You will get what you give - Matthew 18:21-35
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Let me tell you about Mike Brown. Mike was the owner & managing director of a finance company down in the Old Town of Hull. He had recently decided to retire & so went about settling his Firm's outstanding loan deals.
As he began to sort things out he discovered there was a client who still owed him so he wrote to him to make an appointment to come down to the office.
When the client arrived it soon became clear that he was a very very long way off repaying the loan so Mike told him straight that given the size of the debt & the time he'd already had to pay it back, his house & all his possessions would now have to be sold, and what's more the rest of his family (his wife & children) would be responsible for the remaining debt. He would set up a binding agreement, which would involve all their income being paid into the financier's family estate for as long as it took to complete the repayments something that would take his children the majority of their working lives to fulfill.
The client's face went ashen & he fell on his knees & begged; "Be patient with me, I will pay back everything. Don't condemn my family for my irresponsibility."
The finance director was filled with compassion for the man & his family. He made a decision unprecedented in his industry; he agreed to entirely cancel the huge debt. Mike Brown let his client go completely free of any financial ties to him even though his debt had been immense.
However as the now debt-free client left the office on High Street he bumped into another of Mike Brown's clients who happened to owe our first client some money. He grabbed him by the throat and began to choke him. "Remember me? You owe me I want you to pay it back immediately!' This other client fell to his knees and begged him, "Be patient with me, things are hard at present but I will pay you back everything."
But the client whom Mike Brown had set free from his debt refused point blank! Without wavering at all, he continued to reject any compromise. Instead without delay he started legal proceedings in the small claims court. He was determined to get all his back, whatever happened to the man who owed him.
Now it just so happened that some of Mike Brown's other clients got to know what had happened. They were absolutely staggered & they went & explained in detail everything that had taken place.
Mike Brown made an appointment to see the first client. "You hard hearted, ungrateful, wicked man," he said. "I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on that other bloke just as I had on you?" The finance director, was so angry that he reinstated the enormous debt the client owed & handed him over to the authorities, which he knew would result in a very, very long & unpleasant prison sentence.
Jesus Christ said "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." v35
You'll have guessed that is an attempt to re tell in contemporary guise, Jesus' parable of the Unmerciful Servant (that we read earlier). I think you'll agree with me that as parables go it's a hard one not because its message is difficult to understand but because its message is all too easy to understand!
What Jesus relates is a brilliant & powerful illustration of the 5th so-called beatitude in Matt 5v7; "Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy."
If you've been here in the last month you'll know we're looking at these "beautiful attitudes" of those who have been given the undeserved privilege of belonging to the Kingdom of heaven God's loving saving rule centred on Jesus. The beatitudes are not patterns of behaviour to achieve in order to belong to God's Kingdom, rather they are the Kingdom norms of behaviour which should be typical of those who now belong to Jesus, the King of the Kingdom.
"Blessed" says Jesus, approved by God & thus knowing the good hand of God upon them, "are the merciful..."
The word translated "mercy" in the Bible is about a response of love to those in need. When God is the one exercising mercy it is about not getting the bad things you deserve, especially being let off the consequences of sin through forgiveness. Mercy is also about compassion for the needy - from God & ( reflecting his character) others.
Perhaps the best way to see the impact & meaning of this beatitude "Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy." is by looking at Jesus' parable of the unmerciful servant that we began with. This comes later on in the same gospel of Matt ch 18v 21 (Do turn to p985).
As Jesus tells this story, he is up North in the Galilee region teaching his disciples about what living in the Kingdom of God is like a similar theme to the Sermon on the Mount where the beatitudes are found. The issue of dealing with those who sin against you is addressed & this prompts the disciple Peter to ask Jesus a question, v21 "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Then he tells the parable;
V 23"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like, literally "The situation with the Kingdom of heaven is like the situation with "a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants."
From the story we see:
1 The astonishing mercy of God in forgiveness. V24-27
v24As [the king] began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
The old units of value obscure to us the size of the debt the 1st servant owed the king. Modern estimates for an equivalent for 10,000 talents range from a few million to a half a Trillion pounds sterling! Whatever the exact details what the servant owed the King was a truly enormous amount of money.
The servant clearly cannot hope to repay the debt he owes. The price for his massive defaulting on the loan is set his family are to be sold in to slavery. This was a practice not unknown in the ancient world in the face of huge financial arrears. It is dreadful, but it illustrates the seriousness of the debt owed.
It is quite clear that Jesus expects us to see ourselves in the servants &, in the King, we are to see God. Spiritually speaking we human beings are in enormous debt to our creator. He has showered so many good things on us in creation to enjoy, he has provided for us in so many good ways (Mt5:45) & yet all of us to a man & woman have turned our backs on Him. In Jesus' words a little earlier in Matt 15 we are all "unclean" before God, for out of our hearts come evil thoughts false testimony as well as immorality& adultery. (Matt15:18,19)
What's more we need to remember the offence of our sin to a totally pure, holy God. Our offence to Him in our ingratitude & rebellion is not like the problems we have in our human relationships. This is Almighty God we are talking about our offence to him is incalculable. (P)
In the light of the sentence, the servant v26 "fell on his knees before [the king]. `Be patient with me,' he begged, `and I will pay back everything.'" Almost certainly he could not pay the king back. His situation was hopeless. And yet it wasn't hopeless not because of anything the servant could offer but because of the character of the King; v27 "The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go."
The King, remember points us to God & a God who wonderfully releases people from spiritual debt, who forgives sins. This is not automatic. God is holy his forgiveness is not cheap it comes at great cost, a cost appropriate for the seriousness of the debt we owe Him. Just as the King took pity on his servant so God takes pity on his people, he is compassionate. He is full of mercy.
We know even if just from this gospel of Matthew alone that the mercy of God is focused on the one who 1st told our parable. At the start of Matthew we read the words of the angel to Joseph (the carpenter & expectant Father from Nazareth) Mt1:21 "You shall give [the baby] the name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins." And Jesus himself just a couple of chapters further on in Matthew uses another financial image to speak of the mission he was going to fulfil in his death; "The Son of man did not come to be served but to serve & give his life as ransom for many" 20:28. This death he describes in ch 26 (v28) as "my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins".
APP Can I ask those of us who are Christians here this evening, are we in danger of just thinking God's forgiveness is cheap? Do we see the enormity of the mercy God has poured out on us in Jesus? We're reminded here of the shocking & wonderful mercy of God in totally undeserved forgiveness.
For others here tonight; have you received the mercy of God that is on offer? Perhaps you now understand enough to see your need & can understand enough to see that God reaches out to you? You can't earn God's forgiveness, you don't merit it, but he offers it to you in Jesus.
Jesus' story also shows us:
2 The proper response to mercy is to return mercy to others. v28-30
The servant had received so much. He had been the recipient of mercy in a way he could scarcely have dreamed of. Surely he will be a changed man as result. v28"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. `Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. 29"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, `Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' 30"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
The amount of money owed by the one servant to the other was 100 Denarii perhaps 100 days wages for a labourer.
This is the sort of money that would be worth having (in our retelling we said about but is trivial in comparison to the debt he had owed the King. Indeed it is about 1/6000th of the amount!!
The point is clear. There is a truly enormous difference between the debts. What the other servant owed the servant central to the story was peanuts compared to the debt he owed & had been released from, by the King.
The forgiven servant's behaviour is shocking. The plea of his fellow servant (v29) is virtually identical to his own plea to the king (v26) yet he firmly & ruthlessly rejects it.
The whole incident screams out to us; How absurd that one who had received so much could not find it in himself to show in relative terms a tiny tiny amount of mercy to someone in need! How appalling that one who had been forgiven so much should refuse to forgive so little.
At the end of the story Jesus warns that God will judge those who fail, v35, to "forgive [their] brother from the heart." This fits the context of Peter's question about forgiveness in v21.
So the message seems clear human beings have an enormous debt before God if God in his purity can find a way to forgive us surely we can forgive others who wrong us. For however seriously we have been wronged, & admittedly sometimes that is very seriously, it is never as great as the way we human beings have wronged God.
This is what Jesus teaches us to pray for in the Lord's Prayer; "Forgive us our sins ('debts' in the original) as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Mt6:12) Like the beatitudes this is not a tit for tat we forgive others so God forgives us, we are merciful, so God forgive us! That's impossible & contrary to the undeserved nature of the good news but rather we ask for God's forgiveness (having already received so much in order to enter the Kingdom) & we pledge ourselves to give forgiveness to others as a response to God's goodness to us.
Applic. This is where the application of Jesus' words hit home the hardest.
