Week Commencing 23rd August

Call to worship

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory’ (Isaiah 6:3)

Opening Prayer

Lord we recognise that you are uniquely holy- set apart from all other beings, ‘there is none holy like the Lord’. We recognise you do not conform to our standard. Rather good is what you will, evil is what resists your will. You are the standard. You are utterly pure in thought and word. Please purify our hearts. We confess our lips are unclean. Like Isaiah we cry to you in our sinfulness to take our guilt away. We want to be free of anything that hinders and drags us down, anything that opposes your loving purposes. Thank you for your great grace and mercy, that if we ‘confess our sins you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ Thank you for that assurance. So humble us by your Word that we would indeed worship you in truth, in our words and by our very lives. Amen

Opening Hymn

 

  1. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
    Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
    Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
    God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
  2. Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
    Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
    Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
    Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

  1. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
    All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
    Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
    God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

 

Reginald Heber.                     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ln-km29p7Io        

 

 

Reading. Matthew 18:21-35

18 21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 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.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

 

Sermon. ‘Forgive as you have been forgiven.’

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant teaches us to forgive as we have been forgiven

The immediate context is Peter’s question: ‘Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus reply is seventy- seven times. The reply clearly means there is no numerical limit on the number of times a Christian must forgive one who seeks forgiveness.

The parable develops this idea. The parable primarily shows that if you are a Christian you have been forgiven a great debt. So in turn you must forgive others their debts against you. You must show mercy just as you have received mercy.

The magnitude of the debt (24)

Jesus showed humour in making the debt of the servant to the king so great. One talent was 6000 denarii. 10,000 talents would therefore be 60,000,000 denarii. A denarius was the usual daily wage of a day labourer. So 10,000 talents was an impossible sum!! A day labourer could as easily pay off the national debt as that servant could pay off the king.

In the same way all people owe a sin debt to God that they can never pay. We are ‘dead in our trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1). The servant was completely insolvent, yet in his pride and desperation he cried ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back’. Similarly human pride says ‘I can atone for my sins by good deeds.’ The truth is good deeds cannot atone for sins- ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23).

Our tendency is to belittle the debt.

We make it small enough to pay it back in instalments, a bad deed here, a good deed there. Philosophies and religions operate on this basis. Humanistic philosophy pretends we are not debtors at all- there are chemical and environmental explanations for who we are. We are victims. (See further on fallacy of Naturalism, Update 14/6/20). According to this view God- if He exists- is our debtor. He owes us. Such is human arrogance.

Actually our debt is so vast, it is beyond our comprehension.

We belittle the debt because we underestimate the holiness of God. God is holy, pure and righteous. He always chooses to do what is right. Absolute perfection. His wrath is fixed against sin because He is holy.

At the same time we fail to acknowledge our self-will. A self-will that violates the demands of a holy God at every turn. The original order of creation was that each of us be dependent on and obedient to God. We owe Him our lives and allegiance. Instead, we have all gone our own way (Isaiah 53:6). We are completely in debt.

Even on a human level we see how self-will makes debtors of us all to one another. International and national conflicts. Self-will over Money, Sex and Power. Open any newspaper. This is to say nothing of our broken promises and neglect of even our closest family and friends.

But all this is only a clue to the vastness of our sin debt before God. Beyond what is obvious even to one another is what lies under the surface, in the darkness of the heart. Jesus said ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These make a man unclean’ (Matthew 15:19).

We dare not belittle the debt by underestimating the seriousness of our sins. The inner attitudes and thoughts we excuse in real terms are sins offensive to a holy God.

Neither is my sin debt determined in comparison with others. My debt is measured in relation to what I owe a holy God.

So we are all debtors to God. But the debt must be paid. In the parable the accounts had to be settled. In the same way Romans 3:19 tells us the whole world is held accountable to God. And yet we cannot pay the debt.

The forgiveness of the debt (26, 27).

On the basis of the debtor’s plea, the king compassionately forgave him the debt and freed him and his family from bondage.

This part of the parable suggests the greatness of God’s mercy in forgiving the sin debt of those who call upon Him in sincerity. God’s forgiveness is offered all people. He wants ‘all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4).

God’s forgiveness is nothing to do with us paying a debt. We cannot pay it, But God through His Son Jesus Christ pays our debt of sin so we are freely pardoned.

In Bible times if someone had serious debts, he might be forced to sell himself into slavery in order to pay them off. Suppose a man was standing in the market place, offering himself as a slave. Someone might have pity on him and ask, ‘How much do you owe?’ The debtor might say, ‘£10,000.’ Suppose the customer offers to pay the £10,000 and then lets him go free. In doing so, he would be ‘redeeming him’ by paying a ‘ransom price’. In the same way God through His Son has paid our sin debt for us at  great cost to Himself, ‘He who did not spare His Son but gave him up for us all’ (Romans 8:32).

Think of the pain and anguish of the Father’s heart in giving His Son, but on that cross our debt was being paid. Christ was redeeming us by paying the ransom price, not with money but with His life, ‘He gave his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10:45).

Consequently we are ‘justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24). Freely pardoned.

There are some relieved students around at the moment. More of them are going to University this year than first thought. I suppose what would really make a student’s joy complete is if someone cleared their student loan and then, in addition, put £100,000 in the account for good measure! That student would be ecstatic.

Well spiritually that is what Christ does for you as you put your faith in Him for salvation. He has not only wiped out your debt, His atoning work on the cross is credited to you as righteousness. Paul in Romans 4 highlights Abraham’s faith in the power of God to fulfil His promise and this was ‘credited to him as righteousness’. Paul goes on to argue ‘The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness- for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.’ (Romans 4:23, 24).

Once you place your faith in Christ then God sees Christ as your righteousness. His atoning work is put on the credit side of your account.

Let’s return to the parable:

Surprisingly the servant found a fellow servant who owed him a mere fraction of that which he had been forgiven. The plea of the fellow servant- in the exact words that he himself had used to the king- fell on deaf ears. Without compassion he cast him into prison. Fellow servants grieved at this action, carried word to the king. The king was angry and called the servant before him. The king reversed his decision and sent him to prison.

What does this mean for the Christian?

The primary message is this. You have been forgiven this great sin debt by God. Now, in turn you must forgive others their sin debts against you. Show mercy since you have received a far greater mercy from God

We owe God far more that what any other person could owe us. When one accepts forgiveness for his 10,000 talents of debt to the Lord, the 100 pence his neighbour owes him is nothing.

So, how does the Christian forgive in practice?

It means giving up the angry picture of the wrong doer and the view of the other as an unworthy, unforgiveable offender.

Seeking reconciliation which will also cost. ‘The cost may require us to risk further hurt by exploring the injured relationship with someone who caused the injury to begin with. The cost may require us to accept further rejection when the other brushes us off, blames us, or refuses to talk’ (‘The Freedom of Forgiveness’ David Augsburger).

Proving your forgiveness through acts of kindness, courtesy and thoughtfulness, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good’ (Romans 12:20, 21). Romans 12:19 says ‘Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.’ This means we release others from our penalty or judgment and place them in God’s hands. In prayer we also commit our hurts to God.

Neither is forgiveness about having loving feelings about a person who has hurt us. Rather we are choosing to act in forgiving ways, reliant on God’s grace to help us do so.

Corrie Ten Boom, along with her sister Betsie, were put in a Nazi concentration camp during the war. Later, after Corrie was released and after the war, she relates this incident in her book ‘The Hiding Place’1:

‘It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing centre at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there- the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message Fraulein,’ he said, ‘to think that, as you say, he has washed my sins away!’

His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to my people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ has died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder and along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.’

 

The main message of the parable is, you have been forgiven this great sin debt by God, now forgive others their sin debts against you.

A warning (34, 35)

The unforgiving servant is thrown into prison and delivered to the jailers to be tortured.

The world’s worst prison is the prison of an unforgiving heart.

Medically bitterness is a killer. The emotion depletes brain amines called serotonin and noradrenaline causing clinical depression. Individuals whose brain amines are depleted awake in the night and cannot sleep, they experience memory and concentration problems. Further, extended bitterness reduces natural antibodies and increases susceptibility to infection. A spirit of bitterness can even contribute to heart attacks or strokes.

Eagles fly high above water to catch fish. Their eyesight is so good they can spot fish below. When they see one they fold back their wings and aim directly at the water, going as fast as 130 mph. When they reach the water they spread their wings, reach out their talons, grab the fish, and begin flying back to the shore.

A documentary filmed a very unusual occurrence. An eagle made a dive for a fish and grabbed it in its talons. But the fish was much larger than the eagle realised. As it began to fly to the shore you could see the strain on the eagle’s face. It was not going to make it to the shore with this huge fish. It then tried to drop the fish. But the talons of the eagle had dug into the flesh so deeply that it could not pull them out. It struggled but to no avail.

Slowly the eagle descended into the lake and drowned, unable to let loose its catch.

 

If you grip bitterness, it will grip you.

 

A further warning. Referring to the unforgiving servant’s imprisonment by the king, Jesus states ‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart.’

This verse is not intended to teach that God reverses His eternal pardon to those who are His children. The Apostle Paul writing to the Ephesian believers says ‘Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to each other, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Ephesians 4:31, 32). But in verse 30 he has already reassured them that they are sealed by the Holy Spirit for the Day of Redemption. They are now saved eternally.

No, the warning in our parable is addressed to the hard hearted. The challenge is this: if you profess to be a Christian and you refuse to forgive, then your profession is in great doubt. Have you really known forgiveness for your own sins?

Hendrickson writes of this parable and Matthew 6: 15; ‘Men can only be certain that their debts are cancelled if they themselves also cancel the debts of those who are indebted to them.’ The willingness to forgive is a key sign that you have been forgiven. If it is not there- then do you know what it is to have been forgiven your own sins?

Faith and repentance go together (Luke 24:47, Acts 20:21). Faith in Christ is trusting Him for His salvation. Repentance is a change of mind. It means turning from sins like unforgiving bitter attitudes. There is a reform of one’s life by God’s grace, even if the battle against sin lasts a lifetime.

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant calls us to a forgiving heart. When we look at the cross and there see how much our Lord has forgiven us and at what cost. Then we shall see that the utmost we are called upon to forgive, compared with what we have been forgiven, is a very little thing.

…...........................................

1 I would highly recommend ‘The Hiding Place’ to you. It is a real life account of forgiveness in the most unjust of circumstances. After last week’s Update about persecuted believers across the world, The Hiding Place is also a powerful exploration of how the Lord redeems the experiences of imprisonment and even the martyrdom of His people. You can watch an excellent feature film about

 

Corrie Ten Boom called ‘Faith Undefeated’ on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHjiGwG4cFY&t=58s

 

 

 

Song

 

You might see me stumble, you may see might fall
You might see me cornered with my back against the wall
Maybe incognito, maybe out to lunch
Maybe caught red-handed or maybe just a hunch

(Chorus)
I'm clean, clean, clean before my Lord
I'm clean, clean, clean before my Lord
Like a spotless lamb, I'm blameless in His sight
With no trace of wrong left to right
I'm clean, clean, clean
 

Kneeling in the closet begging daily bread
There may be a skeleton hanging overhead
Where are my accusers, nowhere to be found
They all dropped their stones when the Master came around

(Chorus)
I've missed the mark I can't deny it
I don't condone or justify it

But I've done nothing that His blood can't wash away
When I take it to the cross and start to pray

 

 

 

 

Prayers

“You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice and only Justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deut. 16:19-21)

 

Lord God, You alone administer true justice and your nature is to show mercy. Please inspire and equip Christians helping people throughout the world who are affected by poverty, social and economic exclusion and unemployment. We intercede for those in this tough economic climate who are most vulnerable, that they will be justly treated by the statutory authorities. We pray that those assessing individual cases will make fair decisions about financial and other benefits

 

We remember children in socially deprived areas where schools struggle to provide good educational standards. We pray about this inequality of opportunity and ask that You help head teachers and their staff to find ways to raise pupils’ hopes and aspirations.

 

We pray about the effects of secularisation that is steadily pushing the beliefs and values of Christianity to the margins of society. We pray for those Christian organisations that are working to counteract this situation

We thank you for employment legislation that protects people from discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, age and disability. We pray for justice to be done in cases of harassment, unfair pay or dismissal.

 

Lord we pray for all who do not realise that their sin separates them from you, and that only through hearing the good news of the Gospel and receiving the salvation you won, will they be spared from just condemnation for sin. Lord we pray for all evangelists and missionaries who reach out with your liberating truth. We pray that you will help us to be good witnesses for you and to give a reason for the hope we have when you give us opportunity to talk with others about you. May our lives individually and corporately reflect your salt and light in our communities.

 

Merciful God, prone as we are to blame others and to hate ourselves, take from our eyes the dust that blinds us, that we may treat one another by the light of your compassion and in the spirit of Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world. Lord help us to listen to each other, to be gentle with one another and to forgive each other. Amen

 

Hymn.

 

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.

2 'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed!

3 Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come:
'tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.

4 The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures;
he will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.

5 Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease:
I shall possess, within the veil,
a life of joy and peace.

6 The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
the sun forbear to shine;
but God, who called me here below,
will be forever mine.

 

John Newton               https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NG0vH4WYChQ

 

Prayer.

“Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us”

 

Blessing.

 

May the love of the Lord Jesus draw us to Himself; May the power of the Lord Jesus strengthen us in His service; May the joy of the Lord Jesus fill our souls.

May the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be amongst us and remain with us always. Amen.                                                                        David Barnes 19/8/20