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"The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant" (Sermon on Matthew 18:21-35) ^ | September 17, 2017 | The Rev. Charles Henrickson

Posted on 09/16/2017 10:59:20 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson

“The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant” (Matthew 18:21-35)

Forgiveness doesn’t count. Oh, don’t get me wrong! I don’t mean that it doesn’t matter of that it’s not important. By no means. No, forgiveness counts for a lot in that respect. In fact, it’s everything. We’d be lost without forgiveness. But when I say, Forgiveness doesn’t count, I mean it in the way that Jesus teaches it, which is to say, forgiveness doesn’t keep score. Forgiveness doesn’t count. It doesn’t keep score or keep track of how many times it has to forgive or how much sin it has to have mercy on. That’s the way it is with God toward us, and that’s the way it is with us toward one another. God forgives us, freely, fully, completely. Therefore we are to forgive one another in the same way: freely, fully, completely, not counting or keeping score or keeping track. That’s the connection Jesus draws for us today in “The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.”

Our text is the Holy Gospel from Matthew 18. What sets the parable up is Peter coming to Jesus with a question. As we heard last week in the first part of Matthew 18, Jesus has been teaching his disciples about life in the church that he’s going to establish, about how we are to deal with a brother who sins against us, how we are to seek to gain that brother back. So that prompts a question now from Peter: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Peter here is trying to quantify forgiveness. He wants to keep score. He may think he’s sounding generous and magnanimous, suggesting what seems to him like a lot of times to have to show forgiveness. “Seven times! Aren’t I being grand and merciful, Jesus? I’m willing to go up to seven whole times!”

But Jesus ups the ante: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Whoa, whip out your notepad, Peter! Seventy times seven! “Let’s see, that comes to . . . carry the four . . . 490 times I’ve got to forgive the guy who does me wrong! That’s a lot! I’m gonna need a bigger scorecard. But if I keep a careful record, and I keep track of every infraction, then I guess that on the 491st time that bozo does me wrong, then I don’t have to forgive him! If only I can hold out that long. . . .”

Well, no, that’s not how it goes, Peter. It’s not like: “488, forgive; 489, forgive; 490, forgive, but that’s it. . . . Ah, 491, now I can finally get my revenge!” Bzzt! Wrong! Of course, we understand what Jesus is saying. By picking such a ridiculously high number, Jesus is saying, in effect, “Don’t keep score at all!” Not seventy times seven, not seventy-seven, not even seven. Don’t keep track of how often you forgive. Just forgive, whether it’s the first time or the 491st. Forgiveness doesn’t count.

And to drive home the point, Jesus goes on to tell what we commonly refer to as the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. You know the story. I’ll just paraphrase it a bit. There’s a servant who owes his king a whole bunch of money--bazillions and bazillions of dollars. “Bazillions” was an ancient unit of measurement, by the way. This guy had a debt so big even Bernie Sanders would not have suggested the taxpayers cover it. I mean, this was a big debt!

And now the king is going to foreclose on the guy and call in the debt. The servant is hauled in, called on the carpet before the king, and he’s told, “Pay up!” The guy is shaking in his boots, because he knows he has no means whatsoever to pay off this enormous debt, and he knows what the king could do to him.

But this king doesn’t do what he could do to the servant. He doesn’t toss the guy in the hoosegow and throw away the key, leaving him there to rot in debtors’ prison. No. He could have done that, by rights. But he chooses not to. Instead, he has pity on him. The master has mercy on his servant and forgives him his huge debt and releases him.

So now the servant is free. He has learned a powerful lesson about mercy and forgiveness. Or has he? Apparently not, because the first thing he does with his freedom is to go out and find a fellow servant who owes him a little bit of money. It’s an extremely small amount, in comparison to what he owed the king. I mean, we’re talking chump change here. But this servant, who had been forgiven such a huge amount by his master, will not show even a small fraction of that mercy toward his fellow servant. He grabs him and starts to choke the poor fella. “Pay me what you owe me!” he demands. He shows no pity toward the man who owes him a measly few bucks, and he has that guy thrown in prison. The unmerciful servant has obviously not learned how forgiveness works in this kingdom. He shows that he really does not want to operate on the basis of mercy but on the old way of accounting and scorekeeping and payback and revenge. Sadly, he has rejected the ways of his king.

