Title: Merciful God, Merciful Child
Text: Matthew 18:21-35
FCF: We often struggle when someone we trust, like a fellow Christian brother, hurts us by sinning against us.
Prop: Because those who consider themselves least are great in the Kingdom of heaven, we must show mercy as an outpouring of being shown great mercy.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew 18. Today we will conclude Jesus’ 4th discourse as He continues to answer the question “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Rather than answer the way I would, “You guys are dumb” instead Jesus takes the time to really drive home a specific teaching about the citizens of the Kingdom. That they are humble.
What we will learn about this week, is really bourne out of the previous passage about restoring those overtaken in sin. And big shocker here… it all starts with a question from Peter. Poor Peter. Look at verse 21 of chapter 18. I am reading from the NET but follow along in whatever version you prefer.
So what is Peter’s question this time… and how did he get it wrong?
I.) Those who consider themselves least are great in the Kingdom of heaven, so we must understand the debt of sin we owed. (21-27)
a. [Slide 2] 21 – Then Peter came to him and said, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?
i. Having learned that there is no greater or lesser in the kingdom, but that there are only those who are in Christ. Having learned that those who are in Christ, would humble themselves and consider themselves least in the Kingdom. And in so doing, they would be called great.
ii. Having seen that those who are genuinely citizens of the Kingdom are humble people who accept and love others in the kingdom. They hate sin so much that they wouldn’t be caught dead being the cause of another’s sin, and they’d take drastic measures to prevent it in themselves.
iii. And this love for other kingdom citizens and hatred of sin expands to the humble and loving rebuke of the wayward to restoration or to excommunication.
iv. Hearing these statements about people sinning and being forgiven and restored. Having heard the amount of patience and time it would take to deal with someone who sins. This is an awful lot of work. So Peter… has a question.
v. Yes Jesus, but where does it end? How often am I played the fool? How much am I supposed to endure?
vi. Jesus the Rabbis teach from Amos that since God only forgave Israel’s enemies 3 times before He brought down judgment, that there is no need to forgive more than 3 times.
vii. What if I forgive someone double that plus one? Perhaps the number of completion Lord? Seven? Seven times sinned against me. That seems reasonable does it not? After rebuking this brother 7 times, that would be the end of mercy… true?
b. [Slide 3] 22 – Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy seven times!
i. Scholars argue back and forth about whether this is 77 or 490, it matters very little because Jesus is not shooting for a number in the first place. He is describing the nature of a humble kingdom citizen. They forgive other kingdom citizens… Always.
ii. One clarification though… I have always read and seen Peter’s statement here as a question about 1 sin. In other words if someone hits me in the face. I rebuke them. They repent, and then they hit me in the face again. Do I allow this to continue or do I seek justice?
iii. Jesus’ statement here seems to say that you keep letting them hit you in the face. As long as they repent, then you must continue to forgive them. If this were true, it would severely change our understanding of repentance.
iv. I think there are two things that are happening here.
1. Genuine repentance and change is implied. In other words, genuine change is witnessed in the person.
a. Just as John the Baptist required of the Pharisees and Sadducees to have fruit of repentance. All repentance has fruit. And that fruit is the great desire to restore and undo what your sin has done.
b. So if they hit me, I rebuke them, they realize they were wrong, beg for forgiveness, and pay to have my tooth put back in, and then hit me again… Jesus is saying that my response is the same. I keep rebuking and forgiving until they don’t repent.
c. But could someone really do this 77 times? Much less 490 times? That seems sort of ridiculous?
