Do you like scary stories? I have never really been into scary movies, although I went to a couple as a teenager just to prove a point. And if you have to ask what that point is then you’ve never been a teenaged boy.
And when Carrie’s hand came out of the grave at the end of the original movie, well let me tell you. . . I didn’t sleep for a week.
I used to enjoy horror novels, from authors like John Saul, Graham Masterton and Stephen King, but even they have lost their appeal over the years. Although I will usually try to plug my way through one Stephen King epic on vacation. I keep meaning to re-read “The Stand” and maybe this year I will. Now if I want a good supernatural thrill I tend to drift to Dean Koontz, a good Catholic boy he knows how to keep it clean.
But Jesus tells one of the scariest stories that I’ve ever heard, and Ben read it for you earlier.
This is week five of our “Stories told by Jesus” series. Through the summer we’ve been looking at some of the stories, or parables that Jesus told. And so far, it seems that most of them have had a bit of an agricultural feel. There was the man working in the field who found the treasure, the owner of the vineyard who hired the workers. The story of the seed that was planted and flourished and last week we looked at the parable of the weeds that were sown in the wheat by the farmer’s enemy.
This week we are going in a very different direction. This is one of those occasions where Jesus was asked a question and he responds by telling a story. The parable of the Good Samaritan is another example of this.
It begins with a question that was asked by Peter, a question that could have been asked by any one of us. Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
And that is a valid question, as a matter of fact, it’s a question that if you haven’t asked out loud you have asked it in your heart. “how many times must I be hurt?” “How can I ever let it go?” “How can I ever trust them again?” “How often should I forgive someone who sins against me?” And I think Peter was being generous with the offer of forgiving someone multiple times for the same offence.
Most people struggle with this concept. This isn’t simply forgiving someone who has hurt you multiple times. This is forgiving someone whom you have already forgiven and forgiven and forgiven.
And they keep doing “it”, whatever “it” is over and over again.
I don’t know if Peter had someone or something specific in mind, if he was asking for a “friend” or if it was just hypothetical. But he was probably blown away by Jesus reply because I certainly would have been. Because instead of commending Peter on the grace that he was willing to show, we read in the very next verse: Matthew 18:22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
You can almost hear Peter’s mind at work, “Seventy times seven? Why that’s almost five hundred times, that’s insane.”
And so Jesus does what Jesus does so well, he tells a story, a really scary story.
Matthew 18:23-25 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
The story begins simply as A Story of Justice To us this seems a little excessive, but the servant was simply getting what he deserved, within the social context of the day.
Today we find it so easy to judge history based on what we know is right today. My Daddy called that “20-20 hindsight”
But the story wasn’t told in Halifax in 2018, it was told in Israel 2000 years ago and if you owed a debt that you couldn’t pay then you and yours belonged to your creditors. It was just that simple.
And in this story, there was no way the man could pay the debt. None at all.
Now remember this is a story, Jesus is prone to exaggerate in his stories, that’s fine. He is trying to make a point. So, while the NLT says the man owed millions of dollars that doesn’t even begin to do Jesus’ words justice.
The figure that Jesus used when he told the story was 10,000 talents. A talent was a measure of silver. And 10,000 talents was 375 tons of silver.
I checked the other day and silver was worth $21.68 Canadian an ounce, and there are 32,000 ounces in a ton, so, knot, knot carry the two, two is five and five is seven. That means that in today’s currency a ton of silver would be worth about $693,760.00. And the man owed 375 tons of silver. So, in round numbers, he owed a little over 260 million dollars.
And he could not pay. And so, his master was going to have him and his family and everything he owned sold to pay the debt. Which wouldn’t have covered even a tiny fraction of it.
Jesus was illustrating the divide between God and man. This is the reality of Romans 3:23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
We’ve done this before, let’s use my nifty iPulpit as an illustrative device.
If down here are the really nasty people, the Hitlers and the Stalins and people who spit their gum on the sidewalk and park in handicap spaces without a permit.
And up here at the top are the really good nice godly people. People like Billy Graham and Mother Theresa and you. And the rest of us are somewhere in between then God and His holiness are where the sun is. And there is no way we can bridge that gap.
We all know that, or at least I hope we all know that. And the consequences of that sin is found in Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, . . . Paul isn’t talking about a physical death, he’s talking about a spiritual death, the death that happens to our soul when we are separated from God and all that is good for ever.
In our theology, we call that separation Hell. You might be thinking that you don’t believe in hell, that doesn’t change the reality of hell, it won’t make it one degree cooler or one day shorter.
So much like justice for the servant was to be sold into slavery, justice for us is to be separated from God for eternity.
But luckily for the servant and for us, the story doesn’t end there.
And so, the story continues: Matthew 18:26 But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’
So, the master was seeking justice and the servant wanted it to be A Story of Mercy
When the servant realized the consequences of his actions and all of our actions have consequences, he asked for the opportunity to try and repay what he owed.
And we already showed there was no way the servant was ever going to be able to pay even a portion of what he owed. If he was able to repay his debt at $100,000.00 a year it would take him 2,600 years to pay it off.
What often happens at whatever point we become aware of God and aware of our sinful nature, we try and fix it. We try to become better, we try to be more religious, we try and pray more, we go to church more, try to read out bibles more and we try to be nicer.
And it doesn’t seem to work. The Old Testament prophet reminds us in Isaiah 64:6 We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
In our best of intentions, we want to be better, we want to bridge that gap. But like the amount the servant owed it is impossible.
And so the story continues, Matthew 18:27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
Instead of justice or mercy, the master made it A Story of Grace
We sing about grace and we talk about grace, but do we really understand the concept of Grace? The Collins English Dictionary defines Grace as : “The free and unmerited favour of God shown towards man.” Or simply put, Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.
The servant in the story did not deserve to have his debt forgiven, but it was.
We do not deserve to have our sins forgiven, but they are.
And up to this point, this has been a salvation message. But that wasn’t what it was intended to be. Because most of us here today have experienced the grace of God. And if you haven’t you can.
This is where the story takes a very unexpected twist.
Matthew 18:28-30 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
What seemed fairly straightforward now becomes A Story With a Twist
If this was a horror movie, it’s here the music would change to a minor key.
You see what happens right? The servant has been forgiven, he has experienced grace in his life, but instead of that shaping who he was, it made no difference at all.
When Jesus told the story, he said that the fellow servant owed his colleague 100 Denarius, and a Denarius was a day’s wage. So, the servant who had been forgiven 260 million dollars was owed the equivalent of four months’ salary.
Not a paltry amount by any stretch of the imagination, until you compared it to what the first servant had been forgiven. It was over 17,000 times smaller. It was like I owed you $15,000.00 and Gary owed me a small coffee from Tim’s.
This isn’t one of those stories that leaves us scratching our heads, the meaning is very plain. We might choose to muddy the water with our opinions and our theology but the story itself is very plain.
The first servant was forgiven an unimaginable debt, a debt that he could never possibly repay on his own. He was shown grace.
And when he had the chance to show grace to someone else, he blew it. Not once, not twice but continually.
Immediately after he experiences grace, he goes and finds the servant who owed him money and demanded Justice. And it gets worse, he then physically accosts the man, we are told that he grabbed the man by the throat. And when the man begs him for more mercy and more time to pay he has him thrown into debtors’ prison. He not only refuses to show the man grace, he won’t even show him mercy.
And maybe we could understand if this had of happened before the servant himself had been forgiven. Four months’ salary was a considerable personal debt, but not after having 260 million dollars wiped off the books.
The servant demanded of others what he was unwilling to give to others.
And what happens? Let’s keep reading.
Matthew 18:31-34 When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
Now The Story Gets Scary
You understand that this is not a salvation message, the warning was not about the original debt that the man owed. That had been forgiven. This was about his attitude after his debt had been forgiven.
The first part of the message was an invitation to those here today who have never experienced God’s grace. To know that regardless of the debt you owe to God, his grace is more than enough to cover it. All you have to do is ask.