Are we holding onto resentments & unforgiveness that need to be confessed & brought to God? Perhaps we need to speak to others to put things right?
And there is also the broader implication of "mercy" that the beatitude speaks of what's our attitude to those in need we encounter? How do I relate to those who are downtrodden, struggling, and in difficulty?
Unforgiveness & lack of mercy is totally incompatible with life as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
You might be thinking, "It's easy for you to say this you haven't faced what I have!" Please forgive me if I have made this sound in any way glib. Forgiveness is not a cheap or easy thing to give, it's not pretending you haven't really been hurt or wronged. But remember the author of the parable. Jesus forgave on earth even those who were killing him unjustly (Lk23:34) & his heavenly Father has had to pay an enormous price for our forgiveness.
I was talking to someone recently (who has given permission for me to mention this tonight). He has recently become a Christian & he told me of the way his father continually physically abused him as a child. Now having received forgiveness from God for his sins he has been able to forgive his father for the sins he committed against him & has been able to release the pain of his early experiences to God & is finding a freedom he never knew before.
Jesus parable shows us, in the wise summary of the writer John Stott, "Nothing moves us to forgive like the wondering of knowing we have ourselves been forgiven. Nothing proves more clearly that we have been forgiven than our own readiness to forgive."
Finally we see;
3 The Shocking nature of judgment for the unmerciful. V31-34
31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32"Then the master called the servant in. `You wicked servant,' he said, `I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.
33Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
After he hears the truth about how the servant has treated his fellow servant the King calls him in & we have a clear scene of judgment acted out.
When the servant owes 10,000 talents (millions of pounds) the King amazingly lets mercy triumph over justice justice would have said condemnation for failure mercy was prepared (as we know with God at the price of the death of his son) to cancel the debt completely & allow him to go free. However when the servant shows himself so blatantly & callously unforgiving & lacking in mercy the King calls him v32 "wicked" & now condemns him not just to jail (as his fellow servant had been sentenced due to his non payment) but according to the original he will face the "torturers" v34.
It's been clear all along that Jesus is relating the servants to people who might receive God's forgiveness & the King to God. The language of condemnation & torture for those who fail to forgive is shocking but Jesus is not embarrassed to use both the images of a king who is extraordinarily generous in mercy & at the same time one who judges. They both show us important truths about God the one Jesus calls in v35 his "heavenly Father".
After all, the verdict of the king in the end is surely just & fair; the lack of mercy the servant gave to his fellow servant (v30) is now just what he receives for his mercilessness (v34).
This is a reminder that God will judge wrongdoing in the end, which means that we don't have to take action in vengeance when we're wronged. That can help us forgive.
In reality the servant's lack of mercy to another in a small thing illustrates that he had spurned the huge amount of mercy he had himself been offered. Jesus seems to be saying that no true disciple could ever react as this wicked servant did.
His actions to his fellow human being shows that in reality he had not truly received forgiveness. He had not genuinely accepted the pardon offered. That meant that he deserved to take the consequences graphically portrayed by Jesus as prison & torture, the broad road that leads to the destruction of hell. (Mt7:13)
We need to clear on this. At the judgement it won't be about whether people deserve divine forgiveness that's impossible. But it will be whether you have received the undeserved gift of forgiveness because of Jesus & identified yourself with God's loving Kingdom rule.
And what will be the evidence that you have received that gift? It will include showing mercy to others just as you yourself have received mercy from God, forgiving others just as God in Christ has forgiven you (Eph 4:32).
Receiving mercy from God, giving evidence in your life of that gift by being merciful to others will result in finally receiving total pardon & mercy from God at the end of time. "Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy."
Jesus' piercing story is poignant & powerfully illustrates the 5th beatitude.
God is astonishingly merciful towards his people forgiving the huge debt we owe him for our sin. The only appropriate response is to return that mercy
to others in compassion & forgiveness. A continuous hardhearted refusal to show mercy to others is evidence that a person has never received the mercy God offers through Jesus & such a response shows that you deserve the judgement all who refuse forgiveness will face.
Jesus' words "Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy" remind us, Christians are to be compassionate to those in need, to forgive those who have wronged us..
In being merciful we show we have received mercy & we can look forward to the full experience of mercy from God through his Son, on the last day. For the follower of Jesus to be forgiven & to forgive, to receive mercy & to show mercy & are inextricably linked together.
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