
And when Jesus rose from the grave 3 days later, that was the Father’s confirmation of an accepted sacrifice. I accept your payment therefore rise from the dead.
That’s why we often sing “Jesus Paid It All.” But how does one become one of God’s forgiven children? You want your debt repaid by the only One who can pay it? You must do what anyone ought to do when seeking forgiveness, which is to come humbly just like a little child and ask God for mercy. Confess to God that He is who He says He is and your sin is what He says it is.
Repent of your sins turn away from and it turn away from your old life. It’s not just what you did, but what you thought, what you valued. Ask God for mercy toward you, not on the basis of what you’ve done but on the basis of what God has done and who He is.
Embrace Jesus Christ as your Saving Substitute and Master of your life. Follow Him no matter the cost. Don’t misunderstand this thing I’m describing here. It’s not a work, this is just a breakdown of what the Bible says in short, faith. Belief.
All people are saved only by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Which is why the apostles say in Acts 16:31:
Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.
Simple as that. Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. If you will repent and believe you have God’s promise that you will enter God’s kingdom. Not just you might or you hope, you will.
1 John 1:9 says:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
God can’t do anything else. But forgive when you repent. What a wonder that our great sin debt like that of this slave, 10,000 talents ,can be forgiven in this way.
Should we not echo the words of King David in Psalm 32:1:
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. What a blest man. What a happy man.
You can be forgiven today because God’s heart is ready to forgive. God is calling you, even in this passage even in this message, to be forgiven. He’s entreating you. So won’t you be forgiven today? Why would you ignore such a generous offer?
See the first reason God’s children forgive others is because God has forgiven their great debt, the children’s great debt. If we stop right here, this is already an amazing story especially because of what it figures, what it tells us about God and His forgiveness toward His children. But there’s more to it.
The very instructive second reason for our forgiving others by contrast. This is the second reason in my outline. Reason two. Why do God’s children, if you’re forgiven, always forgive others? Because God demands that we forgive lesser debts. We see this verses 28 to 30. Let’s read that now.
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.
Just when you thought the story couldn’t get any more surprising, it takes a shocking turn. You think that the reaction to having your 10,000 talent debt forgiven would be celebration, adoration of the king, telling others the good news that they can have their debts forgiven or something along those lines.
Unthinkably what he does next to according to the story is that he goes to collect a debt from a fellow slave. Are we acting as listeners ought to be? Consider the size of this lesser debt: 100 denarii. Now this is no amount to sneeze at, it’s a little more than 3 months wages. Imagine if someone owed you three months wages of your job, or your husband’s job. That’s no chump change.
But what is that in comparison to 10,000 talents? I like this one calculation I found. This second debt compared to the first is approximately 0.00001%, or 100 thousandth of the original debt.
Consider this first slave’s approach to his fellow slave. He seizes him and chokes him. What?! Can’t you remind someone about a debt without resorting to bodily violence? Especially after you yourself have received life-giving good news? And then hear what he said, “Pay back what you owe!” Or more literally, “Pay back if you owe.”
What? Why does it say if? Well it’s like he is quoting a proverb to this other slave. Those will have to pay back, it’s just the law of the world. So pay up no exceptions! The irony is almost painful. You’re going to quote this as a proverb even after what just happened to you.
Anyone listening to the story has to think, “What is wrong with this slave? Why is he acting like this? What happened to the humble, desperate, grateful slave just a few moments ago?”
Now we have a proud, greedy, selfish, self-righteous, despicable debt collector. And it only gets worse because notice how his fellow slave responds in verse 29:
Have patience with me and I will repay you.
Does that sounds familiar? It’s almost the exact same thing the first slave did and said to his lord. The second slave doesn’t even react as he might have. He might have fought back against the first slave and told him to get off him. He might have invoked the aid of others. “Get this crazy man off me!” But he doesn’t fight back.
