All Debtors Rise!
In days gone by, at the beginning of a bankruptcy proceeding the bailiff would enter the courtroom and announce, "All debtors rise!"
Imagine the day when every man, woman, and child is gathered before the throne of justice. The Great Judge, Almighty God, takes His seat, while an angel resounds, "All debtors rise!" At that moment, who could remain seated? Are we not all debtors, morally bankrupt before an infinitely Holy God? What could we do? How could we pay Him back? You can't look at the person next to you and ask him for a loan — he's just as indebted as you are!
Jesus tells a story to open our hearts to this powerful truth.
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. (Matthew 18:23-25 ESV)
Debt in Jesus’ day was not the kind of consumer debt that we rack up on our credit cards. When we are in debt, usually it’s to people we’ll never personally meet. But then, people lived on the edge of starvation and ruin, often having to surrender their lives and livelihood to the mercies of a money-lender when things did not work out.
The man in Jesus' parable was probably a high-ranking civil servant. He was personally indebted to His Royal Highness, the King! And he owed an astronomical amount - ten thousand talents. Recent estimates suggest that this is the equivalent of $12 million. D.A. Carson remarks that "with inflation and fluctuating precious metal prices, this could be over a billion dollars in today's currency."
Obviously this man is in over his head. So the king, following the customs of the day, orders that the man along with his wife and children be sold into slavery. They could toil their lives away and not even come close to repaying the debt. Destitute, he falls on his knees and desperately cries, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ (Matthew 18:26 ESV)
Astonishingly the King surprises him with overflowing grace. The merciful King gives his plaintive servant more than he ever asked. “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:27 ESV)
At great cost to himself, the King forgives the debt free and clear! We can picture the relieved man leaping around his neighborhood, beaming with delight in his newly found freedom — bounding home to hug his wife and children, relishing all the joys he had almost lost forever.
But you know the rest of the story. The servant’s experience of forgiveness did not transform him into a forgiving man.
But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ (Matthew 18:28 ESV)
This was one hundred days’ wages — no small amount — a sharp reminder that forgiveness will cost us greatly. But then we must remember how costly it was for God to forgive us. Sometimes we will have to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us.
He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.
So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ (Matthew 18:29 ESV)
Note, he asked the same thing that his fellow servant had asked the king. Only his debt was much less, and he could conceivably pay it back over time.
He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
(Matthew 18:30 ESV)
This is exactly what we do when we refuse to forgive another. We minimize the enormity of our sin, and maximize the enormity of theirs. To refuse to forgive others is to confess that you don't really believe that you need to be forgiven. It is outrageously insulting to God when we ask him to forgive us for an astronomical debt, yet refuse to forgive our brothers and sisters much less.
When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘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?’
(Matthew 18:31-33 ESV)
To forgive means putting away the right to remain angry. We let go of bitterness, resentment, and the desire for revenge. To forgive is to give up our claim to be repaid for the debt we have suffered. When we forgive, we relinquish our right to hurt the other person for what he or she has done to us. We forgive just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).
And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:34-35 ESV)
When John Wesley was a missionary in Georgia, he had a difficult time with the colony's founder, a proud and heartless man named General Oglethorpe. Once the general said to Wesley, "I never forgive." Wesley wisely responded, "Then I hope, sir, you never sin." Ultimately, unforgiveness is unforgivable.
The more we savor the sweetness of God’s forgiveness, we will find the freedom and power to forgive.
Pastor David Sunday