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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Cost of the Kingdom

Matthew 18:15-35, Luke 9:57-62

Lesson audio

(The reader may note that the placement of the section in Luke is deduced, not stated. I am following Robertson’s order, which seems as good as any.)

Church Discipline

Mat 18:15-20 NIV "If your brother sins against you,[2] go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. (16) But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'[3] (17) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (18) "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be[4]bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[5] loosed in heaven. (19) "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. (20) For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

The commandment of Christ

It must be recognized: much of our failure as Christians stems from sheer laziness. He commands us to do something; we find that it will be hard work and thus invent our excuses. Note that the imperative tense is used here; Christ is commanding His disciples.

  • First, and most difficult, he commands us to forgive.
  • He also commands that we correct the faults of our Christian brothers. (Am I my brother’s keeper?)
  • If need arises, we are to seek help in such correction, first in two-three others, and if need the entire church.

See the wisdom of this. Christ could have commanded a “take it to the church first thing,” but he didn’t. He told us instead:

  • Start in private – just you and your brother. This preserves your brother’s sense of shame, and does not attack his conscience. It also enables him to repent without trying to defend his sinful behavior. By doing this discreetly, we also preserve the reputation of the church. But remember: you are going in alone – but not self-righteous.
  • If that doesn’t work, take along a couple of witnesses. This makes it easy to establish the facts (which may be in dispute). It also helps to prevent private revenge, and adds the grace of social pressure to the cause of repentance. If the matter should come out, it shows a good example to the church.
  • But if you have to take it to the church, do so. If you have an unrepentant sinner who cannot be disciplined, you have permitted hypocrisy in the church. At that the reputation of the church is at stake. Use the greater social pressure as you can to bring the sinner home.
When the wronged seek reconciliation

You might think these are instructions just for the teachers and elders. It is not so. The first person to know of a brother’s sin is usually a victim of it. This does not lesson the responsibility – but does increase the power of the example.

This we do in imitation of Christ; as we do so, we get the same results he does. If we forgive, it is forgiven on earth and in heaven. But a warning must be issued: reconciliation costs. As Christ proved on the cross.

The Duty of Forgiveness

Mat 18:21-35 NIV Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" (22) Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[6] (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 talents[7] 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) "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, canceled 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 denarii.[8] 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 you 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 greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. (32) "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled 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 turned 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 from your heart."

Step One

As noted, step one in reconciliation is performed by the offended party, in most circumstances. Peter immediately sees the problem: what if it’s a repeat offense? Jewish custom said to forgive – up to three times. Peter thinks he’s being generous at seven.

But the Christian lives in the infinite love of God, not the finite love of man. It may seem too difficult to forgive so often, but remember that you are one in whom dwells the Holy Spirit – so when you cry for help in forgiving, know that you will be heard.

Principle: God forgave, so must you

By way of background, let us repeat the obvious:

  • If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven. Your forgiveness at the Day of Reckoning depends upon your forgiveness now. It’s a heaven and hell issue.
  • Such forgiveness fulfills the principle of the imitation of Christ (“What would Jesus do?”). To forgive is to become more like him.
  • Such forgiveness is so rare that the world will be at a loss to understand how this could happen – and be an occasion to teach them about Christ.
  • Perhaps you haven’t thought of this: in forgiveness, you can share the “exuberance of joy”[1] that flows through heaven for the one in a hundred who returns.
Cast of characters

We might do well to examine the players in this drama.

First, we have the debtor himself. He is the model of the repentant sinner at first (thus, judge not). He humbles himself; admits his debt and begs mercy. Indeed, he is so humble that he dares not ask forgiveness – just a little more time. All in all, a likely candidate for mercy.

Next, we might look at the other servants. They are “greatly distressed” by the debtor’s conduct. Well they should be; the man’s a hypocrite, which should disturb the church. They report this, seeking justice not for themselves but for the other servant with the small debt.

Finally, there is the master. First note that he is settling accounts – there will be a day when God makes all come out even. This master, a picture of God, is quite willing to be a terror to his debtors; the fear of God is still the beginning of wisdom. The master is not at all unwilling to visit his punishment on the debtor’s wife and children (highly motivational, I expect.) But he is merciful – when asked to be so. Indeed, his mercy exceeds the debtor’s request for time. But in his anger at such hypocrisy, he reverses that and increases the debtor’s burden.[2]

First place or no place

Luk 9:57-62 NIV As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." (58) Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (59) He said to another man, "Follow me."

But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." (60) Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." (61) Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." (62) Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

Why is this connected? Most of us, when reading this passage, think it applies mostly to missionaries in Africa. We shall see, however, that this applies to all of us. Forgiveness is part of the price of the kingdom; here we shall see just what priority the kingdom has.

The scribe[3]

There is one sure way to identify pride. See what happens when it meets God; if there is pride, God will be given advice or even orders. This man underestimates Jesus, calling him “teacher” when the others call him “Lord.” Jesus, in his reply, speaks to the heart. There is no material gain to be found here, and there is no plan to change that.

Bury my father”

It seems a reasonable request. It’s not exactly required by the Law, but custom so requires it. But Jesus sees beyond the funeral – to the reading of the will, and the division of property. This will be a great temptation to the young man.

So what does Jesus offer instead? The chance to proclaim the Gospel, which gives life. Over and again Christ calls for the one who will sacrifice all for his sake.

One curiosity remains: why did the man even ask? He thought it the right thing to do; why didn’t he just tell one of the others there to let Jesus know? Perhaps it was that he knew the answer in his heart – and was hoping to avoid the meeting with the master.

“Say goodbye”

It sounds so trivial: I just want to say goodbye. Surely this can’t be objectionable? It isn’t; the objection is to anything, no matter how trivial and good, coming before service in the kingdom of God. Christ knows the heart of a partial follower.


What’s this to do with forgiveness? Simply this: if the Gospel is so important and so commanding that it supersedes your father’s funeral and even the ordinary courtesies of family life, how much more does it supersede your reluctance to forgive? If Christ would demand such things here, how much more the forgiveness he demands of you?

Parting Notes

I leave you with these:

  • Count the cost. If you are a part of the kingdom of God, then you will need to imitate your Lord – even as He forgave on the Cross.
  • Seek first the kingdom. Put all else secondary to it. Half-hearted Christianity is like jumping the Grand Canyon in two jumps.
  • Once with the kingdom, forget about what might have been. There is no turning back on the road to heaven.

[1] Chrysostom

[2] It was the custom of the time, and Christ’s hearers would not have challenged this, but just what good is torturing a man going to do to get your money back? Perhaps it was the example set.

[3] Matthew 8:18-22 identifies the speaker as a scribe, an expert in the Jewish Law.

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