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Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity:
The Unforgiving Servant.
Matthew 18:23ff




The Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity, 2011

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson


Bethany Lutheran Church, 10 AM Central Time


The Hymn #39     Praise to the Lord                  3:1
The Confession of Sins
The Absolution
The Introit p. 16
The Gloria Patri
The Kyrie p. 17
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Salutation and Collect p. 19
The Epistle and Gradual    1 Thess 4:13-18
The Gospel            Matthew 24:15-28
Glory be to Thee, O Lord!
Praise be to Thee, O Christ!
The Nicene Creed p. 22
The Sermon Hymn #36            Now Thank We            3.40

 The Meaning of Forgiveness

The Hymn #316   O Living Bread            3.45
The Preface p. 24
The Sanctus p. 26
The Lord's Prayer p. 27
The Words of Institution
The Agnus Dei p. 28
The Nunc Dimittis p. 29
The Benediction p. 31
The Hymn #354   In the Cross 3.84

KJV Philippians 1:3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: 7 Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. 8 For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; 10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; 11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

KJV Matthew 18:23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 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. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 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: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.


TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
O almighty, eternal God: We confess that we are poor sinners and cannot answer one of a thousand, when Thou contendest with us; but with all our hearts we thank Thee, that Thou hast taken all our guilt from us and laid it upon Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and made Him to atone for it: We pray Thee graciously to sustain us in faith, and so to govern us by Thy Holy Spirit, that we may live according to Thy will, in neighborly love, service, and helpfulness, and not give way to wrath or revenge, that we may not incur Thy wrath, but always find in Thee a gracious Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one true God, world without end. Amen.

The Meaning of Forgiveness

Every so often someone reminds me about using theological terms that may not be so clear to everyone. One example is “justification.”

We may say, “Stop justifying yourself,” but we seldom use the noun in a sentence. Every so often, someone will say, “I felt justified.”

The term comes the justice system, naturally enough. How is someone judged innocent, forgiven of sin, in the eyes of God?

This does not happen by itself, although the Universalists claim it does. They say everyone is forgiven because God is so gracious. The grace of God is beyond our comprehension, but the Bible also teaches about God’s Law and condemnation of evil.

The idea that there is no right and no wrong comes from Carl Rogers, who claimed that he invented a new religion. He was right in a sense. That concept prevails in our culture, across all boundary lines. However, those who claim this lack of boundaries also severely condemn anyone who disagrees.

I had fun with two hippies in seminary. They made this claim in their role as guest speakers. They also condemned people who had color TVs, for reasons unknown to me.
I said, “There is no such thing as right and wrong.” They said, “Correct.” So I added, “So why do you condemn color TVs?” That perplexed and angered them.

Every philosophy or religion teaches some kind of forgiveness. By default, our fallen nature likes to think we can atone for our own sins, by doing good works to make up for the harm we have done.

But this teaches that Christ did not die for our sins. If He did, His atonement was not sufficient for our sins. I have pointed this out to Roman Catholics. Their system is an attack on the Gospel, and there is no escape from that charge.

The Bible does not teach universal forgiveness or universal condemnation, except to say that unbelievers are condemned already. That condemnation is not universal because of the Means of Grace, the Word and Sacraments.

Jesus is the source of all forgiveness, but that does not make Him another Mr. Rogers. (The man who played Mr. Rogers was very much like the character on the TV show. When he spoke at the Yale Child Study Center, where my wife worked, he got a parking ticket while there – from the Yale University police. Instead of blowing his stack, he said, “Well, isn’t that the way?” In other words, he did not have to act, he was like that all the time.)

Jesus is the Gospel incarnate, but He also taught the Law, especially when it came to lack of trust in Him and reliance on works for forgiveness.

Therefore, this funny and touching parable shows exactly what Jesus means, in a forceful way.

Matthew 18:23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.

The king represents God and the unforgiving servant, as he is called, is Everyman.  The funny part of this parable is the debt owed – 10,000 talents. In real money, it was all the tax revenue gathered from the province for an entire year. In essence, the servant owed the king billions of dollars.

25 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.

Every creditor has a right to settle debts. In this case, it is the debt of sin. “Forgive us our debts,” as we pray. The best way to raise money from an insolvent person was to sell him and his family into slavery. That was just as bad as it sounded. The slave at that time had no rights and was used however the owner wished. The Roman Empire had a rule that if one slave in a household committed a murder, every single slave had to be executed. That was done – they called it Roman justice.

Slavery for the whole family was horrifying, so the servant begged for mercy.

26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

This is ironic humor, because no servant could pay off this enormous debt, not even the interest. This shows us how our debt of sin looks in the eyes of God, without forgiveness.

It emphasizes how we cannot pay off that debt by doing good works. No one can work off the debt, and thinking so is dangerous, hardening, blinding. The denominations like to work this scam, so they let it be known that forgiveness comes with large estate gifts. The rich person will make up for leaving his wife for his girlfriend by building a new library or music building. And they will name it after him. And he will dedicate his own building himself while they praise him into heaven.

27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

The king should have scoffed at the servant, but instead He had mercy on him and took away the entire debt. This is the Atonement, the reconciliation.

We owe God because of our sins, and we cannot pay. Therefore, to reconcile the account, God has provided a payment, literally a redemption for our sins.

This message can be taught over and over, yet rude minds think of it only in the sense of being allowed to do whatever they want at any time. They are like dogs who consume Holy Communion and do not know what they have, as Luther wrote.
The servant heard the message of reconciliation, his debts forgiven, but the meaning never reached his heart. He remained unchanged by that mercy.

28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.

Notice that the debt owed him was nothing, coffee money, while the debt he owed was beyond comprehension. His hardness of heart was shown by his violent behavior toward his fellow servant. Surely he knew what it meant to be in debt. The king did not seize him by the throat, but gave him mercy when he absurdly promised to work off the debt.

Even worse, he was eager to exact justice for that tiny bit of money, even though his fellow servant asked for mercy and patience in repayment –

29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

Debtors’ prison seems to be an odd concept to us. Charles Dickens lived in one with his family. It meant that they lived in locked quarters and ventured out during the day to work. It was humiliating, so much that Dickens never admitted to it until later in life. He worked like a slave, as a child, in a terrible factory, to help pay down the family debt.

31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.

The forgiven servant is unforgiving, so his fellow servants reported on him. The results were unpleasant.

32 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: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

The universal forgiveness people forget two foundational concepts of the Bible.

One is the efficacy of the Word, which means the Holy Spirit works only through the Word of God and never apart from the Word of God.

The second foundational concept is the Means of Grace. God gives us His grace, forgiveness, love, mercy only through the Word and Sacraments.

These concepts are completely integrated in the Bible, from beginning to end, everything in perfect harmony, all heresies anticipated and defeated in advance.

The Word of God can be Law or Gospel. The Holy Spirit works in both. For Law, most people think of the sins of the flesh, which are obvious, and seldom about the spiritual sins that lead to carnal sin.

For instance, coveting is behind many sins. No one can see coveting, but they see the results of coveting. One pastor’s wife wanted a church job, so she took it away from the assigned worker, with flimsy excuses. Pastors do the same thing. They covet a call and undermine the man serving that congregation.

But all sin begins with unbelief. Lack of trust in the mercy of Christ leads us into variations upon the unforgiving servant’s role.

KJV John 16:8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 Of sin, because they believe not on me; 10 Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more;

To translate the parable – the servant did not trust in the mercy of God, so in his unbelief he seized his fellow servant by the throat.

The Office of the Keys is an example of how people are not simply forgiven in the name of love and warm fuzzy feelings.

The cruelest thing to do to someone enslaved by sin is to say, “You are already forgiven. You were forgiven and righteous before you even confessed.” That hardens the heart and blinds the person.

The unrepentant are not forgiven. One sign of lack of repentance is continuous lying, making excuses (self-justification), and acting persecuted. True, we cannot see a person’s heart, but we can see the actions stemming from the heart.

Both Law and Gospel work against sin. The Law holds up the mirror of God’s teaching and says, for example, coveting is just another form of stealing, if you entice another person’s servants or another’s wife or another’s pastor’s members.

The Gospel works against sin by providing healing medicine. We are weak, frail, and always wandering like sheep into the wilderness. The Gospel reclaims us as forgiven because the Good Shepherd gathers us and carries us home rejoicing. He knows His own, and we listen to His voice.

This is continuous. Believers feel their sin and seek the Means of Grace. They listen to the Shepherd’s voice and no other.

This we should take to heart – Luther’s advice about forgiveness. Those who are aware of their sin, humble, eager for healing, trusting in Christ – they should take comfort in the complete and free forgiveness provided in the Means of Grace.


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