Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant: The Power of Forgiveness, the Danger of Unforgiveness

"In "The Christian Leader," Don Ratzlaff retells a story Vernon Grounds came across in Ernest Gordon's Miracle on the River Kwai. The Scottish soldiers, forced by their Japanese captors to labor on a jungle railroad, had degenerated to barbarous behavior, but one afternoon something happened. A shovel was missing. The officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. When nobody in the squadron budged, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot . . . It was obvious the officer meant what he had said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. When it was over, the survivors picked up the bloody corpse and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing. Indeed, there had been a miscount at the first check point. The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others! . . . The incident had a profound effect. . . The men began to treat each other like brothers. When the victorious Allies swept in, the survivors, human skeletons, lined up in front of their captors (and instead of attacking their captors) insisted: "No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness." Sacrificial love has transforming power." -Don Ratzlaff, "The Christian Leader".

So today we come to the parable of the unforgiving servant. The central topic being, forgiveness, and the power of forgiveness.

As we examine this important concept I’d like you to keep in your mind the question, “How am I doing at this? Am I practicing this principle?” Because sometimes we start thinking about others, oh my mom needs to hear this message, oh I know a friend who needs to hear this. That’s fine, but today, focus on you and how well you forgive others. To forgive means, to not count it against someone’s record any longer.

We don’t invite further abuse, however, we live as if it never happened, their slate is clean as far as we go. It’s not written anymore. That’s radical. If you struggle with this, invite God to help you forgive, but ultimately it’s your choice. So don’t act like oh I just “can’t” yes you can. It’s a choice, what you’re really saying is I refuse to forgive. And for a Christian that is very dangerous, and you’ll see why in a minute.

This is a common with any sermon I preach, but God gives me opportunities over the week to practice what I’m going to preach about. And boy is that stressful sometimes. But hopefully I succeeded.

So lets take a look, at the genius of God in human form, sharing this parable, in Matthew 18:21-35 it says, “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?”

He’s asking this question because Jesus is talking with his disciples and he was sharing about the process for church discipline when someone is sinning you go to them and correct them in private, if they still don’t stop sinning you go with another person, and so on and so forth. So then it says, “Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

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

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled 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 handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

So we see this in many of the parables, this phrase that Jesus uses, “the kingdom of God is like…” God’s depiction of how to live our lives as Christians, and how to enter paradise are all described through parables, which describe the kingdom of God. It’s what you might call the rule book of the kingdom of God, how everything works in regard to morality, truth, heaven, hell, forgiveness, sins, righteous, all of it, the rule book is written in the parables.

This particular chapter of the kingdom of God guidebook is dealing with forgiveness.

We are all like the servant, who has sinned against his master, the God of the universe. We’ve all sinned in terrible ways. And what’s right for the master to do? To throw us in prison, to hell, forever, sadly. It’s a rough situation. But, instead God, through Jesus Christ, offers us forgiveness.

Just like the servant who owes 10,000 bags of gold. That is a high bill. Mine was a high bill, of sins, probably like 100,000 bags of gold worth of sins. Yours may have been lower, or higher, who knows, but we all owe that debt. And instead of throwing this servant in prison, the master instead sees his repentance his request for mercy, and instead forgives his debt and lets him go free.

That is what we find in Jesus Christ. Our debt is forgiven and we’re set free.

However, we very very much want to avoid the example of this servant. Because in the parable what do we see? He’s set free, then he runs into someone who owes him 100 silver coins. That is such an incredibly small debt, compared to 10,000 bags of gold. And we all think well he should be merciful to this person right?

But he isn’t! He grabs him by the neck and has him arrested.

Now stop right here and ask yourself, how often have I been unforgiving to people who have done wrong to me? Because as much as this unforgiving servant disgusts us. We’ve all I’m sure done the same thing. We have to be forgiving, because we’ve been forgiven so much.

I bet we could all think of a time where our hypocrisy was severe. We refused to forgive. We mistreated someone. We came down hard on someone. We held hatred in our hearts. That is not acceptable for us as Christians.

Then the master finds out about what has happened. And it’s not good.

It says, “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled 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 handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

So Jesus tells the parable, then in verse 35 he concludes the parable by explaining it. He says, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

If we come before God on judgment day, having been unforgiving toward our brothers and sisters, toward our friends or even our enemies, God will say to us, since you refused to forgive others, I’m not going to forgive some of your sins.

Then what happens? We would go to hell, because we have sins outstanding that are unpaid by the blood of Christ. So forgiveness is serious stuff. And Jesus importantly adds the distinction that we must forgive people “from the heart.” Meaning it can’t be a surface level forgiveness, but a full and complete forgiveness within our heart.

That is convicting and difficult it’s true. But we must do it. And if we are struggling to forgive someone, which I’m sure some of us are, for deeper hurts, for betrayals, and such, there are some tips I would give you:
  1. Pray for that person, for every blessing you want in life to be given to them instead. It’s hard to hate someone you’re praying for. Do it for 2 weeks straight every day.
  2. Pray and ask God to help you forgive. God will soften your heart.
  3. Write down your own worst sins. Then realize God forgave them. Now, consider what that person did to you, and you will realize what a small thing it is to forgive.
“A childhood accident caused poet Elizabeth Barrett to lead a life of semi-invalidism before she married Robert Browning in 1846. There's more to the story. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father. When she and Robert were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father's disapproval. After the wedding the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply. After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored.” -Daily Walk, May 30, 1992.

And I mean people who did terrible things to you. I mean forgiving people who hated you. I mean forgiving people who bullied you. I mean forgiving people who hurt our feelings. I mean forgiving people who even raped, or physically attacked us. We must forgive because God has forgiven us.

In conclusion today, remember the parable of the unforgiving servant and what it teaches us about the kingdom of God rulebook: We must, must, must forgive, because we’ve been forgiven so much more. Those who are participating in the kingdom of God, found in the grace of Jesus Christ must being gentle, soft-hearted, forgiving those around us for terrible wrongs done to them. Go out and do that everyday. It isn’t easy. But God will help you. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Amen.

I want to share one more illustration with you, from Corrie Ten Boom, the woman who hid Jews from the Nazis, and was later put in a concentration camp. After the war she struggled with forgiveness and letting go of anger.

“Corrie ten Boom told of not being able to forget a wrong that had been done to her. She had forgiven the person, but she kept rehashing the incident and so couldn't sleep. Finally Corrie cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest. "His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor," Corrie wrote, "to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks." "Up in the church tower," he said, nodding out the window, "is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there's a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we've been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn't be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They're just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down." "And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force -- which was my willingness in the matter -- had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether: we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts." -Corrie ten Boom