Bible Text: Matthew 18:21-35 | Preacher: Joshua Hughes | Series: College Chapel, Transcribed Sermons
Pastor Joshua Hughes
Fairhaven Baptist College Chapel
We’re going to be looking at the subject of, “forgiveness.” We’ll look at Matthew chapter 18: 21-35. The Bible says, “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desirest me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”
I think everyone would agree with me that forgiveness is a hallmark of Christianity. It’s one of the main Christian virtues that our faith is founded upon. Without forgiveness there would be no salvation. I think everyone here wants to receive forgiveness when they do wrong. You want your spouse to forgive you, you want your friend or your fellow Christian brother to forgive you, but when it comes time for us to do the forgiving, we often find it the hardest thing to do.
C. S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” Isn’t that the truth? We agree that forgiveness is a good thing. We expect people to forgive us when we’ve wronged them, but when we have to do the forgiving, that’s a totally different story. No one likes to be wronged and no one likes to be hurt. The sad truth is that people will wrong you, they will hurt you and, unfortunately, it will come from the very people who are the closest to you. It comes from a husband or a wife, a mom or a dad, a brother, a sister, perhaps even a Christian brother or sister. What should our response be when that happens? Do we have to forgive? If we do, why? And, how often should we do it?
Let’s notice three things from the passage this morning. The first in verse number 21. Notice the question of forgiveness. Peter comes to Christ and he says, “Lord I have a question for you.” The first thing that his question dealt with was a specific person and a specific amount. But Peter comes unto the Lord and he says, “How often shall my brother sin against me?” Perhaps many of us have the same difficulty as did the Apostle Peter. He was faced with the problem of forgiving his brother. We don’t know if that’s literally talking about Peter’s physical brother which would have been Andrew, or if Peter is speaking figuratively of the other disciples which would be his brothers and sisters in the family of God. In either case, Peter had a difficulty and he comes to Christ and says, “How oft shall I forgive my brother?” The sad truth is that we often find ourselves like Peter. We find it hard to forgive our brother. When the world wrongs us we’re often willing to forgive them, but when our brother wrongs us we often find it difficult to forgive them. Peter says, “How often shall I forgive my brother?” That person that’s the closest to me, the one that is supposed to be with me, the one that’s supposed to have my back and they’ve wronged me? And then, Peter’s question dealt with a specific amount. He says, “…till seven times?” Again, Peter feels that he’s being very generous here in suggesting that he forgive his brother up to seven times and, honestly, he had good reason to bring out this number. This wasn’t some arbitrary number that he pulled out of the air. At that time, the Jewish rabbi’s taught that the people only needed to forgive up to three times. The fourth time, you could do whatever you like. They got this teaching from the Book of Amos where you’ll find this phrase, “.. for three transgressions and for four I will not turn away the punishment thereof.” The rabbi’s taught from that phrase that God only forgives three times and the fourth he brings punishment. So you only have to forgive three times and the fourth, well, it doesn’t matter. Anytime after three you can do what you want. We’re not going to go back to the passage in Amos, but that’s not what that phrase is teaching. But this is what the Jewish rabbi’s were teaching the people…only three times! So, Peter feels that he’s gone to the utmost limit. He’s taken the three, he’s now doubled it to six, and he’s even added one more for good measure! Up to seven times shall I forgive my brother?
Look how Jesus responds in verse number 22. I want you to notice the extent of forgiveness. Jesus saith unto him, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.” There are some verses in the Bible which people misunderstand because they take them too seriously and no doubt this is one of those passages. Jesus’ point wasn’t that we ought to forgive our brother 490 times, but once you get to 490 times, you don’t need to forgive anymore. I think you understand, like myself, that Jesus is being facetious with Peter. He’s telling Peter, “Llisten, you ought to forgive your brother as many times as he sins against you. Whether it be one time, seven times, or seventy times seven.” You see our fleshly nature has limits. This is who Peter is a picture of right now…the picture of your flesh! Your flesh has limits…three times, seven times, that’s it, no more! Jesus says that’s not the extent of forgiveness. The extent of forgiveness is seventy times seven. The extent of forgiveness is over and over and over again. There should be no limit to our love and forgiveness. If we’re going to be like Christ, we ought to forgive over and over, as oft as our brother sins against us! This is the extent of forgiveness that Jesus was teaching Peter.
