Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 18:21-35
Dear forgiven debtors: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The unmerciful servant was thrown into jail for eternity because he did not forgive his fellow servant. Jesus says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
That’s a scary statement. It is found elsewhere in Scripture also. After Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, He said, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt. 6:14-15) In other words, if you do not forgive those who have sinned against you, you are going to hell for eternity.
These are not easy words to hear. They’re not easy to hear because we know how much we struggle to forgive. We have been sinned against. Those close to us have betrayed us. Evil things have been said about us. We’ve been cheated. Precious things have been taken from us. Our families have suffered because of things done by others, and we are the ones who are in danger of hell if we don’t forgive?
We must understand correctly what this means. First, we must understand that it is not our forgiveness of others’ sins that earns us forgiveness for our sins. We are not forgiven because we forgive others. We are forgiven freely because of Jesus’ death in our place which paid the debt of our sins. There is no payment made by us for our sins.
Consider the servant that was forgiven his debt of ten thousand talents. He pleaded for time to pay it off, but this was a delusion. He could never pay it off. In today’s dollars, based on the price of gold, ten thousand talents would amount to over ten billion dollars. This servant didn’t have a hope to pay off his debt.
The king forgave the debt. The king took it upon himself to pay the debt because he knew only he could pay such a debt. The king took it upon himself to pay the great debt because he had mercy on his servant; he had compassion on his servant. Rather than throwing the servant into jail for eternity, he forgave the debt freely with no cost to the servant.
That is how God forgives us. God took it upon Himself to pay the debt of our sins, because our debt of sins is too large for us to ever pay off. Jesus paid our debt with His holy and precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. God had mercy and compassion on us and forgave us, because our debt has been paid by Jesus. Rather than throwing us into hell for eternity, He forgave our debt freely with no cost to us. Thus, we are not forgiven because we forgive others. It is not our forgiveness of others’ sins that earns us forgiveness for our sins. We are forgiven because Jesus has paid for our sins.
The next thing to understand is that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, so the debt of every single sin, including those committed against you has been paid. You have no right to refuse to forgive a sin that has been paid by Jesus’ death. If you do not forgive someone who has sinned against you, it means that you do not believe that Jesus’ death has paid for the sins of the world. Refusing to forgive someone is saying that the payment of Jesus’ most holy obedience, suffering, and death is not enough to pay for that sin. Thus, someone refusing to forgive shows that he is not a believer, that he does not believe in the forgiveness of sins.
Christians forgive. Christians forgive because we have been forgiven. Christians forgive because we know that Jesus died for all sin – our sin and the sin committed by others against us. Christians pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Christians confess in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”
If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, why is everyone not going to heaven? Why does anyone end up in hell? Why was the unmerciful servant thrown into jail for eternity even though the king had forgiven his debt?
Let’s go back to the text. The servant did not ask the king for mercy. He didn’t ask the king for compassion. The servant didn’t ask for the king to forgive the great debt that he could never pay. No, he asked for patience. He asked for a little bit of time to make the payment. He didn’t want the king’s forgiveness. He wanted time to earn the billions of dollars that he really had no chance of earning to pay the debt.
The unmerciful servant did not believe in forgiveness and mercy, thus, even though the king offered it to him, he rejected it. That’s why he went and choked his fellow servant and threw him in jail, refusing to forgive him. This man who did not want to be forgiven, did not want to forgive.
God offers His forgiveness freely to all. If you don’t want it, then He won’t give it to you. If you reject His forgiveness, then you don’t have it. God will take it away from you.
Refusing to forgive others is refusing to be forgiven by God. It is rejecting forgiveness. If you do not forgive your brother, then you do not want God’s forgiveness.
Do not ask God to just be patient with you. Asking for patience is not a confession of sin. As long as you ask for time instead of forgiveness, you remain under the burden of sin. As long as you think you have something to offer, you reject the forgiveness of sins God offers to you freely.
Thus, we go to God with nothing to offer. We don’t approach Him making promises to do better. We approach God confessing our sin. We don’t look at our mountain of sin and say if we had some time we could pay it off. We confess our sin, and God forgives our sin.
The mountain of debt that we had has been forgiven. Jesus paid for it. Jesus paid for the debt of all sin, including our brother who sinned against us. With our sin forgiven, we therefore also forgive our brother. Seven times? No. Rather seventy times seven. We keep forgiving.
We keep forgiving, because God keeps forgiving us. God does not count how many times He forgives us. He doesn’t have a quota for absolutions. He doesn’t ration the Lord’s Supper and say that you’ve had enough. God’s forgiveness in Christ is always offered to sinners.
God even forgives those times in our past when we held a grudge and did not forgive. He forgives us and strengthens us to forgive them now. God’s forgiveness even enables us to let go of angry feelings and pray for those who have sinned against us.
God’s forgiveness has wiped out all of our sins. Our mountain of debt that we could not pay off was paid by Jesus’ blood. God has had pity and compassion on us. He has shown His mercy to us and saved us from hell. We will not be cast into hell for eternity because God has forgiven us and continues to forgive us, so we can forgive our brother who sins against us. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.