2. Jesus is being ridiculous on purpose to show Peter that he is asking the wrong question.
a. Jesus is teaching Peter that there is no end to forgiveness from one brother to another. And he will show Peter why that is in just a moment.
b. So this statement of 77 cycles or 490 cycles, of sin, rebuke, repentance, fruit of repentance, reparation and sin again – is meant to be crazy. Because Jesus is pointing out the flaw in the question.
c. Peter it is not about the limit on how often we forgive… because there is no limit Peter.
c. [Slide 4] 23 – For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves.
i. “For this reason” closely links what Jesus has just said to the kingdom of heaven.
ii. Those who consider themselves least, always forgive. And because they always forgive, the kingdom of heaven is like this parable.
iii. A king settling accounts with slaves seems odd. Why would a king loan money to a slave? What is probably going on here is a king having governors of local governments in his province. The debt owed is most likely, tax money. Meaning that this is not borrowed money… but owed money. Money that is due to the King.
iv. So it is time to collect taxes.
d. [Slide 5] 24 – As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed ten thousand talents was brought to him.
i. So in the midst of this, one governor owed him 10,000 talents. But what is that? Is that like a couple hundred bucks and a donkey?
ii. Short answer… no.
iii. The long answer is time consuming… but I think it is worth it to really understand the situation here.
1. [Sldie 6a] A silver talent was right around 6,000 denarii.
2. [6b] A denarii was a day’s wage
3. [Slide 7a]The median income’s day’s wage in America is $140
4. [7b] So, 6000 X 10,000 gives you the total number of denarii. Which is 60 Million. But to put that in raw dollars you would multiply that by 140. Meaning that…
5. [7c]Today this man owed the king 8.4 billion dollars.
6. But wait. There’s more.
7. [Slide 8a] A gold talent was worth around 180,000 denarii. And since we aren’t told which talent we are talking about… it may mean this one.
8. [8b] So, 180,000 X 10,000 gives you 1.8 Trillion Denarii
9. [8c] Today, that would be like this man owing the King 252 Trillion dollars. Our national debt is 21 trillion folks. This one man owed the king over 10 times that amount.
10. But wait… there’s more.
11. [Slide 9a] To keep it in its context, Josephus indicates to us that the combined taxation of Judea, Samaria, Galilee and Perea for an entire year was 800 talents. This one man owed the King 10,000.
12. [9b]Assuming a King would only govern 1 province,
13. [9c] And the governor would only collect a small local portion of that, that figures out to roughly
14. [9d]75-100 years of back taxes not paid to the king.
15. But wait… there’s more.
16. [Slide 10a] In Greek to write out numbers, 10,000 was the highest number you could write with one Greek word.
17. [10b] Also a talent was the largest unit of currency.
18. [10c] So figuratively Jesus is pointing really, to an infinite amount. He could have said more money, but language and culture prevented Him from doing so.
e. [Slide 11] 25 – Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made.
i. So… obviously, he was unable to repay it.
ii. The King ordered reparations to be made
iii. Now in Roman times, you could sell yourself to hard labor and torture to pay off your debts. The torture was probably to get family members to give money for your release, and, or, to get you to admit other stashes that you had hidden. The labor was probably 1 denarii a day earned back.
iv. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there would be no way this man could ever pay this debt. No matter how long he worked … he could never pay the debt.
v. Since it is a day for math… I did the math for you.
vi. [Slide 12a]Working 60 million days to work off his debt is over 164,000 years.
vii. [12b] Even if that was divided among his wife and children and he had 100 kids that would still be almost 1,400 years for each of them to work and pay it off.
viii. [12c] And that is the silver talent. I didn’t bother calculating the gold one.
ix. [Slide 13] So essentially… this is an execution order by slow torturous death, not just for him, but for his entire family also.
f. [Slide 14] 26 – Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, “be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.”
i. We see, what looks like, genuine repentance.
ii. We see this person beg for mercy with the promise of making restitution.
iii. We see someone who wants to make the debt right. Whatever it takes.
iv. Our difficulty again in parables is knowing where to draw the line on our interpretation. How deep do we want to analyze this person’s repentance? Is it genuine? We know it isn’t. But we dare not tread where Jesus does not allow. So let us simply continue to the best part.
g. [Slide 15] 27 – The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt.
i. Not only did he release him, to flee and become an exile, constantly hunted for his debt by dog the bounty hunter…
ii. He released him and forgave the debt.