We’re going to examine the parable that Jesus is going to give to explain what he’s talking about. But before we do, I find it interesting that the story that Jesus is going to give, in order to explain his point, actually has nothing to do with how often you ought to forgive your brother. Again, that’s what Peter’s questioning. He specifically asked Jesus, “How many times…how often?” Jesus says, “Let me give you a story.” And the story has nothing to deal with that part of Peter’s question. You say, “Why is that?” Because Jesus wanted to teach something deeper to his disciples. He wanted to teach something deeper to Peter. The bigger issue was not “why” you should forgive 490 times, the issue that Jesus wanted to get at is, “why you should forgive the very first time!” And, if you should forgive the first time, then it should be good for the second time, and it should be good for the third time, and it’ll be good for the seventh time, and it’ll be good for the 70th time seventh time! The issue that Jesus was getting at is ”why” you ought to forgive your brother. If you truly understand “why” you should forgive your brother then it won’t matter how often they sin against you. It won’t matter if it’s the first time or the 490th time. You will forgive each and every time! This is what Jesus wants to teach his disciples so he gives them, what I call, the “parable of forgiveness.”
Let’s read verses 23-35, again. Jesus says, “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to recken, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.”
The value in any of Jesus’ parables is understanding what they picture. Often, as Jesus gives his parable, he also gives the understanding to the parable. But, here we don’t find that. Jesus doesn’t say who these people represent. So, I’m going to ask you to think here for a moment. Who do the people in the story represent? Who is the certain king? It’s God! Who is the servant with the vast debt? It’s us! Who is the fellowservant? That’s our brother! That’s the Christian brother or sister that has sinned against us! With this understanding in mind, let’s make our way through the story.
In verse 24, we find that a servant is in debt. And, he’s not in a little bit of debt, he’s in a lot of debt! He owed 10,000 talents! If you look that up, and depending upon who you read, a talent is anywhere from a thousand dollars upward. If you do that math, the servant in our currency today, owed the King ten million dollars! That’s a lot of money today! You put that back about two thousand years, that’s an extremely large amount of money! In those days, it would be actually the ransom for a king, ten thousand talents, and this was the debt that the servant owed. When the settling of accounts came, the servant could not pay it. In verse 25, we find that the King orders that justice be carried out on the man and his wife and children. Again, in that day that’s how debts could be repaid. They would live literally in slavery or sell your family. They would take your possessions and sell all of that in order to pay back the debt. But even if all that was done, it surely would have fallen short of the amount of debt that this man owed the king. In desperation, the man makes an impossible promise. In verse 26, he falls on his knees and says to the King, “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” Let’s be honest, could he really pay all of that back? No! Ten million dollars, ten thousand talents, there was no way! Even if everything that he had was sold and he worked every day of his physical life, there was no way he could pay back that type of debt! But, we see that in desperation he cries out for patience. Verse 27, tells us that the king’s heart was moved with compassion. Seeing this man’s impossible situation, the king forgives the servant of his staggering debt. Forgiving this man’s debt was no small thing. The king said, “No more debt! You don’t have to pay me back.” That meant that the king was now out $10,000 talents. However, this money had come to that man. If the king forgave the debt, it impoverished himself of the debt, and it would have to come back on to the king! Now the king was going to be out ten thousand talents! This was no trifling matter. It was at staggering cost to himself that the King forgave the debt of this servant.
If we’re going to be helped this morning, we must see ourselves in this story. We must see that the sum of our offenses against God, throughout the years, constitutes this kind of debt! An impossible amount of our rebellions, our selfish acts, our lustful thoughts, our willful choices, our lack of love, our pride, our anger, our bitterness, our hate, our lies! All of these add up, throughout the years, to a staggering debt that you and I owe God! And friend, the truth is the same. It is one that we cannot repay! But then, one day, there came the good news! For us, that was the good news of the gospel! There came a day when we stood in the presence of the king and we heard him pronounce these wonderful words, “forgiven!” What a day that was when we accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. Like this servant in the story, we now stood before the King, “forgiven.” Because of what Christ had done for us, our staggering debt was wiped away! We were now free.
But, sadly, the story doesn’t stop there and I wish it did! We find in verse number 28, that Jesus says that this very same servant goes out and finds one of his fellowservants that owed him a hundred pence. In that day, a pence was a normal day’s wage. A hundred pence then would be about three months salary for an individual. That was still a lot of money in their day and it’s still a good chunk of money in our day. But in comparison to the ten thousand talents that he was in debt himself, it was nothing. Look at what the forgiven servant said to his fellowservant in verse 28. The Bible says, “…he laid hands on him and he took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.” Out of rage, he literally grabs the man and he tells him, “Pay up! Pay me what you owe me.”
