This week we look at the passage in Matthew 6 where Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” We all have debtors. We have all been sinned against at one time or another. Which brings us to a critical crossroads — what are we going to do with people who have sinned against us, our debtors? What does it mean to forgive someone just as God forgave you? And what happens if we don’t forgive others just as we have been forgiven? This Sunday we find out…
- I will give up the right to hurt people back, and wish them well before God.
- I will extend forgiveness to my debtors.
- I will do everything in my power to make sure we live together in grace and forgiveness?
Today we’re going to look at the section of the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus teaches us to pray: Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12) || And I want to start by talking about debt. What does it mean to have a debtor? || Let’s start on the financial level because financial debt is pretty simple to understand. || When you incur a debt, who has to pay it off? || I didn’t mean that to be a trick question. Okay, so let’s ease into this a little bit. How many of you have ever incurred a debt? Let’s say you had a mortgage, or had to make a car payment, or got a credit card, and had to pay something off. How many of you have ever incurred a debt? || How many of you found no one else offered to pick it up for you? You had to pay it off yourself. There’s a very simple rule about debt — You owe. You pay. And you can test this if you don’t believe me. Go into your bank and ask for an appointment with a bank officer and tell them, “This debt that I carry is just too much for me. It’s hampering my lifestyle, plus it’s just depressing. So, I’m not going to pay it back, okay?” See how they handle that. People who lend money are quite touchy about this kind of thing. They keep very careful accounts. If you don’t pay them back you’ll get a visit from a guy named Vito. || We have a phrase for people on the street who lend money and are determined to get it back. We have a phrase for them… an aquatic animal metaphor. We call that person a loan shark… not the loan bunny. He’s not the loan bluebird or a pleasant little animal. He’s a loan shark because the loan shark has got one rule — You owe. You pay. || Now Jesus says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Forgive us our debts means, “Forgive us, God, for the ways that we’ve sinned against you.” Because you and I have sinned against God. We have a mountain of moral debt we can’t pay off. || But we have also been sinned against. Everyone in this room has. You haven’t just been the perpetrator of sin. You have also been the victim of sin. You have been sinned against. You have some debtors. Someone you thought you could trust hurt you. They were jealous of you or said bad things about you, twisted the truth about you. Someone in business deliberately cheated you, took advantage of you financially. And they didn’t care that it would break your heart. Someone in your own family wounded you. A parent belittled you or neglected you or withheld affection when you needed it. A spouse left you or betrayed you. A friend attacked you. We have all been victims of sin. Everyone in this room has been a victim of sin. We all have debtors. Which brings us to a critical crossroads. What are we going to do with people who have sinned against us — our debtors? || Let me ask you a question — How motivated are you to extend grace to your debtors, to people who have sinned against you? || Maybe the truth is — this is no big deal for you. Maybe the truth is — if you’re really honest about it, extending grace to your debtors is pretty low on your list of things to do. || I think of a church where at the core of this church were two very powerful women who did not get along with each other. They didn’t like each other. They wanted to hurt each other and did. Without blinking they would repeat bad things about each other and distort them to make it worse. This went on week after week, month after month, year after year. || They taught the two main Bible studies in that church. And anytime a new woman came to the church, they would be quite friendly. But they were really trying to recruit that woman to get into their little group, because women had to choose. If you were a woman at that church, you had to choose which group you’d belong to, which group you would be loyal to — to study this book that teaches us to love our enemies and to forgive those who hurt us. || And what’s striking is not just that they didn’t forgive each other. No one in that church expected them to. People would have been surprised if they did. They just got used to unforgiveness. || And I want every one of us in this room today, from this day forward, to be very clear what Jesus thinks about this. I want to look today not just at a single phrase, I want to look at a single word — one word. Forgive us our debts, AS we also have forgiven our debtors. I think that’s one of the most sobering words in the Bible, that little word “as.” Charles Williams wrote, “No word in English carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word ‘as’ in that clause.” Because Jesus is making a correlation