Forgiveness podcast notes

The unmerciful servant Matthew 18:23-34

Rebecca is a quiet woman. She doesn’t often speak up in small group. But when the topic of divorce came up she couldn’t hold her tongue. She had been married to a pastor who was a renown retreat speaker. Throughout the course of her marriage it became apparent that he had a dark side. He dabbled in pornography, and on his trips to other cities he solicited prostitutes. Sometimes he asked Rebecca for forgiveness; sometimes he did not. In time he left for another woman, Julianne. Rebecca told her small group how painful it was for her. Some people from her church that had respected her husband treated her like it was her fault. Devastated, she found herself pulling away from human contact, unable to trust another person. She could never put her husband out of mind because they had children and she had to make regular contact with him in order to arrange visitation privileges. She also had to come in contact with Julianne. Every time she encountered them, her heart was broken. Sometimes it burned with anger. Sometimes she felt embarrassed and shame. Other times she just felt lost. How could this happen to me.

There are some situations that you are going through that make it easy to talk about forgiveness. For example I can say to you wives, Forgive your husband when he says something stupid. Because, let’s get real. That’s what husbands do. “That was a great meal… For a burnt offering.” “Hey honey, the house is a mess. What did you do all day?”

I could ask you husbands to forgive your wife for putting all her junk on your work bench. Yea it’s not right. My wife does it all the time and it bugs the heck out of me. Just put it away. I don’t need your clutter on my work bench. It’s sacred. It’s the garages holy ground.

I can ask you kids to forgive the dumb things that parents do. Let me give you an example. My sister once went to a dance and forgot her sweater. So my dad drove to the dance, found my sister on the dance floor and gave her the sweater. I know that sounds like the unforgivable sin. But I can ask you to forgive your parents for the dumb stuff they do. Because that’s what parents do.

But what would I say to Rebecca. I can’t say “Well, that’s just what pastors do. They solicit prostitutes. What are you gonna do.” How do you look in her eyes and say, “Forgive.”

That’s an extreme case, but some of you know what those feelings are like.

Some of you have felt that betrayal. Maybe you’ve been hurt by a parent.

Some of you have had your heart broken by a spouse.

Some of you have been betrayed at work by a Christian business partner.

Some of you have had your hearts broken by a lover who simply used you then moved on.

Some of you have felt the sting of living with an alcoholic parent.

How do I say to you, forgive.

I’m not sure if I can. But Jesus can. He can tell you to forgive. In fact, Jesus doesn’t give us an option. He goes as far as to say that if we cannot forgive, then forget about being forgiven. The reason he says that so strongly is because Jesus knows that forgiveness is the key to a better life for you. That setting that person who hurt your free is the key to getting set free yourself.

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Of course Jesus isn’t saying, keep track up to 490 times. What he’s saying is that forgiveness should be in endless supply.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.

Let me give you an idea of the kind of money Jesus is talking about. The wording in the original language is that ten thousand bags of gold would be considered roughly 150,000 years worth of wages. 10,000 was the highest number that ancients employed in their calculations. The debt Jesus is talking about is the highest debt imaginable. To put it in actual numbers if you made $50,000 a year this number would be 7 Billion, 500 million dollars.

25 Since 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. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.

Let me give you some perspective on this sum. A silver coin was considered a days wage so if you made $50,000 a year that number would be $20,000.

He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35

What Jesus is saying to us is, we should forgive the people around us. Sure they have sinned against us. They have broken our hearts and talked behind our backs and cheated on us and lied to us and stolen our money. But what they have done to you is so small in comparison to the sin you’ve committed against God. You’re sin is so much greater than what God has forgiven you of. It’s like comparing $20,000 to 7 billion 5 hundred million.

What’s the point of this story. This story isn’t about God keeping track.

This story is about two about two aspects of forgiveness

1. God forgives us

2. We need to forgive the people around us

Here’s the reality. God forgives. There is nothing we’ve done that’s so bad that he can’t forgive. Gossip, affairs, lying, cheating, stealing, wanting what other people have. Nothing is so bad that he can’t forgive. All he asks is that since we’ve been forgiven that we forgive. That we let people off the hook.

Jesus response to unforgiveness

In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

That’s rough. But it’s pretty clear to me that God wants us to forgive and move on. In the time we have remaining, let me give you a couple reasons why God wants us to learn this lesson.

Three reasons why you’re life will be better if you
learn to practice forgiveness.

When I forgive I don’t have to carry my old burdens around

An immigrant Rabbi once made this astonishing statement. “Before coming to America, I had to forgive Adolf Hitler. I did not want to bring Hitler inside me to a new country.”

You know what, I’ve noticed that in my life. When I’ve been hurt and I choose to carry that anger around with me I carry around this other person. I hear their voice. I feel that anger over again. I rehearse conversations I might have to show that I am right. The reality is, this other person probably isn’t even thinking about me. They’ve moved on. But I’ve got this burden that I have to carry.

Anne Lamott once put it like this ‘Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.’

Forgiveness alone can halt the cycle of blame and pain

Mary Karr tells this story in her book The Liars Club. Mary had an uncle in Texas who remained married to his wife but did not speak to her for over 40 years after a fight over how much money she spent on sugar. One day he took out a lumber saw and sawed their house in two and nailed up planks to cover up the raw sides. There the two, husband and wife, lived out their days in separate half houses.

Forgiveness can break the cycle. Phillip Yancey put it like this. Not to forgive imprisons me in the past and locks out all potential for change.

The pain of forgiveness is only a fraction as painful as the pain of unforgiveness

Lewis Smedes put it like this. Forgiveness is not the same as pardon. You may forgive one who wronged you and still insist on a just punishment.

Let me close by telling you the rest of the story that we started with.

The truth Jesus is talking about became very clear to Rebecca. She had this increasing sense that unless she forgave her husband that hard lump of revenge would be passed down to her children. She decided to let God determine, not herself, what he deserved. So one night Rebecca called her ex-husband and said, in a shaky voice, “I want you to know that I forgive you for what you’ve done to me. And I forgive Julianne too.” He laughed off her apology, unwilling to admit he had done anything wrong. Despite his rebuff, that conversation helped Rebecca move on.

A few years later Rebecca got a hysterical phone call from Julianne, the woman who had stolen her husband. She had been attending a ministerial conference with him in Minneapolis, and he had left the hotel room to go for a walk. A few hours passed, then Julianne heard from the police: her husband had been picked up by the police for soliciting a prostitute. On the phone with Rebecca Julianne was sobbing. “I never believed you. I kept telling myself that even if what you said was true, he had changed. And now this. I feel so ashamed, and hurt, and guilty. I have no one on earth who can understand. Then I remembered the night you forgave us. I that maybe you could understand. It’s a terrible thing to ask, I know, but could I come talk to you?’

Jesus doesn’t hold a sin clicker. He freely forgives a lifetime of sin.