The king finds out and says to the man: “If that’s how it’s going to be with you, so be it. Go to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.” And then Jesus puts the punch-line warning on the parable. He says to us: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

The meaning is plain and clear: Forgiveness is the way it works in the kingdom of heaven. If you want to operate on some other basis, if you’re intent on scorekeeping and payback, you yourself would be in a heap of trouble. That’s not how your heavenly Father has dealt with you. So why do you act that way toward your fellow forgiven sinner? God has forgiven that other person, just as he has forgiven you. Then why would you act as though you are greater than God? To not forgive is really to set yourself up as an idol. You think you’re greater than God. God forgave that person, but you think you ought not to have to. Who are you, O man, to not forgive someone whom God has already forgiven? Who are you, O sinner, to not forgive someone else, when you yourself have had all your sins forgiven by God? You see, unforgiveness is a matter of idolatry and ingratitude. It is to reject the ways of God’s kingdom.

For all our unforgiveness, forgive us, O Lord! Give us a new and merciful heart, reflecting the mercy you have shown toward us! Help us to realize that you have forgiven that other person who may very well have wronged us. But scorekeeping is not the way it is with you, O Lord. Help us to forgive, even as we have been forgiven.

Jesus teaches us the importance of forgiveness over and over again in the gospels. It obviously is an important matter in his sight, and he must realize how slow of heart we are to “get it.” Mercy toward sinners, love toward one another--these are major themes in Jesus’ teaching to his disciples. This matter is so important, Jesus even puts it into the prayer he has us pray every day. For in the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” You see, every time we ask for God’s forgiveness--and we sin much daily--we’re reminded to extend that forgiveness toward those who do us wrong also. I’m not the only person God has forgiven. Christ died for that other person, too.

Well, see, now we’re getting at it. Forgiveness has to do--it has everything to do--with the death of Jesus Christ for sinners. He not only died for me and you, he also died for that brother who sinned against you, that person you don’t like because he did you wrong. But then sometimes I’m the jerk who does wrong to somebody else. Now magnify that offense by bazillions and bazillions, and you might begin to come close to measuring the offense you and I have committed toward God, thumbing our nose at the God who created us and loves us so much. So we’re all in the same boat here. And we’d all be up a creek without a paddle, if it were not for the unfathomable mercy our king and master has shown toward every one of us. Forgiveness is the way of the kingdom. There is no other way.

Whether in a congregation or in a household, we need forgiveness in order to live together as a family. The more time you spend together, the closer you are, the more opportunities there are to hurt one another. So we need to be able to forgive one another to live in harmony. Lord, help us to forgive as you have forgiven each one of us, fully and freely, for Christ’s sake.

Well, this would all be just moral lecturing, if it were not for the inexhaustible mercy God has shown us in Christ. If I want you to forgive your brothers and sisters here in this church or in your family at home, I’m not just going to lecture you on the importance of forgiveness. Just telling you what you ought to do will not enable you to do it. No, here again I want to point you to the cross of Christ. There see the great mercy God has shown you, sending his only Son to take all of your sins--all of them, the whole enormous debt--and to die for them, in your place, paying the unpayable debt you owed. For his holy blood is of infinite value, because he is the eternal Son of God. At the foot of the cross is where we learn forgiveness. In Holy Baptism, God washed away all your sins and made you his child, to reflect his character. In Holy Absolution, time and time again, God continues to forgive you. And in Holy Communion, you receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is where it’s at. It’s standard operating procedure in the kingdom of God. And with this forgiveness, you also receive what it leads to, namely, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”

In a sermon on the Unforgiving Servant, Martin Luther sums up the point of the parable like this: “Should we then bite and scratch each other like dogs and cats? No, but we should heartily forgive and ask: [Why] should I accuse my brother? If God is merciful unto me and for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ forgives me so great a debt, why should I make so much ado about a penny or two? I will call it square, forgive and forget, and thank God that He has forgiven me and made me a partaker of His grace.”

Dear ones, God does not count your trespasses against you. Forgiveness doesn’t count. It doesn’t count or keep score or keep track. It doesn’t measure how big the debt is that we’re forgiving. Forgiveness just . . . forgives. It’s like that with God toward us. God has forgiven our whole huge mountain of debt, all of it, because of what Christ did for us on the cross. And God keeps on forgiving us, time after time after time--way past 490--when we sin against him. Forgiveness doesn’t count. And forgiveness is our way of life, literally. Because of God’s forgiveness toward us, we have life, new life, eternal life. And in this life that we share, we then forgive one another. That’s how it goes in God’s kingdom.

TOPICS: Religion
KEYWORDS: lcms; lutheran; matthew; sermon
Matthew 18:21-35 (ESV)

Then Peter came up and said to [Jesus], “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

1 posted on 09/16/2017 10:59:20 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson
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To: squirt; Freedom'sWorthIt; PJ-Comix; MinuteGal; Irene Adler; Southflanknorthpawsis; stayathomemom; ..


2 posted on 09/16/2017 11:01:22 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson (Lutheran pastor, LCMS)
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To: Charles Henrickson; shibumi

It’s so hard to “forgive” a pedo uncle and a mother who defended him rather than protect me.
Still suffer the terrible effects of both.
I’m probably going to Hell.

3 posted on 09/16/2017 11:13:35 PM PDT by Salamander (I'm on the wrong side of Heaven and the righteous side of Hell...)
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To: Salamander

Nooooooooo...God understands what they did to you...Both of them are going to hell.He knows you are trying to be a good person and your past is always with you...Give yourself a break...

4 posted on 09/17/2017 12:11:54 AM PDT by Hambone 1934
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To: Hambone 1934

But God *says* I will not be forgiven unless I forgive.

Really hard to find a loophole in that.


5 posted on 09/17/2017 12:32:56 AM PDT by Salamander (I'm on the wrong side of Heaven and the righteous side of Hell...)
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To: Salamander

I understand your pain, which is hard to wipe from your mind. So does our Lord, friend. May He give you peace. Time will make the process easier. Be gentle on yourself. (I know this sounds sanctimonious and holier than thou. It’s a tough topic to talk about.)

6 posted on 09/17/2017 12:38:42 AM PDT by Ciexyz (I'm conservative & traditionalist.)
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To: Ciexyz

It sounds like a hand reaching out to a broken, drowning soul.

God bless you for that.

7 posted on 09/17/2017 12:41:54 AM PDT by Salamander (I'm on the wrong side of Heaven and the righteous side of Hell...)
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To: Charles Henrickson

I thought ‘forgiveness’ required repentance. Meaning, a changed heart and demonstrated remorse for the sin(s) committed. I think ‘common sense’ dictates, protect oneself from repeat offenders.

8 posted on 09/17/2017 12:56:27 AM PDT by Just mythoughts
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To: Salamander

While I do believe that us forgiving others is better for us, it is not a “duty” that we must perform in order to get to heaven. (Just like we don’t need to make a sacrifice at the temple). Jesus has ALREADY forgiven us. I found the following just now. I skimmed it - it seems reasonable to me.


“As such the Law provides for a case of reinstatement of debt against a man who refuses to forgive a man.

It is pertinent to note that this is a provision under the Law of Moses.

We are no longer under the Law of Moses.

That is why Paul writes in the New Testament the following:

Ephesians 4:32
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Colossians 3:13
13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Notice here God has forgiven you. It is then you are called to forgive?

If you are in Christ, you have been forgiven. Now forgive. After the cross, we are forgiven first. Then we are to forgive. We no longer forgive to be forgiven....

About Genesis 4: To forgive 70 times 7 times is not to forgive until the 490th time. It is not to carry hatred in our heart like Lamech did. But to have the heart of God. Jesus says forgive not in your feelings but from your heart....

... Lamech distorted in his thinking used fear to intimidate his enemies by saying he should be avenged 70 times. Lamech was possessed by the spirit of revenge.

Jesus is saying that we should carry the spirit of Lamech and should forgive from the heart. He is not saying if you don’t forgive someone you are going to hell.

As a believer you must understand you are not just forgiven. You are justified. When my wife and I quarrel we bring up things in the past. So while I may have forgiven her, I have not justified her. God is different. He says “I remember your sins no more.” Dear friends, do understand this, justification means “as if you had never sinned.” This is a very important theological concept. Jesus did not forgive you. He did not provide an atonement for your sins. These are old covenant concepts. The book of Hebrews said in chapter 10 “He took away your sins” once and for all.

Taking away your sins is different from forgiving you. It means all your sins have been taken away on the cross. That is why before the cross, you must forgive before you are forgiven. After the cross, we are forgiven first. Then we should forgive, there is no must. But Paul says true forgiveness comes under grace, because we know how much we have been forgiven. Forgiveness under law comes from fear about being punished again. It keeps a record of wrongs and does not come from the heart. There is no forgetting of sins of the other.

However when you realized God does not even keep a record of your wrongs, He has chosen to forget your wrongs, you find that forgiveness flows from His grace and your favourite phrase will be to “Forget about it.” That my friends, is true forgiveness.

End excerpt

All of that said, and while I KNOW that I should forgive others, I can never imagine how people can when such terrible things have been done to them or to their kids, etc. But Jesus died for ALL of our sins - even our sin of not being able to forgive others.

9 posted on 09/17/2017 1:00:44 AM PDT by 21twelve ( FDR's New Deal = obama)
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To: 21twelve

Thank you so much.

10 posted on 09/17/2017 1:03:16 AM PDT by Salamander (I'm on the wrong side of Heaven and the righteous side of Hell...)
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To: Salamander
I bet there are snakes in heaven too - but I'm still not sure what they (or other carnivores) will eat.
11 posted on 09/17/2017 1:09:18 AM PDT by 21twelve ( FDR's New Deal = obama)
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To: 21twelve

Probably whatever everything ate in the garden.

Fruits, vegetables and such.

I had to laugh at what you said.

Pinky in Heaven.

He’ll probably still be a rock star with groupies there, just like he is here.
I’m just his ride.


12 posted on 09/17/2017 1:12:53 AM PDT by Salamander (I'm on the wrong side of Heaven and the righteous side of Hell...)
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To: 21twelve

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”
Isaiah 11:6-9 (King James Version)

13 posted on 09/17/2017 1:20:48 AM PDT by Salamander (I'm on the wrong side of Heaven and the righteous side of Hell...)
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To: 21twelve

Against all odds, you have made me laugh.

I’m picturing Boas swallowing potatoes, whole.


14 posted on 09/17/2017 1:23:32 AM PDT by Salamander (I'm on the wrong side of Heaven and the righteous side of Hell...)
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To: Salamander

My friend was raped by her father..she finally forgave him when she was eighty..It may take awhile,but you will get there...She used to have nightmares about him...It took her a long time,but she did get there...God says forgive..Remember,God is the parent who loves you and He will help you find a way to forgive..

15 posted on 09/17/2017 5:40:20 AM PDT by Hambone 1934
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To: Salamander

forgive does not mean forget and make your self vulnerable. It means to hope the best for them, such as them coming to know God’s forgiveness.
The article misses the first point of the parable - the servant never experienced forgiveness. He still thought he had to paid the debt.

16 posted on 09/17/2017 5:53:02 AM PDT by jimfr
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To: jimfr

I think the most important point of this parable is that the servant did not see the king as he was - forgiving. The servant had a false image of the king. Remember parables are for us to learn something about our selves and God. Do we have a false image of God and have a hard time to forgive others?
I love to sit in His court and listen to His judgments - He just to forgive us.

17 posted on 09/17/2017 6:18:56 AM PDT by jimfr
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