Forgiven Continually; Forgiving Continually

Readings: Micah 6:6-8, Philippians 1:3-11, Matthew 18:21-35
Hymns: 611, 553, 704, 513, 516, 575

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Peter asked a great question. How often will I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus replies first with a brief response, and then replies by way of a parable. In His initial response, Jesus makes it clear that forgiveness is an ongoing work, something that overflows and knows no limits, for Jesus says, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Then Jesus further explains by way of His Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

Jesus begins this parable saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.” This, my friends, shows right from the onset that the way of the world is different than the way of God. The Christian thinks and operates in a manner different than surrounding unbelievers. For those of us who belong to God’s kingdom, we do it this way, while the world will do it their way.

As we live our lives, seeking to do the right things God desires of us, we will see many who seem to be doing fine as they follow the ways of the world. But instead of joining them, we will listen to our Lord and live as God would have us live.

Just as the king in our parable wished to settle accounts, so also God wishes to settle accounts with us. There will, at the time appointed by the Father, be a great day of reckoning. For Jesus will return and all the dead will be raised. All will be judged. All our accounts will be settled. No one will escape this time of judgment. Some will be forced to pay what they owe; others will not. Those who must pay what they owe are the unbelievers, and since they cannot pay, they will be thrown into the prison of Hell until they pay the last penny—which will be for eternity. However, as Christians, our accounts will be settled in another way.

You see, Jesus has already settled our accounts. For Jesus took the debt we could not pay upon Himself and went to the cross to pay for all of it. He bore in His Body our sin and He made the ransom payment in our place by shedding His innocent Blood. Had Jesus not done this, it would have been impossible for us to make the payment.

In fact, the payment would have been just like the payment the first servant owed his master. He owed the king 10,000 talents. For a common laborer, it would take 20 years to earn just 1 talent. Therefore, he somehow racked up so much debt that it would take him 200,000 years to pay it all back.

Is this not the type of debt we owe God for our many sins? Is it not an impossible amount? After all, as it is written, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10). If you could keep the entire law but fail in just one minute place, you would be guilty of breaking the entire Law. And since you have broken the Law many times—continually, in fact—and you can’t get yourself to stop breaking the Law, the debt from your sin would take far more than 200,000 years’ worth of wages to pay it off; it would take an eternity. Simply put, just as the servant could not pay off his debt, so also you cannot atone for your sin.

And just as the master had pity on the servant, so also God has mercy on you. He forgives your sin and cancels your entire debt. You owe Him nothing. Such love! Such compassion! Such generosity! Nothing compares to it. Absolutely nothing.

If Jesus would have stopped at this point in the Parable, we would be left with nothing but pure Gospel, dripping with God’s mercy. But as with most teachings from our Lord Jesus Christ, His words have a context. And the context here has to do with Peter’s question. Remember, Peter began today’s pericope, asking, “How often shall I forgive my brother who sins against me?” So Jesus continues with the Law, which we also need.

In teaching how often we are to forgive our neighbor, Jesus first teaches us how much God forgives us. Since we are recipients of God’s forgiveness, this now serves as a point of comparison to the forgiveness by which we are to forgive others. If God forgives us of everything, then we must also forgive everyone of everything.

If we will not forgive our neighbor, or if we figure we have a reason in which we should not forgive our neighbor, or if we have simply never considered forgiving our neighbor, this shows that we do not presently possess saving faith.

And I am not speaking here of an inability of the flesh to forgive. I am speaking of an unwillingness of the soul to forgive. When we are in the faith, our spirit is willing to forgive, even as our flesh is weak and can find itself unable to forgive. However, as forgiven children of God, we are always willing to forgive all people and do good to all, especially of those who are of the household of faith.

Almost everyone loves being told he is forgiven by God. It’s comforting. It gives us freedom. But for those who are not truly Christian, they want it purely out of selfishness. They want to be told of forgiveness so they can keep living according to the desires of their flesh. They want to be told they are forgiven so they can just keep on sinning without any change in their lives. They want no requirements from God; simply security that they can escape Hell while they continue to live in their sin. People like these are not truly repentant, nor do they want to forgive others.

Just look at the servant in today’s parable. Consider how much joy he had when his impossible debt was canceled. Yet he was not filled with love for his master who had forgiven him. He was so happy he was cleared of his debt, but his heart was the same as before. He remained jealous of what he thought was his; if anyone would seek anything from his wallet, he would have nothing of the sort. He was ready to fight over inheritance, loans, or mammon. He was ready to fight battles against those would cross him.

But he was not even close to do what should have been so plainly obvious: to cancel out the small debt of his fellow servant.

His master forgave him, yet he could not bring himself to forgive his neighbor. It wasn’t even that he was willing but unable; he was unwilling. Perhaps forgiving his neighbor had not even crossed his mind. Such is the way of selfishness; such is the way of unbelief.

It would be nice to think that such people do not exist within the fellowship of a Christian congregation. After all, in the Church we hear of Christ’s forgiveness. It makes sense, then, that those in the Church would forgive as Jesus teaches. Yet, Jesus teaches this parable because Christians need to be reminded that they are to forgive their neighbors and to show how outrageous it is to be unwilling to forgive. When churches drive out faithful pastors, it indicates that many in the congregation are unwilling to forgive. When people stop attending or leave churches, it sometimes is the result of withholding forgiveness. But those who forgive as Jesus teaches keep on attending, for they have nothing against anyone. How could they, when Jesus has already taken away the sins of the world?

Jesus teaches this parable to Christians. We Christians need to know how to live a Christian life. It certainly follows that if a Christian desires the forgiveness of sins, then that same Christian must also be willing to forgive all others and, as much as possible, live peaceably with one another. How blessed it is when God’s people live in unity!

We may wonder, though, what’s the big deal? Do we really need to be so forgiving? The answer is a resounding yes. Why? Because to demand forgiveness from Jesus but refuse to be forgiving is nothing short of rank hypocrisy. Not only that, but Jesus warns in today’s Gospel that God the Father will throw those who refuse to forgive their neighbor into the prison of Hell. This reality is reinforced again by Jesus when He taught us Christians to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Immediately afterward, Jesus said, “For 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 Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15). There is no way to Heaven apart from this forgiveness.

So who does God forgive? When Jesus went to the cross, did He pay for the sins of those who hate Him? Yes. What about those who murdered Him? Yes. What about those who told lies about Him? Yes. What about those who denied Jesus or betrayed Him? Yes and Yes. Jesus paid for every sin imaginable. Your sin. My sin. All sin.

So then who are we to forgive? Those who hate us? Yes. Those who seek our lives? Yes. Those who have lied about us? Yes. Those who have hurt us? Yes. Liars? Yes. Cheaters? Yes. Sinners? Yes.

How often and how much do we forgive? Not just seven times, but seventy times seven times. Keep on forgiving, just as Christ Jesus keeps on forgiving you. He keeps on absolving you. He keeps on giving you His Body and Blood. So be willing to turn the other cheek. Your neighbors need the same mercy and forgiveness as you. So pray for them. Love them in Christ. Know that your neighbor’s sin against you is so small and petty—in fact, meaningless—compared to the sin you have done against God. Yet God still loves you and forgives you.

Dear Christian saints, may God grant you forgiving hearts which desire to do good to all. May God grant that you love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. May God grant His Church on earth to live in peace and harmony where forgiveness is the rule and not the exception. For that constitutes a healthy Church. Amen.            

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen