I Crave Justice – Matt 18:21-35

Good evening everyone. Over the last couple of days, we’ve been meditating on the theme iCrave referring to the cravings, longings and desires of our hearts. What we’ve understood so far is that these cravings and longings of our hearts are not bad in themselves. In fact that’s the way God made us. So then the real question is – is what are we feeding those cravings with – is it with the pure spiritual milk (Word of God) or is it with our feelings and life experiences?

In Session 3, we are looking to cover the topic: iCrave Justice.

The craving and longing for justice. Just to clarify, when we mean justice, we’re not talking about a general longing for justice in the world. We’re specifically referring to obtaining justice for the wrongs and offenses being done toward us. All of us have that innate sense of justice where we seek compensation or repayment for wrongs and offenses done toward us.

When an auto-driver tries to take advantage and overcharges us, we crave for justice. When our boss yells at us in front of our peers, we crave for justice. When a close family member speaks hurtful words to us, we crave for justice. When a friend betrays our trust, we crave for justice there as well.

Now just like the other cravings of our heart, this craving for justice is not a bad thing in itself. But the real question is how we are satisfying that craving. How are we feeding that craving – and today’s passage from Matt 18 tells us that we can either respond with forgiveness or unforgiveness.

And it’s so interesting that Jesus’ teaching on this topic is not like the wat a moral science lesson would approach this topic – where we are told “forgiveness is good, and unforgiveness is bad. Hence, be more forgiving”. In fact Jesus does this by showing a mirror to our own hearts revealing what the problem is before pointing us to the solution.

4 observations from this passage:

1. We overestimate our standard of forgiveness (v21-22)

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Let’s first try to understand where this question is coming from. Peter was a Jew and in Judaism, forgiving someone three times showed a generous spirit. So Peter probably thought that he was extra kind and generous by deciding to forgive seven times.

To his surprise, Jesus doesn’t appreciate him for this, but rather says seventy seven times. And by seventy seven, Jesus wasn’t just saying 77 times and that’s it, but rather using an expression to say that that there should be no cap or no upper limit to the number of times you should forgive someone.

I wonder if upon hearing that, Peter thought “No upper limit on forgiveness equals unlimited forgiveness. That simply doesn’t make any sense. I mean if this person has already offended me repeatedly, does he really deserve my forgiveness? I thought I was being more than gracious already, now my forgiveness period has expired. I’ve simply had enough”.

And that’s part of the problem. Because Peter was convinced that he was gracious, generous and forgiving, he assumed that he was in the best position to judge if a person deserved his forgiveness or not. He assumed he was the one who could set the limit on forgiveness. But in reality he wasn’t as forgiving as he thought, he was only overestimating his standard of forgiveness.

And instead of responding to Peter with a rebuke, Jesus responds to him with a parable (which is a short story to explain a deeper spiritual point) from V23.

So we not only overestimate our standard of forgiveness but we also

2. We underestimate the extent of our debt (v23-30)

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.[g] 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.[h] 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant[i] fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii,[j] and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

In the parable, there is a little bit of math involved, so please bear with me.

1 talent = salary for a laborer over 20 years
10000 talents = salary for a laborer over 200,000 years

In other words, this was a massive mountain size debt that this servant owed the king. It was an exorbitant amount which was impossible to repay. Even if this servant worked overtime and did many other small jobs for every single remaining day of his life, he wouldn’t still come anywhere close to repaying back the debt.

So the consequence was that this servant was to be sold with his wife and children and all that he had to repay the debt. You can imagine the kind of trouble that this servant found himself in. There was literally no escape for him from this point.

So the servant, knowing that he was in big trouble, fell on his knees and begged the king to be patient with him. That word “patience” translates as “long suffering” – he was begging the king to bear with him a little longer and he’ll pay back the entire amount.

V27 tells us that the king was moved with pity. He was moved with compassion looking at the state of the servant – He knew there was no way in the world he was going to repay back the debt, so in compassion he released him and forgave his entire debt.

And that’s where we get the word “forgiveness” from. It’s a cancellation of the debt someone owes you so that everytime you look at that person, his pending dues show as “0”. The servant was fully forgiven and released – what a wonderful example of someone who experienced compassion and mercy.

But when we come to V28, it tells us that almost as soon as he got out, he found a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii.

Again coming back to math:
100 denarii = salary for a laborer over 20 weeks

It’s still a large amount but no where close to the debt he owed the king. And look at the servant’s response to his fellow servant – he laid his hands on him, choked him and then demanded payment.

Already we are seeing a much harsher treatment toward the fellow servant when he meets his debtor.

In V29, the fellow servant responds in a very similar way – he pleads and asks for patience to repay the amount. But in this case, the servant refuses and puts him in jail until he repays the entire debt. And it makes us wonder why did the servant refuse forgiveness?

