“With what shall I come before the Lord? Shall I come with burnt offerings or year old calves? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (cf. Micah 6:6-8).

“Yeah pastor, ” someone might say, “but that’s in the Old Testament. Now—with the New Testament—we’re saved by grace and not by works. We don’t have to do anything, we just have to believe.”

You haven’t said that, but that is something that gets said. “Yeah, but that’s in the Old Testament…” means, “Stop making me feel bad. I don’t want to believe that. I don’t want to do that. So I’m not gonna.”

Understood rightly, the Old Testament teaches Law and Gospel perfectly, but what do you say to someone who rejects the teaching of half the Bible?

Let’s humor him.

Okay, you might say, how about this, from St. Paul:

“It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more…so that you may approve what is excellent [and not mediocre], and so be pure and blameless [and not grudge-holding revilers of the Truth], filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:9-11).

In a lot of ways, that’s the same as “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”

See—even the New Testament has it.

But even to that, someone might say, “Yeah, but St. Paul was a bigot.”

Have you heard that before?

That’s what they say, the ones God gave up to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies, because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:24-25).

St. Paul’s a bigot, they say, because he says such true things as “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (Timothy 2:12).

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is full of bigots, then, because we ordain men as pastors.

This is how the world sees it.

Pick a dictionary. Bigot is defined as simply as: “a person who is obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief.”

Every faithful Lutheran is obstinately and unreasonably attached to the Gospel.

Are you prepared to bear the cross of the label bigot?

First, they came for the Old Testament.

And then they came for what St. Paul wrote.

The world came for Jesus 2,000 years ago, nothing will stop it from coming after His Word today.

To Timothy, to all pastors, and for the Church, St. Paul writes:

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3-5).

And to His disciples, Jesus says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 16:1-4).

With that in mind, for those who are being saved, today’s Gospel lesson comforts us greatly when Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants” (Matthew 18:23).

To those who are perishing, nothing will be more terrifying than the judgment of God.

And, to those who are being saved, to the faithful who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God, nothing will be more satisfying than the judgment of God.

God desires to settle accounts.

To me, that is every reason to keep the faith, every reason to persist in the truth.

None of this is for naught, in vain, or without backing.

The time and hour is coming when being called a “bigot” will be par for the Christian course.

I’m saying this to you to keep you from falling away.

So that you will heed the truth and not the myth.

Your name is written in the Book of Life, and God desires to settle accounts, so, you won’t be lost to Him.

Blessed are you—for you will be satisfied.

And—attached to all this—there’s the parable of the unforgiving servant.

This, too, comforts greatly, because it shows the manner by which God has already settled our account.

“How often should we forgive our brother?” St. Peter asks. “Seven times?”

And Jesus says, “Always.” That’s not exactly what He says, but that’s exactly what He says.

Always forgive, because the blood of Christ always avails for you before God.

This is—simultaneously—how we are comforted in the midst of all sadness—and—how we are to live bearing the cross God gives us.

The man owed his master an impossible debt.

The penalty—for him and everyone under him—was prison, hell, and eternal death.

The man implored his master, saying “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything” (Matthew 18:26), and, in my mind, I always paraphrase that as “Have mercy, and I’ll pay you everything” but that’s not mercy.

The man thinks he can pay the debt.

He asks for more time to do so.

The master knows better.

He doesn’t want to let the man try (and fail) to pay off the impossible debt. Rather, “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27).

That’s mercy.

When we pray that petition, “Forgive us our trespasses,” the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter six are, “forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12).

Ours was an impossible debt.

The only way we know to operate is to work it off over time. Give us enough time, and we can accomplish anything, pay off any debt.

There can be a lot of practical sense to that, but that  fails utterly before God.

So that we would be saved, out of pity for us, God released us and forgave the debt.

But consider what that means.

The debt, impossible as it sounds, was somehow real.

It didn’t vanish. It wasn’t erased. Rather, the Master swallowed it, took it upon Himself.

All sin, all debt, is outweighed in the balance by the Holy, precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

He settled accounts. That’s mercy.

What follows is a negative example: the one forgiven refuses to forgive, and so the whole debt falls upon him, crushing him.

“Have you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone that the builders rejected as become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Matthew 21:42).

And, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:44).

“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother your from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

That’s justice. He settles accounts.

To forgive another person, then, is to believe that God has forgiven you.

