Matthew Bible Study (The Gospel of the King and the Kingdom of Heaven)

Matthew 18:21-35, Understanding Jesus’ Forgiveness


We have been looking at the hard sayings of Jesus. As we come to the second half of Matthew 18, we encounter a hard saying of Jesus regarding forgiveness. Forgiveness is a difficult topic to discuss. It is much easier to tell other people how they need to forgive others than it is to do the forgiving ourselves. The question that Peter asks Jesus is a question that everyone has thought about at one time or another. But I also want to first consider how his question is different than ours. Our question often is, “Do I have to forgive?” But I want you to notice that this is not Peter’s question. Peter assumes that the answer is yes. Yes, we are to forgive. So then the next question comes up. How often to do I have to forgive someone who has sinned against me? Now our context has been the teachings of Jesus about submission and humility. Jesus has taught his disciples that they need to lower themselves. Disciples need to humble themselves so that they are not stumbling blocks to others and are actively trying to rescue those who sin against us. But it is this teaching about people sinning against us and trying to rescue their souls that Peter asks this question. How often do I have to do this rescue? How often do I need to forgive the person who sins against me? It is in this context that Jesus says these hard words. “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22 ESV).

Now I want us to think for a moment at what Peter asks because it explains Jesus’ answer and his explanatory parable. I want you to notice that Peter is asking when he gets to stop having to forgive people. Peter wants to know how often he can be wronged so that he can stop forgiving the person. So Jesus says something really hard in response. Jesus’ answer is that you do not ever get to stop. Jesus tells Peter that there is not a number when we can finally write someone off. There is not a counting when you finally say that it is enough and I am not going to forgive you anymore. Peter wants to know when he can stop forgiving his brother or sister. Jesus says that you can never stop forgiving. Now this just doesn’t seem right. It seems like this is unjust. This causes us to bristle. Jesus knew this and that is why he tells a parable in the rest of Matthew 18.

An Impossible Debt (18:23-27)

Jesus describes the kingdom as a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. I want us to think about his picture. The king is ready for everyone in the kingdom to stand in judgment and pay the debts they owe. It is time for the accounts to be balanced. We are told in verse 24 that one person owed 10,000 talents. Friends, this is a ridiculous amount of money. Here is the math we need to do just to get a sense of this debt. One talent is believed to equal 6000 denarii. A denarius was one day’s wage. So this man owes 60,000,000 denarii, that is 60 million days of work. The average person only lives about 28,000 days. What Jesus did was basic say that this man owes an impossible debt. He owes trillions upon trillions of dollars. Now hold this in your mind as you listen to what happens next. The master ordered that this man, his wife, his children, and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. Even these sales would not be able repay this debt. In short, the point is that everything of value must be sold because he owes everything to the king.

Now listen to what the servant says in verse 26. He asks for patience and he will pay back everything. The man asks for time to try to repay this debt. Before you sell us off as you have every right to do, give me more time. Please show me patience and I will repay everything. Now our calculation before is important as we evaluate his words. If this man had more time, could he repay this debt? No. This is an impossible debt. No one could pay this debt. Jesus has used the biggest numbers and the biggest currency amounts to drive home the absolute impossibility of this man having any chance of fixing what he has done. He cannot repay the debt.

Please read verse 27. The master took pity on him. The master had compassion on him. Notice what the master does. The master forgives the debt and releases him of his slavery. Did the servant ask for this? No, the servant simply asked for patience. Give me more time to try to repay this debt. But the master, out of his own compassion, forgave the debt and released him from his slavery. The servant had nothing to offer. The servant could not do anything. But the master forgave him and set him free anyway.

Friends, this is us. This picture is every single one of us. The apostle Paul makes it clear in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. The scriptures clearly show us that there is nothing we can do to pay the debt of sin. How can we offset our sins when death is deserved? We cannot. There is nothing we can do to get out of the consequences of our actions. I regularly illustrate this idea by talking about running a stop sign or breaking the speed limit. If you are pulled over for speeding, there is nothing you can do to offset the consequence. You might try to be a good driver all the rest of your life and never speed again. But that does not change that you broke the law and there is a consequence. What is your only hope in that moment? Your only hope is the compassion of the officer to not give you the ticket that you deserve. The Lord is trying to show us the seriousness of our sins. Friends, our debt is not a small amount before him. Our debt of sin is counted like 60 million days of work. But God has forgiven the debt and set us free from our slavery to sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The apostle Paul pictured this amazing grace in Ephesians 2.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)… (Ephesians 2:4–5 NASB 2020)