It’s because he underestimated the extent and the size of his debt. He was blind to the massive mountain size debt which he owed to the king. He was in denial of how bad his situation was.

Similar to the servant, I wonder if that’s symptomatic of our own hearts.

Many times the reason why we fail to forgive each other is because we underestimate the extent and size of the moral debt we owe to God.

We are blind to our mountain size debt. We are in denial of our bad situation. Look at the way it describes our sinful condition in Ephesians‬ ‭2:1‭-‬3‬‬‬

[1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— [3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Passages like these are a sober reminder of how terribly bad and dangerous our situation was. As long as we underestimate and downplay the extent of our debt, we’ll never be in a position to receive mercy and also show that mercy to one another.
But not only do we overestimate the standard of our forgiveness, not only do we underestimate the extent of our debt, we also
3.We overlook the extent of our pardon (v31-33)
31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Upon getting the report on the servant’s behavior, the king summons him and refers to him as a wicked servant because he conveniently overlooked and ignored the mercy and pardon which was offered to him.

I hope you can see the connection here to the previous point. Because the servant underestimated and downplayed the extent of his debt, he ended up overlooking and belittling the pardon that was offered, which seemed to him small and little. It was not a big deal for him. Probably in some way he thought “I deserved to be forgiven. I’m entitled to forgiveness”.

And that’s what kept him from showing the same mercy to his fellow servant. How does this relate to us?

When God saw our massive mountain sized debt, He not only was moved with compassion but as we read yesterday – sent His one and only precious Son Jesus Christ on this earth to save us. How did He save us? By living the life that we were expected to live (he was the only one who lived a life with pending debt or dues as “0”…every other person has a pending amount that is in infinity). Not only that but when He was 33 years old, He was hung on the cross not to pay for his debt or anything wrong that he had done but rather to pay off the entire amount that you and I needed to pay but couldn’t pay off.

He died and was buried in a tomb and on the third Day he rose victoriously from the grave so that whoever would repent of their sins and their own failing efforts of compensating and repaying the debt, and trust in the payment and sacrifice that was offered on the cross, they would now be declared as “debt free” in God’s eyes.

Brothers and sisters, please remember that God didn’t just write off our massive mountain sized debt. He paid it off and it came at the most costly price of His own precious Son.

And here’s the thing – that pardon and payment for us would only sound valuable and precious if we’ve considered and admitted to the size of our debt. The smaller we think our debt is, the lesser value and appreciation we will attribute to Jesus Christ for what He did for us.

Because we all overestimate our standards of forgiveness, because we underestimate the extent of our debt and overlook the extent of our pardon, that’s why we finally

4. We need overwhelming grace to help us (v34-35)

34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[k] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

When we look at this verse, we may misinterpret it as this “well you better forgive each other, because if you don’t you won’t get my forgiveness”. But I don’t think that’s what this verse means because as we learnt yesterday “not that we loved God, but that He loved us”. God’s forgiveness in Christ was unconditional – it wasn’t based on anything that we did or would. God didn’t set any preconditions to obtaining his forgiveness. It was completely and totally unconditional.

So then what does this verse mean?

I think Jesus wanted to put the scanner and spotlight on hearts and reveal our blindness and our forgetfulness. All of the points we shared earlier reveal the spiritual blindness and forgetfulness.

Just like the servant, we all overestimate the standards of our forgiveness – in other words, we are all prone to being proud of how righteous we think we are. Just like the servant, we all underestimate the extent of our debt – we probably admit to being sinners but downplay it by saying things like “I’ve done bad things, but I haven’t murdered anyone”. Just like the servant, we overlook the extent of our pardon – we say that we are thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice for the sins we’ve committed but probably assume it wasn’t a lot Jesus had to pay off anyway. That’s the problem with blindness and forgetfulness.

One of the pastors and authors I’ve been encouraged by is a pastor called Paul Tripp and he says this – “Spiritual blindness is actually worse than physical blindness because in physical blindness it’s obvious to you that you are blind. But in spiritual blindness, we often don’t even know it and don’t even admit to it”.

That’s where the problem lies and that’s why we need overwhelming grace – to help us see and remember. How does He do that? Through the good news of Jesus revealed in the Word. Every time we read God’s Word in our personal times, at our Sunday gatherings, Gospel Communities and DNAs,

  • Overestimating our standard of forgiveness‭‭ – Isaiah‬ ‭64:6‬
    All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags in response to
  • Underestimate the extent of our debt – ‭‭‬‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:6‬
    [6] All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
  • Overlooked the extent of our pardon – Psalm‬ ‭103:12‬ ‭
    [12] as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

And in all of that, we are reminded of the immense forgiveness that we’ve experienced in Jesus. No matter what has been done against us, it’s not even a fraction of the offenses that we’ve done against God. And yet because of what Christ has done, we can’t help but show that mercy to each other.

Who are you struggling to forgive today? We need to pray and ask God to for His overwhelming grace to see and remember.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *