I don’t know about you, but this has been and continues to be a difficult series for me; perhaps even more than the Messy Grace series last year. And I’ve noticed that there are a few that are heeding the disclaimer and are staying away, like with the Messy Grace series. And I am OK with this. Who knows, if I was sitting in the pew I might do the same. So let’s get to today’s passage found in Matthew 18:21-35 (KJV)
21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
31 So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
OK, did that last verse sink in? Jesus said that if we refuse to forgive any person—withhold grace and mercy, God withdraws HIS forgiveness of us—and withholds His Grace and Mercy. Does He really do that? Wow! Now, if you are a Biblical Fundamentalist, meaning every word in the Bible is absolutely true, then Yes, God will withdraw His forgiveness of our sins. But I must ask, “Where’s the grace and mercy?” Well let’s put our 2 questions up:
- 1. Is It Possible? NO!
- Isaiah 43:25—“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.”
- Is It Consistent With The Principles Of The Kingdom?
So, this is obviously hyperbole. Remember that even in His use of hyperbole, there is a Kingdom Message and Principle Jesus is trying to teach us. To find it we turn to the 3 Questions:
- What Is Happening Just Before Those Words?
A question is asked by one of the disciples: Who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of God?” In other words, How Does God Measure Greatness? What’s His standard?
- What Happened Or Was Said Right At The End Of Those Words?
Jesus moved on. In other words, Jesus has made His point, and He doesn’t explain any more. You may have noticed that I used the KJV this morning—for a reason. The reason is the first 2 words in Verse 35—“So likewise”—there is a most important lesson in the story about that King’s decision to withdraw Grace and Mercy and those who refuse to show Grace and Mercy.
- What Is The “Point” Jesus Is Trying To Make?
Let’s go back to the question that started all of this: “What does God consider ‘Great’ in His Kingdom?” Greatness in the Kingdom of God is found as we show Grace and Mercy to everyone. And here is the 1 thing you need to remember: Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father!
It is all about how well and how willing we are to extend Grace and Mercy others. Though God doesn’t take back His forgiveness—He is making an important point. It’s like this little poem I found:
Grace and Mercy are the virtues we most enjoy—and least employ in our walk with Jesus. We all love to receive Grace and Mercy—we expect it and want it. But we find it a struggle to extend that Grace and Mercy. We resist it, and oftentimes refuse to do it. C. S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity: “Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive”
Look again at the story. Peter asked a question: “How often should I forgive the same person? What about 7 times?” Why did Peter use the number 7? Was it because “7” is the number of perfection? I do not think Peter was into numerology. The rabbinical teaching said 3 times, and then you’re free to not forgive them. Well, Peter is feeling generous that day, so he doubles that number and adds in 1 more for good measure. Peter is making sure his righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees. The response of Jesus to Peter’s question doesn’t really provide an answer—but it points out that Peter is asking the wrong question. The question should have been: “Do I have to show Grace and Mercy to everyone?”
God has shown every Christian extravagant and expensive Grace and Mercy. Grace and Mercy should never not be present in our lives and in our relationships. That’s the issue. Grace and Mercy is part and parcel of the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s the constant. Showing Grace and Mercy is neither a choice nor an option.
We want it to be a choice—and that’s at the heart of Peter’s question. As much as we may want to be like Jesus, we cannot bring ourselves to accept or imagine the endless and immeasurable nature of Grace and Mercy that Jesus demands from us. For anyone who has received Grace and Mercy from God, to choose NOT to extend Grace and Mercy to anyone for any reason—to God that is unimaginable—and it has consequences, especially when someone directly asks for it.
Listen again to the story. A King calls in all debts. One servant owes 10,000 talents—usually meaning in silver or gold. 1 talent weighed approximately 130 pounds. So that’s 1.3 million pounds. At just $17 per ounce of silver that comes to 353.6 million dollars in today’s dollars. The King demands full payment, but he doesn’t have it. He pleads for more time with the promise to pay it all back. But instead of receiving a time extension on the debt—the King forgives it. Now that’s 353.6 million dollars of forgiveness. Got it?