Living Free (18:28-31)

Listen to what the forgiven and freed servant does next. In verse 28 this forgiven man goes out and finds one of his fellow servants who owed him 100 denarii. Now this amount is nowhere close to what he owed to the master. Remember that the forgiven man owed 60 million denarii. This servant owes only 100 denarii, which is 100 days of work. This is a payable debt. It is not a small debt. But this is a much smaller debt. This debt is nothing close to what the forgiven man had. But the forgiven man grabs his fellow servant, starts choking him, and tells him to pay what he owes. Listen to what the servant says to the forgiven man. “Be patient with me, I will pay you back.” Does that sound familiar? These are the words that the forgiven man said to the master. The fellow servant is only asking for patience. Look at the words of verse 30. “But he wasn’t willing” (CSB). Instead of patience, the forgiven man puts this servant in prison until he could pay what was owed.

This is shocking, isn’t it? In fact, the other servants are shocked when they see this in verse 31. They are deeply distressed when they see this. How can this man be forgiven so much and then lack any patience toward his fellow servant? How can you receive the compassion of the master and not show compassion to others? How can you receive patience from the master and not show patience to others? How can you be forgiven so much and refuse to forgive others? In fact, notice that the picture is even worse that this. When you look at verse 28 you will notice that this forgiven man seeks out a person who debts against him and starts choking him. He has been forgiven much but wants to get his pound of flesh out of others. Do you know what you did? Do you know what you owe me? You need to pay your debt now! How can a forgiven person possibly do this to another servant? The apostle Paul declared that true love does not keep a record of wrongs committed against them (1 Corinthians 13:5). You have been forgiven so much. How can you lack patience? How can you seek out those who have a debt against you? How can you be unwilling to show compassion to those who have wronged you?

The Judgment (18:32-35)

So let’s see how Jesus ends his parable. The servants saw what this forgiven man did and were outraged by his actions. They report to the master everything that happened. Look at verse 32. The master summoned the forgiven man. He calls him a wicked servant. The master forgave his debt because of his pleading. Listen to verse 33. “Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” Why are you unwilling to do for others what the master has done for you? We are so good at keeping a record of wrongs and holding it against others. We like crossing our arms against someone who has wronged us. We are happy to burn the bridge because of what they have done against us. But the master is asking us an important question. Shouldn’t we have mercy and patience on others just like the Lord has shown mercy and patience toward us?

Notice the result in verse 34. The forgiven and freed servant is no longer forgiven and free. He is put into prison until he paid back all he owed. Now remember what we talked about earlier. Could this man pay back the 60 million day’s wages he owed? No, because this is an impossible debt. The debt is no longer forgiven and the freedom he was given is now taken away. Now listen to verse 35. “So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart” (CSB). If we refuse to forgive others, then our debts against the Lord are put back on to our account. To state this point another way, the Lord is going to forgive you in the same way that you forgive others.


Now let’s think about how this parable started. Peter wanted to know how often he needed to forgive his brother. Jesus’ answer is that we forgive our brother or sister without counting because we have been forgiven so much. How many times has the Lord forgiven us? Can anyone sin against us as often as we have sinned against the Lord? Can anyone do more wrong toward us than the wrongs we have done against our God?

Further, Jesus has shown us what he means by forgiveness. Forgiveness means releasing the debt. The debt was no longer held against that person. Forgiveness is far more than saying, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness means that we no longer hold the person accountable for what they have done against us. The debt is released. We will not hold that debt over them. Friends, every time we turn to the Lord for forgiveness, he never says no. Every time we turn to the Lord forgiveness, he forgives. In the same way, every time someone asks us for patience, apologizes for what they did, asks for forgiveness, asks for mercy, or tries to restore the debt, we must accept it just like the Lord does for us. We do not get the right to tell someone that we can never forgive them. We do not get the right to tell someone that what they did was unforgivable. If we do, then the Lord says he will not forgive our debts either. Can you imagine the horror of hearing our Lord tell us that what we did is unforgivable? Can you imagine the Lord telling us that he just doesn’t think he can forgive what we did? If we do not want that, then we cannot do that to others who ask us for mercy and patience. How many times must we forgive? Don’t even count because God is not counting your sins against you. In verse 30 the man refused to show patience and was judged. Do not refuse forgiveness to those who desire it. Do not refuse patience to those who seek it. Do not refuse reconciliation to those who ask for it. Do not refuse mercy to those who want it.

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