iii. Such a debt of taxes not collected would bankrupt a kingdom.
iv. I mean I know he has those puppy dog eyes… but is forgiving such a debt really worth it?
v. The answer is obvious. No. It isn’t.
h. [Slide 16] So before we go on, we are left to wonder how is this parable like the kingdom of heaven? Jesus says that those who consider themselves least, genuine citizens of the Kingdom, always forgive. And it is because Kingdom citizens always forgive, that the Kingdom looks like this parable. And so far in the parable we have a king showing compassion on someone and offering them a cancellation of their debt.
i. How is the Kingdom like this?
Let’s save that for the end shall we? Jesus did not stop here, nor should we. Let’s look at the rest of the parable that describes the kingdom of heaven and its citizens.
II.) Those who consider themselves least are great in the kingdom of heaven, so we must always forgive others.(28-35)
a. [Slide 17] 28 – After he went out, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred silver coins.
i. So it makes most sense that a fellow slave, is no doubt a tax payer, perhaps an even smaller ruler like a township supervisor.
ii. Following the flow of the story it makes most sense that this was no doubt some back taxes.
iii. But how much did he owe?
1. [Slide 18a]100 silver coins. Or as other translations say, 100 pence. 100 denarii. 100 days labor.
2. [18b] Today that would probably somewhere around $14,000. Now that is a hefty debt.
3. [18c] But compared to 252 Trillion… $14,000 seems like chump change.
iv. So will this slave who was forgiven of this huge debt, pass on that good fortune?
b. [Slide 19] So he grabbed him by the throat and started to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’
ii. The slave was not content to have been forgiven so much, he desired to turn a profit that day and force another person to pay him.
iii. But notice what happens next…
c. [Slide 20] 29 – Then his fellow slave threw himself down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you.’
i. He offers repentance here. He offers to restore what he had borrowed. All he needs is time.
ii. Compare this to verse 26. Wasn’t this governor’s statement the same just a short time ago?
iii. In verse 27 the lord had compassion on him… will this governor also have compassion?
d. [Slide 21] 30 – But he refused. Instead, he went out and threw him in prison until he repaid the debt.
i. He cast him into prison… which was his legal right to do… until the man paid what he owed.
ii. Now we don’t quite understand this because we don’t have debtors prison or debtors slavery here. Even the word slavery sounds alarm bells in your ears. But Roman prisons only held those on trial, awaiting execution, or who owed a debt to be repaid.
iii. Earlier we discussed how one would make reparations in prison, so we won’t cover that again, but I’d like to show you the difference between these two men’s debts.
iv. It would be 100 days. 100 days as a slave to the debtors or if a person would help him pay off his debt it may be shorter. So 3 months of torture and labor would free him of the debt. This sounds absolutely terrible. But compared to the 1400 years for the governor and his family, he would have made it. It would only take time. And he probably could have paid it back faster outside of prison. Which means that this is all about justice, or really, revenge… not money.
e. [Slide 22] 31 – When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told their lord everything that had taken place.
i. This is somewhat of a callback to the earlier portion of church discipline.
ii. Although it is abbreviated, the concept is the same, that when you see someone sin, action is required.
iii. These slaves, who were privy to the governor’s forgiveness of his large debt, are equally as astonished by his treatment of one with such a minor offense.
f. [Slide 23 – 24] 32-34 – Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?’ And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed.
i. You are evil because you did not follow my example. I showed you mercy, you should have also showed mercy.
ii. And just like that, the debt that the King had wiped away, was re-applied. And off to the prison he went, never to be released.
iii. But now Jesus applies this, in quite a terrifying way…
g. [Slide 25] 35 – So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.
i. This application is fraught with difficulty for us, because Jesus is applying a parable. Our mind naturally wants to interpret every single aspect of the parable using this single statement as a key. But we have to ask ourselves if Jesus is really giving us a full key to unlock this.
ii. Let’s focus just on what Jesus says…
1. So – a word that introduces us to Jesus’ conclusion about what was asked by Peter, Jesus’ answer and parable. And what is that conclusion?
2. God will do to you, the same that the king did to the unmerciful servant if you don’t genuinely forgive other citizens.
3. So what did the king do to the unmerciful servant? He held him accountable for his debt.
iii. That is literally the only application that we are permitted to take from this parable.
iv. So what debt have we accrued to God?
v. And we don’t have to shoot in the dark to find the answer. The answer is in Peter’s question. Peter’s question, in fact the entire discussion since verse 6 has been about sin. Not causing others to sin, not causing yourself to sin, stopping others from sinning, and finally, now, forgiving others of sins against us.
vi. So what debt have we accrued to God? Sin. Obviously.
vii. So if we do not genuinely forgive other citizens, God will hold us accountable for our sin debt to Him…
Which brings us back to the question that we have yet to answer.
[Slide 26] What does this parable show us about the nature of the kingdom of heaven? Jesus says that genuine citizens of the kingdom of heaven always forgive other citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and because of that, the kingdom of heaven looks like a king who offers forgiveness to slave with an unpayable debt. But the slave does not allow that forgiveness to take over his life. It does not ooze back out of him. And because of that the king holds the slave accountable for that unpayable debt.
The first aspect of the Kingdom of heaven that we learn from this parable, is the heart of the King.
Just as the slave owed the king an unpayable debt, so our sin, our wickedness, our depravity, has so corrupted us that we are unable to ever pay it off. Even if we were to do mighty works of great righteousness, healing the sick, casting out demons, it would never earn enough to pay for even one act of rebellion against God. Why? Why is that? Doesn’t that seem unfair? Today has been a day for math, so how about some more.
We naturally see the equation this way.
[Slide 27a] All men are good from birth. So all men start out with a balance of, let’s say 30,000. If we live to 80 that is roughly 1 good deed a day. So, 30,000. Everything we do that is bad, selfish or hurtful would be -1. But everything we do that is good or selfless would be +1. So at the end of our life, assuming our lives are composed of more good than bad deeds, then we should end our lives in excess of 30,000 easily.
[27b] Those who have had religious exposure of any kind or any faith – typically do not see men as good from the start. Most believe men are at best neutral. So men start at 0. But the same applies. Each bad thing you do is -1, and each good thing you do is +1. Again as long as you do more good than bad, you are fine.
[27c] And even some religious people assume that you start with a negative. Let’s say you start with -30,000. But because of the particular god’s mercy that you worship, whatever god it may be, he does not hold the bad things you do against you any longer. So your life is spent doing as many good things as you can to claw your way up from your debt, and as long as you pass that 0 mark by the end of your lifetime, you are acceptable to whatever god you serve.
But what does Jesus reveal is the real math equation for the Kingdom of God from this parable?
[Slide 28a] Mankind are evil, wicked, and rebellious to God from the start. Their beginning balance, is negative 252 trillion. Furthermore, as we dig into the rest of scripture we find that serving God, doing what He has told us to do, is not counted as some great thing, but is instead, what is expected. So to our dismay, we begin with negative 252 trillion, and every sin we commit adds to that infinite weight… but if perchance you were able to live a day, without sinning against God or man, and you served God perfectly… how many points would you gain? Zero. You fulfilled what was expected of you by being a proper image bearer of God.
[28b] This is the equation. Not only can you not work to gain your salvation… but you cannot ever hope to be anything but wicked. And there is nothing you can do, except be, as Ephesians 2 says, children destined for wrath. Just as it was legally right for the king in this parable to send the governor to debtors prison… forever, So God declares that mankind is without hope and destined for His wrath.
[28c] But what else happens in the story? The King has compassion, shows mercy, and offers a cancellation of the debt.
Oh friend, why would God allow His Son to be put on a tree and bear the ridicule of men, killed as a criminal, and bear the full weight of the Father’s wrath? Why would God the Father abandon Him to this shameful end?
Because God the Father is the KING of this Story… and the only way to cancel our debt of sin, that we could never pay, is if he paid the debt himself. If He took the loss, suffered the tax hit on his kingdom, and swallowed His own Son in sin and death… so that you and I may be free of the debt we owed to a holy God.
But that is not the end friend. It couldn’t be the end…
Raising Him to life in conquering power Jesus came up out of the grave defeating sin, defeating death, and giving us spiritual life so that not only was our debt cancelled… but He supplied to us infinite credit. Not only did He free us of sin, but He made us to be masterpieces of good works. So now we walk in newness of life, and we live for Him, not to earn His pleasure, but because He is changing us to be what He has always destined us to be from the beginning of all things… HIS IMAGE BEARER. His governors of His creation. He says that one day we will rule over angels!
The first application of this text friend… is for us to realize two things.
[Slide 29] #1 We are wicked. Wicked from birth. Detestable to God and unable to be anything but objects of wrath.
#2 We have a loving King, who even though we were objects of wrath, he loved us… and He sent His son so that we could have our debt forgiven, and our lives changed.
And it is the second part of God’s plan for sending His Son to die, that bleeds to our second application. To free you of your debt, but also to change your life.
[Slide 30(blank)] Because you see, in the end, the man with the unpayable debt did not have that debt forgiven after all. Why? He did not show mercy to another who had a payable debt.
What does this tell us about the kingdom? If genuine citizens of the Kingdom always forgive another citizen, what does it mean when a genuine citizen of the kingdom doesn’t forgive another citizen?
Well it is very simple, albeit harsh. The unmerciful one, is only pretending to be a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven.
And what is the logic of this? How is this so?
Did you not just hear, about the infinite debt that the God of the universe applied to His Son, so that you may be free? Friends He did not simply take your debt… he took the debt of the one who sinned against you as well.
To stubbornly seek justice for a small debt, knowing that it has been paid in full by the King, is preposterous. Especially when you also have had such a great debt forgiven.
And I love Jesus’ parable in that He doesn’t make it a truly small amount. It isn’t like the guy owed him a nickel. No he owed him, as we said, $14,000. And that is a lot of money.
Friends when our eyes are on the hurt and not the healer. When our eyes are on the temporary and not the eternal. It will be easy for us to be so focused on the weight of another’s sin against us… when we should instead be focused of our weight of sin that has been forgiven by our King.
What does this mean for us then?
[Slide 31] There is never a time when it is appropriate to demand justice on a fellow citizen of God’s Kingdom for a sin they committed against you. If they are unrepentant, we have church discipline to handle such things, but even then, justice is not necessarily the end result. In fact, restoration, not justice, is the desired result.
And here is the bottom line. A person who will not forgive, is a person who is not forgiven. Because when we are forgiven, God invades us with His Spirit and changes us to be like Him. And He has forgiven the sin of all who are in Christ… Even the sin they commit against you.
This doesn’t mean we can’t struggle forgiving. Doesn’t mean it should be easy, or without submission to the Spirit. But there is nothing that a brother or sister can do to you that you have the right to withhold forgiveness from them.
And if you insist on holding other believers accountable for sins against you, if you hold grudges, and bear bitterness in your hearts because they have not, to your expectations, made adequate restitution… the conclusion is simple.
You cannot know forgiveness. You cannot know mercy. You are not God’s child. And that friend… is quite terrifying.
In the Lord’s prayer, as Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray, way back in Matthew 6, He suggests to pray this way… “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
[Slide 32] So question… would you want God to forgive you, the way you forgive others? If you are a genuine child of God, you’ll probably be saying, well, I’d like Him to be a bit faster on it, but yeah, I don’t demand justice on others.
But if you are not a child of God… to have God forgive you the way you forgive others is probably quite terrifying.
Are you a follower of Christ? Do you practice mercy because you know mercy? Has your debt been paid? If you know it hasn’t… I’d love to talk to you about it.