I think that we have all heard the radio commercials that are out there. Do you have debt, do you owe 5,000 dollars or more.. then call this number. We can consolidate your debt for just pennies on the dollar. Those commercials have been on the radio for as long as I can remember listening to the radio, so they must be doing ok for their business if they have survived this long. They must be providing a service that many people need which is, becoming debt free.
According to a 2016 study, the average household credit card debt is 16,061 dollars. The average student loan debt is about 49,000 and some change. I don’t need to bore you with numbers, but there are a lot of people out there that are in financial debt. There are probably a number of us here in this church in some financial debt. If you went to college, it’s probably inevitable.
So most of us understand how debt works. We know what it feels like to owe something to someone. You owe money; you have to pay off your debt you pay with some form of money. You owe someone a favor. Your buddy helped you move, and he is moving this next weekend. Well, guess whose Saturday just got booked up. When you buy something that you can’t pay for right now you rack up debt. That doesn’t mean it’s free. It means that you have to pay someone for it but just not right now. This isn’t news to anyone. I get that.
When we sin against people, we rack up a debt too. But that debt can’t be paid off with money. The hurtful words you said to your spouse when you are frustrated can’t erase with flowers. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s not going to completely even the score. The broken promises the high schooler makes that he is going to be home by curfew, can’t be forgotten by filling up his parent's car with a tank with gas. The debts that we owe to people for our negative actions, for our sins, can’t be paid by us. They need to be paid by the person we hurt. That’s what forgiveness is. It is a canceling of the debt owed, not by the one who owes the debt, but by the person who is owed the debt.
In our lesson for today, Peter came to Jesus and said “Lord how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” For Peter, he probably thought that's not bad. Seven times. What is the expression? Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, fool me 3-7 times still shame on you but I will forgive you. Seven is a lot. I mean how many chances do we give people? That’s what Peter was thinking. There has to be a limit. There has to be a line where we get to say, enough is enough! I have sinned against enough. Enough is enough. I am through with that person. And God has my back. Forgiveness is hard work. And Peter wanted to know how much work he should be willing to put into forgiving a brother or sister. Peter suggests seven times. Jesus said not seven but seventy-seven.
Jesus then tells the disciples a story about a servant who owed his king an enormous debt, several million dollars let’s say. More than that servant had or would ever be able to pay back to the king. And eventually, the king wants payment. It’s his money, and he wants it now! But the servant doesn’t have the money. So he tells the man alright well if you can’t pay we will just sell everything that you have, including your wife and children, into slavery to pay for this debt. And the man falls on his knees and says ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' The servant just wants more time. He wants another chance to pay back the king. The king was not a loan shark. He doesn’t put the man on a payment plan. He doesn’t give the man a premise for an action-packed heist movie saying you have 72 hours to pay me back or this terrible thing is going to happen. The king knows that it’s not an amount of time that the man needs to pay the king back. Time isn’t going to help him. No, the king is gracious and merciful and forgives a debt that would not have been able to be paid back.
That’s the picture of forgiveness that God gives to you. You are forgiven. You are debt free. You are the servant of the King of the universe who has racked up a debt of 10,000 bags of gold. But it’s more than that. We owe God. We owe him for our life. We owe him because we are sinners. Even time you break one of the ten commandments you rack up debt. You talked back to your parents, you just got something you couldn’t pay for, and you owe God for that. Wanna’ gossip behind someone's back, well you hurt someone's name you are going to have to pay for that. You owe God for every one of your sins that you have ever committed. You envy, you covet, you lie, you are lazy, you owe God. There is no way getting around that one. There is debt that we owe him. We owe God one perfect life. One life without a single sin. One life without a single mistake. The wages of sin is death. All of have that debt.
And no amount of time is going to help us pay that off. The more time we have, the more debt we rack up. We just keep sinning. And no amount of money is going to buy God off. And God knows that. He knows that you are going to keep making mistakes. He knows that we think if we have enough time we could straighten everything out and make everything right. But we can’t. So he forgives us. He completely forgives the whole debt that you owe. He took the loss with the death of his one and only son on the cross. He made you debt free. You owe him nothing. It’s true. Jesus has paid every last cent of your debt. He has paid for every big sin that you never want to talk about and every little sin that you write off and say, well everyone does that. He paid that debt. We are Free!!!
Think of how good that servant must have felt. He had probably been thinking about that debt for a long time. He had probably spent many sleepless nights trying to think of some sort of way that he would pay it off. He probably was worried sick wondering what he would say to the king when the king found out that the king wanted money that he had lost. He woke up that morning probably expecting to be in debtors prison for the rest of his life. He thought his family was going to be sold into slavery. That weight and burden must have stressed him about as far as he could handle. And then in just a sentence, with just a word, that weight was lifted. The pressure was relieved. The debt was canceled, and he was a debt free man.
, Our text continues, “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him 100 silver coins, He grabbed him and began to choke him, “Pay back what you owe me, he demanded.”
What is going through this guys mind? Maybe he woke up that morning wondering how he was going to pay back the king, and he though well if only everyone paid me back my debts then I could start to pay back my debt to the king. This was all he knew. He knew that if someone owes you, you better get what they owe you. And before he was forgiven, he had to live that way. He had no other choice. He had to look at people that were either exploiting him or could be exploited. He had to look at people with eyes that had no idea what forgiveness was.
And this is the answer to Peter’s original question. Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother. Jesus did answer 77 times, but that wasn’t a definite number. Jesus wanted to get at the root of Peter’s question. And the root problem with Peter was a heart that couldn’t forgive because it thought as the rest of the world. Peter’s question was from a heart that wanted to count how many times we are forgiven.
We can't do that. Husbands and wives know that. You can’t keep score. Brother’s and sisters know that it doesn’t matter what they did they are still my brother. And it should be the same between us- between our brothers and sisters in Christ. Because we really can forgive each other because our debt has been forgiven.
Joseph is an excellent example of that. Our Old Testament lesson starts out with when Joseph’s brothers saw their father was dead; they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” Joseph’s brothers hated when he was younger. They were going to kill Joseph they hated him so much, but instead, they were kind enough just to fake his death and sell him into slavery instead. Joseph had every right to collect on that debt. To make his brothers pay for they did to him. But instead, he forgave them. They were his brothers. Instead of using his influence in Egypt to hurt and harm those who tried to destroy his life, he used it to help them out and save their lives and make their lives comfortable. And he didn’t just mention it once, you are forgiven, but he has to continually assure his brothers that there is not a debt between them. They are forgiven. He said Don’t be afraid. Am I in place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then,” again he has to say “ don’t be afraid I will provide for you and your children.”
Forgiving sin is a long process. It takes reassurance. It takes work. It isn’t deserved. And it can only be done by the one who is owed. And it can only be done from the heart by people who realize the gift that God has given to you.
But you can forgive. You can forgive those people in your life that have hurt you time and time again. Not because you have a wealth of strength and patience, but because God gives it to you. We strive to look at people the way that God looks at us. Sinful individuals who can love with our whole hearts. God forgives you from the heart. That is what his love does for you. And that should change us. That should give us peace. The king had the power to forgive. You have the power to forgive. When we focus on Jesus and the gift that he gives to us fully and freely it will change the way that we see others. We see them as people who God has forgiven. They are people that we can forgive too. You can forgive others from the heart too. You are debt free to your God. And you can make others debt free to you too. Just forgive them. Time and time again. Amen.