Forgiveness in the Kingdom

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

Main Idea: Those who grasp the enormity of their own forgiveness in Christ will then offer forgiveness to others. 

I. The Forgiveness of the King (18:21-27)

As the King is settling accounts, a servant is called before him who owes 10,000 talents. A “talent” is the largest denomination of currency in the Roman Empire, worth an estimated 20 years of wages. 10,000 talents would have been an insurmountable debt. 

Since the servant can’t settle his debt, he and his family are ordered to be sold into slavery, a common practice in the ancient world for those who could not pay back a debt. This man does not seem to grasp the severity of the situation, however. He didn’t need patience, he needed forgiveness. 

As the servant pleads his case, the King does the unthinkable and forgives him of this massive, insurmountable debt. He does so in 3 steps (18:27):

  1. He has pity (a deep compassion felt on the “inside”)

  2. He cancels the debt (he absorbs the cost himself)

  3. He releases him (he lets him go free)

Just like the servant, we have an insurmountable debt before God because of our sin. The King’s actions toward this servant are a picture of God’s posture toward us in the gospel. Jesus has “pity” on an undeserving humanity, he absorbs the cost of our debt himself on the cross, and he sets us free to love and serve him as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Colossians 2:13–14: And you, who were dead in your trespasses… God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 

Is this your story? Or are we, like the servant, begging for “more time” and trying to resolve our spiritual bankruptcy ourselves rather than asking for forgiveness? 

II. The Unforgiveness of the Servant (18:28-34)

This turn in the parable is meant to stir up outrage in the hearer. It was unthinkable for this servant to act this way toward a “fellow servant” after he had just been forgiven himself. A “denarius” was a day’s wage, so this fellow servant owed him roughly 3-months of wages. Though this was not an insignificant amount of money, it was nothing compared to the 10,000 talents that had just been forgiven. 

Paul Tripp describes some of the reasons why we are drawn to the posture of unforgiveness in our relationships:

  1. Debt gives us a perceived power

  2. Debt gives us a sense of superior identity

  3. Debt gives us a feeling of entitlement

  4. Debt puts us in God’s position

The problem is that these perceived “benefits” cannot deliver on their promises. The longer that we refuse to forgive and we harbor resentment, the more we are becoming like the evil that was wrongly done to us. 

Romans 2:4: Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

There are consequences for presuming upon the kindness of the king in this way. “Jailers” is literally “torturers” in the Greek. The intensity of this description points to the end of unforgiveness. All unrepentant sin eventually leads to torment as it disrupts and fights against God’s good design. 

We have two choices when we are sinned against:

  1. We can choose not to forgive and demand full restitution. The problem here is that it is usually impossible when the “debt” can’t be easily measured or calculated.

  2. We can choose to forgive and absorb the cost of the debt against us. We can do this knowing that God does not overlook sin, as it will be dealt with either on the cross or on the last day. 

Both forgiveness and unforgiveness hurt and are a form of suffering, but only one of them leads to a resurrection as we are empowered by Christ. “Unforgiveness is a relief that brings lasting hurt, but forgiveness is a hurt that brings lasting relief.” ~ John Onwuchekwa

The question that is posed to all of us: “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (18:33) The only way to truly and fully forgive others is to be moved and empowered by the mercy we’ve received in Jesus Christ.

III. The Life of Forgiveness in the Kingdom (18:35, 21-22)

There is an assumption here that the Kingdom of Heaven is marked by a life of forgiveness amongst its citizens. Forgiveness is the entrance to the Kingdom and it is the ethic that sustains the relationships within it. 

True forgiveness must be “from your heart” (18:35), not partially or begrudgingly. This whole-hearted forgiveness is necessary because Jesus indicates that we will be judged on the basis of our forgiveness or lack of forgiveness of others. 

“Jesus is not saying that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiving others. What He is saying is that the pride which keeps us from forgiving is the same pride which keeps us from accepting forgiveness.” - Frederick Buechner

Forgiveness does not mean “forgiving and forgetting” nor does it mean enabling harmful or abusive behavior. The passage immediately before this reminds the church of the importance of accountability and church discipline (Mt. 18:15-20). Forgiveness often deals more with you than the other person, and wisdom sometimes dictates that a fully restored relationship may not be possible (cf. Rom. 12:18).

Jesus’ response to Peter (18:21-22) is an indication that God’s people need to be ready and eager to forgive. This should be our default as we have experienced the grace of God. Jesus is warning that if you are counting, you’re not really forgiving. You’ve missed the point. 

Colossians 3:12–13: Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.