To Forgive Is Divine! Matthew 18c

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Matthew 18:21-35

Stephen Caswell © 2005

Korean Kite Ceremony

Pastor Lewis Llewellyn says that the Koreans have a curious New Year’s custom. Desiring to forget unpleasant things and make a fresh start, each person determines what bad habits he would like to eliminate and what past deeds he wants forgiven. Then he writes the names of these evils on a kite and flies it high into the air. When it is almost out of sight, he cuts the string. As the kite disappears from sight, he thinks that all his faults and previous transgressions are forever removed. In the Bible, the word forgive, ajfihmi means to dismiss, to let go, to set loose like a horse, to cancel a debt, to pardon. What a beautiful description of forgiveness; letting go of an offense.

A famous quote says, To sin is human, to forgive is divine. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus lays down some guidelines for reconciliation and Church discipline. If we condemn a brother, we bring out the worst in him. But if we create an atmosphere of love and forgiveness, we can help God bring out the best in him. Peter thought about this matter of sin and forgiveness and approached the Lord. He asked the question, How many times should I forgive my brother’s sin against me? Up to 7 times. Peter thought that he was being generous. After all the Rabbis taught that you only needed to forgive 3 times.

Jesus response of 490 times must have knocked Peter for six. Who could keep count for that many offenses? But that was exactly the point Jesus was making: Love keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:5 Jesus openly challenged Peter’s legalistic attitude. Peter had made some serious mistakes. To begin with, he lacked humility himself. He was sure his brother would sin against him, but not he against his brother! Peter’s second mistake was in asking for limits and measures. God’s love doesn’t set limits on forgiveness. When Jesus said 70 times 7 He meant that no limits should be set. Then to complete the idea, He told a parable. We will see four things unfold in this parable that Jesus told; Guilt, Grace, Grudge, Judgment.

1. Guilt

Matthew 18:23-24: 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.

a. Sinner

The servants called before the King would have been like governors or provincial rulers. They served the king and gathered tribute from the people. These rulers could take something for themselves but were expected to gather every penny the King asked for. One servant was brought before the king who owed 10,000 talents. Josephus reports the annual tribute from Galilee and Perea under wealthy Herod to be only 200 talents; it was thus inconceivable that one official could get so far in debt. This was about 50 years of tribute. For average workers in Palestine this debt equates to 60,000,000 days wages. This servant must have been very corrupt to incur such a huge debt. He must have been involved in a lifetime of theft from the King. Naturally the servant was unable to pay.

b. Slave

Matthew 18:25: 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 King reviewed the situation. He saw the size of the debt, the wickedness of the servant and the loss that he had incurred. Then, the King commanded the servant and his entire family be sold as slaves to regain some of his loss. Tragically, the servant’s sin affected his whole family. Our sin always hurts others. Of course their sale would only bring in a pittance compared to what was owed. The King’s decision was just. This unfaithful servant had wronged Him and deserved much worse. He had sold himself into slavery through sin. He had shamed his master. The King couldn’t ignore his guilt.


Ancient Judaism often viewed sins as debts before God. The same Aramaic word is used for both. All of us owe God a huge debt. Our sin has brought God’s good name into disgrace. We have spent the righteousness that God gave us on sin. We are bankrupt in God’s sight and there is not a thing we can do about it. We have no way to redeem ourselves. God has every right to condemn us on the day that he settles the accounts. Praise God that this is not the end of the story.

2. Grace

Matthew 18:26-27: 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. The Plea

The servant was sorry for the consequences of his sin. He didn’t want to be enslaved along with his family. So he begged for patience from the King and promised to repay all. The servant still hadn’t comprehended the greatness of his debt, of his sin. He could never repay it. Yet he did something that was wise; the servant sought the King’s mercy and grace. The words fell down actually translate 2 Greek words. The first, πίπτω, means to fall down, the second, προσκυνέω, means to worship and adore. The wicked servant sought the benevolence of the king. The servant humbled himself and fell down before the king. He pleaded for mercy and the King heard him. The servant didn’t deserve it. But that’s what grace is, undeserved favor.

b. The Pardon

The King heard the servant’s plea and was moved with compassion. The word’s moved with compassion, σπλαγχνίζομαι, means to feel deeply, have pity, feel sympathy. The King was concerned for his wicked servant. So much so that He pardoned the servant.

The King released him from slavery and forgave the servant the entire debt. That’s grace. That’s mercy or as the O. T. puts it loving kindness. Psalm 103:10-12: God has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
This wicked servant received the undeserved favor of God. He got it for the asking. Yet it cost the King a fortune. He carried the servant’s debt Himself. To pardon the servant and his entire family cost the king dearly.

Yet isn’t this what God has done for us. Sin is like a debt that must be paid for. We owe God a huge debt. What’s more, we can’t do anything about it. For when we were still without strength in due time Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:6 Before God could set us free someone had to pay the redemption price. That someone was Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:18-19: knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.


God has freed us from our bondage to sin. He paid the debt for us on the cross. As He hung on the cross Jesus said, τεtaλistai, It is finished. What was finished? The work of salvation was finished. The Greek word also means, paid in full. Jesus Christ paid the huge debt that we owe God on the cross. Christ has suffered our punishment. God can forgive us our sins only because Jesus has paid the price. Perfect Tense, always finished.

Ephesians 4:32 says: And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Our salvation is a free gift thanks to Jesus Christ. But it isn’t cheap; because it cost God dearly. He gave His Son to redeem us from bondage to sin. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, 21: Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Barabbas And Jesus

There is a beautiful illustration of this in John’s Gospel. Pilate offered to release Jesus. But the crowd called for Barabbas to be released and Jesus crucified. Barabbas deserved to be crucified. He was a violent criminal. Yet he the guilty one went free. Jesus the holy One died in Barrabas place. In Romans 5:6 we saw that Jesus Christ died for the ungodly when we were still without strength.


What have you done about your debt of sin? Are you trying to pay for it yourself? You’ll never do it. Give up on that one! I found forgiveness from Jesus Christ. Why not plead for God’s mercy and grace? Why not accept Christ’s payment for your sin on the cross? God is merciful and compassionate to penitent sinners. Why not come to Him today?

3. Grudge

Matthew 18:28: 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!

The Buried Hatchet

Garth Brooks has a song which says, We buried the hatchet, but left the handle sticking out. One great obstacle of stumbling is unforgiveness. The hatchet seems to be buried, but people continue to grab hold of the handle when they want to use it against another. Jesus said if a brother repents, forgive him, that is, bury the hatchet and its handle. How many times, you might ask? As often as the brother repents, we are to forgive. Don’t grab hold of buried hatchet handles, for they become stumbling blocks to forgiveness.

a. Ingratitude

The forgiven servant immediately went out and found a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii. This was about 100 days wages. 1 denarii was equal to a day’s pay. The first servant had been totally forgiven 60 million days wages and now sought to reclaim 100 days wages. Talk about ingratitude. This parable deals with forgiveness between brothers, not between lost sinners and God. The emphasis in this chapter is on brother forgiving brother as can be seen by the previous verses and the conclusion. He took the other servant by the throat and threatened him. He demanded payment on the debt. The king hadn’t treated him this way. He had been just and kind, not heavy handed.

b. Inhumanity

Matthew 18:29-30: 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.

The king had listened to the 1st servant and was gracious. Now His fellow servant fell down and begged for time to repay the debt. It was a sum that could be acquired. This should have reminded the first servant of his plea to the king. The servant’s response should have moved the first servant to take pity on his fellow servant. Yet the first servant wouldn’t hear of it. He had him thrown in prison until the debt was paid. What hypocrisy! He’d been forgiven, why couldn’t he forgive? Jesus taught the importance of forgiving others. Matthew 6:12: And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Poison Christmas Card

I can remember a time when we received a Poisoned Christmas Card. I can’t tell you what was on it, except that it hurt at the time. We had always practiced hospitality. By doing this we made many good friends. We invited different folk along. One particular friend got upset that they weren’t invited to a dinner.

We didn’t know this until we sent them a Christmas card and received a poison Christmas card in return. Another couple also received such a card. We sat down and talked about it with the pastor. We prayed about it and let it go. Although it hurt we chose to forgive. I can’t say that I always respond this way. But whenever I start holding a grudge God removes His peace so I turn it over to Him. Sometimes I wrestle with Him. But the peace that comes from letting things go is far better than the ulcers of grudge bearing. Only forgiveness will release us and the other person from the offense.


