Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jesus’ Story of Forgiveness

Unforgiving ServantIn my last post I wrote about what Jesus said about forgiveness in Matthew 18. Peter asked Jesus, “How often should I forgive my brother, seven times?" (Verse 21). And Jesus answered, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Then, as He often does, Jesus tells a story. It goes something like this: There was a slave who owed the king 10,000 talents. (Now if a talent was worth a dollar, most of us would think that would be a lot of money. But a talent was really equal to about 15 years wages! If the average annual income for us is $50,000, one talent would be worth $750,000. The slave owed 10,000 times that amount: that would be the equivalent of $7,500,000,000 – 7.5 billion dollars!)
How this servant ended up owing such a huge debt, Jesus doesn’t say. This fellow was a slave, and therefore had little personal earnings, if he earned the common wage of his day and gave all his income to the king, it would take him 150,000 years to pay off the debt!
I think Jesus used such a high amount (an impossible amount to pay back) to show how much we are in debt to God because of our sin. Remember, Jesus is talking about forgiveness. The impossibly huge debt shows how much I need to be forgiven by God. Just as the slave could never pay back what he owed, we could never pay back what we owe to God.
The king decides to settle his accounts, he calls the slave in, and since there is no way that the slave can pay, he orders him and his whole family thrown into prison. The slave cries out "just a little more time, and I will repay!" The king decides to have mercy on the man, and he completely cancels the debt! Wow!
Augustus Toplady wrote the song, Rock of Ages Cleft for Me – the second verse expresses so clearly the huge debt we owed and our inability to pay for it:
Could my tears forever flow, could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone
In my hand no price I bring, simply to thy cross I cling
If the story ended there we could all cheer for the master and the one he forgave. But Jesus continues the story and adds a twist.
The slave leaves and on his way out he finds a friend who owes him 100 denari. (A denarus was worth about a day’s wages, so he owed him about $15,000 in today’s money. This is no small amount, but it is absolutely nothing compared to the huge amount that he had just been forgiven.)
The slave grabbed his friend by the throat and said "Pay what you owe" The debtor said, “just a little more time, and I’ll repay!" the slave would have none of it and had him thrown into prison. When the king got wind of it, he summoned him and said "You wicked servant, 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?" In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
Understand this: unforgiveness is a self-inflicted prison. It is self-induced torture. It is a ball-and-chain of your own making. No matter what anybody did to you first, forgiveness or unforgiveness is your own choice.
After all, if it weren’t a choice, would we be told so many times to do it? If we had no say in the matter, would a loving God tell us to forgive? If it were impossible to forgive, would we be told to do it?
- Colossians 3:13 - Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
- Ephesians 4:32 - Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
- Luke 11:4 - Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’ "
And some of Jesus’ own words are even more severe:
- Matthew 6:14-15 - 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.
- Mark 11:25 - And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven… For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luke 6:37-38)
These tie in with the conclusion of Jesus’ story:
- Matthew 18:35 - "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
Jesus seems to imply that the extent that you forgive others is how much God will forgive you. Is that a scary thought? It sure looks as if God considers our forgiveness of others as important as His forgiveness of us.

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