From: Su Min
Subject: (17 Feb) Forgive
Monday 17th February 1997
Epistle to The CyberChurch
GREETINGSTo those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance!
TEXTToday we look at Matthew_18:21-35. See also Luke_17:3-10.
CONTEXTJesus had been teaching about the desire to bring back all the lost sheep.
If a brother had sinned against you, go to him and sort it out. If this fails, appeal to him with one or two others. Only if this fails should you bring it to the wider congregation (Matthew_18:15-17). If your brother sins, rebuke him: If he repents, forgive him (Luke_17:3).
HOW MANY TIMES?Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" (Matthew_18:21).
EXTRAPOLATIONOne can read between the lines: Jesus had been teaching about reconciliation. If your brother sins against you, do not keep the offence festering deep within your heart: go to him. Patch up your differences: Forgive him of his sins. Peter hears this. It is a hard teaching. Is there no end to forgiveness? How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to "seven" times?
In Luke_17:3-4,_Jesus is specific. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent', forgive him."
The "seven" is a figurative number, a "perfect" number, an unachievable perfection in human terms: Simon Peter is saying, "Lord, what you ask is too much, that we forgive repeatedly, even up to seven times, in a lifetime?" Jesus is saying that there is no end to perfect forgiveness: that we forgive, even to perfection, even up to seven times a day, as a minimum, not seven times a lifetime as a maximum. But the disciples are hard of hearing: Not that their ears are not functioning, but their spiritual hearing is undeveloped. They fail to get the message. Jesus has to be more explicit.
SPIRIT AND INTENTJesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times".
Multiply a perfect number with a perfect number and you get an infinite number.
The spirit and intent of the answer is not that you stop at 490 times, but that there is no end to the number of times that a Christian is called upon to repeatedly forgive. To show them how important it is for us to learn to forgive, Jesus tells this parable:
THE PARABLE OF THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANTTherefore the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants (Matt 18: 23)
A temporal tale with an eternal perspective. Certainly the listeners in the crowd could picture this situation in their hearts: that a king, a ruler in one of their neighbouring countries, decides to square his accounts with all his servants. Many have loaned money from him. Some more, some less.
Now they are each called, one by one, to clear their debt.
On an eternal perspective, we are reminded that one day we will all stand before the great white throne in judgement (Revelation_20:11). On that day, The King will want to settle accounts with all his servants (Revelation_20:12-15). On that day we will measure the spiritual treasures we have stored up in the place where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew_6:20).
The sheep will be separated from the goats. (Matthew_25:33). For some, the King will say, "Well done thy good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy lord". (Matthew_25:21). But those found lacking will be seized and cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew_25:30). They shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew_25:46)
GREAT DEBTAs he began settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him (Matthew_18:24).
We are talking BIG money here. The talent was a big Hebrew unit of money. One talent is equivalent to 6000 drachma. One drachme (Greek) equals one denarius (Roman), one days wage. One talent is equivalent to 16- 20 years earnings! Assuming a labourer could toil at work from aged 20-40, before succumbing from the effort, that is one whole lifetime's earnings. Multiply that by ten thousand, and you have a colossal sum, in any currency. We thus have a servant who is greatly indebted to the king, ten thousand life-time savings, and now called upon to settle his accounts.
We ponder a while to think how one could get so in debt: this was no ordinary servant: perhaps a trusted minister, a political associate, a faithful soldier who had done in battle, a successful merchant who had multiplied money for the king: we do not know, but this person must have had some strong pull in order to have been able to borrow such a vast some of capital. But now he is called to put his account in order.
We ponder to a while to think of our great debt to God... a horrendous list of sins, condemning us to death, and eternity in hell.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENTSince he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt (Matthew_18:25).
A just decision: what less could the king ask for? but that the debtor and his family be sold into slavery, and all their worldly possessions confiscated, and sold off as compense for the great debt owed. A strict judgement, but well within the jurisdiction of the law of the land.
BEGGING FOR MERCYThe servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me' he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything'. (Matthew_18:26)
The debtor has nothing left to fall back on. He is down and out. He appeals to the compassionate side of the king. He begs for mercy. He begged for time to make good his arrears.
MERCY BEYOND MEASUREThe servant's master took pity on him, cancelled his debt and let him go. (Matthew_18:27)
Here was a servant owing his master 10,000 talents. He had no way to repay.
He was slotted for a lifetime of slavery: his wife and children too. The servant's master heard his cry for mercy and took pity on him, and responded to his request in a generous measure way beyond what was asked. He showed mercy to an extreme degree: He was released from slavery. He was released from debt. He was forgiven. The slate was wiped clean. The record was expunged. He could go scot-free, no punishment. His master cancelled his debt and let him go.
Mini lesson:Forgiving does not come cheap for the forgiver. To the master, it costs him 10,000 talents. But forgiveness provides release for the sinner. His debt is wiped clean away. What was owed, and could not even be repaid, is no longer owed. No more incarceration. No more slavery. Free to go. And so too for us: Forgiveness from God came at a bitter price: the life of His one and Only Son.
But forgiveness provides release for me, the sinner. My debt is wiped clean away. What I owed, and could never hope to repay, is no longer owed. No more incarceration. No more slavery. Not condemned to hell. No longer in satan's grasp. I am free to go. Eternal life. Thank you God!
PETTY HARSHNESSBut when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denari. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me'(Matthew_18:28)
This servant who had just been released of a debt of 10,000 talents, ten thousand times a man's lifetime of wages, and here he harshly demands repayment from one who owes him three months wages. He does not bother to ask nicely, but adds injury to insult by attacking the man, grabbing him and choking him.
HISTORY REPEATEDHis fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with and I will pay you back' (Matthew_8:29).
The debtor has nothing left to fall back on. He is down and out. He appeals to the compassionate side of the one to whom he owes. He begs for mercy. He begged for time to make good his arrears. The debtor asks for no more that what the first servant himself asked from the king, and much less than what the first servant himself received from the king.
MERCILESSBut he refused. Instead he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. (Matthew_18:30)
He who had been shown mercy did not show mercy.
He who had been forgiven did not forgive.
He who had been in receipt of compassion did not give compassion.
Instead he exacted the punishment which the letter of the law allowed.
BROUGHT TO MASTER'S ATTENTIONWhen the other servants saw what had happened, they were distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened (Matthew_18:31)
And so too the saints on earth and the guardian angels in heaven are distressed to their very core when injustices of this nature occur: the wicked oppressing the poor, the orphan, the widow, the alien. And all is seen by the seraphs, the four living creatures that surround God's throne: the seraphs are covered with eyes, in front and behind(Revelation_4:6): Each of the four living things has six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Nothing we do can be hid from their eyes. And they report to God everything they see. And even without being told by anyone else, God knows everything that we think and do.
EVALUATIONThen the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant' he said, '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? (Matthew_18:32-33)
The master calls the servant in. An evaluation is made. “You wicked servant". The master justifies his evaluation. "I showed mercy to you and cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Should you not have had mercy in a similar manner on your fellow servant and cancel all that debt of his because he begged you to?"
PUNISHMENTIn anger his master turned him over to the jailers until he should pay back all he owed. (Matthew_18:34)
The master was angry with the wicked servant. The lesson in compassion had not taken root. The wicked servant had chosen to be hard of heart. The wicked servant had elected to exact punishment. Although forgiven of a big debt, he refused to forgive a small debt. He was taken to task. No more room for grace. He had angered his master. He would suffer for it. He was turned over to the jailers to be tormented until he should pay back all he owed.
WARNINGThis is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart. (Matthew_18:35)
"I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times".
FORGIVEForgive as you have been forgiven.
Jesus came to preach the message of repentance.
Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near (Matthew_4:17).
Repent of your wicked ways.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John_1:9)
Jesus taught us to pray, "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew_6:12)
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew_6:14-16).
The Greek word used in the text for "forgive" is Strong's Concordance #863. aphiemi, "af-ee-ay-mee", to send forth intensely, to send away, to loose, to lay aside, to omit, to forgive.
To forgive sins is not to disregard them nor to do nothing about them, but to liberate a person from them, from their guilt, and from their power. We ask God to forgive us our sins, remove them away from us so that we do not stand under their power. Only God can forgive sins. We are never expected to forgive the sin of others because we do not have the power to do so, but we are expected to forgive the person, doing everything in our power, including praying for them, to see that their sin is removed from them, through the grace and power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Even on the cross, Jesus sought to forgive his tormentors. (Luke_23:34)
We have been forgiven much: Much are we to forgive.
We thank you that you have forgiven us,
You have separated us so far from our sins that we will not have to pay the price for them.
We thank you for Jesus who died, that our sins might be forgiven.
We thank you for Jesus who rose again, that He may lead us to life eternal.
In the name of Jesus who teaches us for forgive seven times seventy times.
For any comments or enquiries please write to Dr. Lim Su Min
Back to Antioch's Well
Back to Antioch's Home Page