Trinity 22: Forgiven and Forgiving

Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
Jesus tells the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in the bottom right as the events unfold in the rest of the picture, based on Matthew 18:21-35. From a book by Martin Luther interpreting the Epistles and Gospels, 1544.

Lessons: Micah 6:6-8, Philippians 1:3-11, Matthew 18:21-35
Hymns: LSB 915, 703, 513, 672, 674

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

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

      Next week is the last Sunday of the Church Year. As we end the Church Year, our focus shifts toward the End Times—the time when our Lord Jesus Christ will appear in glory to judge the living and the dead—the time when the resurrection of all flesh will take place. As disciples of Christ, it will be a time of joy for our Lord is coming back for us. He is our Shepherd. He loves us and laid down His life for us.

      Jesus repeatedly teaches us to always be ready for His return, for He will come at a time when many are not expecting Him. We are to “look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We are to be ready through continually hearing His Word and going to the Lord’s altar frequently.

      And in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us another way in which we are to be ready so that we are not thrown into the eternal prison of Hell where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

      Our merciful God does not want us to end up in Hell. It is written, “God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:3-6). This salvation comes by grace through faith in Christ. This faith is worked by God the Holy Spirit through the Word. Jesus paid for our sins and, through Him, we are reconciled to God our Father.

      There is nothing finer in this life than the forgiveness of sins and nothing worse than sin itself. If you think about it, all the evils of this life—all the tragedies—all the sorrows—are a result of sin. There were no life-killing storms in the Garden of Eden. There were no diseases. There were no divisions among people. It was perfect and good.

      But then sin entered the world when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Now evil is all around us, even in our own hearts, as Jesus says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-22). These sins separate us from our holy God. They put us in opposition to God’s will. They pollute us, callous our consciences, and put us at enmity with God.

      When Jesus went to the cross, He paid for all these sins! He is our Mediator who gave Himself in love as our ransom! And we now receive this forgiveness by faith. “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Can you think of anything finer? No amount of fame or fortune can match this blessing we have in Christ! There is no greater blessing than to receive this full and free pardon of our sins through God’s mercy in Christ. When we have this forgiveness, we have peace with God, a comforted conscience, a holy joy, fellowship with our holy God, and eternal salvation. We walk in newness of life, and the gates of Paradise are opened to us.

      Being recipients of these blessings, Christians are merciful, kind, forgiving, and filled with love.

      In today’s Gospel, St. Peter figured he was exhibiting these characteristics of a Christian. He was more than willing to forgive his neighbors who sinned against him. He thought he was being very patient and forgiving when he suggested seven forgiving them times. But Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” What Jesus means is we don’t count the number of times we forgive someone before we’re entitled to stop. Instead, we keep on forgiving.

      After all, there’s no limit to the love of God and the forgiveness of sins Jesus earned on the cross. This is comforting because it means Jesus has already paid for the sins of the chief of sinners—something St. Paul described of himself (1 Tim. 1:15), but also a title we can call ourselves when we are honest with ourselves in how much we sin and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23-24).

      To further illustrate how forgiving we are to be, Jesus taught by way of a parable. In this parable, Jesus is teaching us to be ready for the great day of Judgment, that we would be humble, honest, and thankful children of God. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wants to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed the king 10,000 talents, which would have taken about 200,000 years’ worth of labor to pay off that huge debt. This is compared to our own sin. Our sin has built up an enormous debt with God—one that is impossibly large to pay off. We simply cannot do it.

      And so the servant goes to his master and makes a request. He appears humble. He falls down before his master and asks him to have patience. So far so good. We, too, plead with God so that He does not punish us in wrath. As the service begins, we humbly admit our sin, confessing that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. Our sins are our fault, our own fault, our own most grievous fault.

      But what the servant says next is wrong. He offers to pay his master back. While perhaps well-intended, it’s a lie. It’s an empty promise in a feeble attempt to get his master to let him off the hook—or maybe to flee. He can’t pay the debt back, nor is escape possible.

      In the same way, we cannot shrug off the debt our sin has amassed by trying to forget about it, run away from God, or comfort ourselves with a resolve to do better. God’s wrath is not appeased by our empty promises and vain attempts to make ourselves look good. Instead, the wrath of God was consumed by Christ when He suffered on the cross, bearing our every last sin. Jesus humbly accepted the burden of our sin and rendered the payment we could not pay.

      God humbles us by teaching us that we cannot do anything to contribute toward our salvation. He wants us to be humble so that we do not try to justify ourselves, so that we do not try to find other ways out of our sin apart from the forgiveness of sins, and so that we do not make promises to God that we cannot even begin to keep.

      When God humbles us, then we begin to be honest. We don’t excuse our sin, but we confess our sin. We acknowledge that God is always right, and His Word does not err nor does it fail us. We want God to teach us His truths, especially so that we can confidently trust in Christ Jesus who has atoned for all our trespasses.

      Shockingly, the master forgave the entire debt. And this is what Jesus has done for us through His vicarious atonement.

      The servant should have been thankful beyond measure, cancelling out any debts anyone owed him. But instead, the servant finds a fellow servant who owes him a relatively small amount—only 100 days’ wages worth of debt. This man, who just had his debt forgiven, can’t bring himself around to forgiving his neighbor’s debt. He demands payment and throws the debtor into prison.

      It’s crazy that he would react to his master’s mercy in this way. It’s hard to find a more thankless way. But sadly, we find ourselves doing this far more than we probably want to admit. We must be on guard, so that the Lord does not return for judgment when we are harboring resentment, anger, or grudges. Instead, we should be thankful for the forgiveness of sins we have in Christ. Since Jesus has cancelled out that enormous debt of ours, we can also cancel out our neighbor’s small debts. This is being thankful. We are thankful for Christ’s forgiveness when we are sympathetic toward others—loving them, reconciling with them, and being helpful toward them. Let there not be vengeance, malice, slander, or any other evil common to man against those who have sinned against us. Let us not dig up things from the past regarding a brother whom Christ has redeemed. Let us not call down judgment upon ourselves by refusing to forgive others. Instead, let’s let love cover a multitude of sins (Prov. 10:12, 1 Pet. 4:8). Seriously, what sin is there that cannot be forgiven?

      When the master finds out that the servant couldn’t forgive his fellow servant, he was justly angry and righteously threw him in prison forever. The penalty fit the crime. Jesus is teaching how fatal it is to be unforgiving. The unmerciful heart is unfit to receive the mercy of God. Let us not bring judgment upon ourselves by refusing to forgive. Remember what Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

      If you have troubles with forgiving, confess your sin to God, go the one whom you are struggling to forgive, pray about it, search the Scriptures, and meet with your pastor so that your sins may be washed away, and you may walk in newness of life. One time a man in Africa went to the communion rail. Then he realized the man next to him was the man who murdered his father. Not wanting to commune next to this former murderer, he returned to his seat. But then he realized how wrong he was. That man is forgiven for murdering his father. Jesus paid for that sin. He, too, must be forgiving. He, too, must rejoice that he has repented and turned from his sinful ways. They cannot turn back the clock to undo what had happened. But they do need to live in the present with no bitterness or anger. And so, the man returned to his spot at the Communion rail and communed next to the man who murdered his father. This is the kind of forgiveness God expects us to have. It is the forgiveness of Christ who said of those crucifying Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

      It is written, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded” (1 Pet. 4:7). Let’s live each day as if it were our last, basking in Christ’s Word and His forgiveness.

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