Robert Jeffress - The Freedom Of Forgiveness
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress. Welcome again to Pathway to Victory. At some point in our lives, we've all been hurt by someone we love. And whenever that happens we're faced with an important decision. Will we let go of the offense? Or will we hold on to it until it turns into a tumor of bitterness? Well, today we'll turn to the parable of the unmerciful servant for an important lesson on how to let go of the past and find freedom through forgiveness. My message is titled "The Freedom of Forgiveness", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
One of my favorite stories is a story Gary Edwards tells, it's about the man that was bitten by a dog that had rabies. The man was rushed to the hospital and tests revealed that he too had contracted the dreaded disease of rabies. This was back in the day before there was any cure for rabies. So the doctor had the unfortunate task of informing his patient that his disease was terminal and incurable. "We'll try to do everything we can to make you comfortable," the doctor said, "But I strongly suggest you get your affairs in order as quickly as possible". The man was stunned he didn't know what to do. And finally, after a few moments, he summoned the strength to get a pen and a piece of paper and he began to write furiously. About an hour later, the doctor came back to check on his patient and the man was still writing. The doctor said, "Well, I'm glad to see that you're getting your will together". The man looked up at the doctor and said, "Doc, this ain't no will, it's a list of all the people I'm going to bite before I die".
You know, most of us carry a list like that in our minds, don't we? People would like to bite. People we would like to get even with before we die. That list may include a friend who has wronged you. Perhaps it includes a business associate who has cheated you. It may include a mate who has betrayed you. The fact is all of us are going to get hurt and we're going to get hurt deeply in life. We really don't have any choice about that. But we do have a choice about how we respond to those hurts. We can hold onto them. We can turn them over and over in our minds until they metastasize into a tumor of bitterness. That's what most people do. Hebrews 12:15 says, "Be aware that none of you come short of the grace of God. That no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it, many are defiled".
As a pastor I've seen through the years that unresolved anger, bitterness destroys individuals, it destroys families, it destroys entire churches. What is the alternative to holding on to offenses? Well, the alternative is to let go of them, to forgive them. And by the way, that's what the word forgive means. It means to release, to let go of an offense. All of us here this morning know that forgiveness is the preferred response. It's better to turn the other cheek than to break the other person's jaw, we know that. We know we should forgive but it's like cs lewis said one time, "Forgiveness is a beautiful word until you have somebody to forgive then it gets very, very difficult". How do we let go of those offenses committed against us? And why should we let go of those offenses? Jesus is going to answer that question in the parable we're looking at today.
If you have your Bibles turn to Matthew 18 as we talk about the freedom of forgiveness. Now, like all the parables, this is a parable that must be understood in context. And the context is actually beginning in verse 15 in which Jesus talks about how to deal with sin in the church. And so in verse 15 Jesus discusses this whole area of church discipline. How do you deal with a sinning Christian? And he says, if you see a brother who's involved in sin, go to him in private first of all. And if he listens to you, you've won a brother. But if he refuses to listen take two or three spiritual believers with you. And if he still refuses to repent, then tell it to the whole church, not for a gossip session but to allow the whole church to begin praying for his or her restoration. And if he still won't listen, the Bible says you're to turn him out of the church.
Again, to let him know what a serious sin he's involved in and also to maintain the purity of the congregation. That's verses 15 through 20. But then beginning of verse 21, the story or the subject changes. Look at verse 21 of Matthew 18. Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him"? Notice the subtle change here, Peter's not talking about sin in the church in general, he's talking about personal offenses. How do I deal with people who sin against me? Am I to forgive that person up to seven times? And most of us are tempted to think, well, Peter you dunce. Seven times everybody knows that's not the right answer. Everybody knows you're to continue to forgive. But understand when Peter lived there was a popular rabbi who taught you were to forgive people three times but the fourth time you're not to forgive.
And so Peter having hung around the Lord for a couple of years, understood that Jesus had a different standard, a higher standard. So when he said, "Shall we forgive up to seven times"? He was being exceedingly generous. By the way are you willing to forgive the same offense seven times up to seven times? Peter was being generous. And of course notice the Lord's response. He says in verse 22, "I do not say up to seven times, but up to 70 times seven". That was an expression that meant we're to forgive an unlimited amount of times. Why should we do that? Why should we hang that kick me sign around my neck for 490 times and beyond? And how do we do that? Jesus answers those questions with this parable. Look at it with me beginning in verse 23. He says, "For this reason, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he had begun to settle them there was brought to him one who owed him 10.000 talents".
Well, let me give you the reader's digest version of what's going on here. There was a king who was apparently having a serious cashflow problem. He needed money and he needed it quickly. So he decided to call in everybody who owed him money. And he started with the person who owed him the most money. It happened to be a slave who owed him 10.000 talents. Now, remember from last time a talent is about 80 pounds of gold. So think of this, this slave owed the king 10.000 talents of gold. 10.000 times 80 pounds of gold. I did a rough calculation, that would be about $6 billion. Here's a slave that owes the king six billion. But you didn't have to stop there and say, "How in the world could a slave earning 16 cents a day, that was the going wage, how could he end up owing $6 billion"? Did he play the lottery too often or maxed out his MasterCard? What in the world is going on here?
Remember, this is a parable. Jesus is using an exaggeration here to say, "Here is a slave who owes a debt he could never possibly repay in 10.000 lifetimes". So he has this debt he cannot repay. And to look at it beginning in verse 25. "But since he could not have the means to repay, his Lord commanded him to be sold along with his wife and children and all that he had and repayment to be made". Since he couldn't repay, the only natural thing was for the king to throw him, his wife and his children into prison. That was the right thing. That was the legal thing to be done. Verse 26, "The slave therefore, falling down, prostrated himself before the king saying, 'have patience with me and I will repay you everything. I will repay you everything'".
Can you imagine a sight any more pitiful? Here's the slave who owes $6 billion and he kneels down before the king and says, "King, if you will just have mercy on me, I'll start paying you back. You can take a little bit out of my check every week and I'll repay all of it". There was never any way that could happen. He owed a debt he could never repay. And the Bible says in verse 27, "And the Lord of that slave felt compassion and he released him and he forgave him the debt".
What a perfect picture of forgiveness? To release, to let go of a very real debt that somebody owes you. Let's stop here and make the obvious analogy. The king represents God. Well, the slave represents us. The Bible says all of us have sinned against God. And because of that, we have a debt. We owe God a debt we could never repay. But God in his mercy looked down on our need. And when he saw the great need, the great debt we owed for no other reason than the great love that he has for you and me, he decided to pay the debt himself. To take the loss himself. And that's what he did when he sent his son Jesus to die on the cross. God wipes, the slate clean. He writes over our debt paid in full. But this parable is not so much about God forgiving us as it is about our willingness to forgive other people.
This is where the story really gets interesting. Look at verse 28, "But that slave went out and he found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii and he seized him and he began to choke him saying 'pay back what you owe me'". Now a hundred denarii, a denarii was 16 cents, one day's wage. So a hundred denarii would be about $16. Perhaps it happened like this. Here is this first slave, he has been forgiven a $6 billion total debt. And so he walks out of the palace a forgiven person. Can you imagine the relief he felt when he had that $6 billion debt taken off of his shoulders? And I imagined as he walked out of the palace and he walked down the street, he replayed the king's words over and over in his mind. "You are forgiven, you are forgiven, you are forgiven of that debt". He kept reliving that moment. And then he began to think to himself, "Debt, debt".
Come to think of it, there's somebody who owes me some money as well. And so he goes out and he finds the slave who owes him a debt of $16. And he grabs him by the neck and begins to choke him. And he says, "Pay back everything you owe me and pay it back now". How did the fellow slave respond? Look at verse 29. "So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him saying, 'have patience with me and I will repay you'". Do those words sound familiar? It's exactly the same thing the first slave said to the king, "Have patience with me and I will repay you everything". But unlike the king, this first slave refused to show mercy to his fellow slave. Verse 30, "He was unwilling, however, and he went and he threw him in prison until he should payback everything. Now, when his fellow slaves saw what had happened they were deeply grieved. And they came and reported to their Lord all that had happened. And then summoning him, his Lord said to him, 'you wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you? And so his Lord moved with anger handed the first slave over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him'".
And then Jesus added the zinger to us in verse 35. "So shall my Heavenly Father also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart". I said the relationship between the first and the second slave is a picture of our relationship to those who wrong us. I want you to notice something here, this first slave had a legal right to demand his $16 back. He had a legal right. That was a very real debt that that second slave owed. He had a legal right to ask for repayment, but he had no moral right to ask for it, given the great debt from which he had been released. And that's what Jesus is saying to us. There may be somebody in your life who has hurt you and hurt you deeply. And because they've hurt you, they owe you. You may have a legal right to demand repayment. You may have a legal right to hold on to that debt that they owe you, but you have no moral right to hold on to it if you have received God's forgiveness in your life.
You see ladies and gentlemen the difference between how much somebody has hurt you, and how much you have hurt God is the difference between $16 and $6 billion. That's the point of this parable. As I look at this passage, I notice three principles about forgiveness that emerge from the story. I want you to jot them down. First of all, Jesus reminds us that forgiveness is granted not earned. It's granted not earned. Perhaps the single greatest misconception about forgiveness is that people have to earn forgiveness before you can grant it to them. That forgiveness is conditional. No, Jesus says forgiveness is unconditional. We grant it, we give it to people, whether they deserve it or not. You see that's what happened with the king. This first slave didn't earn his forgiveness. He didn't pay back what was owed to him. The king forgave him. He released him of his debt unconditionally. Why did he do that? Why was he willing to do that? Well, Jesus said in verse 27, it was because the king felt compassion for him.
That leads to a second truth that emerges from this passage. And that is refusing to forgive hurts us more than it hurts our offender. Refusing to forgive hurts us more than it hurts our offender. Notice what happened to this first slave, when that king heard about his unforgiveness. It says that he turned him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him, verse 34. Now, is Jesus saying God is some kind of sadist who inflicts torture upon us, if we are unwilling to forgive? Of course not. I like what one writer said. He said, what Jesus is saying is when we refuse to forgive, we enter our own private torture chamber. As we relive those offenses over and over again. Third, this passage reminds us that forgiveness is the natural result of being forgiven. Forgiveness is the natural result of being forgiven.
Look again at verse 31. It says, "When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and they reported to their Lord. All that had happened". Now, there is nothing in this passage to indicate that these fellow slaves were Christians. But even they, recognized that there was something desperately wrong with somebody who had been forgiven so much refusing to forgive so little. And so it is with us. There isn't any separable link between receiving God's forgiveness in our life and our willingness to forgive other people. You can't separate the two. And Paul said it positively in Ephesians 4:32. He said, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God and Christ has forgiven you". Jesus said it negatively. Matthew 6:14-15. "For if you forgive men for their transgressions your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men then your father will not forgive your transgressions".
Could it be any more plain than that? It's not that you lose your salvation. It simply indicates you've never experienced salvation. Because when you truly come to grips with who you are and the sin that you and I owe God, and when you truly understand what God has done for you, it's only natural that you would be willing to extend that same forgiveness to other people. That's the point of this parable.
When Dawn Smith was a teenager, her younger teenage sister named Sherry, was abducted from out in front of the Smith family home. Few days later, the body of Sherry Smith was found. She had been brutally murdered. Several days later, the Smith family received in the mail a letter that their dead daughter Sherry had written while she was being held by her abductor. Her abductor had actually allowed her to write a letter to her family before he killed her. And in this letter that 17 year old daughter among other things said, "Dad, I remember when Dawn and I were little girls, you had us memorize scripture. And I remember one of the scripture verses you put on our bathroom mirror, Romans 8:28, 'God causes all things to work together for good, for those who love him'. I know that I'm about to die, please don't let this ruin your life. I'll see you in heaven one day".
That's the letter the family received after they found their daughter dead. After that, South Carolina launched the largest manhunt in South Carolina's history looking for the killer of Sherry Smith. And during those weeks they were searching for the killer, he would actually call the Smith family home while he was on the loose. And he would taunt the family. Describing in gruesome details how he had tortured that girl and mutilated her. And that family would have to listen to that over and over again. Finally, he was apprehended. He was sentenced to two life terms and Dawn Smith told us that finally, she thought their ordeal was over. It had been put to rest.
One day, Dawn said she went to the mailbox. She pulled out a letter and it was addressed to her. And when she looked at the return address she recognized the name immediately. It was the name of her sister's killer, who was in prison. She opened up the letter and this is what the letter said, "Dear Dawn, since I've been in prison I have found Jesus Christ as my Savior. I know God has forgiven me for what I did to your sister. What I'm asking now is will you forgive me"? By the way how would you respond to that? Dawn told our church that day, it didn't come easily but immediately God brought to mind that verse, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven you. Forgiveness is the result of being forgiven.