Forgiveness: The Life of the Church

Matthew 18:21-35

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

St. Matthew 18:21-22  Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  Peter comes to Jesus and asks him the important Law question: “How often should I forgive my brother, seven times?”  Jesus’ reply is that he is to forgive his brother seventy times seven, or in other words, he is to forgive his brother as often as his brother sins against him.  And to demonstrate the how and why of forgiveness, Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant.  It is the story of how God forgives our sins, not holding them against us.

You know the story.  There was a king who wanted to settle accounts with his subjects.  There was one man who owed him 10,000 talents, a huge fortune.  The man could not pay, and so he was going to be sold into slavery, along with his family and everything he had, so that this one man’s debts could be paid.

But the servant cried out, “Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.”   The poor man, faced with a lifetime of slavery and family ruination, begs and pleads for time to pay it all back…as if that were possible.  The debt was too high.   There was simply no way that the man could pay for it.  His life was ruined.  He was a slave, and had nothing to offer, nothing to give to the great king.

In our culture today, there is a sense about money that it isn’t real.  I can put everything on my Visa Card, and it’s almost as if there is nothing owed.  It isn’t real money; it’s just credit card debt.  So a person may become five, ten, twenty, even thirty thousand dollars in debt or more, without even realizing what’s happening…  Until one day you wake up and your credit is gone, and you have a thousand dollar a month payment just on the interest for your so-called “fake money.”

That is how so many people operate with money today.  But worse still is that this  is also how we operate when it comes to sin and forgiveness.  We really believe that sin just isn’t that bad.  We operate under the fantasy that we can really pay the debt for our sins.  Our sin, inherited from Adam, is so great that we cannot possibly pay the debt to God.   We deserve nothing but hellfire and punishment because we, by nature, have abandoned God’s Word and Law, and have tried to make it on our own.  Yet we seek to bargain with God.

You know how that works…  “I’ll be wild when I’m young, but I’ll be good when I’m older.  That’ll be fine.  Young people; whaddya gonna do?.”  You see, we all operate as if God uses a scale; and as long as my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds, well, then I’m okay.  But the problem is that we don’t understand the scale.  Like this servant in our text, we don’t fully grasp how far in the hole we really are.

In our text the king recognized it.  He saw that this poor, pathetic servant was so blind and so ignorant that he didn’t even realize how deeply in trouble he really was.  Now, you don’t bargain with the king.  You beg for mercy.  But this king, the good king, showed mercy on the servant even though he didn’t have the good sense to beg for it.  The king forgave his debt.  He wiped it clean.  It was gone.  It was as if the debt never existed.  The man’s life was back, at the word of the king.

This, dear friends, is what Christ our Lord does for you.  At His death on the cross, our Lord paid your debt for you in full.  All of the weight and guilt of your sin has been laid on His shoulders.  And all of His righteousness and perfection became yours.  So instead of being poor and in debt to the point of ruin, you are rich – rich with God’s mercy and love.  There is a mansion in heaven with your name on it, paid for by the good king, Jesus Christ the crucified.

But this is not the end of our parable.  This servant, the poor ruined one who is now free, immediately goes out to one of his fellow servants and asks for a hundred denarii – a pittance compared to the great debt that he owed.  It was virtually pocket change by comparison.  Yet the mercy of the king had not sunk in, and he throws the fellow servant in prison, his family into slavery, and has no mercy at all.

This, my friends in Christ, is what you and I do when we refuse to forgive our neighbor his or her sins.  Christ has given you everything.  He has paid your debt in full.  Eternity in heaven itself awaits you.  And yet, you hold grudges as if Jesus never died on the cross.  You virtually keep score cards with your family and friends on who has sinned against you the most.  You are quick to judge and harsh in the judging.

We keep grudges: Husband to wife, wife to husband; parents to children, children to parents. Extended family members, co-workers, friends, other acquaintances… We hold them hostage through unforgiveness.  Don’t deny it.

Like this unmerciful servant in our parable, you long to play the bad-guy, and to show so-called righteous anger over an offense received or a debt owed.  How often have you assumed the worst with your spouse?  The house isn’t clean, the yard isn’t done, dinner is bad, the bills aren’t paid, or whatever the offense may be.  Do you forgive them?  Do you show love and compassion, or do you use it as a chance to gain another point in the battle of the sexes?

Or think about your children.  Fathers, do not exasperate your children, says Saint Paul, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4) Are you patient with your children?  Are you loving, kind and, above all, compassionate?  Do you gently and patiently teach them God’s Word and the Small Catechism?  Or are you hard and unbending, unhelpful and short tempered with them?  How unkind it is to take your troubles out on your children.

Children, do you honor your parents with obedience, or repay their kindness with back-talk and disrespect?  And how do you speak about them when they are out of earshot?

Do any of us really honor God and His Word all the time?  Do any of us honor and speak well of those in authority over us all the time?

What Christ invites you to in our text is a different way.  Christ, first of all, wants to teach us that we are all in this together.  We are all like this poor servant in the text.  All people have huge debts to pay, debts that they cannot possibly manage on their own.  And yet Christ pays the debt in full.  Forgiven.  Free.  The debt is canceled.  And because of that great forgiveness which Christ won for us on the cross, we are free to live our lives with eternity in mind.  We are free to forgive.  We are free to be longsuffering.  We are free to be patient and kind above all measure because Christ has done it all.

It is true, though.  Like the unmerciful servant, we often forget what God gives to us in His Son Jesus Christ.  We take the forgiveness of sins for granted.  We don’t think of ourselves as the chief of sinners, but as the chief of saints.

That is why we come to worship.  We come so that God can do His work of Law and Gospel on our hearts.  We come here to this place so that the Good King can show mercy on us once again.

Remember Jesus’ words: seventy times seven.  The king in the parable showed mercy but once.  But our heavenly King shows mercy to us every single day of our lives.  In fact, He shows mercy to you seventy times seven EVERY SINGLE DAY!

And the surest testament of His mercy and good will toward you is in His Supper.  It is at His altar that Christ our Lord, the only truly good king, gives you His mercy and forgiveness week after week.  We don’t deserve it, but only that rich food of eternal life can melt our hearts and keep us in the true faith all the days of our life.

So come to the Lord’s Altar every time His gifts are offered.  Forgiveness is the life-blood of the church, and that life-blood flows out to you in the fullest measure right here.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.