Now this servant is having a great day. He wanted an extension but received a pardon. Life is oh, so good. Then he sees another fellow servant who owes him hundred pence or denarii. The value of a pence or denarius was known as a day’s wages, and in our terms, an average entry level job pays approximately $65 a day.
This forgiven servant was owed in today’s dollar, $6,500—or about 100 days of work. 6,500 compared to 353.6 million. The servant who had his debt canceled demands payment. The other servant begged for more time with the promise to pay it all back. Does this all sound vaguely familiar? But the response from his fellow servant is totally unacceptable to the forgiven servant—so he has him thrown into prison until the debt is paid in full. When someone is forgiven $353.6 million in debt, word spreads and spreads fast.
The other servants report it to the King, who calls this forgiven servant back before his throne, and lowers the boom. He takes back the pardon of debt and has that servant thrown into prison until the $353.6 million debt was settled. You may be thinking, “How could he just take back what had been given?” Answer is simple. He’s a King and He makes the rules. Now we come to that hard saying of Jesus. “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do…”
Now, we have established this is hyperbole—but it’s with a message and here’s the message: Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father! Here’s why your failure to show grace and mercy is so serious:
The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Disrupts
First, it cuts off the life-line between us and God. Our need for Grace and Mercy doesn’t end at our moment of salvation. Truth is, it has only just started. There is not a one of us here who is a Christian, who does not realize that we did not stop sinning when we were first forgiven in Christ. When you choose to withhold Grace and Mercy from anyone for any reason, God chooses to withhold Grace and Mercy from you—the connection is disrupted.
Second, it creates chaos in the community. What holds us together as the body of Christ is God’s Grace and Mercy. When you refuse to show Grace and Mercy, it destroys what God is trying to build—a community of broken people seeking and finding wholeness in the unmerited Grace and Mercy of God. It disrupts our connection to the life-giving Grace and Mercy of God.
The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Distorts
How does it distort whom God has made us to be? First, it is hypocritical. You demand from others what you think is right. The sign that we are acting based on what you think is right and not Grace and Mercy is that, like this servant, you act harshly. You speak severely and sharply to the other. It distorts the truth about God’s Grace and Mercy in you.
Second, it puts you back under judgment. If you insist there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for any person, then God will insist that there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for you. “But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” (James 2:13). When you fail to show grace and mercy, you will be turned over to those tormentors of consequences.
The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Degrades.
First, it degrades you by filling you with a sense of self-righteousness. You must see that your sins against God constitutes this kind of a debt, an impossible amount. Your selfish acts and thoughts, your willful choices, your lack of love toward anyone, the hurt you have caused others, your pride, your anger, your bitterness, your hates, and your lies; all these add up through the years to a debt we owe God which we cannot repay.
Second, it degrades the worth that God sees in others. Refusing Grace and Mercy to anyone is you telling them, “You’re not worth it!” And it crushes their heart and spirit.
Third, it degrades the Sacrifice of Jesus. When you withhold Grace and Mercy, you are telling Jesus, “You made a mistake dying on that Cross for them!”
So, how can you show Grace and Mercy to someone who has “trespassed” against you, the Grace and Mercy that has been lavished on you? Remember that Grace and Mercy does not originate in you. It begins with God. That’s what the slave who refused to forgive didn’t understand. It was not about him. It’s about God. You do not choose to offer grace and mercy. You allow Grace and Mercy to flow out of you. You share the Grace and Mercy you have already received.
Jesus isn’t talking about those initial moments when someone wounds you. It is difficult, maybe even impossible to offer Grace and Mercy immediately after being wounded. We need space and time to process it. Jesus is talking about 2 specific circumstances:
- First, it’s that moment when someone asks you directly for Grace and Mercy, and you refuse. You may think you have some good reasons and are justified. So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.
- Second, it’s that moment when you have had time to reflect on your initial unwillingness to show Grace and Mercy—and you continue to refuse to offer Grace and Mercy. So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.
On those days we need to remember the grace and mercy lavished on us. If you withhold Grace and Mercy for any reason—God withdraws that grace and mercy from you. Now, the difficult NEXT STEPS.