Matthew 18:21–35 ESV
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 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. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 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.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 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. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
On the 23rd of January 1999, the smoke that rose that dawn in Kendujhar came from no ordinary fire. It came from smote remains of a station wagon and in it were the charred frames of a desperate father clinging on to his scared two sons. The news that morning would read that Graham Staines (58) and his two sons, Philip who was 10 and Timothy who was 6, were sleeping in their car when a religious mob in Orissa set their car ablaze.
Reports say that when the fire was set the three of them woke up and struggled to try and get out of their vehicle, but was prevented by the angry mob. A 6 year old screaming and pleading to be let out of a burning vehicle.
O hand these men to me and I will slay them one by one till my hands fall off or I am cut down by one of them. But O! Far be it from me that I should relent from destroying such wicked and shameful behaviour. These weren’t men who committed these atrocities, they were cowards. They don’t deserve to be called men. They deserve to be hanged, to be thrown off of this balcony till we lose count.
This nation, though sinful and guilty, rose to condemn these extreme acts and pushed for swift measures of judgment. Yes, judge them! They deserve judgment, the full measure of it without restraint!
But then, in her affidavit before the Commission on the death of her husband and two sons, Gladys Staines stated the following,
“The Lord God is always with me to guide me and to help me try to accomplish the work of Graham, but I sometimes wonder why Graham was killed, and what also made his assassins behave in such a brutal manner on the night of the 22nd/23rd of January 1999.
… It is far from my mind to punish the persons who were responsible for the death of my husband Graham and my two children. But it is my desire and hope that they would repent and be reformed.”
What? What is this alien phenomenon that can meet such despicable crimes like the soft touch of a rose petal upon the blade of bitterness? Why is it that no amount of brute force can cut this flower of forgiveness? How can these words from a strained and sorrowful heart be ushered from such satisfaction and comfort? Yes this phenomenon has a name, and it is called ‘grace’. Favour for the unfavourable, hope for the undeserved. Where does this lowly woman get such strength to say such words? Why do these words of hers seem to have the power to calm the wildest seas and stay the fiercest storms?
On January 8th, 1956, a young 29-year-old man Jim Elliot was speared to death with four of his missionary friends in Ecuador by a secluded tribe that they were trying to take the Gospel to. Married to Jim for only three years, his wife Elizabeth Elliot continued to take the good news of the Gospel, of hope and salvation to the same tribe.
What is this drop of cool water on the hell furnace of sin? Is this what the rich man who call out to Abraham in
Luke 16:24 ESV
24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’
What about missionaries John and Mary Paton who landed on the island of Tanna among the islands of the New Hebrides on 5 November 1858? The natives of Tanna were cannibals, heathenism at its worst. A one Mr. Dickson is known to have warned Paton saying, “You will be eaten by cannibals!”, to which John responded, “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”
What courage is this, to suffer hurt and be at peace?
Three months after the couple arrived at Tanna, God blessed them with a son, Peter Robert Robson. But a short 19 days later, his wife Mary died from a tropical fever. He was left alone to feed and protect his son. And then several days later, his son died at just 36 days of age. Paton buried them together near their home, and spent the night on their graves to protect them from the local cannibals.
He still pressed on against all kinds of difficulties and cruelties. And in his time got to see 25 of the 30 New Hebrides islands receive missionaries into their communities.
There is a power at work here that is beyond the human capacity to comprehend. It is a power alien to our humanity. The power that can issue a kind of mercy and grace that is but a strange aberration in our conscience. This power came from a cry on calvary that we read in
Luke 23:34 (ESV)
34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Matthew 18:21 ESV
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
- When dealing with sin and justice, we are instructed to do this on the principle of mercy and forgiveness. To pursue justice without mercy is to condemn yourself.
Matthew 5:7 ESV
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.Matthew 7:2 ESV
2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
As R.C Sproul put it, “the unforgiving heart is an unforgiven heart.” So conversely, the heart that is forgiving is a forgiven heart.
- Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? – In light of Jesus’ framework for church discipline, Peter wanted to know how many times this process must be repeated for a sinner who repents and falls again? Peter could not understand how repentance could prevent the sin in the future. He expected such offense to be repetitive. And if that were the case, there had to surely be a cap on this.
- As many as seven times? – Peter doesn’t just ask how many time he should forgive his brother, but suggests a possible cap. Here is Peter’s most generous limit – 7 times. This is how you bargain right? You start with a price that will best suit the negotiation. So, I wonder if this fishermen used his marketing skills to aim for the highest number he could in hopes that Jesus would be content and he would be appeased.Matthew 18:22 ESV
22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
- Here is how Jesus responded. He multiplied Peter’s maximum ten times and then took that resultant number and multiplied again with Peter’s maximum.
This was Jesus’ way of bombarding Peter’s arithmetic with such large proportions that I wonder if Peter knew what seventy times seven amounted to. I wonder if Peter looked at that number and wondered who would be able to count that far up when disciplining a fellow believer.
Matthew 18:23–27 ESV
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 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. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
- Here is another parable on the kingdom of heaven. We need to add this one to the series of parables in Matthew 13 on the Kingdom of God. Remember, Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God in parables, something the Jews longed to hear about were spoken in mysteries so that it would be hidden from the hearts that rejected Christ and revealed only to those who’d given their lives to following Christ.
Matthew 13:10–13 ESV
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
- As is the case with all parables, we must not dissect it and evaluate it at all angles because that is not what a parable is for. There is a main intention that the parabolic picture gives us and that alone must be taken as the main point. For example, the kingdom of heaven is likened here to a King. We do not then try to correlate every kingdom attribute with every Kingly attribute and try to see the resemblance. We read through to see the main point of the parable and what the comparison is all about.Here, it is pretty clear that the parable has to do with forgiving debt. It is a response to Peter’s question, which in itself is a response to Jesus’ remarks on dealing with sin in the corporate life of the church, which first begins with the Christian’s attitude towards sin in the preceding verses which talk about gouging out the eye and cutting of the hand that leads you to sin.
So, let us trace that down and get the full picture of the context we’re in.
a. Jesus begins by responding to the argument concerning who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God, and he exalts the child-like dependence of a little child in the room and says more of that results in greatness in God’s kingdom.
Our true exaltation is not in making much about ourselves, but in making much about Christ. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. This is the substance of spiritual greatness.
b. To such child-like, not childish, but child-like faith the passion of Christ bursts like a dam and the never ending flood of his lovingkindness washes over them, that if anyone were to stumble the least of these, the horrors of this world’s judgment and death pale in comparison to the wrath of Christ.
It is better for them to have a millstone hung around their neck and drowned in the deepest oceans, down into the depths where the light of day has never reached.
c. This child-like Christian however lives in a world of sin, where temptations will pursue him. Jesus curses those who bring such temptation and teaches that the Christian ought to have the mindset of radical amputation, of cutting off every sliver of sin. He gives us a wartime mindset where we are to ever battle this enemy like a soldier caught in the middle of a battlefield he cannot escape from. For though we are not of this world, we are in it. God has kept us here so that we might wrestle against sin.
d. But not just against sin in our own lives but sin in each other. For the heart of Christ is not just to avenge the crippled Christian, but in also redeeming the Christian gone astray. When a Christian commits sin or stumbles another Christian, not only is he violating the sanctity of his new belonging to God’s kingdom, he is partaking in the activity of the enemy. Jesus reaches out to the Christian caught in sin and to the one who strays from the righteous path.
e. He does this through the gracious, disciplinary activity of the local church. Spiritual Discipline in the life of the local church is not the negative activity of rage in punishing the Christian, but the positive activity of love and mercy in rescuing the Christian from the clutches of hell.
Therefore, the personal attitude that one has towards sin will in effect bring about the corporate attitude that we have as a church towards sin. And such an attitude urges us to pluck out, cut off and call to account sin in each other’s life. Yet, all of it is aimed at rescue, not punishing.
This is the primary difference between discipline and punishing. One aims at rescuing while the other aims at settling the score. Punishment that is not the arm of discipline but the arm of settling the score is not the Christian way.
Therefore, such judgment or discipline of one another is based on the principle of mercy and forgiveness, not of revenge. If you brother sins against you, and he apologises, you are to forgive.
Ephesians 4:32 ESV
32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Matthew 6:14–15 ESV
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Colossians 3:13 ESV
13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Mark 11:25 ESV
25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Psalm 32:1 ESV
1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
So, spiritual discipline is the activity of trying to forgive someone.
But notice here that forgiveness does not forsake accountability. It is not the Christian way to forgive wrongdoing without it being addressed and dealt with.
In 2011, when the Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s verdict for the accused in the murder of Graham Staines and his children, his wife was quoted saying, “Because of forgiveness I hold no bitterness towards the persons who killed my family. Forgiveness brought healing which is needed everywhere from hatred and violence. But forgiveness does not change the consequences for wrong. Forgiveness and the consequences of our wrongdoing should not be mixed up.”
This is such an important lesson that the modern evangelical seems to have forgotten. We believe that forgiveness demands a lack of judgment and accountability, but it doesn’t. Judgment and accountability are but the arms of forgiveness calling the sinner to repentance. In that sense, the forgiveness for the sinner has already been issued in the heart of the one pursuing justice, but it is complete only when the sinner repents and receives this forgiveness. As long as someone rejects repentance, only his pursuer is at peace with God.
Matthew 18:23–24 ESV
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
- This subject matters to the kingdom of heaven in that the churches activity of spiritual discipline and membership is the activity of identifying those who are a bound and loosed from the kingdom of heaven.
But understand that the kingdom of heaven can often be likened to the King of heaven. They can often be used synonymously. This is not a democracy, it is a theocracy. Not ruled by the people for the people. But ruled by the eternal God for the eternal God.
- A King here who wishes to settle accounts with his servants gives us a picture of a King and his officers. The King doesn’t personally settle accounts with every individual in his kingdom. That is why you have tax collectors appointed. These tax collectors and their governors in turn would settle accounts with the King regarding their respective collections and produce.
As a ‘servant’ you are subject to the King and you need to be prepared to give an account of your activities and returns. You are living prepared, anxious for the King’s call and you don’t want to be found empty handed.
- When he began to settle, one was brought who owed him ten thousand talents. Ten thousand talents here represent an incalculable debt. A talent in the first century was the highest monetary unit of currency. Such a debt could not be pain in many lifetimes. This was a serious and unpayable debt.
Not only had this servant misused his office, but he was so corrupt that his debt upon debt did not move him in the slightest to fear what was to come. He might have lived in the foolish notion that such a call to settle accounts would not come, but it did, and he was caught, in a debt he could not repay.
- So, here is the parallel or the reality that this parabolic picture is representing. God, God’s Kingdom, calls for a settling of debts.
In the cool of the evening, his footsteps were heard in Eden. “Adam, where are you? I have come for our evening walk. Tell me of your day, of your findings and joys. Adam, where are you?”
He was hiding in fear for the debt he had to pay was death. Yet, the judgment of God, the curse of God that fell upon Adam and Eve was not issued from the unbridled wrath of God’s heart, but from mercy and a readiness to forgive. He spared them the ultimate death, but them off spiritually so that every man born of Adam and Eve were born spiritually dead. All the generations of Adam, carrying the curse and the debt upon their hearts, none able to give an account, none able to repay such a magnitude of debt. Even our death would not satisfy the cost of what we’ve corrupted in our sin. The whole world is groaning with groanings too deep for words because of us.
Matthew 18:25–26 ESV
25 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.
26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’
• The order of judgment was to make maximum payment as would be possible by selling him, his wife and children and all that he had. Everything he ever held dear to be stripped from his hands.
• In light of this great truth, we see the servant do two things. He falls on his knees. This is the act of the humble, the truly submissive. The one who gives up his selfish causes in desperate need. He bows low before his King.
And then, he implores him for time, for patience. Though he has no clue how he will repay or refuses to see that he cannot ever repay, he pleads for the highest degree of mercy he could find. If Peter presumed seven times as the highest degree of mercy that should be rendered, so does this servant hope to make a reasonable bargain that he hopes would please the King. And both times, the King shatters the negotiations.
Matthew 18:28–30 ESV
28 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.’
29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’
30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
• That same servant, the one that was fully forgiven.
• Hundred dinarii, although a lofty sum was inconsequential to the amount he owed to the King.
• Have patience and I will pay you – whether he can repay or not is not the question. Is his heart in the right place? That is the right question.
• But he refused him and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. What causes men in the face of the cross to act in this manner? To hold bitterness and anger in our hearts?
Matthew 18:31–34 ESV
31 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.
32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’
34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
• The act of the fellow servants
• Should not you have had mercy as I had mercy on you?
• In anger, delivered to pay the unpayable debt
Matthew 18:35 ESV
35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”.