If we were to begin a new study of the attributes of God, the characteristics of God, we could begin our study, but we could never plumb the depths or climb the heights of all that God is. We could begin with God’s omnipotence, His limitless power. We could move to God’s omnipresence, the fact that He is always everywhere and at all times. He is present with us this very morning just as He is present with those in every corner of the globe. We could talk about God’s goodness. God is the embodiment of goodness. He is kindness personified. He cares for all of His creation. We could spend week after week talking about the love of God. We could talk about the immutability of Almighty God. God does not change. Everything around us changes. We change. We are born, we live, we die, and in that process we experience so many changes throughout the years we are given, but God does not change. We are told, in Malachi 3:6,
6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (Malachi 3:6 NIVO)
Not only do we change, but those around us change as well. Relationships come and then something happens and they are lost. Friends and family members die. In a world that is constantly changing it is so comforting, such a great source of security, to know that God never changes.
There are so many attributes of God that we could devote our lives to studying and understanding. By studying the Scriptures we can learn that God is just, God is holy, God is omniscient, He knows everything and there is nothing that He does not know. I could go on and on and take all of our time in worship this morning to describe to you the attributes of our God. There is one attribute of God that I would like to focus on this morning because it is the foundation of the lesson Jesus taught in His parable of the unmerciful servant. God is full of grace. Let’s read our parable for today and then we’ll talk some more.
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35 NIVO)
In the parable Jesus told a man owed a debt he could never pay. The debt was so large that even if all of his friends, his richest friends, including Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet, threw in their last penny, the debt could never be paid. Yet, even with this great debt, the king forgave the man and set him free. There is no doubt who Jesus had in mind when He told the story. The man who had the debt is you, me, and every other person who has ever lived. The forgiving king is God, who is full of grace.
It is interesting to me that many people today will talk about the “God” of the Old Testament as being full of wrath and the Jesus of the New Testament as being full of grace, mercy, and love. God and Jesus are not at odds at how to deal with humanity. Jesus is God incarnate, God in the flesh. There are not two Gods, there is only one God. Those who are quick to point out the wrath of God in the Old Testament apparently have never read the verses in the New Testament that speak of God’s judgment and wrath. Those who dismiss the Old Testament because it speaks of God’s judgment and wrath, have most certainly not read enough of it because in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, we read over and over again that God is full of grace. Let me show you just a few of the places. Turn with me to Psalm 86:15 and let’s read together.
15 But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86:15 NIVO)
God is compassionate. God is gracious. God is slow to anger, He is abounding, spilling over, with love and faithfulness. Let’s continue. Turn to Psalm 103:8-12 with me.
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12 NIVO)
God does not treat us as our sins deserve. How high are the heavens above the earth? You can’t measure it right? And neither can you measure the love of God. How far is the east from the west? Once again, you can’t measure it, but you can know that if you will confess your sins to God He will remove your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. That is so unlike people isn’t it? We might tell our husband or wife, kids, parents, friends, teammates, or co-workers that we’ve forgiven them if they have offended or hurt us. Don’t kid yourself, we don’t forgive and refuse to ever bring it up again. No, we’ll keep it tucked away in our hip pocket so we can remind them of what they’ve done when we need to. It is so good to know that God is not like us, isn’t it? I want to share one more example with you. Turn with me to Isaiah 55:7-9.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:7-9 NIVO)
We’ve often heard, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” but not in context. God invites the wicked to turn from their ways and the evil person to turn from his evil thoughts and they will find mercy as God will “freely pardon” them. This is not the way we deal with one another and that is why God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”
The man who owed the debt he could never repay was destined to debtors prison. There would be no protests outside the king’s palace and no cries of “No Justice! No Peace!” echoing throughout the kingdom. The man owed a debt. He couldn’t pay the debt, not in a million years, and yet we read in verse 27,
27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. (Matthew 18:27 NIVO)
See that word, “pity?” Don’t think of our word pity, it’s too weak. Our pity is full of emotion, but not followed up with action. The Greek word, “splagchnizomai” means, “to be moved in one’s bowels.” We talk about being moved in our hearts, but in New Testament times the “bowels” were believed to be the center of love and emotion. The king was moved with compassion, compassion that led him to do something. Even though it cost the king greatly, we read that he “canceled the debt and let him go.” This same Greek word for “pity” is used several times about Jesus. Let me show you two instances. Turn with me to Matthew 14:14.
14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14 NIVO)
Jesus was moved and then He acted. Far too often we learn about a situation that troubles us, saddens us, moves us, and we feel bad for the person, but we don’t act. Jesus was moved and He acted. Turn with me Mark 6:34 and I’ll give you another example.
34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. (Mark 6:34 NIVO)
You can see, Jesus, when He was moved by a person’s predicament, He acted. It was only natural for Jesus to tell a story about a king who was moved by compassion and forgave. That’s what Jesus did. I want you to think for a moment. Put yourself in the man’s shoes. If you owed someone more than you could ever earn in ten lifetimes and you knew the consequences of your debt would be that you would be locked away forever, but the man forgave your debt, tore up the note, and set you free…how would you respond to the man? I’ve thought about this long and hard this past week. I’ve decided there is nothing I wouldn’t do for that man if he needed my help. I would never forget what he did for me.
In the parable Jesus told, the man who was forgiven such a great debt left the king’s presence and found another man, a man who owed him let’s say one hundred dollars to put things into perspective. He told the man to pay up! It’s interesting that the man responded to him in the same way he responded to the king when he couldn’t pay. Both men responded by saying, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.” Did he show the same mercy and grace to the man who owed him, but couldn’t pay? Turn with me to Matthew 18:29-30 and let’s read together.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. (Matthew 18:29-30 NIVO)
Atta boy! Manhandle him. Make him squirm. Make him pay! That’s the predominant path most of us choose when dealing with others who have hurt us, offended us, sinned against us. The really strange thing is this: We can recount the times and ways in which others have forgiven us and yet refuse to forgive others or say we forgive them, but hold what they have done over their heads for years to come. How can this be? Well, for those who do not follow Jesus it’s not hard to understand this at all. We are naturally led by our emotions and when we are hurt we want the person who has hurt us to feel the same kind of pain we feel. It’s human nature to get back at those who have hurt us.
There is another path and it is the path of grace that leads to forgiveness. Not simply telling someone we forgive them and then avoiding them for the rest of our lives, but forgiving them and truly desiring the best for them. I can say from my own experience, this was not even a remote thought before I became a follower of Jesus. I can say more. Even as a follower of Jesus, this is impossible without the Holy Spirit using the Word of God to bring me to a place I could never come to on my own. Let me explain what I mean. Turn with me to Ephesians 4:31-32.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 NIVO)
Paul tells the folks in Ephesus to forgive each other and then he reminds them, “just as in Christ God forgave you.” And then, to the folks in Colosse, Paul writes,
13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13 NIVO)
There’s the key for you and me: We are to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Each and every Sunday we pray the Lord’s Prayer together. In that prayer we pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Just two verses later, Jesus expounded on this by telling His disciples,
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15 NIVO)
Some folks will speak up and say, “But what you are talking about is works righteousness. We are saved by faith and not by works.” You are so right my friend. We are saved by grace through faith and not by works. Forgiving others is not “work,” it is to be the very nature of those who have been transformed by the grace of God. Klyne Snodgrass, in his wonderful commentary, “Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to The Parables of Jesus,” writes,
God’s mercy must not be treated cavalierly. Mercy is not effectively received unless it is shown, for God’s mercy transforms. If God’s mercy does not take root in the heart, it is not experienced. Forgiveness not shown is forgiveness not known (pg. 75).
I believe with all of my heart that each and every one of us knows deep down inside that we are broken people. Left to our own devices our relationship with God is broken, our relationships with those around us tend to break, and we can look in the mirror and see that we are broken ourselves in so many ways. Our brokenness stems from the fact that we are sinners. A very unpopular word in our day, but I’m lobbying to bring it back to the forefront of our thoughts for this reason. It is not until we recognize that we are sinners, we’ve missed the mark and fallen so far short of God’s intentions and desire for us, that we become open to God’s will. What is God’s will? I’m so glad you asked! It is that we, you and me, be reconciled to God and that His reconciling work would so transform us that we would greatly desire to be reconciled to those around us.
My friend, we are the man in Jesus’ parable who owed a debt he could never repay. We may dismiss our sin, even deny our sin, but God takes our sin very seriously. I mentioned to you that all throughout the Old Testament we can learn that God is full of grace and mercy. When we come to the New Testament see grace embodied in the Person of Jesus. During the three years of His ministry Jesus forgave the sins of people who recognized they were broken and sinful. This was not some periphery issue for Jesus, it was the very reason why He came to earth. Our sin has separated us from God. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said to the people,
1 Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. 2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. 3 For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. (Isaiah 59:1-3 NIVO)
Our sins have created a divide between us and God that not one of us can bridge. How can we ever span the divide? Good works? Hardly. God says our most righteous deeds are like filthy rags to a perfectly holy God (Isaiah 64:6). So what can we do? The answer is “nothing.” There is nothing we can do to pay the debt we owe? That’s horrible news. Yes it is. But what we are unable to do God has done for us in sending His Son, His perfectly sinless Son, His righteous Son, His only Son to pay our debt. Paul wrote,
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:7-8 NIVO)
Forgiveness for your sin, for my sin, is a gift from God accomplished through Jesus that is presented to you this very morning…if you will receive it. The gift of receiving Jesus will do much more than cleanse you from your sin, but that is the first and most important work in the life of a person. In a minute I’m going to give you the opportunity to receive the gift of forgiveness, the gift of eternal life, but first let me tell you a story. It’s not my story, it was written by John Bunyan and it is called “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Bunyan writes about a young man named Christian. In the opening of Bunyan’s book we read,
As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a den; and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and as I slept I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled: and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry; saying, ‘What shall I do?’
What is Christian’s burden strapped like a backpack on his back? It’s sin, shame, and guilt. Who of us can’t identify with such a burden as sin, shame, and guilt? As Christian travels on his way to the Celestial City there are those who try to help him remove his burden, people like Mr. Worldly-Wise, who suggests Christian see Legality and his son, Civility, to help him remove his burden. Nothing he tries and no one he meets can remove the burden from Christian’s back.
The story told by John Bunyan is the story of every living human being. We know we are guilty, we suffer from shame and guilt, and we are unable to remove these burdens from our hearts and minds. Our story was Christian’s story until…until he came to the cross. Listen to what Bunyan wrote,
He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as CHRISTIAN came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more…Then he stood still awhile to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks…Now, as he stood looking and weeping, behold three shining ones came to him, and saluted him with, “Peace be to thee!” so the first said to him, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.”
Christian’s story is my story, it’s the story of every man, woman, boy, and girl who allows Jesus to remove the burden of sin, shame, and guilt from their back. For those of us who have been set free from the shackles of sin, shame, and guilt, we must extend the same forgiveness, we must loose the shackles of those who have hurt us. We must first know the depths of our sin and the grace and forgiveness of God before we can ever extend that grace to another. If you have never received Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life then I want to invite you to surrender your heart to Him this morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
3 If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. (Psalm 130:3-4 NIVO)