He humbled himself before the first slave despite being mistreated by him and he confesses his genuine debt and need for mercy. “You know what? I do need to pay you back I can’t though. Please, be patient have mercy.” Truly I thought the humble response, so reminiscent of the first slave’s own response to the king, would have mercy, right? That is so small by comparison, his fellow slave has humbled himself and has asked for mercy. Why not give mercy? Why not forgive?
My brothers and sisters, is this not the same with our own sins against one another? In this fallen world, it is inevitable that people will stand against us in some small ways. In great ways by some people, by the world some, by people in the church, even our closest family and friends. The debts that others incur with us are substantial. They can’t be brushed aside.
But what are they in comparison with what we have been forgiven? Who we are in Christ should put us in a constant state of happy celebration. We have been forgiven! We will not be sold into judgment! Why fuss about a smaller debt? We have been forgiven by the King!
Indeed to forgive is to walk in the faith footsteps of God. By forgiving, you magnify His mercy and His forgiveness by demonstrating it to others.
If you have been forgiven don’t you want to exalt God for His great character and forgiveness? Christians ought to be known for their readiness to forgive others because they were so readily forgiven by God. Christians oughta be known for the fullness of their forgiveness of others because they receive forgiveness fully from God. Sadly this often is not the case.
Too many people, professing Christians included, imitate the shocking behavior of the slave scene in verse 30. He was not willing to forgive. He was not even willing to have patience and extend alone. Rather, he had his fellow slave locked up until the debt should be repaid.
If you’ve read this story before you have probably had this question. How can a slave pay off his debt if he’s thrown in prison? What’s the answer? He can’t. You can’t, that’s why debtors’ prisons are so cruel. That’s why they’re illegal in this country. That’s why they weren’t even known in the Roman world at that time.
You throw a debtor in chains and you doom them. You doom them to death with a lifelong in prison. That’s because he can’t do the work that will enable him to pay off the debt.
It’s not like you can run a business from the dungeon. It’s not like the jailers are going to pay him to do work. Such a case the debtors only hope would be for his friends and family to scrape together enough money to pay the debt and get the man out.
But with the man in prison, who often was a primary money making member for the family, how will the family be able to do that? They have to support themselves. They don’t have enough money to free him also.
What if he doesn’t have any family or friends who are willing or able to intercede? By throwing him in prison, the first slave has damned his fellow slave into a kind of living hell.
He will suffer for the debt but he will never be able to repay it. And all of this from the one who a moment earlier was forgiven 10,000 talents.
What an outrage. What an injustice. What disgusting ingratitude and selfishness? And how many people, Christians included, do exactly the same thing. Despite your own forgiveness, you won’t forgive others.
You constantly nurse the hurt you received. You remind others about how much they hurt you and how much they owe you. You’re never willing to release them from the bondage of the prison you constructed for them.
You want them to suffer. And as they get frustrated at your lack of forgiveness and maybe even act out towards you, you only dig in your heels even more and become that much more committed to not forgiving him.
You want to put people into a type of unforgiveness hell to satisfy your own twisted sense of justice, justice warped by your own pride. Have others genuinely sinned against you? They have. Do they need to genuinely repent and seek forgiveness? They do.
But is your heart ready to forgive because of how ready God’s heart was to forgive you? Are you like the father of the prodigal son, going back to Luke 15, when at the very first sign of repentance when his son was still a long way off, the father ran to him and put his arms around him because he was so desirous to see them reconciled.
Is that your attitude? Yes as I said, it may take time to rebuild relationships in certain extreme cases, but won’t you go forward and begin the rebuilding process together by totally releasing your fellow slave, one who is just like you from the wrong that she or he has done to you?
Won’t you do to others what you would have them do to you and indeed what has been done for you if you know Christ. I hope you’ll take this seriously. Because if you say “I’m sorry, I just can’t forgive him.” If you take the path of the first slave in this parable then beware because his outcome will be yours.
Why do God’s children forgive? They have been forgiven a great debt. They only have lesser debts or dads to forgive. And finally God will not forgive the unforgiving. We see this in Matthew 18:31-35, look at those with me.
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. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
Really this part of the story is not that unexpected. Surely the first slave did not expect that his uncool actions would go unreported. Did he? You can’t grab one of the king’s slaves and have him thrown in jail and then just hope the king won’t notice.
Word got back to the king. So the king summoned the first slave. May I say that if you are nursing unforgiveness in your heart then you should also be afraid because word of it is also getting back to God.
He hates to see that kind of injustice, especially when He so kindly offers forgiveness to all who repent. Will you really impugn the goodness of God when you insist that you should not forgive those that God is willing to forgive?
Your king God will eventually summon you and deal with you as your behavior deserves, just like the king does here. And look at what this king does with the slave. The master calls the slave what he is, wicked.
He reproves the slave for the same reason any of us would who are listening to the story. This slave did not show the same mercy to his fellow slave that his master was showing him.
Only a wicked slave, unaffected, unappreciative of his master’s mercy could do such a thing. So what does the master do? He revokes the pardon granted to the first slave. He saddles him again with the 10,000 talent debt.
At this point you are going to say, “What a second, how can the king nullify his previously expressed forgiveness? Doesn’t that make that forgiveness false?” If this is talking about God then does this mean that God can revoke salvation? That people can lose it?
Here you need to remember the basic aspects of parables. Parables are all about the main details, not the side details. There are too many verses in the Bible that clarify that those who are truly saved by God cannot be lost. Not even by their own sins. Nevertheless, there are other verses in the Bible that make it clear that those who are truly saved will be changed into lovers of God, lovers of good, lovers of righteousness.
They are new creations. They live lives in which they persevere and know obedience to God until the end. Not perfectly, but that is the characterization of their lives. This is also true when it comes to forgiveness, this is why the passage says what it does. This is what other passages like Matthew 6:14-15 say:
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.
Now back to our passage in Matthew 18. The lord and king in this passage decides to use the same standard that the first slave used on his fellow slave. “You won’t forgive your fellow slave, then I won’t forgive you. Forget about that! You are determined to leave your fellow slave in unforgiveness hell, then I’ll do the same to you.” That’s why Matthew 18:34 says:
And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
We ask the same question we did before. How could the slave repay the debt while in prison? The answer is the same. He won’t. He couldn’t have paid it before even when he wasn’t in prison! It was too much! It’s unpayable. But now after showing such wickedness and in gratitude the king is determined to exact a measure of justice by torturing the slave and the slave’s great wickedness. In so doing, the king chose to do to the slave as the slave sought to do to others.
Now friends, brothers and sisters, hear the sober warning of Christ in verse 35:
My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
Make no mistake. The price of unforgiveness is eternal torment in hell. What a fearful thing it is to be eternally unforgiven by God. If the unforgiveness of man is torture, how much more is the unforgiveness of God? Especially after his generous forgiveness was so freely given and so freely received.
Dear friends, consider what a great and sobering Word our Lord Christ has given us today through this passage. Christ made this message clear. God’s children, as the forgiven, always forgive others. Jesus has shown us this in this striking parable. First, God has forgiven their great debt. Second, God demands that they forgive lesser debts. And third, God will not forgive the unforgiving.
So now consider your response to Christ. Have you sought the forgiveness of God simply on the basis of faith in Christ? Those who know God’s forgiveness, do you forgive others? Both in your heart and in your relationships?
To all I say, along with the office of Scripture, be reconciled to God. Be reconciled to one another and know God’s great blessing. Let’s pray.
Lord this is a grave Word but it is a sobering Word. In a sense this is a very hard and it is very easy. But those who love sin and cling to the flesh, it will be very hard. They cannot do it. But those who have asked You for mercy and who have repented will experience your great forgiveness. For them it should be easy in the sense because what it is 100 denarii compared to 10,000 talents?
Lord, I pray that You would be so moved and gracious as to make your people forgiving just as You are forgiving. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.