If we hold grudges against our brethren, aren’t we being Hypocrites? If God has forgiven us a huge debt, shouldn’t we forgive others small transgressions? Jesus told this parable to Peter, who was a believer. Believers can and do hold grudges. It’s wrong and Christ says so. God takes this matter very seriously. Those forgiven must forgive!

4. Judgment

Matthew 18:31-33: So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, you wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?

a. Pride

The king originally delivered him from prison, but the servant put himself back in. He was to proud to forgive. The servant exercised justice and cast his friend into prison. So you want to live by justice? asked the king. Then you shall have justice! Throw the wicked servant in prison and torment him! I will do to him as he has done to others. The  servant only hurt himself by being ungracious to his fellow man. Matthew 6:14-15: For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Jesus warned us that God cannot forgive us if we do not have humble and repentant hearts. We reveal the true condition of our hearts by the way we treat others. When our hearts are humble and repentant, we will gladly forgive our brothers. But where there is pride and a desire for revenge, there can be no true repentance; and this means God can’t forgive us. The world’s worst prison is the prison of an unforgiving heart. If we refuse to forgive others, then we are only imprisoning ourselves and causing our own torment.

Some of the most miserable people I have met in my ministry have been people who would not forgive others. They live only to imagine ways to punish these people who had wronged them. But they were really punishing themselves. They also invite the punishment of God. This what we will look at next.

b. Punishment


Matthew 18:34-35: And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.


Notice that the king punishes the servant for an unforgiving spirit. He applied the law to the servant who had previously received grace. What a foolish servant! His pride and lack of compassion cost him dearly. God will punish any of His children who refuse to forgive the sins of their brethren. The torturers would chasten the wicked servant until he repented. God punishes His children to lead them to repentance. He can remove our peace and joy in life. He may use sickness to chasten us. But He will not ignore us if we hold on to an unforgiving spirit. What was wrong with this man? The same thing that is wrong with many professing Christians: They have received forgiveness, but they have not really experienced forgiveness deep in their hearts. Therefore, they are unable to share forgiveness with those who have wronged them.

If we live only according to justice, always seeking to get what is ours, we will put ourselves into prison. Life’s too short to hold grudges. What a waste of time and effort. Why do we bring judgment upon ourselves by doing this? The theme of this parable is forgiveness between brothers, not salvation for the lost. Colossians 3:13: bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

In other words, it’s not enough to receive God’s forgiveness, or even the forgiveness of others. We must experience that forgiveness in our hearts so that we become humble and gentle, forgiving others. We have no right to hold on to grudges. Jesus forgave those who crucified Him. Stephen forgave those who stoned him. Ephesians 4:32 says: And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Across and Up and Down

Perhaps you are a crossword puzzle fan. I enjoy filling in the squares with the proper letters. Often I cannot guess the horizontal word until the vertical word gives me a clue. Sometimes it is the other way around. So it is with the Christian faith. It has both a vertical and a horizontal dimension. It reaches up in faith to God. It reaches out in love to one’s neighbor. Nothing less gives a satisfactory answer to the puzzling problems of life.

The cross is our constant reminder. It has both a vertical and a horizontal part. It illustrates both upreach and outreach. Dr. Richard Roberts says this is shown by Jesus’ first and last words from the cross. The first word, he says, in which Jesus sought forgiveness for his tormentors, reveals a love that would not let go of man. And the last word, Into thy hands I commend my spirit, reveals a faith that would not let go of God. We need both if we are to fill the empty places in life. They interlock with each other.

The fact that I believe God has forgiven my sins makes me want to be a more forgiving person. And the fact that others have forgiven me when I have hurt or offended them helps me more fully to understand God’s forgiveness for my life. We must pray for both upward vision and outward compassion as we seek to solve the puzzling problems of life.


How about you and I, do we have a grudge against a brother? Are we refusing to forgive them for wronging us? Are we seeking to punish them? Are we maligning them to other Christians? God won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive our brethren. Let us seek out our brothers and put things right. Let us forgive those who have wronged us even if they don’t apologize. Only forgiveness will free us and the other person from the offense.


1 Thessalonians 5:23-24: Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

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