The last part of the message, the scary part, is for the rest of us. This part of the story is for those of us who have been forgiven.
Jesus was very clear in his teaching, those who have experienced grace are expected to show grace.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught, Matthew 5:7 God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Who is shown mercy? The merciful.
Later when Jesus is teaching the apostles to pray we learn what we now call the “Lord’s Prayer”. And most of us could probably recite it by heart. But do you ever stop and reflect on the part that says in Matthew 6:12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. ?
The story is told that the author Robert Louise Stevenson led his family in their daily devotions each evening. And a part of the routine was praying the Lord’s Prayer together.
Well, one night in the middle of the prayer he just stopped and left the room. Stevenson suffered from a variety of illnesses and so his wife went after him and asked if he was feeling all right, to which he responded, “I’m not fit to pray the Lord’s prayer today.”
Are there days when we aren’t fit to pray the words, forgive me my sins, as I have forgiven those who have sinned against me?
In the parable, when the servant refused to forgive the man who indebted to him, and his master found out we are told Matthew 18:34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
Now obviously the man couldn’t repay his entire debt, we’ve already established that. And the reality is, that that debt had already been forgiven. Remember from the story, Matthew 18:27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. The debt had been forgiven, it was gone.
The debt that he now owed was what resulted from his lack of forgiveness. And it was here that he needed to show forgiveness in order to gain forgiveness.
Our outflow of mercy to others always has to equal God’s inflow of mercy to us.
But the story doesn’t stop here.
Matthew 18:35 Jesus said “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
It’s at this point that The Story Gets Scarier
I had mentioned how much the ending of the movie Carrie scared me, a big part of that was I thought the scary part was done. Nope.
Jesus could have finished the parable at verse 34, and most people would have got it, but Jesus didn’t want most people to get it, he wanted everybody to get it.
Again, this parable is addressed to the forgiven, the saved, those who had tasted the grace of God.
And Jesus says Matthew 18:35 Jesus said “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” In order to find out what Jesus’ Heavenly Father will do to us if we don’t forgive, we need to go back to the previous verse: Matthew 18:34 “Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.”
Now, I don’t know where your theology is, but God isn’t going to unforgive you. He’s not going to say, “Wow, you didn’t forgive that person, so remember all those things I said I forgave you for, I take it back, you are unforgiven.”
We have claimed the promise of Psalm 103:12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. And in Micah 7:19 Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
So, if God doesn’t unforgive us for our past sins what’s the big deal? The big deal is that you are living in disobedience to God. Every day that you let go by that you have not forgiven that grievance, whatever that grievance may have been, you are being disobedient to God.
How long can you as a Christian, live in disobedience to God without it affecting your spiritual life? What is the debt that needs to be repaid? The debt of unforgiveness. I had a professor in Bible College who encouraged us to keep short accounts with God. In other words, don’t continue to live in disobedience.
You understand that the prison of unforgiveness is built by those who refuse to forgive and the keys are held by the same person.
Catherine Ponder wrote, “When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”
And you understand that when you say, “I can never forgive them”, you are locking yourself into a cell of resentment and bitterness. And the bizarre thing is that you hold the key, at any time you can unlock the door and free yourself. If you choose to.
It was Lewis Smedes who said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
I had a conversation with a senior citizen once who recalled an incident that happened in elementary school. I forget what the actual offence was, it was a slight of some kind. And they said, “I can never forgive them for what they did to me.” For well over seventy years that slight had been colouring their life and shaping their personality.
You don’t forgive for the benefit of the person who hurt you, and you don’t forgive for God’s benefit, you forgive for your benefit. You forgive to set yourself free from resentment and bitterness. You forgive to free up room in your spirit for love and compassion and Jesus.
And you forgive so God will forgive your unforgiveness.
Let me close with these words that Paul wrote to those who followed Jesus in the city of Ephesus because they are also meant for those who follow Jesus in the city of Halifax today.
Ephesians 4:30-32 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.