Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Parable of Pardon

"Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea...                                             
...until they have to forgive someone!”  

Those words of C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, hit me hard as I read them.  

Selfishly, I want to be forgiven. 
Sadly, I don’t always want to forgive. 

More often than I wish to admit, I’m pretty pitiful at pardoning and fairly fickle with forgiving.  While Peter asked Jesus just how much he had to forgive a sinning brother, I seem to be often guilty of wondering just how little must I?

Forgiving can be a hard thing, but as we grow weary let us remember that forgiving is a gospel thing.

According to the Bible we are called to forgive fully and freely because in Christ we've been forgiven fully and freely.  Driving that idea home, Lewis wrote in another book (The Weight of Glory) that “to be a Christian is to be willing to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

I’m not sure that this picture is portrayed in any more piercing fashion than it is in the story of “The Unmerciful Servant.”  This is a parable of pardon and it is one that convicts me to the core.

Here’s the story, which comes immediately on the heels of Peter’s “just how much” question:

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.  And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe!’ So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.  Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me.  Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?'  And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.  So shall My heavenly Father also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."
     (Matthew 18:22-35)
There’s a lot to learn in this lesson:  
     much about the master, 
     a great deal about the servant, 
     and all the application that pours forth to you and to me.  

In this parable, Jesus is about to teach us how deep the debt is that God forgave and He’s about to show us how haughtily hypocritical we are to cruelly demand the pay up of mere pittance from another.

I’m stunned as I consider the slave’s deep debt and even more stunned by the master’s great mercy regarding it.  Here is a king who has come to settle accounts - accounts that are honestly owed.  As he gives the book a look he learns of a man who owes him an insurmountable debt:  10,000 talents!  

Now, let the seriousness of the situation sink in.  You see, ONE talent is equal to around 16 year’s wages, so dude done dug a debt of about 160,000 years of work!!  (He's been doing more than pilfering from the coffee fund can!)  

This is a price he cannot pay back – 
     no matter how hard he tries, 
     no matter how much he pleads. 
It is an impossible plight.  
It is an un-achievable chore.  
As Matthew plainly puts it: “He did not have the means to repay.” 

How I am reminded of myself and of us all.  We have dug ourselves into deep debt.  Every sin we commit in thought, word and deed is another debt owed to a holy God.   Our sin nature, inherited through Adam, has brought us into this world in a state of utter bankruptcy - and with each new day we only continue to deepen the deficit.  We do not have the means to repay and yet a day is coming when the King will call us to account.  What shall we do?

As the story continues, in justice the king calls for the servant to be sold –along with all he has. 

Immediately the servant falls at his master’s feet pleading for patience, promising that he’ll repay everything.  (Yeah, right!!  How you gonna do that, “Mr. I Owe 160,000 Years of Salary to da Master" man??!!) 

Notice that he does not cry for true mercy or pardon, instead he asks the king to kindly give him more time to fix the fiasco! I’m amazed that this one who had nothing suddenly thinks he can pay everything. Really??

But you know, I’m equally amazed at how often we follow in his footsteps.  We find ourselves caught in our trespasses and we cry out for a form of false mercy.

We hope to work our way to saving grace. 
We strive to earn our entrance to heaven. 
We proudly think we can somehow pay the daunting debt we owe to Deity. 
But…we cannot. 
Our pride cannot propitiate.

In the face of vainglory, the master has mercy.  He does not give this foolish fellow what he asks for – more time to accomplish that which cannot be done.  No, he gives him what he didn't even think to request – full pardon of his eternal obligation!  “The lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.”  

He wiped the slate clean.  
He cancelled the debt.  
He forgave fully and freely.

Friend, that is what our Lord has done for those of us who are trusting in Him to save.
Our Master has shown mercy. 
Our King has been kind. 
Our Savior has sacrificed and paid the price we can never pay.
On the cross Christ’s final word was “Tetelestai!”  (“It is finished!”)  and in New Testament times that wonderful word  was written on receipts showing that a bill was paid in fullAs Ellis Crum once sang, “He paid a debt He did not owe.  I owed a debt I could not pay.”  In this is the beauty of the gospel, that the very One I was so deeply in debt to has paid the price for my pardon. 

Should we not be humbled by this act of condescending compassion? 
Is not the servant in our story humbled by such a gracious gift?

Apparently he is not, for in response to pardon pouring upon him, he becomes a cruel creditor. 

On the very heels of his being set free from a debtor’s doom he turns and hunts down one who is under an utterly minimal obligation to him.  His fellow slave owed him but a hundred denarii (100 day’s wages) – this was nothing compared to his own 160,000 years worth of forgiven debt. 

We are told that he violently seizes his neighbor by the throat and begins to choke him, demanding that he pay back all that is owed.

Did he so quickly forget what had been forgiven?
Do we, in like fashion?

The attacked attendant falls to his knees and pleads for patience, promising to repay.  

Sound familiar?  His own cries from earlier this very day come back to him.  “Have patience with me and I will repay you.”  

As the tables are turned, how will he respond? 

Well, this one whose debt was erased does not respond as did his master.
He shows no mercy. 
He offers no kindness.
He has no compassion.
“He was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back all that he owed.”

Oh, how fickle we can be where forgiveness is concerned. 

"Everyone thinks forgiveness a lovely idea, 
until they have to forgive someone.”

I read these words of Lewis. I pause to consider this parable of Jesus.  And I ask...

Am I different from this quote?
Am I different than this man?  
Am I truly different when it comes to forgiveness?  

Will I look at your sins against me as small and insignificant when compared to my sins against my God?  Will I extend to you even a smidgen of the grace and mercy that my God has extended to me?  Will I love you as I have been loved?  Will I be “willing to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable” in me?  

Oh, my God, please make it to be so!

As the other servants saw this rebel’s response they were moved to sorrow.  “When his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved.”  

Am I?
Am I grieved by the lack of absolution that is often offered?  Am I saddened by the pitiful way we pardon and by the malicious ways in which we refuse to mend with mercy? Does my heart hurt when our pride and selfishness keep us from restoring and reconciling and granting grace one to another – even as Christ Jesus has to us? 

Oh, my Savior, make me weep over our failures in these things.

As the other servants saw this forgiven felon’s folly they ran to their master and “reported to their lord all that had happened.”

Do I? 

As I see the ways in which we all malign the gospel of grace by our lack of gospel love towards one another, am I moved to prayer?  Do I carry these things to my Father who is the fount of forgiveness?  Do I cry to the Christ of the Cross who paid the price for my pardon?  Do I call out to the Holy Spirit who alone can convict us of our failings to forgive and soften our hard and haughty hearts?  

I do not as much as I should.  Far too often I get angry at my fellow servants for being angry at my fellow servants! 

How different am I than the very ones I am most bothered by?  

May the God of mercy have mercy, even on me to whom He has already shown such mercy!

The parable ends with the righteous ruler giving a rough rebuke to this unmerciful servant.  The master reminds him of all that was given to him.  “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me.  Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?”

Yes, he should have. 
Yes, I should have. 
Yes, we should have. 

At this point, the lord of this story hands him over to the torturers to pay all that was owed.  This one who would not forgive ended up not being forgiven.  His acquittal was acquitted and he who would not bend the knee to gospel grace finds himself staring down the eternal consequences of holy justice.  He no longer gets grace so undeserved, instead he receives justice so fully deserved – he gains righteous recompense and receives the due wages of his sin.

What a frightening place to be. 

So, is this a picture of salvation being lost?  Is this an example of God turning His back on one to whom He had formally extended His hand? 

I must say it cannot be, “for I am confident of this very thing, that He who began the good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Perhaps what we more accurately have portrayed in this parable is “they went out from us because they were never of us” (1 John 2:19).

It is quite possible to have the beauties of the gospel held forth to us and yet never truly take hold of them.  Nowhere in this passage do we see this unmerciful servant show any confession of lip (not so much as a "thank you") or life in response to the  mercy of the master.   “By their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16-20). His fruit was rotten to the core and proved to be false fruit in the end.

Oh, let us beware of following in his footsteps.  As this parable of pardon ends, Jesus warns - “So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Would we know that we’ve been forgiven?  Let us find Christ’s fruit within - fruit that longs to forgive!  Forgive, not just with weak words but with our whole heart. 

How often do we say “I forgive you” , yet still
     harbor malice more than mercy,
     desire ill will more than good will,
     long for revenge more than reconciliation? 

May we not feign forgiveness as mere men but pour out pardon as our merciful Master.

Lord Jesus, help me.  Help me to forgive as I’ve been forgiven.  Help me to see forgiveness as “a lovely idea” indeed but to see the opportunity to actually forgive someone as an even lovelier opportunity.


  1. Well, I'm convicted now. Great post.


    What are the terms for pardon under the New Covenant? Did Jesus give us the terms of forgiveness from sin before He died or after His death and resurrection?


    1. Luke 18:18-22 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? .....20 "You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' Do not murder,' Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' ' Honor your father and your mother.'" 21 And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth." 22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "you still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; come, follow Me."(NKJV)

    Would the rich ruler have been saved had he obey Jesus? Yes. Was Jesus giving the terms for pardon under the New Covenant. No, He was not.

    2. Mark 2:1-5....5 When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic,"Son, your sins are forgiven you."(NKJV)

    Were the sins of the paralytic forgiven? Yes. Was Jesus saying that under the New Covenant men will have their sins forgiven because of the faith of friends? No. He was not.

    3. John 8:3-11....10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the women, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."(NKJV)

    Was the woman condemned by Jesus? No, she was not. Was Jesus saying that under the New Covenant if no man condemns you that I will not condemn you? No, He was not.

    4. Luke 23 39-43 .....Then one of the criminals who was hanged blasphemed Him, saying , "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us". 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying , "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 "And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds ; but this Man has done nothing wrong."42 Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom." 43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."(NKJV)

    Was the thief saved? Yes. Was Jesus giving the terms for pardon under the New Covenant? No, He was not.


    Mark 16:14-16 After He appeared to the eleven...16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.(NKJV)

    Jesus gave the terms for pardon, under the New Covenant, after He was resurrected.

    Luke 24:36-47 ....."and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.(NKJV)

    Peter gave us the terms for pardon under the New Covenant at Jerusalem on 33AD. Acts 2:22-41
    Peter preached the terms for pardon under the New Covenant.

    Faith: John 3:16
    Confession: Romans 10:9
    Repentance: Acts 2:38
    Water Immersion: Acts 2:38

    Jesus never told one person that under the New Covenant they did not have to be baptized in order to be saved.

    Jesus never told one person that under the New Covenant they did not have to repent to have their sins washed away.

    Acts 2:38 And Peter replied, "Each one of you must turn from sin, return to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ; for the forgiveness of your sins; then you also shall receive this gift , the Holy Spirit. (The Living Bible -Paraphrased)