3 Pictures to Take from the Unforgiving Servant
They say the most read stories on the internet are list ones. For example, "8 Words Older than You," "7 Ways to Cut Your Taxes," and, "5 Things to Know about Perry Indictment." The title of today's sermon is "3 Pictures to take from the Unforgiving Servant."
Take a picture of a king's ransom. Picture a pile of money, enough to ransom a king from his captors. 10,000 talents was the sum that Darius tried to buy off Alexander with to stop him from conquering Asia. It was the sum the Romans fined Antiochus the Great after they defeated him (Trench, 154). I could give you some of the attempts to translate 10,000 talents into today's money, but all you really need to know is he owed 60,000 times as much as he was owed by another.
That pile of money you have pictured in your head is your debt of sin against God. You see the big sins in the pile poking their ugly heads out here or there, but you have no idea of how huge the pile is. You will toss most of your sinful deeds on that pile. You'll stack a few of your sinful words there. But thoughts? David cries, "Cleanse me from hidden faults" knowing that there are far too many for his puny brain to get his head around. And Moses says, "You have set our secret sins in the light of Your face." Everyone, either here or in eternity, one day is going to see the king's ransom they owe God for their sins.
See that pile of money. That's what you owe, yet you think you can repay it. Not just you but everyone does. I listen to a lawyer on the radio who is an admitted, proud unbeliever. He has a friend who is a Christian. He says he asks him now and again: "You know how much good I do; you know how much I give to charity each year. Yet, you're telling me I'm going to hell because I don't believe in Jesus?" I'm telling you: try as hard as you can, make as many promises to do better as you want, be as loving as Gandhi, or as helpful as Mother Teresa and you'll not pay down your debt one penny.
If this is where you stop listening, you'll leave here like the unforgiving servant left the king the first time: Without grace, without mercy, without forgiveness and under the same massive debt that you came in here with. And like him you will treat others as you think you are being treated: graceless, merciless, unforgivingly.
The second picture to take away is one of hefty Christianity. To really see it you have to see a 1984 commercial. For those too young to have seen it, it's on the internet. It's for Hefty garbage bags versus bargain brands. The Hefty brand handles heavy trash without breaking; the bargain brand breaks all over. The tag line is: "Hefty, Hefty, Hefty; Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy." For those of you too old for the internet but can't remember the commercial go back to 1934 and see Popeye and his sidekick Wimpy. Wimpy was the sniveling, weasely man who always said, "I will gladly pay you next Tuesday for a hamburger today."
These two diverse pictures make my one point. Our promises, intentions, or attempts to pay off the king's ransom we owe to God for our sin and sinfulness are as wimpy as Popeye's friend and will only lead to a greater mess. Don't believe me? Look at other parables. The person who thinks he can pay for his sins he is the man who thinks he can stay in the wedding banquet without a garment; he is the foolish maiden who thinks he can get in though the door has been closed; he is the one knocking on heaven's door thinking he should be let in because Jesus taught in his street and ate and drank with him. All of these are thrown into the place were neither weeping nor gnashing ever end.
It takes a king to pay a king's ransom. It takes a God to satisfy the wrath of God. What do men resort to when they try to pay off God? A human sacrifice. They offer God the most innocent human they know either a baby or a virgin. Surely God will be satisfied with that. The prophet, who was surrounded by human sacrifice, says, "Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" Or as we sing in a hymn, "Ten thousand deaths like mine would have been all too few."
Okay I get it; only God can satisfy God, but me, human me, has sinned, has accumulated the king's ransom of debt. But all my promises to pay off the debt are sniveling and weak like Wimpy, and even when I try by doing my best to be a good person, to be a faithful person, to be a Christian person, I'm too weak to shoulder the bag of my debt, and my bag of good works, good intentions, and good promises only breaks.
I need a Savior who has the strength and holiness to pay off my debt, and One who when He does God will see me as having done it. This, of course is Jesus. Put down your wimpy promises and trash bags and step away from your debt of sin. It's yours no longer. Isn't that what Scripture says? Didn't John point to Jesus saying, "There's the Lamb that carries away the sins of the world?" Didn't another John say, "Jesus is a wrath removing sacrifice not only for our sins but the sins of the whole world." Didn't Peter say that your debt was not paid with perishable things like gold or sliver but with the holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death of Christ?
Christ Jesus has shouldered your debt of sin: all the things that you can't believe you did and all the things you can't believe God can forgive. Jesus shouldered you sins of deeds, of words, and even of thoughts. He kept stuffing them in His bag and though He stuffed and stuffed His hefty bag didn't break, and off He went to the cross to pay for them for you. Now when you feel the cold judgment of God's hot wrath you are to remember mercy. Now when you see the king's ransom you have piled high you are to remember that where sins abound grace does much more abound. You are to remember that you can give thanks to the Lord your God every single day because His mercy endures FOR-EV-ER.
There is one more picture to take from the parable of the unforgiving sinner. It's by far the hardest to paint. But it will rescue you from being Wimpy's, from ever promising uselessly and weakly to repay what you can't. You do realize that was the first indication that the Unforgiving Servant was lost. The king never thought he could repay his debt. He knew it was impossible. But not the Unforgiving Servant. He says, "I will pay back everything." I don't want you leaving here thinking you can pay back anything. I want you where Jesus wanted Peter able to forgive everything.
That's a tall order. And here's the picture I want you start with. See off in the distance a wooden tower hundreds of feet high. See men making their way to the top of that tower by flights of stairs. Up, up they go. Now the first group is at the top. Can it be? They're going to step off that high tower and certainly plunge to their deaths. Your breath catches as you see the first rank of three step off. For a moment they fall, but then wonder of wonders wings unfold from their backs and they fly, they soar. They do the impossible. They do what no man you know can do.
Forgiving the sins of others against us is just as impossible. People have hurt us, wronged us, caused us great pain and grief. With some, parents who should have loved us, cared for us, stood by us no matter what are the guilty party. With others it is people in positions of trust that violated them. If I focus on those sins against me, they get bigger and uglier. But you know what? They only get bigger and uglier to me. They don't do that for the person who sinned against me. In other words, the sins of others against me become more and more a problem for me, but not for them when I won't forgive them.
But how can some sins I'm not talking the snubs, the meanness, even the coldness someone might have shown us, but the betrayals, the abuses, the evils how can some sins be anything but huge, festering, stinking sores in our sight? From down here they can be nothing but that. From the air, from on high everything looks different. Buildings look like Lego blocks, cars like crawling ants, people look like specks, and sins against me are small. I'd say 60,000 times smaller than when I look at them from the ground.
God's mercy in Jesus the mercy that He cannot forget because the nail prints in the hands of His Son are ever before His eyes are the wings that enable you to do the impossible. These wings are made of God's forgiveness of you for Jesus' sake. They have been forged by the Blood, Sweat, and Tears of Jesus so they are incredibly light weight. These wings lift us off this earth where sin, death, and the devil reign, where our sin, our death, our devils reign. They lift us higher and higher.
Rita Coolidge sang of love that lifted her higher and higher away from disappointment that had been her closest friend till then. Of course, Rita sings of the love of a man. Still anyone who has ever been in love knows that genuine love from another human being is uplifting. It gives you energy, vitality, makes you think you can do anything. How much more so God's forgiving love for you in Christ? Christ having carried that huge pile of the debt of your sin out of the picture there is nothing standing between you and God now. With you He is well pleased. He is not ashamed to call you son, daughter, His beloved.
Put on the wings of His love, mercy, and grace; climb the tower Jesus erected on earth, His cross, and step off, you'll soar on those wings. Don't bother looking for the mound of your debt down there below. It's no longer there. Jesus took it out with the trash. And from this height if you do chance to glimpse the sins of others against you, my how small they are. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (20141005); Matthew 18: 21-35