In verse 29, we see that the fellowservant says the exact same words that the first had said a few moments before. “…have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” Now, could this man actually pay back all that he was indebted? Sure. No doubt, it would have taken a little bit of time but his promise could actually have been fulfilled. But instead of forgiving this man of his small debt, he turns around and he looks at the other one and he tells him, “Pay up!” The man asks for patience but in verse 30, we find the sad words, “And he would not…” He tells the man, “No, I’m not going to forgive your debt. Pay me what you owe me.” Verse 30 also tells us that when he didn’t do that, he went and cast his fellow brother into prison “…till he should pay the debt.”
When I read that, I think, “unbelievable.” How horrible can you be? You were forgiven of such a great debt but you won’t forgive your fellow brother of a much smaller debt? According to Jesus, this is what you and I do when we refuse to forgive each other. No matter how bad it appears to us, no matter how hurt we are by someone else that has done wrong to us, in comparison to what God has forgiven us, it’s like comparing a few dollars to a 10 million dollar debt. I think we all understand that even after salvation we still continue to do wrong things despite the increasing power that is now available to us through the Holy Spirit that literally lives within us. We still do wrong, we still sin, and not a day goes by that we don’t stand in desperate need of the forgiving word of the King! The good news is this. When you come to the King for it, the Bible says in I John 1:9, “…he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” Again and again, even as a Christian, when you do wrong and you come to the King he cancels your debt over and over again. Yet, when someone offends us, when someone hurts us, how quickly we act like the servant in this story. We revert back to the basis of justice and we start demanding, “Pay me what you owe me!” We demand justice and restitution. We demand that their debt be paid to us. Don’t you see how wrong and hypocritical that is? We’ve been forgiven a debt we could never repay. Perhaps, like the servant in this story, we turn around to those (probably those closest to us) that have wronged us and maybe, even like the man, we literally grab them around the neck, at least we’re physical with them, and we begin to scream at them,“Pay me what you owe me!” Even though our debt was canceled, we demand that they pay their debt back to us.
In the final verses, Jesus reveals the two great reasons why a Christian must forgive those that have sinned against him. In verses 32 and 33, we must forgive because we have been forgiven. It’s as simple as that. We must forgive because we have been forgiven. Verses 32 and 33, “Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desirest me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” So often we demand justice for the wrongs done to us. “Pay me what thou owest.” Again, how hypocritical that is. Justice wasn’t demanded of us, yet we demand justice from others. Christian, aren’t you glad when your debt was called by God that he didn’t demand justice from you? I’m glad that he didn’t demand justice of me. Rather than justice he showed mercy, rather than justice he showed compassion, and because compassion was shown to us, we ought to show compassion to our brother because we’ve been forgiven. Because our debt was cancelled, we ought to forgive and cancel the debts of others. This was the deeper truth that Jesus wanted his disciples to learn. We forgive our brother simply because we have been forgiven. You don’t forgive the first seven times because you, “have to!” That’s what the Jewish scribes were teaching. You don’t forgive the first three times because you, “have to.” You forgive each and every time, even up to seventy times seven, because each and every time you sin against God, He is faithful and just to forgive you. So, you ought to be faithful and just to forgive others.
Paul understood this truth. That’s why in Ephesians 4:32, Paul said this, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another…” Why? What’s the grand reason why we should forgive one another? “…even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” That’s why you ought to forgive! You ought to forgive because you have been forgiven. But when we refuse to forgive, when we hold on to bitterness and refuse to settle an issue, we’re doing the exact same thing the servant does here. At the very moment of our own forgiveness we demand justice, and Jesus has strong words for that type of person. Look at verse 32, “…O thou wicked servant…” You see, not forgiving isn’t just wrong, Jesus says, “it’s wicked!” You say, “Well, why is it so wicked when I don’t forgive?” Because of the truth, that we understand, you have been forgiven so much that you’re turning around to your brother and not forgiving them! And Jesus says, “it’s wicked!” If you find yourself harboring an unforgiving spirit then you need to remind yourself of your salvation. The reason you’re harboring bitterness and resentment is because you’ve forgotten how great a debt was forgiven you by God himself.
Look at II Peter chapter 1. Again, that’s what your flesh wants you to do. It wants you to forget. It wants you to forget your debt. This is what Peter talks about in II Peter 1:5. He writes, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here it is, “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” Many Christians have forgotten how much they’ve been forgiven by God. They’ve forgotten how vast their debt was against the King Himself and that’s why they can’t forgive. Don’t ever forget that when you got saved, God forgave you of a vast debt that you could never repay. So quit turning around and demanding that others pay their debt to you. “Forgive, why?” Because you have been forgiven!
Secondly, back in our text passage in Matthew 18. We must forgive because if we don’t, we will be delivered to the tormentors. Verses 34 and 35, “And his Lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Here Jesus says that the person that doesn’t forgive will be delivered to the tormentors. You say, “Who are the tormentors?” Well, in the passage they’re real people. But in application to us, “Who are the tormentors?” The tormentors are figurative of bitterness, anger, and resentment. The truth is, when you fail to resolve your hurt and forgive those who have sinned against you, you’ll be tortured by your own bitterness and resentment. God will deliver you over to your own unforgiving spirit and it will torment you day and night. Like a cancer, it’ll begin to eat you away from the inside out. Bitterness and resentment will torment your mind so that you can think of nothing else but the wrong that has been done to you. The word resentment literally means, “to feel again.” You want to know why you feel the same amount of hurt now, as you did when the offense was committed against you? It’s because you’re allowing resentment to pick open the wound and resentment is torturing you. It’s causing you to relive all that pain over and over again. Even at night, when you try to lay your head down to sleep, bitterness and resentment will torment you. It rehearses all of those things over and over and over again, and you won’t get any sleep at night. Bitterness and resentment will torment your spirit by causing deep depression as you continue to dwell on the wrongs done to you. You’ll become reclusive and not wanting to enjoy the company of others all because your only focused on the hurt that was done to you. And you’ll find that your bleak and depressed attitude will even cause others to begin to turn away from you. It will often be those that are the closest to you. You’ll push them away. Bitterness and resentment will torment your soul. Like an acid, it’ll eat away your peace and your happiness. You’ll find no joy in the present because all you’re doing is living in the past. Bitterness and resentment will torment you physically by causing all sorts of health issues.
Studies have proven that bitterness and anger cause insomnia, high blood pressure, back pain, headaches, and abdominal conditions. An article published in the New York Times said this, “Researchers have gathered a wealth of data, lately, suggesting that chronic bitterness is so damaging to the body that it ranks with, or even exceeds, smoking, obesity, and a high-fat diet as a powerful risk factor for an early death.” Jesus was telling the truth. If you don’t forgive, you will be delivered over to the tormentors. This is what an unforgiving spirit will do to you. It’ll torment you emotionally, mentally, and physically. Why? Because like this servant, you’re unwilling to forgive, you’re unwilling to cancel the debt, and all you’re doing is delivering yourself over to the tormentors. All you’re doing is hurting yourself. Jesus says, “So likewise shall my Heavenly Father do also unto you.” You don’t want to forgive? Fine. But don’t forget, you will be delivered over to the tormentors.
I want to point out one more thing that Jesus said about forgiveness in verse 35. He says, “…if ye from your hearts…” I believe this is a very important point because many people think that forgiveness is primarily about what they do or what they say. To a certain degree, I agree with you. But, just because you mouth some kind words of forgiveness doesn’t mean that you’ve truly forgiven somebody. According to Jesus, forgiveness is a matter of the heart. And if you’re still harboring anger and resentment toward an individual then you probably haven’t truly forgiven them. I’m not debating that you didn’t say some kind words. I’m glad you did, but forgiveness is from the heart! Forgiveness is a change of heart towards the person that is wronged you. Perhaps this is why you have forgiven somebody and you still feel angry at them. You feel resentment toward them. Perhaps your forgiveness wasn’t from the heart. Jesus says, forgive from the heart and the rest will fall into place. This is the story that Jesus gives to his disciples. How often should I forgive my brother? According to Jesus, each and every time he sins against you. I can almost guarantee you that it won’t be easy. Your flesh is going to give you a hundred reasons why you don’t have to forgive; but, if you’re going to be right with God, you must forgive. Some people will say, I’m just waiting for the person that hurt me to show some remorse, some sorrow, then I’ll forgive them. Let me ask you this, “What if that never happens?” Let’s be honest, it doesn’t often happen. Does that mean you can continue to be bitter and angry towards that individual? Absolutely not! Paul said this in Romans 12:19 and following, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” I’m sorry that somebody has wronged you. I’m sorry that somebody has hurt you, and I’m sorry it came from people that were close to you. But the truth is, you must forgive them even if they don’t come to you and say I’m sorry. You must forgive them. As Christians, we must forgive those who hurt us deliberately and repeatedly. We must forgive those who casually and thoughtlessly wound us. We must forgive our spouse, our family, our friends, even your fellow brother and sister in Christ. Not just once, and not just twice, not even seven times and not even seventy times seven, but each and every time they wrong us we must forgive them. Why? Simply because we have been forgiven. And the warning is this…if you don’t, you will be delivered over to the tormentors! May God help us to not be like this servant. May God help us to forgive as we have been forgiven.