Jesus teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Old Testament, New Testament, St. Paul, and Jesus—this is what God wants us to believe and how God wants us to live.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Third to Last Sunday (Trinity 22), 2020
Matthew 18:21-35
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Chief of sinners though I be / Christ is all in all to me; / All my wants to Him are known, / All my sorrows are His own. / He sustains the hidden life / Safe with Him from earthly strife (Lutheran Service Book, 611:4).

“Safe with Him from earthly strife”?

Doesn’t quite feel like it, does it?

What is the Christian life if it’s not the constant struggle against sin and death, hate and fear, cowardice and anger? And the already and inevitable victory of Christ?

That’s a bit too abstract, though.

If I say that the Christian life is a constant struggle against sin and death, you might think: “Yes, it must be terrible for those who struggle against sin. I wonder which pew they sit in.”

If I say that the Christian life is a constant struggle against hate and fear, you might excuse yourself because you only “dislike strongly;” you don’t hate. You might think you have nothing to be afraid of because of your last name and the county you live in, or because you’re wealthy, or because you’ve spent a lifetime collecting gossip, like grenades, ready to be hurled at your enemies.

If I say that the Christian life is a constant struggle against cowardice and anger, you might retreat into a hollow, puffed-out chest and raise your voice, but posture and tone do not necessarily connote strength.

A puffed-out chest and loudness can signify cowardice.

I don’t mean to speak in abstract ways.

I don’t know exactly what the author meant when he wrote that we are safe with Jesus from earthly strife, because it never seems that we are.

Earthly strife has many forms. Here are a few:

Every one of you is a sinner, a poor sinner, a miserable sinner. And every one of you will die.

Every one of you fails to love his neighbor as himself. You know—your neighbor—the family with small children who annoy you, the loud-mouth, the drunkard, the know-it-all, and the poor visitor who didn’t know that your pew was reserved.

Do you patiently endure these tests of faith?

Do you love your neighbor as yourself?

Or do you love yourself as you would have your neighbor love you?

Sinners all—this is what earthly strife can look like.

And worse—our sins have consequences.

When you roll your eyes at the mother of small children, when you “comfort” her by saying that maybe someday her kids will be like someone else’s kids, when you have conversations about how other parents parent and how no one parents like you parent, when you make yourself feel better by comparing your embellished best day with someone else’s hastily-misunderstood worst day—when you do these things, you scandalize your brothers and sisters in Christ, your congregation, your family—and when you hide behind anonymous complaints, you make it much, much worse.

Sinners sin and are sinned against.

Hurting people hurt people.

None are spared from earthly strife.

So Jesus says to Peter: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22).

Not once—but always—you forgive.

Because once—for always—you have been forgiven.

“Forgive us our [trespasses] as we forgive those who [trespass] against us” (Matthew 6:12).

For those who’re sinned against, there’s never a time when you can refuse to forgive, because there’s never a time when the Blood of Christ does not avail for all sinners everywhere.

Believe that you’re forgiven.

Forgive as you have been forgiven—because you have been forgiven.

And for those who sin—for you all—for us all—for sinners—poor sinners—poor, miserable sinners: let what parents say to children be said to you all: you are not the most important person in the world.

To you, Jesus tells this parable:

A king wished to settle accounts.

One servant owed him ten-thousand talents, an absurd, impossible debt. This servant begged for the time required to pay back the debt—an impossible task. But the king pitied him and forgave the debt, all of it.

Then, that forgiven servant sought out one who owed him one-hundred denarii—a real, but reasonable debt. And when this servant couldn’t pay, the forgiven servant put him in prison. Enter the king.

“‘Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the Lord” (cf. Romans 12:19).

“God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7).

The king came down, in force, and bound up the first servant and held him accountable for every penny of the un-payable debt.

Jesus says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

You are not the most important person in the world.

When you, even you, are sinned against—you must forgive.

In Christ, God has reconciled the world to Himself (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19).

In Christ, by the Blood of God, you have been purchased and won from sin and death, hate and fear, cowardice and anger.

It’s impossible for a Christian to believe that he is forgiven but not his neighbor.

It’s impossible for you to believe that you’re forgiven but not your neighbor. Act like it.

In the forgiveness of sins—in the consolation of Christ and each other—our Lord Jesus Christ sustains us. He keeps us safe from earthly strife.

I think that’s what he meant.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 22, 2019
Matthew 18:21-35
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt