Vol. IX — No. 47 November 24, 1968


Mercy Received Must Be Shown to Be Kept!

Matthew 18:23-35

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants, And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents, But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made, The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest, And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done, Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me; Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him, So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

In Christ Jesus, whose forgiving mercy should move us to show the mercy of forgiveness to others, Fellow Redeemed:

Our text is taken from Matthew 18. What does Matthew 18 suggest to you? Most informed Christians know that Matthew 18 contains the passage on church discipline, If someone sins, he is to be dealt with privately, then with two or three witnesses, and finally by the entire congregation. From catechetical instruction on we have been conditioned to think of this passage as laying down the steps that are to be taken in discipline cases that may end with excommunication from the Christian congregation. We may so emphasize the procedure outlined that we overlook the emphasis of our Lord in this same passage. He was emphasizing the great lengths that children of God should go to and the great efforts that they should make in bringing a brother to repentance, in forgiving him and restoring him to an upright position before God and man.

Peter heard these words of the Lord” He understood his Lord—that if a brother sinned against him, he was to go to him in an effort to bring him to repentance and if successful, forgive his brother. Peter was conscious of the new law of love which Christ kept urging upon His disciples. But he was also an eminently practical man. How much forgiveness should he offer a person who showed hatred towards him? “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?” The Jews taught that a man should be forgiven three times. Peter realized that his Lord expected more of His disciples, He suggested an additional four times—seven in all. In proposing a limit to forgiveness Peter was implying that a man in forgiving was giving up a right which me might, under certain circumstances, exercise. Peter entertained the notion that if someone sinned against him again and again, he had the right ultimately to withhold his forgiveness. Jesus answered, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” And then follows the parable of our text in which Jesus elaborates this point. And what is the point? This that when our Lord calls us to be a member of His kingdom, he is not calling us to renounce the right to hold a grudge or to be unforgiving, for we have no such right. No, rather the Lord is telling us that anyone who accepts and receives divine forgiveness implicitly pledges himself to forgive.

This parable is our Lord’s own commentary on the fifth petition of the prayer He taught us: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” We are to receive God’s word of forgiveness with such radical seriousness that our whole lives become filled with forgiveness. Thus we dare not consider our forgiving others to be a reluctant forfeiting of some right that we have, neither dare we consider our forgiving an optional way of life. Rather, daily receiving and dis- pensing forgiveness is to be our life. This is it! We can express it in this way—


Turning to the parable let us first consider—

I. The reckoning and the judgment.

The king in the parable took an account of his servants. There is a day of reckoning for the sinner when the Lord calls him to give an account of his way of life. Sinners like to imagine that the longsuffering of the Lord in their particular case means that somehow they will be the exception—that they will never be called to account. The Lord sent Nathan to call David to account. He Sent Jonah to call the Ninevites to account. He sent John the Baptist to call the Jews to account. The Lord may permit sickness or accident or some form of misfortune to come to us to make us realize that we are being called to account. He may send the pastor or father or mother or friend to call us to face up to the charges He has against us.

The king found that his servant owed him ten thousand talents. Ten is the number for completeness; thousand for a vast multitude. The debt was great and completely beyond the resources of the Servant to repay. So it is with each one of us when we are sunmoned to give an account of our way of life. But why is it that we sinners tend to underestimate the size of our personal debt of sin? It is so easy for us to think of sin only in terms of felonies punishable by the law of the land. It is so easy for us to compare ourselves with the alcoholic, the drug addict, the sex pervert, the murderer, the arsonist—and then to declare ourselves quite upright. It is so difficult for us even to begin to grasp the concept of holiness—a life of perfect love towards God and man, which our God demands of us. He are so conditioned to sin and sinning that we cannot realize the burning wrath of our God against all sin. When we but begin to feel the wrath of our God against all and any sin, we can begin to feel the terror of Adam when God called him in the garden, the dismay of David when Nathan said to him, “Thou art the man!” Then must we cry out with David, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” Psalm 130:3. And with St. Paul, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Romans 7:24.

The king commanded that his servant be sold into slavery, together with his family. That was the judgment. “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” Deut. 27:26. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:4. “The wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23. With these words the Lord God judges and condemns us all! There follow now in the parable—

II. The servant’s panic and the Lord’s mercy.

“The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” Fear gripped the soul of the servant. He was willing to promise anything and everything to escape the danger that threatened him. So it is with the sinner! He imagines that he can repay the debt of his sins with words and deeds of future obedience. The sinner tends to belittle his God and entertains an inflated opinion of his own efforts. The sinner tends to treat God as a huckster, as a junk dealer, as a pawn broker. He imagines that God will be satisfied with his half-hearted, sin-stained efforts at obedience.

“Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” Lam. 3:22-23. “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Ex. 34:6-7. Here is our comfort! Here is our hope! when we cry out, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”, we know that we need not stop at this point, “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” We appeal for mercy. We throw ourselves at the foot of the cross. He pray:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy Cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for dress;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!

And we hear those words of comfort in the ahsolution: “The Lord hath had mercy on you.” “The Lord hath put away thy sin.” “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.” We stand before our God only because His mercy has removed, has forgiven, has cancelled our debt of sin. “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.”

The parable continues, showing—

III. The servant’s exit from the mercy of the king.

There is something extremely ominous in the words of the parable, “But the same servant went out.” He made his exit from the king who had shown him such undeserved mercy. He left without taking the mercy of his king along with him, for we read that he “found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence”—a pitiably small, an insignificant amount compared to his debt. But what did he do? “he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” His fellow servant addressed the same words to him that he had so recently addressed to the king. But what a contrast in the reactions! The king had had mercy on him, but he “would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.”

We need oxygen to survive physically. Without it, we soon die. When you board a commercial airliner, the stewardess will give you instructions as to the proper use of the oxygen masks if the compression system of the plane should fail. Spiritually, we live by the mercy of our God who daily and richly forgives us our sins. If the Lord would not remove and replenish that mercy day after day, we would die spiritually. To make an exit from the mercy of our King is as fatal spiritually as it would be to make an exit from an oxygen supply. But the spiritually dead person remains alive physically. He eats; he drinks. He goes to bed; he rises in the morning. He goes to work; he comes home. How can you determine whether such a person is truly spiritually dead? His relations with others will reveal his condition. When we associate with other people as members of a family, as friends and neighbors, as fellow employees and businessmen, it cannot but happen that someone will sin against us. This will happen not once in awhile, but frequently. The person who has made an exit from the mercy of his God will hold grudges, refuse to be reconciled, will demand his pound of flesh, will refuse to forgive. Such a person may be a member of a Christian church, an officer of the church, a respected citizen, but he is spiritually dead, for—

IV. Refusal to show mercy forfeits mercy, restores debt and brings punishment.

The fellowservants of the unmerciful servant reported his lack of mercy to the king. The king summoned him to a second reckoning. What was his crime? This, that he had received mercy but had been unwilling to show mercy. It was this that called down the wrath of the king upon him. He was delivered to the tormentors without hope of release.

“So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Oh that each one of us would take these words as seriously as our Lord would have us take them. It is so easy for us to nurse our little hurts. It is so easy for us to forget our own shortcomings and to magnify the wrongs, real and imagined, that someone may do against us. It is so easy for us to become so self-righteous in our indignation against those who may offend us in some way. It is so easy to become too proud to say those two little words, “I’m sorry!” Yes, it is so easy to deprive ourselves of the forgiving mercy of our God by refusing to forgive those who sin against us. Many a person that closes his eyes in death will open them in hell because he refused to forgive someone who had sinned against him. May this never become the experience of any of us!

We need God’s mercy. He expects those that He gives mercy to show that mercy in their lives by forgiving. If we refuse to show mercy unto others by forgiving them, we cut ourselves off from the mercy of the Lord. Our prayers for forgivenss go unanswered. He would eat and drink at the Lord’s table as a judgment against ourselves. The huge debt of all our sinsmmuld hang about our necks and condemn us to eternal torment. Oh, let us beware! Let not the sun go down upon your wrath. Let us forgive seventy times seven, for we need the mercy of the Lord every day, every hour, every minute of our lives. Let no one ever forget: Mercy received must be shown to be kept! Amen.

—Paul F. Nolting

Preached November 10, 1968
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.