Chardon church of Christ

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The Unmerciful Servant

Posted by Chardon in Matthew 18

The Unmerciful Servant 
Matthew 18:23-35

Good evening. The scripture I’d like us to look at tonight is Matthew 18:23-35. You will certainly recognize this, and I’ll be referring to it and the surrounding verses.

I’d like to start off tonight with some quips I ran across recently. You may have heard some of these.
There is so much good in the worst of us,
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it hardly behooves any of us
To talk about the rest of us.—Edward Wallis Hoch.

Criticism is the one thing most of us think is more blessed to give than to receive.—Society of Automotive Engineers Journal

"The stones that critics hurl with harsh intent
A man may use to build his monument."—Arthur Gutterman

If you are criticized, you have either done something worthwhile, or refrained from doing something foolish. So congratulations!

INTRO: Most of us are quite good at giving criticism, in fact when it comes to fault finding most of us are experts, aren’t we? Please turn your Bibles to Matthew 18. Jesus has been talking with His disciples about right relationships and He said to them in Matthew 18:15-16 - “Moreover if your brother sins (some translations use the word trespass) against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” [NKJ]

I. Peter’s question. As usual Peter needed to clear up some things in his head. We owe a very great deal to the fact that Peter had a quick tongue. Again and again, he rushed into speech and Jesus used the opportunity for great teaching. He asks Jesus in verse 21, " Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” What Peter is asking is, “Lord what I really want to know is, how often I should forgive my brother, as many as seven times, is that enough?”
a. In Peter’s mind, he probably thought this showed he was willing to forgive more than most people would. He probably thought he was being very generous. You see folks; many Rabbis’ taught that a man was to be forgiven 3 times, but no more than 3.
i. This thinking was not without merit. In the opening chapters of Amos there is a series of condemnations on the various nations for three transgressions and for four (Amos 1:3,6,9,11,13; Amos 2:1,4,6).
ii. From this it was deduced that God's forgiveness extends to three offences and that He visits the sinner with punishment at the fourth.
iii. From this, in their zeal to set rules, and thinking that a man could be no more gracious than God, Rabbis’ taught forgiveness was limited to three times.
b. Peter doubled this and added one. Perhaps thinking this would illustrate how far he was willing to go to forgive.
c. Peter was certainly willing to forgive, but he made the mistake of measuring himself by human standards rather than by divine standards. Jesus answers Peter in verse 22, He says, “...I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
d. In other words, Jesus says, “Peter, you shouldn’t just forgive your brother seven times, but seventy times that.” Please don’t misunderstand what Jesus is saying here. He’s not saying, “You forgive someone 70 times 7 and when you get to 70 times 7 + 1 that’s it, you don’t have to forgive them anymore.” He’s not saying that, what He is saying is that a person should always be ready to forgive, it’s not a matter of counting; it’s a matter of conduct.

II. We are going to look at “The parable of the unmerciful servant”. Jesus is going to teach us some things about relationships, and He is going to reveal more truths about the kingdom of God. Our Scripture reading is Matthew 18:23-35 and we’re going to try and understand what Jesus is teaching His disciples.
III. The first thing He teaches them is “The nature of human judgment.” Human judgment is always condemning. Let’s look at the actions of the unmerciful servant first.
a. He’s just had all his debts cleared by the master and it says in Matthew 18:28-30 - " But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' "And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.”
i. This poor guy who only owed him 100 denarii was grabbed by the throat. This was nothing less than pure heartlessness. You see during these times in Greek and Roman culture it was common practice for a debtor to be taken by the throat and brought before the court to stand trial. This debtor was going to be made to pay his debt.
ii. What the unmerciful servant was doing was demanding payment, in other words he was saying, “Pay me what you owe me!” I suppose in the unmerciful servant’s mind he’s probably thinking, “Honest people pay their debts.” But what a short memory he has, hasn’t he?
iii. It was only moments ago that he had a debt of “ten thousand talents” cancelled, yet the text tells us that even though his fellow servant begged and pleaded with him, he didn’t listen and had him thrown into prison. The unmerciful servant expected from his fellow servant what he didn’t expect from himself. This is key, it is very easy for us to see other people’s faults and failures, but we’re so slow when we look at our own. In our human judgment when we judge people, we also condemn them.
b. Let me tell you a story of two prominent preachers that were getting together to have dinner. When the one arrived at the other’s door, he was met by his friend who was smoking a large Panama cigar. Surprised the first preacher said, “How can you, a preacher of the word, stand there, and smoke that cigar?” The second preacher poked the first in his stomach, and said, “The same way you, as a preacher of the word, can stand there with your big belly.”
i. What do we see in the lives of our fellow Christians? Do we see mistakes, which we call sins in other people’s lives, but they are only called faults when they are in ours? Do we see what is selfishness in others, but it is just mischief in ourselves? Do we see what is harshness in others, but it is just openness in ourselves?
ii. Even we as Christians often expect much more of others than we do of ourselves. We expect others to take the lead; we expect others to set the example. We expect others to do the work and we’re quick to criticize if they do not.
c. What did Jesus say about having condemning judgment? Matthew 7:1-5 - “Judge not, that you be not judged. "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you. "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck out of your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? "Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's eye.” As Scripture tells us we are indeed to judge, but judge what and judge how must be understood.
i. For example, before we go judging and condemning others, we need to take a closer look at ourselves. I know there are those who might say “I’m not judging I’m just inspecting the fruit.” We need to be very careful of the conclusion we draw from our inspection.
ii. We must look at our own life and see where we are in our relationship with God. Or in the words of Jesus when He’s speaking to those who claimed that a woman had been caught in the act of adultery in John 8:7, “Let you who have no sin throw the first stone.”[para] If only we were as gentle and as understanding and as kind to others as we are to ourselves.

IV. Divine Forgiveness. The second thing Jesus is teaching here is that when it comes to the divine nature of forgiveness, God is merciful and just. Matthew 18:23-27 - "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. "And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. "But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. "The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' "Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.”
a. It’s obvious that the king in this parable is God, the debt stands for sin and the servant stands for all of mankind. The first thing that strikes us about the King is His mercy. The King didn’t hold His mercy back from His servant who owed the debt. That’s the kind of God we have, a merciful God.
b. Psalm 130:7 says, “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” [NIV] Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, and let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” [NAS] Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” [ESV]
c. You see folks, God is willing to forgive all our sins. Isn’t He wonderful, isn’t He great? Isn’t He a truly awesome God? Although He is merciful to us, He is also just in forgiveness. The heart of this parable is that God will not forgive us our sins unless we freely forgive others.
d. What did Jesus say in the Sermon on the Mount? Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”[NIV] What’s He saying? He’s saying that forgiving others is truly a Christian grace. The Law of Moses didn’t obligate a person to forgive his fellow man; forgiveness of enemies wasn’t regarded as a virtue in Israel. But Jesus comes along and says, “Forgiveness is a duty.”
i. Let me ask you; have you ever seen your fellow brother or sister involved in a sin? If you have, what do you do about it? Do you just leave them to it, because you don’t think it’s your responsibility to say anything to them? What then if their sin is against you? What do you do about that?
ii. Let’s ask Jesus and see what He says, Luke 17:3-4 -, “So watch yourselves. "If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,' you must forgive them." [NIV] Jesus says, “If someone sins and they repent, then it’s a Christian’s duty to forgive that person.”
iii. You need to be careful not to get involved with their sin too, but if they have truly repented and are seeking forgiveness from you, you can’t hold their sin against them. That’s another key, holding a grudge, holding their sin against them will stop that person from learning from their mistakes and stop them growing into the likeness of Christ.
e. Ephesians 4:32 - “... be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” [KJ] There’s not an offence that is so great which your brother or sister can commit against you that you cannot forgive. I’m not saying it will be easy all the time. It can be very difficult, but what I am saying is that you need to forgive them because we are to forgive each other just as God forgave us.
i. Let me ask this, does God forgive with a grudge? Absolutely not! 1 John 1:9 - “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [KJ] Does this mean that a sin we see is to be ignored or overlooked? Of course not, the person who sins is to be rebuked and the person who repents is to be forgiven. Justice occurs when there is true repentance.
ii. God doesn’t pass over sins lightly and neither should we. Remember that the man who has no pity for his fellow man will not get pity from God. What else did Jesus say concerning forgiveness? Matthew 6:12 - “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” That text was never meant to be simply rehearsed week in and week out, that text was meant to be understood and lived by. God forgives as we have forgiven others.
iii. In other words, we must forgive others before we can be forgiven. Think about it! If we address God with hatred and bitterness in our hearts, if we pray to God knowing that we are at odds with our brother or sister. What we are doing is making it impossible for Him to forgive our sins.
f. Robert Louis Stevenson used to pray the Lord’s Prayer every day at home at his family worship. One day he was about to pray “The Lord’s Prayer” when he stopped and said, “I can’t pray that prayer today.” If you read most accounts of Stevenson’s life he was an avowed atheist. He admitted to his parents that he had rejected Christianity by age 23 and had obtained membership into the LJR League (Liberty, Justice, Reverence) whose motto reads; “Disregard everything our parents have taught us.”
i. Yet in a small book of prayers that he wrote we find this;
ii. For Grace
iii. By Robert Louis Stevenson
iv. Grant that we here before Thee may be set
v. free from the fear of vicissitude and the fear of
vi. death, may finish what remains before us of
vii. our course without dishonor to ourselves or
viii. hurt to others, and, when the day comes, may die
ix. in peace. Deliver us from fear and favor: from
x. mean hopes and cheap pleasures. Have mercy on
xi. each in his deficiency; let him be not cast down;
xii. support the stumbling on the way, and give at
xiii. last rest to the weary.
g. Folks, there are times just like what Stevenson experienced, when we need to be on our guard against empty phrases in our prayers. We need to be extra careful when we say, “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.” We need to engage our hearts, our minds when we are praying to God. In our relationship with our God, rote prayer, for that matter rote anything in worship is of no value, because other than our mouths moving, we are not there. It is only lip service.
i. We have all heard or read of Siamese twins being born joined in some part of their bodies. Surgeons most times can successfully separate them, and they go on to live healthy lives. Sometimes doctors can’t do anything, and they are born joined, and stay together for the rest of their lives, inseparable. Folks Jesus says that when it comes to forgiveness, God’s forgiveness of a person and that person’s forgiveness of others are inseparable.
ii. I recall a story I read about a man talking to John Wesley one time and he said, “John, I never forgive.” Wesley looked at him and said, “Then I hope sir, that you never sin.”

V. Debtors to God. The last thing I’d like to look at in this parable is that all men are debtors to God. I will borrow a story here from my UK friends. This takes place at a country church somewhere in England. One day they got a “special guest” at their service. An elder came up to the preacher and said, “Now be careful what you say today, you don’t want to offend the Prime Minister.” Well, the preacher got up, started his sermon, and in it said; “If anyone, including the Prime Minister, doesn’t repent of his sins, he will be condemned to hell.”
a. Folks, I tell that story to make the point that it does not matter who you are or where you’re from, you are a debtor to God, and you need to know it. Romans 3:23 - “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Or as Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 53:6 - “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”
b. Man’s relationship to God is one of debtor to creditor. We owe much more than we can ever pay. Jesus deliberately chose the two sums of money mentioned in the parable, because both amounts are extreme.
i. In Matthew 18:28 -, Jesus said that, “The servant owed his fellow servant 100 denarii.” According to the [NAS]. A denarii was a Roman coin, which was worth a small amount and I’m told the total debt was around $10.
ii. Jesus said in Matthew 18:24 - , that “The unmerciful servant owed the king ten thousand talents.” Folks, it’s hard for me to imagine just how large amount of money that was. The talent is worth around $850 in today’s terms, so that meant that 10,000 talents would be worth around $8,500,000. This was a staggering amount of money; it was an unimaginable amount of money.
iii. When you read history of this period, it was more than the total budget of the ordinary province. The total revenue of the province which contained Idumaea, Judaea and Samaria was only 600 talents; the total revenue of even a province like Galilee was only 300 talents. Here was a debt which was greater than a king's ransom. What’s the point Jesus is making? The point is simply this, neither guy could pay! So it is folks—with our obligation. How much do we owe Him?
c. Some people believe that they owe Him nothing and yet they breathe in His air, they enjoy His sunshine and rain, but they never give Him a passing glance or an thought in return. There are people who acknowledge that they owe the Lord something, but there are others who confess that they owe much. This parable of Jesus screams out and says to each and every one of us, “You owe the Lord much more than you can ever pay.”

VI. Payment. What can we give to God? Shall we give Him some animal sacrifice? Psalm 50:9-10 - “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” We can’t give Him animals because He owns the animals. Or shall we give Him our life-long service? Luke 17:10 - “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"
a. If our debt to God is enormous and if we really have nothing with which to release our obligation, then salvation truly is of divine grace and not of mortal merit. We all are debtors because none of us has anything to offer God.
b. I don’t know if you have noticed but this parable has many contrasts.
i. For example, there is a contrast between Peter’s number and the Lord’s number. Peter was willing to forgive seven times, but the Lord said to forgive infinitely.
ii. There is another contrast in the two debts. One was almost a silly sum of money, the other was unpayable. Likewise, the wrongs done to us and the injuries we receive from our fellow servants are amazingly small in comparison with the magnitude of our sins against God.
iii. Lastly there is a contrast of the creditors. The mighty king forgave but the lowly servant would not. If God is willing to forgive the more, then surely, we should be willing to forgive the less.

Consider this. The servant got into trouble after he was forgiven, have you been forgiven? If you have, what are you going to do with your forgiveness? Are you going to hold grudges against your fellow brother or sister? Or will you forgive them as God forgave you?

If you’re not a Christian tonight, then you need to realize that you have a debt to be paid. You can’t pay it yourself; you need someone to wash your debt away. Paul says to the Christians at Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

The people around you tonight were once like that, they were all debtors to God, but they were washed in the blood of the lamb. They heard God’s word, repented of their sins, confessed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and their debts have been paid. They didn’t pay for it themselves; they accepted the payment that Jesus offered God through His death on a cross. The precious blood of Christ pays for our debt.
Folks, He paid my debt and He paid yours and He’s waiting to pay for others. We need to take these words home with us and think about them deeply. “He paid a debt, He did not owe, I owed a debt, I could not pay; I needed someone to wash my sins away. And now I sing a brand-new song, “Amazing Grace”, Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.”

If anyone here is subject to the gospel call, please come forward while we stand and sing. “Amazing Grace” #257.


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