6th May 2023
Read (Matthew 18v21-35)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
If we follow the Lord's advice (Matthew 18v15-20) and constantly seek restoration and peace in the local fellowship, how many chances do we give to the one who hurts us? Let's imagine someone called John. He was really sorry back in 2005 when he was caught indulging in slanderous gossip. He was really sorry again in 2011 when he tore strips off wee Martha in front of six witnesses. He was really sorry once more when his secret WhatsApp group was discovered in 2021 which unfortunately showed that John had returned to his slanderous ways. When do you or the church run out of patience with John?
If such a situation happened in your local church you may have turned against John back in 2005. Others might have given him another chance but walked away back in 2011. Some might have walked with John until 2021 but even they have drifted away. When should we withhold forgiveness and show John the door?
Peter asked a similar question saying “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (v21). Seven is the number that denotes perfection in the Scriptures. The Lord created in six days and rested on the seventh (Genesis 2v1-3) and the Holy Spirit is described as the seven-fold spirit (Revelation 1v4). Indeed if the number of the enemy is 666 (Revelation 13v18), we see that he always falls short of our Triune God who has always been 777. Therefore we could paraphrase Peter's questions this way "should I forgive my brother a complete number of times? Can I hold a grudge when my brother hurts me the eighth time?"
The Lord replied “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times." (v22). If seven is the perfect number and ten is a number in the Scriptures denoting size and magnitude (Revelation 13v1), Jesus multiplies seven by ten to make seventy and he multiplies again by another seven. My maths isn't great but even I know that seventy times seven equals four hundred and ninety. Therefore can we state that as Christians we must forgive four hundred and ninety times and then we don't need to forgive anymore?
Not at all. The Lord's point was that we are to keep on forgiving - our forgiveness should be inexhaustible. To underline this point Jesus taught a parable. A servant owed his master "ten thousand talents" (v24). A talent was a measure of weight, weighing as much as eighty three pounds. Therefore the servant owed his master a massive amount of money. The servant and his whole family were going to be punished but after the servant begged for patience, his master relented and forgave the massive debt (v27).
Later the servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii (v28). A denarii was a day's wage for a labourer in Roman times and so while one hundred denarii was not a small amount, it in no way compared to ten thousand talents. The servant who had known his master's mercy choked his fellow servant and had him thrown in prison until he could pay his debt of one hundred denarii (v30).
When the servant's master heard all that had happened he was outraged saying "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?" (v32-33). The wicked servant was punished accordingly and thrown into prison (v34).
I'm sure you see Christ's point. We are like the wicked servant who have been forgiven much by the Lord, indeed we have been forgiven more than we can ever know. Therefore how dare we withold forgiveness when a brother or sister approaches us seeking mercy. Jesus speaks to our hard hearts and warns "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." (v34).
Brothers and sisters, we will all meet individuals like John who keep on wounding us and slandering us and disappointing us. How often should we forgive such people? Jesus says seventy times seven, keep on forgiving, keep on showing mercy, this is our calling. I know this is a hard teaching and it certainly speaks heavily to my bitter heart but it is the way of the cross.
"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6v14-15)
Q39 What is the duty which God requireth of man? The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.