As we have been forgiven, so we forgive
Matthew 18:21-35 - 22nd Sunday after Trinity - November 16, 2014

Dear believers in Christ, baptized, and forgiven of God for the sake of Christ,

As we have been forgiven, so we forgive. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The meaning is not, “First you must forgive and then God will forgive you.” As if everything depends on us, our faithfulness, our good works? Salvation is not by works, but by Grace, through faith.

Now it is possible to reject that grace by refusing to forgive. Yet, Scripture says, we love because God first loved us. We forgive because God first forgave us. Before we were ever born, even before the foundation of the world, God already planned to send His Son to provide forgiveness. On the cross, Jesus said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He didn’t wait for them to be faithful before going to the cross for them. “Father forgive them” He said.

And later, many Jews who were responsible for His crucifixion, were pricked in their heart at Peter’s preaching. They realized their great debt of sin, and believed in the forgiveness of their sin. Then they were able to truly forgive their neighbors from the heart.

Forgiveness always begins with Christ, and Christ alone. Our forgiveness toward others, always begins with the cancellation of our own debt before God. Before we can forgive, we must be forgiven. That is, as we freely receive, so we freely give. As we freely receive the forgiveness of our sins, so by Grace, we freely forgive.

But nowadays forgiveness doesn’t really mean that much anymore, because nothing is really that wrong anymore. People can’t really be that sinful, because who are we to judge? If people want to live in sin, rather than to ruffle any feathers, or rock the boat, let’s just lower the standard, and get more comfortable with sin.

But in the parable, we see the great magnitude of the sitation, our real condition before God. We notice how the king, upon learning of the impossible debt, does not say, “Oh well. No big deal. We’ll just brush this under the rug.” Even for a great king of a great kindgom, this was not pocket change. It was impossible for the servant to repay.

One talent was an enormous amount of money: worth almost half a million dollars. But we’re talking 10,000 talents: 6 billion dollars. The point is that it is an impossible debt to repay. At an average wage, we’d have to work for about 200,000 years to pay it off! Some might say, well no problem, maybe I’ll just get lucky and win the lottery. But since when has anyone won 6 billion? The largest amount ever won, was a little less than half a billion (in 2012). That’s still 5.5 billion to go. Only 183,000 years of work to go. No big deal.

So the servant, his wife, and his children were all going to be sold into slavery, and even that wouldn’t begin to pay the debt. The 6 billion represents our debt of sin against God: impossible to repay. The disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” “If Thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee”

Yet, Jesus once said, “to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” What is forgiveness really worth today, when nothing is really that wrong anymore? “Surely a little lusting never hurt anyone. Surely a little unjust anger, never hurt anyone? Maybe I have lost my temper a time or two, but come on, I may not be perfect, but I’m not that bad. I haven’t committed murder or adultery, and I’m usually pretty nice.” But Scripture says, whoever hates without a cause, is a murderer. Whoever lusts is an adulterer. Whoever takes God’s name in vain, lies, neglects His Word, is an idolater.

Notice the dire situation of the servant: he begs for mercy. And we too approach God’s altar, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Truly, I am the chief of sinners.

So, first and foremost, we needed forgiveness. Perhaps we've heard this quote from a Christian author (Max Lucado), “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent an economist. But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent us a Savior.”

The cancellation of the 6 billion represents God the Father, for Christ’s sake, cancelling our debt, not because it was no big deal. But because Christ became our perfect substitute.

How does the servant respond to such enormous forgiveness from the king? He doesn’t just by chance stumble across his fellow servant who owed him. He searches for him, and demands payment. How much? We know from the parable of the laborers that one penny (not to be confused with our American penny, but rather), a Roman silver coin (the denarius), equaled 1 day’s wage. 100 pence would equal 100 day’s wages.

About a third of a year’s wages, in our day, about $10,000, is no pocket change. Our sins against each other are real, and they are hurtful, and they do cause real damage that can sometimes last a whole lifetime, or more, if we let it. Wise Solomon says, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.”

Yet, compared to our sin against God, those sins pale in comparison. The much greater debt has already been forgiven, the impossible debt has already been cleared. Let us focus on that, not what our neighbor owes us.

Remembering the great debt God cancelled for us, “So will we also heartily forgive, and readily do good to those who sin against us.”

As we have been forgiven, so we forgive. We still have the old man of sin within, who daily demands payment, but by God’s grace we have been born again into the perfect life, death, and resurrection of the Savior, the King of Forgiveness. And I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.

It feels so natural to want to get even, to withold forgiveness. “I simply cannot forgive him.” But it’s not for us to determine whether or not somone is “forgiveable.” God already determined that when He sent His only-begotten Son to the cross for us all. “The LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Who can argue that payment must still be made for our neighbor’s sins against us? “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.”

Now He calls on us to “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.”

To forgive is to believe that God has forgiven us and all people. As we are freely forgiven, so we freely forgive.

Jesus says, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” “Love one another, as I have loved you.” To grow in mercy and forgiveness, we look to Christ and His Father. “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.”

May God’s Spirit continue to be with you, through His Word of forgiveness, to continue to strengthen you in the forgiveness of sins, and in the true saving faith. As we have been forgiven, so we forgive. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Have patience with me.” - Matthew 18:26

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