The text for this lesson is Matthew 18:21–35.
- Jesus, who teaches us to forgive as we are forgiven, welcomes sinners who repent of their sins and believe His promise of forgiveness.
- Law: I sin when I do not forgive others because it shows that I do not trust that God forgives me.
- Gospel: Jesus gives me faith to believe in Him and trust that He forgives my sins. He enables me to forgive others.
In Matthew 18, Jesus leads His listeners from the humility of children as the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, to the shepherd eager to find the lost sheep, to instructions on forgiving and restoring the erring brother or sister in Christ. Jesus knows exactly where these preliminary lessons are heading—the necessity of forgiveness in the Christian life. God knows that we cannot forgive with a haughty heart; thus, He uses the example of the humility of a child. He wants us to see His amazing love for us in the shepherd and the lost sheep as the foundation of our ability to forgive others. Then, Jesus equips us with instruction on addressing the unrepentant brother or sister in Christian love.
Peter sets things up for Jesus perfectly. How often shall we forgive? It’s likely that Jesus’ response frustrated or at least confused Peter. Our Lord’s goal is to pique his attention. Rather than a specific number of times, Jesus’ point is that forgiveness flows without limit.
With this in mind, Jesus’ parable makes perfect sense. The king, having no debt whatsoever, comes to settle with his servants. Out of pure mercy, the king forgives the servant who owes him an immeasurable sum that the servant could never repay. We might assume that such an act of generosity would arouse the servant to similar benevolence. Not so. Ignoring or at least forgetting his master’s mercy, the servant confronts a fellow servant to settle a relatively insignificant debt of three months’ wages. Finding the servant unable to pay, the forgiven servant casts the other into prison.
Jesus’ goal is that we connect ourselves to the first servant, recognizing God’s immense mercy in Christ, forgiving our unpayable debt at His own expense at the cross. Yet, so often, we are quick to receive the Lord’s forgiveness and slow to follow suit with our debtors.
The root of our wicked lack of forgiveness to others is sin. It’s manifested in a number of false assumptions we have regarding ourselves, others, and God. Some assume that God’s forgiveness was without cost, or at least obtained cheaply: God just let us off the hook, so it was no big deal to Him. They forget Jesus’ innocent, bitter suffering and death. Others believe that God was bound to save us: either as a result of His good nature or in the fact that because He created us, God had no choice but to redeem sinners.
The wicked heart inflates itself and condescends upon others. We take account of our own sins lightly, excusing ourselves or taking only partial responsibility. Then we bring a sharp measure and heavy rod against our brother and sister, marking every jot and tittle of sin and exacting perfect payment for each offense.
Finally, we doubt the reality and totality of God’s forgiveness in Christ for ourselves. We are unwilling to accept God’s gracious gift. As a result, we work feverishly to compensate with good works and self-sacrifice. What’s more, the heart that won’t have God’s forgiveness in Christ is consequently unwilling to extend that forgiveness to others. We withhold mercy because we perceive that God has not forgiven us.
Through faith in Christ, God encourages us to receive His full, free forgiveness in Christ. He intends that we live in peace and joy, knowing that our debt is long gone, never to be readdressed at a future date. In this freedom, we can share forgiveness with our debtors, that they would know peace and joy.