here between the way you and I treat our debtors and the way God Almighty will treat us. || So this whole message, really, is just about one word. And you and I better be real clear on precisely what Jesus means by this one word. || So we’re going to look at a story Jesus told in Matthew 18 that’s a commentary on this one word. || The context of this passage is Peter, one of Jesus’ followers, has a debtor. He’s dealing with forgiveness with someone in the community. He asks Jesus a question about how many times he needs to forgive his debtor. And Jesus as he often does, tells a story. Look at Matthew 18:23-25 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. || This is a story of a king who wanted to settle accounts, and one man owed him a very large debt. || I want to talk about the size of that debt for a moment. This translation says he owed him 10,000 bags of gold. The original language is — “ten thousand talents.” A talent was worth about 20 years of a day laborer’s wages. He owed 10,000 talents! That’s 200,000 years worth of work. What Jesus is doing with this figure is taking the highest number that people could comprehend and making it plural. It’s a little like when we say, “trillions of dollars,” or something like that. It’s a number that too high to calculate… kind of like the national debt. || Now already at this point in the story, several things would be very clear to Jesus’ listeners. The first striking fact would have been, “How would a servant come to possess so much wealth that he owed his king 10,000 talents?” Because kings in those days were not in the habit of giving national debt-size loans to servants. || And there’s just one answer. The king in this story is a person of staggering generosity. There’s no other way to account for this behavior. This king is extravagantly generous. || Then there would have been a second very striking fact to the people listening to Jesus tell this story. What kind of servant would take so much money from a king, blow the whole thing, and make no provision for the day of reckoning? This servant is unbelievably foolish and selfish. || Then there’s a third striking fact for any of Jesus’ listeners. The king of lavish provision is also the king of the settled account. He’s going to settle accounts. He’s committed to justice. This is not a story about getting off the hook because of vague bookkeeping by a sloppy king. This is not the kind of king who would say at the end of the day, “You did the best you could with what you had. We’ll let it go.” || Now Matthew, the writer of this gospel, understood about settled accounts. This is a rare story in that it’s only found in Matthew. None of the other gospels have it. I think there’s a reason why Matthew liked it. Do you remember what Matthew’s job was? He was a tax collector. Tax collectors understand about settling accounts, don’t they? Matthew knew what that was about. He had heard every lame excuse in the book. || So the time comes for the pronouncement of judgment, and the king says, “Sell him… sell his wife, sell his children, sell all that they have.” || This is not an unusual thing. Imprisonment for debt was very common in Jesus’ day to prevent escape and to motivate relatives to pay. But here, this debt is unpayable. That means this man and his wife and his children would be sold from one generation to the next because they could never pay it off… end of sentence, next case. || And this would all be no surprise to Jesus’ listeners because they knew the rule — You owe. You pay. || But then it gets interesting. Something happens in the mind of the servant. He’s desperate; he has nothing to lose. So he goes for broke. He throws up a Hail Mary. Look at verse 26: At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ Now I want you to notice the exact request. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” Remember the size of the debt. This is the national debt. What are the odds that this unemployed servant would be able to pay back a gross national product-sized debt? It’s a joke. It’s like promising to empty Lake Del Valle with a teaspoon. It’s not going to happen. At best, it’s an insult to the master’s intelligence. More likely, I think, this guy is still scamming. He’s still trying to get off the hook. || Whatever is going on in his head, this is the last ditch effort of a desperate guy. And all of Jesus’ listeners know just what to expect. They know the rule — You owe. You pay. He’s a just king. He’s settling accounts. They’re just waiting for the axe to fall. || Then Jesus says in verse 27 the king is moved with compassion. He looks at this frightened, selfish, desperate fool, and he’s moved with pity. The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. || He does two things, and in the original text he does them in this order. First, he releases the man — no prison, saves his family, frees his children, gives his home back. He’s released. But then he goes way beyond that. He forgives the debt. || Now you’ve got to think about this for a moment. This is a mountain of debt. This is a huge sum of money. And it doesn’t just disappear. Someone has to pay. Someone has to take the loss. Who pays? The king pays. He’s offering a whole new system of debt management — You owe. I’ll pay. This is the economy of grace. The king says, “I will pay the unpayable debt. I will take the hit. I will suffer the loss. I will take the whole price on myself so you can go free. You owe. I’ll pay.” || Imagine what happens when this man goes home, and he sees his wife. She won’t lose her home because of his foolishness. He sees his kids. They’re not going to spend their lives in prison. They’re free. They’ve got their life back, and they don’t even have to pay the debt. It’s all grace. || Now I want to pause here for a moment because this is really a story about the human race. This is your story. Jesus says there is a king, there is a God, who is lavishly generous and painstakingly just. And human beings have accumulated a mountain of unpayable, moral debt before him. And you and I add to that debt all the time. Every time we’re less than honest. Every time we fudge an expense account or a tax return. Every time we’re unloving with a five-year-old. Every time we should not have made a cutting remark, but we did. Every time we should have spoken in love, but we didn’t. Every time God gave us a gift and we weren’t grateful. Every time we gossiped. Every selfish act. Every racist joke. Every sexually impure thought or action. Every judgmental attitude. Everyday we add to this mountain of moral debt. And every human being is in the same boat, every one. || I’m a pastor. I’ve devoted my whole life to spiritual growth. It took me about 30 seconds to come up with that whole list. You know why? Because my wife has done every one of those things. || I’m going to pay for that one. || No, I’ll be real clear. That list is me. || But one day the king came to me and said, “You owe. I’ll pay.” And one day the king came to you, foolish you, with that mountain of moral debt however big it was, and the king said to you, “You owe. I’ll pay.” Do you remember that day? Do you remember when the king said to you, “Live in my economy of grace,” and it cost him the life of his Son. It cost him the best that he had, and he paid it without hesitation. I owe everything to grace. You and I, we owe everything to grace. || Well, that’s kind of the first act of this story. Then there’s the second act. We’re told in verse 28: But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. This time he’s the one who is owed money. And that fellow servant says precisely the same words to him that he said to the king. Look at verse 29. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.” Now Jesus’ listeners would expect, “Surely he will do for this man what the king did for him.” They were sure he would extend grace. They were sure because now this is one debtor talking to another debtor. In the first act, the story involved a servant and a king. They’re not peers. That king could have sold the servant at any time, which would have been well within his rights. But for a forgiven debtor to receive grace from a king and then withhold grace from another debtor would have been unthinkable. Also, Jesus’ listeners knew this man would show grace because this debt would have been easily payable. “This debt,” Jesus says, “was a hundred silver coins.” It was a hundred days of work for a day laborer. This second debtor was making an infinitely smaller request. And for this man to receive grace for a mountain of debt and withhold it for an ounce of debt was unthinkable. || Jesus’ listeners knew this man would show grace because his life had just been saved by grace. He was on the receiving end of the biggest grace operation in history, and they knew he would be waiting to overflow with grace at the first opportunity. It would be like a tiny way of saying, “thank you,” to the king. In a tiny way, he could do for this man what the king had done for him. It would be an honor to forgive this debt. || So imagine the shock of Jesus’ listeners when, in this man who was saved by grace, there is no compassion. There’s not a tear of pity. Look at the second part of verse 28 when he comes to this man that owed him a hundred silver coins. 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. He grabs him and begins to choke him. He’s treating this man with violence and contempt. He wants to hurt his debtor. He wants to feel anger and resentment and bitterness. He doesn’t forgive the debt. He doesn’t even give the man time to pay it off. Not only does he not forgive it, he doesn’t even give the man time when the man could have paid it off. He throws him in prison where the man has no hope. He violates in every respect — spirit, tone, word and deed — the king who showed him grace. || And here’s the deal. I wonder from the way Jesus told this story if the guy ever got grace at all. It’s a masterfully told story, and if you notice this first servant never asked for grace in the first place. He asked for the “works” plan. Remember he said to the king, “I will pay for everything. I can take care of the debt myself. I’m good for it.” He never asked for grace. And when grace was given there was no response, no expression of thanks, no brokenness, no desire to make right whatever he could. || There’s another man Jesus showed grace to named Zacchaeus. When Zacchaeus received grace, his response was, “I’ll give back four times what I cheated anyone, and I’ll give half of what I own away.” It was not to earn grace, but to live in it. || See, I think from the way Jesus told this story, this guy was offered grace, but he never really got it. He just wanted to get off the hook. And I’ll tell you — there is a world of difference between wanting to be forgiven and just wanting to get off the hook. || When you want to be forgiven, you want to rebuild a relationship. You want to repent. You want to set right anything you can, not to earn it, but because that’s part of reconciliation. There’s a world of difference, friends, between wanting to be forgiven and just wanting to get off the hook. || I think this guy just wanted to get off the hook. I don’t think he was interested in grace or forgiveness at all. || What’s clear is he had no intention of giving grace. He was saved by the king’s grace, but he wouldn’t offer it. || I want to stop again for a moment of application. Because I’m like the servant in this story. I know what it is to grab someone by the throat. I know what it is to want to hurt someone in my heart, to say hurtful things, or to withdraw my love. || I know just what words and actions will inflict the most pain on those I love, and sometimes I go ahead and say them. Even though this is someone Jesus died for. I do it anyway. I grab people by the throat. I’m like the servant in this story because I’m just a forgiven debtor. And the debt between me and God is infinitely greater than what any person has done to sin against me. || More than that, I’m like the servant in this story because I’m the biggest debtor I know. I don’t know about your debts. I don’t have access to your inner world, your secret hurts or private thoughts or hidden darkness. I only have that kind of access with one person, only me. I know my failures as a dad. I know my shortcomings as a husband and a pastor. I know the ways I’d like my character to be different. I know ways that sin keeps me from being and doing what God wants. I’m the biggest debtor I know. And you know what? You’re the biggest debtor you know. And in light of that, to withhold grace from some other poor debtor is just unthinkable. It’s just unacceptable. || Look at verse 31. Jesus says: When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Why does Jesus say there were other servants and they were outraged? Remember, Matthew is writing this story not about someone outside grace. This is not about some pagan outsider. This is a story about someone saved by grace, someone whose debt was forgiven by grace. Remember in verse 23 we’re told this is a parable about life in the kingdom. These are fellow servants of the kingdom. And when they see unforgiveness, a lack of grace by someone who is saved by grace, they’re outraged. || And so it is in the kingdom of God. Whenever people see someone who claims to be in the kingdom of God, who claims to be part of the community of grace withhold grace and forgiveness from someone else, they ought to be outraged. So I’ll ask you, when grace is withheld in our community, in our church, in your family, when someone grabs someone else by the throat, do you get outraged? || Do you talk to the king about it? || Do you do everything in your power to make sure we live together in grace and forgiveness? Or do you just get used to gracelessness? || Well, I’ll tell you — it should be unacceptable and unthinkable. || The king’s servants are outraged. And now we get to the final act. || The servant is brought in one more time, but it’s a different story this time around. In this interview there are no tears, no pleadings, no bargains. This time the king says to the servant, “You didn’t get it at all, did you? It didn’t penetrate. You have badly misunderstood me. You thought grace meant I was incompetent. You thought I would let you get away with whatever you wanted.” “You thought that because you were in with me you could be the same old, hurtful, self-centered, unforgiving person you were before. You were badly mistaken. “You were shown forgiveness, but you won’t give it. You were granted mercy, but you won’t extend it to others. You were showered with love, but you won’t love at all. You were offered the economy of grace, and you’ve chosen the economy of vengeance. Have it your way.” “Take him away,” the king says, “throw him into prison. Leave him there until he has paid back the unpayable debt.” Look at this passage, starting at verse 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. 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. And then comes one of the most frightening verses in the Bible: This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. || I don’t know how Jesus could make it any clearer. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. || You’ve got some debtors. Maybe it’s a mother or father. Maybe it’s a brother or sister. Maybe it’s a husband or wife. Maybe it’s a former husband or wife. Maybe it’s a former employer. Maybe it’s a former pastor. Maybe it’s someone in this room. Will you choose grace? || || I want to say a word about forgiving — about what it’s not. To forgive someone does not mean to excuse or tolerate wrongdoing. It doesn’t mean doing what the other person wants you to do. It doesn’t mean putting up with that which is not to be put up with. Some of you have experienced very deep wounds. You were abused maybe or betrayed. Forgiving does not mean allowing that behavior to go on or to have it be unconfronted. || It may not even mean to reconcile with someone. There is a difference between forgiving someone and reconciling with someone. If someone sins against you and refuses to acknowledge the truth and refuses to repent, you may not be able to reconcile. You can’t build on a relationship unless there is mutually shared understanding of truth and repentance where it’s appropriate. || Forgiving them means you give up the right to hurt them back, and you wish them well before God. And you can do that. It may take a long time. You may need a lot of help. But it’s the only way. || Walter Wink writes about a couple. Their names were Grossmeyer, and they were on a kind of peace-making mission visiting some Polish Christians years after World War II. They were there as emissaries of another group, and they asked these Polish Christians, “Would you be willing to meet with some Christians from West Germany? They want to ask for forgiveness for what Germany did during the war and begin a new relationship. Would you meet with them?” And there was a long silence. || Then one of the Polish Christians said, “What you ask is impossible. Every stone of Warsaw is soaked with Polish blood that they spilled. We cannot forgive.” || The Grossmeyers understood the emotion. They finished the conversation, and they were getting ready to leave. But the Polish Christians decided to close the meeting by praying the Lord’s Prayer — this prayer that we’re learning so much about these days. || They knelt down and they prayed as Christians have in every country, through every century for 2,000 years now, these servants of the King — “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come…” They prayed until they got to these words, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” And then they just stopped and couldn’t pray anymore. There was just dead silence. And then they were outraged. || And the one who said they couldn’t forgive a few moments ago said, “I must say yes because if I don’t forgive, I can no longer say this prayer. I can no longer call myself a Christian if I don’t forgive. “Humanly speaking, I can’t do it. But God will give us the strength.” || And 18 months later Polish Christians and West German Christians met in Vienna and established a friendship that lasts to this day. || And I wonder over the last 2,000 years how many marriages might have changed, how many friendships or families or churches might have been healed if when the Lord’s Prayer was prayed we just stopped at that line and let the Holy Spirit work. || And I think maybe the Holy Spirit has some work to do in us too, today, if we’ll let him. So I’m going to ask that we do that. || I’m going to say the Lord’s prayer, but I’m going to stop at, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” || And I want to ask you to do two things. First of all, remember the mountain of debt that God forgave you. If you can remember the day that it happened, think about that day. Think about what it cost God. Think about your mountain. || And then ask God to bring to your mind and to your heart any debtor with whom you have unfinished business. Ask God to bring to your Spirit any hardness of heart inside you, any lingering bitterness or animosity, any act or work of forgiveness or grace that has to happen in your soul. Ask God to bring that to your mind… and then resolve before God that you will forgive. || Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. || Now I just urge you to let the Holy Spirit speak to you. Maybe you have some very deep hurt. Maybe there is pain in your heart because of a mom or a dad or a brother or a sister. Maybe there’s something inside you that just wants to say so badly, “You owe. You pay.” But you know you need to forgive. There was a mountain of debt between you and God, and it’s just grace that makes it go away. So how can you withhold grace? Maybe you can’t forgive right now. Maybe the hurt is so deep you can’t. Ask God to help you get to the point where you can forgive. || Do you want to know when this world saw forgiveness at its best? It’s one day when the greatest man who ever lived, Jesus Christ, was lifted up to a cross. While they were pounding the nails in his hands, he looked down at them and said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.” || That’s our goal in forgiveness. || For some of you, you’ve got a phone call to make today. You’ve got a note to write today. You need to talk to someone today. You have some tears that you need to shed today. Maybe you should talk to someone before you leave here today. And at least begin the journey of grace and forgiveness. Maybe you should ask one of our prayer team members to pray for you so that you’ll have the strength to do what you know you need to do. || One of the most important things that Jesus ever taught his followers to pray was, “God forgive us our debts AS we forgive our debtors.” Alright, let me pray for you as Michaela and the team come to lead us in a closing song. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA