We Are Bankrupt
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 18:25a (Holman) Since he had no way to pay it back, . . .
The slave owed 192,307 years of work; taxes equal to12.3 years of tribute from five provinces. Of course he could not pay. Neither can we. Ellis Crum’s poem well says, “He paid a debt He did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.”
We are spiritually bankrupt. We have nothing of merit to pay against the debt we owe God. Animal sacrifices, financial offerings, religious rituals, and even compensatory penance cannot help us here. All self-reliant efforts to save ourselves end only in despair. We can ruin ourselves, but not save ourselves.
Matt. 18:25b . . . his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.
This sounds harsh to us, but was the customary way of dealing with insolvency in the Roman world. Lest we be too smug, I remind us we have had harsh “poverty solutions” in our culture. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, our country believed poverty was a dishonorable state caused by laziness, unwise practices, carelessness, or immorality. The needy were often sent to farms, “poorhouses,” where the able-bodied worked, and where abuse was common.
Matt. 18:26a At this, the slave fell facedown before him . . .
The servant’s debt came as no surprise to him. He was well aware of it beforehand. The problem evidently was, he was not overly concerned about it, until the king interrupted the servant and did something to press the point.
Sinners are often careless about their sins, but God can change everything instantly. King Ahab was as bad as they came in his day, except for his wife Jezebel. Yet when Ahab heard the Lord’s ultimatum, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and humbled himself before God (I K 21:27). Ahab? Yes, Ahab.
Manasseh ruled Judah 55 years. He was their most idolatrous king ever. He built pagan altars, worshiped the sun, moon, and stars, and built altars and idols to them in the temple. He sacrificed his sons through fire in the valley of Hinnom. Its resulting ritual uncleanness made it the garbage dump of Jerusalem, and in Jesus’ estimation, the ultimate picture of Hell. Manasseh practiced witchcraft, sorcery, and consulted spirits (2 CH 33:1-9). And yet—yes, “Yet!”—when Manasseh was imprisoned in Babylon, he humbled himself, repented, and called out to God, who granted his request to return to Judah. Even Manasseh “came to know that the Lord is God” (2 CH 33:13b).
God can bring the most obstinate sinners to their knees. Felix, surrounded with all the pomp, circumstance, graft, and corruption of a Roman Procurator, was oblivious to the living God, until the prisoner Paul spoke about “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come.” Felix was suddenly afraid, and told Paul, “Leave for now, but when I find time I’ll call for you” (Acts 24:24-25). Never give up on anyone. The worst, most belligerent heart can be softened. The Lord’s grace and power deserve never to be given up on.
Matt. 18:26b . . . and said, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!”
The servant couldn’t pay, but was determined to claim he could. Pride sticks to us sinners. To become Christ-followers, unbelievers must be not only convinced of their sins, but also humbled as to what can be done to fix them.
It is important to note he did not plead for grace to be extended. He opted for legalism and law. He asked for more time to let him do what he could do on his own. He was not truly penitent. We don’t understand or appropriate forgiveness till we realize we cannot do anything meritorious to make it happen. We all have only one hope: to cast ourselves on the mercy of the king.
Matt. 18:27 Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.
The servant’s debt, and our sins, deserved ultimate loss, yet the king’s response was to show mercy. Why? I know only one answer. God loves us because He loves us. God’s rationale for saving us comes from within Himself.
Be grateful grace resides in the King’s heart. His undeserved, uncaused-by-us, pity is our only hope for salvation. We are saved by grace, or not at all.
I am awestruck at the sheer beauty portrayed in our text. God’s love is lovely. We should be regularly contemplating it in light of our own forgiveness.
Few, if any, traits are prettier than forgiveness. President Lincoln pardoned a William Scott of the Third Vermont, who was to be executed for falling asleep at his post. Lincoln signed the pardon, but fearing it might not reach Scott in time, rode ten miles in his carriage to make sure the soldier was safe. William Scott later died in battle with six bullets in his body. His dying words were a prayer for the President. Forgiveness won the soldier’s heart.
Forgiveness is beautiful, and gives us one of our best hopes to live a beautiful life. We are to be winsome to win some, to forgive as God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32). We who have been forgiven must show forgiveness.
Maybe no trait more identifies a person as a Christian. Before Jesus, the standard was unlimited revenge; after Jesus, unlimited forgiveness. Our Master changed everything. Our lives must be repetitions of Jesus’ beautiful life.
British Prime Minister Gladstone once handled an extortioner with extraordinary forgiveness. His biographer John Morley wrote, “There was no worldly wisdom in it, we all know. But then what are people Christians for?” If the world can make sense of what we’re doing, we’re not living at a high level.
God’s people are their best when they forgive. “Love covers all offenses” (PR 10:12b). A person’s “virtue is to overlook an offense” (PR 19:11b).
Forgiveness beautifully reflects our beautiful Savior. On the cross, Jesus prayed for His enemies, “Father, forgive them” (LK 23:34). Were they saved as a result? No. Did they appropriate His forgiveness? No. In what way, then, was He praying for their forgiveness? He wanted it forever known that the propensity and desire to forgive was in Him long before it was asked for.
Sherryl Stone, in her husband Charles Stone’s book “5 Ministry Killers”, said of the ministry, “We must practice what I call pre-forgiveness. . . .hurt and discouragement come with ministry. Knowing this, I’ve tried to position my heart ahead of a hurt to extend grace even before it’s needed” (p. 191).
Our Savior, when it came to love, always did more than was expected of Him. Follow His example. Don’t wait to be asked to forgive. We tend to ask, “Should we forgive offenders if they do not ask us for it?” A better question is, “Would offenders be more likely to repent if they knew we had forgiven them?”
You may think this expectation is unreasonable and impractical. Maybe so, but since our Lord commanded it, shouldn’t we try it, and let it fail on its own merit, rather than pronounce judgment against the Lord’s directive?
Our first instinct is, this won’t work. Again, maybe so, but has any other method worked? Have anger, revenge, retribution, and hatred worked? Every method ever tried, apart from Christ’s remedy, has brought unmitigated disaster.
The very weakness that makes us skeptical of His plan is its key to success. Christianity has always thrived based on what appears to be failure.
Christianity succeeded, though Jesus bore a cross that looked like failure. Our martyrs are our victors, and our crucified Lord is our resurrected Champion. Never count God’s ways out. They confound us, but work.