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Trinity 22 – Matthew 18:21-35

by pastorjuhl ~ October 31st, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            “O Almighty God, merciful Father….”

The opening words to the formula for the confession of sin in the Divine Service give it away before the absolution is pronounced. God is almighty, no doubt about it. He is all-powerful, all seeing, and all knowing. He knows where you stand with Him before you stand before Him. For the servant in our Lord’s parable, the account reads 10,000 talents and counting.

A talent is a unit of weight and mass. 10,000 talents is equivalent to almost 754,000 pounds. That’s a heavy burden. There is no way the servant could ever pay back what he owes his master. He could work night and day for the rest of his life and never come close to paying back the debt. Yet he has the temerity to fall to his knees and implore his master, Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.

The voice of the servant is the voice of human nature. We think: I have committed this and that sin; to pay for them I will do thus and so. I will fast “x” number of days, say “x” number of prayers, donate “x” number of dollars to charity, maybe “x” number of dollars to my church if there’s enough money left over, and pay for my sins this way. Human nature wants to be in control. It wants to pull its own water bucket from the well. It wants to lay the first brick. Human nature wants to be Number One.

Human nature is thrown the nastiest of curve balls when out of pity for [the servant], the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. Jesus says nothing about the servant’s promise of repayment. He is released and forgiven out of pity. His master took pity on him. This is a change of position on the part of the master. He looks at his servant in a different way. No longer is he seen as a debtor. He is a free man. All it took was a declaration of freedom. No works, no promises, and no guarantees. The mere speaking of words declares the debt forgiven and forgotten.

As I said earlier, the first few words of the formula for confession of sins gives it away. God is almighty, but He is also merciful. We see this in the forgiving of the debt of 10,000 talents. The forgiven servant leaves his master, he finds another fellow servant who owes the first servant 100 denarii. A denarius is another standard of weight and mass. 100 denarii is equivalent to about 13 and one-half ounces. This is almost a trivial amount of debt. Nevertheless, the servant forgiven of a tremendous debt seizes and chokes the servant with the modest debt. He demands instant payment. The other servant begs for time to repay, but the first servant is impatient. He throws the other servant in jail until repayment is made.

Again, this is a picture of human nature. Replace “talent” and “denarius” with “sins”. It’s a simple thing to mouth the expression “forgiveness of sins.” The problem is that when it comes to putting that expression into practice, we don’t know the first thing about it! It is a tremendous truth to believe that all my sins are forgiven and that by faith I am righteous before God. How totally different this is in contrast to the righteousness of this world as proclaimed by lawyers, philosophers, gurus, and intellectual giants. They all reach the same conclusion: righteousness must be an inner, inherent characteristic of the human heart and soul. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant teaches us that Christian righteousness is not a universal characteristic of the human heart that everyone shares. Jesus teaches us here that we become righteous and are freed from sins through the forgiveness of sins. God has, in His boundless mercy, made forgiveness possible by paying all our debts and giving us His only Son. That never-ending forgiveness exists with Him. With Jesus, we can partake of forgiveness with no limits. However, this forgiveness exists only with Jesus. When we possess Jesus, we have forgiveness. Forgiveness without Jesus doesn’t exist.

If we live with Jesus, we cannot take our fellow servant by the neck and make him pay for what he has done. Loving Jesus means forgiving fellow servants. Not wanting to forgive means not loving Jesus, not being with Him, and not possessing His forgiveness. It’s either Jesus and forgiveness, or neither of them.

Here we recall the Chief Hymn, “Chief of Sinners Though I Be”. Living in the forgiveness of sins means also to recall exactly where we stand before God and how costly it was for our Father in heaven to purchase our redemption. Our condition before God and the cost of salvation is summarized in the first couplet of the first stanza: “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.” 10,000 talents and counting doesn’t even begin to describe your balance sheet before the Throne of Almighty God. Yet He has mercy on you, not because of some condition within you that He sees before you were born. He has mercy on you not because you are able to pay Him back with interest. Our heavenly Father has mercy on you simply by sending His only-begotten Son to shed His blood for you. His blood speaks of a righteousness greater than Abel’s blood. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.

The blood of Jesus Christ speaks pardon from on high. All is accomplished in His innocent suffering and death for you. The balance sheet is clean. You are free. You are forgiven because of Jesus’ death. You live because Jesus lives, triumphant over the grave in His resurrection. Why, then, would you return to the standard default position of human nature and choke your neighbor for such a small debt, demanding instant payment and retaining forgiveness? This is what a dead man does; a dead man who has no need of life in Jesus Christ.

Because Jesus forgives your sins, you are able to forgive the sins of your neighbor. You have counted the cost of your own sins. You believe Jesus alone can atone for the sins of the world. In the mercy of Almighty God, the same mercy shown to you, you also forgive your neighbor his sins, even as he forgives your sins. This we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

“Merciful Father.” That’s exactly Who God is: the God of mercy Who daily throws the unhittable curve ball of forgiving the debts of sinners. As we sang a moment ago:

Oh, the height of Jesus’ love,
Higher than the heavens above,
Deeper than the depths of sea,
Lasting as eternity!
Love that found me – wondrous thought!
Found me when I sought Him not.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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