Tim Parker

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Below is a shot serman that I preached to our 8am BCP congrigation on Mat XVIII 21-35.

Peter asks “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?”
Peter is actually quite switched on here. Sometimes in the bible we see Peter really putting his foot in it. But this time, he starts out on the right track. He doesn’t ask ‘should I forgive my brother’ or ‘must I forgive my brother’ but ‘how many times shall I forgive my brother’. Peter has already realised that forgiving one another is a necessary part of our lives as followers of Jesus.
And Peter’s really on form this morning, because he’s realised another thing too. Peter asks “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?”.
Peter’s not living in a fantasy world. He knows that in a fallen world; a world in which relationships are marred by sin, there will be times when even our brothers and sisters in Christ will sin against us. And often, it is the sin of the fellow believer against his brother that is the most cutting and painful to bare.
And Peter asks how many times should he forgive that sin.
The religious teachers of the time had decided that 3 times was the appropriate limit to forgiveness and no more. Peter however suggests 7 times. Maybe Peter was being genuine with his suggestion, or may he was he just pridefuly trying to impress Jesus.
Who knows? It doesn’t matter, because as Our Lord’s answer reveals that Peter has not understood the foundation up on which the command to forgive is built.
“Not seven times” is Jesus’ replies, “but seventy-seven times” and from it’s Old Testament context and because of what comes latter, I think we are to take this as meaning that forgiveness should be without limit, again and again.
So, for Peter’s Correction, and our instruction, Jesus tells the parable of the forgiving king and the unforgiving servant.
It is a parallel in three parts. The first of which reminds us of the unimaginable and gracious forgiveness that God’s people enjoy.
Jesus tells of a King who has decided to settle accounts with his servants. One of his servants comes before him owing a debt of ten thousand talents.
This is an enormous sum on money.
King Solomon, who has was, we read in 1Kings chapter 10: “Greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings on the earth”, He received a mere 666 talents a year.
In the ancient world, one Talent alone was enough to buy back a condemned man’s life.
But here is a servant owing 10,000 talents: a massive debt; millions of pounds in today’s money. A debt that is completely unplayable.
The man breaks down and pleads with the king. He makes the impossible promise to the King that he “will repay the debt”.
And the King’s response at this point is not to pull out the calculator and work out a repayment schedule. No, the kings response is to act in grace and write off the debt. “The servant's master” verse 27 “took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.”
It is an unimaginable act of forgiveness. A lifetimes debt and more, wiped out with a word.
And it is this picture of God’s forgiveness that Christians must hold on to if we are have any hope of living out our Lords command to forgive again and again.
And let’s just remind ourselves of how amazing that forgiveness is:
It is a costly forgiveness: In the parable, the cost to the king is a treasury worth of Gold, but as the blood of Jesus testifies, the cost to God of our forgiveness is nothing less than the death of his son. It’s costly.
Secondly, the parable reminds us that God’s forgiveness is complete. There is no partial settlement here. The debt isn’t reduced to a manageable amount, it is cancel, completely, with immediate effect. And it is the same with God. He does not just forgive some of our sin but he forgives all of it.
Thirdly, we see that is unearned. We aren’t told that this forgiveness came as a reward for a life times service but that out of mercy the debt was candled. And it is Just so with God. The costly and complete forgiveness of God is given freely to the repentant believer. Unearned and undeserved.
And this costly, complete and unearned forgiveness has been received by everyone who has put their trust in Jesus.
We will not be able to live lives of forgiveness unless we first understand the forgiveness that we have freely received from our heavenly king and then seek to copy it.
What a shame that the servant in the parable didn’t learn that lesson
Jesus tells us that instead, the servant goes out and finds one of his fellow workers who is indebted to him, ceases him, demands repayment.
The servant refuses to forgive or to compromise and has the man thrown in prison. Completely failing to imitate his masters character of grace in any way.
And in the final part, Master and unforgiving servant are brought face to face, and the kings judgment is clear: 'You wicked servant,' he says, verse 32, 'I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?'
It is the king’s expectation that his servants will be imitators of their master.
The wicked servant has not, and so he faces the consequences, verse 34: “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.”
And as Jesus’ words remind us “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
It is our calling as Christians, as God’s forgiven people, is to display the character of God in our lives.
It is therefore necessary and expected that who has received the forgiveness of God, is to show the forgiveness of God in their lives.
It is not an easy thing to do.
But since when has the calling of the Christian been easy.
It is all too easy to forgive someone in word only instead of from the heart. It’s easy to only forgive the little things or to expect people to earn forgiveness.
But what a useless forgiveness that is.
What use would it be if God had only forgiven us in words, what use would it be if God still held our most grievous sins against us, what use would it be if God’s forgiveness came with strings attached.
No, God forgives from the heart and so must we.


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