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MATTHEW 18:23-35 Today is the Third Last Sunday in the Church Year.

We begin to think about the end of all things, the end of the world, or the end of our own lives, and the judgment that follows. Today we hear the first faint foreshadowing of the angel's trumpet blast, as Jesus speaks to us about a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. What would happen if God would do that? What would happen if God would come to us, and settle our account? What would happen if God would measure out to us everything we've earned and deserved for our sins? For, that would be fair. That would be justice. It would only be right if God would treat us as our sins deserve. That's how the parable begins. It begins with the king, in absolute justice, demanding that his debtor servant pay him the entire debt he owes, a debt of ten thousand talents. In our day, that would be millions of dollars. That would be like you as an individual trying to repay the national debt. The king has a right to repayment. 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. That's what the law permitted in the case of debt. By selling the debtor and his family and possessions, the person to whom the debt was owed could recover at least a small portion of the massive debt. The servant fell on his knees and pleaded for mercy. He asked for more time. You'll notice, he doesn't ask the king to forgive the debt. He simply asks for more time to pay the debt. That's what justice would require. The promise is ridiculous. The servant can't repay the massive debt, even if he would live a million lifetimes. The servant knows it, the king knows it, and we know it. But as silly as the promise is, it's the natural thinking of our sinful nature. By nature, we all barter with God. We promise to try harder to live a better life. We promise that we'll stop doing that pet sin that ensnares us again and again. No matter what form the words take, it amounts to us sinners telling God that if we just try hard enough, we can cancel our debt of sin by our own efforts. Instead, the king forgives the debt. Yes, he cancels the entire debt and lets the servant go. He says, You don't owe me a thing. I'll wipe it off the books. I'll erase it from my data base. Is that justice? No! It's mercy. It's mercy that staggers the imagination. A debt of millions upon millions of dollars simply erased. The sentence of debtor's prison for you, your wife and your kids canceled. All charges dropped. The lawsuit forgotten. This is one of the clearest of Jesus' parables, isn't it? We can all grasp the meaning. This is what God has done for each of us, for Jesus' sake. Because Jesus took our sins onto himself and paid for them with his blood on the cross, God the Father has canceled the massive debt we owed to him, a debt that would have put us in the debtor's prison of hell, to be tortured for all eternity. But this entire parable has been preached to answer Peter's question. His question is, Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Let's note that Peter's question comes shortly after Jesus has given his famous Matthew 18 instructions on church discipline. Jesus has outlined the loving lengths to which love will go to regain

a brother who sins against you. Instead of writing someone off after the first offense, Jesus speaks of a heavenly three strikes law. That's how far love will go to regain the brother in spiritual danger. First, we go to him alone, to save his reputation and show that our goal isn't revenge or humiliation, but forgiveness, and the protection of the bond of Christian love between us. Then Jesus says, if he won't listen, take one or two others along, to make sure God's Old Testament command that every matter be established by two or three witnesses is followed. Only then, when our personal efforts have failed, do we tell it to the church. Even then, and even in the final step of love, excommunication, our goal is not to reach a point where we don't have to forgive anymore; rather, our goal is the repentance, restoration, and salvation of a precious soul. So, Peter should administer the keys the way Jesus wants him to. He shouldn't use the keys to punish repentant sinners. He should have the same patience God shows, when he forgives us every day. God doesn't keep a record of our sins. He drowns them in the sea of Christ's blood. Jesus reminds Peter that when Peter forgives the sinner, Peter does it not in his own name, on is own whim, but as Christ's apostle. This is why forgiveness is to be extended no matter how many times the sinner has confessed. This is how your pastor, Christ's representative, will use Christ's keys with you. When you need it, your pastor will rebuke you. He will call you to repentance with God's Law. He will point out your sin clearly, so that you will see your guilt and flee to Christ's mercy. He will then immediately and unconditionally comfort you with the forgiveness of sins Jesus has won for you by his life, his death, and his resurrection. For your pastor too is a sinner, saved by faith in Jesus' mercy alone. He won't choke you around the neck, because God didn't do that to him. In the parable, the other servants were greatly distressed when they saw the cruelty of the freshly forgiven servant. They knew the king had shown the same mercy to them when they came to him with their debts. The other apostles remembered how they had asked such foolish questions of Jesus, how dull they had been in their spiritual understanding, how eager they had been for pride of place in the kingdom. They were distressed by Peter's question. They were concerned for his soul, because it sounded to them as if Peter didn't appreciate what Jesus had done for Peter. Jesus wanted to make sure Peter, and the other apostles, and his church today, would use the keys of the kingdom of heaven in ways that would please Christ, not in a legalistic way that crushed the spirits of repentant sinners. We all have someone in our life that we have difficulty forgiving. How do we receive the power to forgive? Not from the Law. We don't get the motivation to forgive by being commanded to. That command only exposes our guilt. We receive the power and strength to forgive only from the Gospel, only by hearing that God for Jesus' sake has canceled our debt and freed us from the fear of torture in hell. Then, we too will forgive from the heart, and gladly do good to, those who sin against us.