NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
What a wonderful journey we’ve just completed through chapter eighteen of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus had just been confronted by the local temple tax collectors and sent Peter to catch a fish in Lake Galilee to pay them. Not only for Himself but Peter as well, since it appears that Jesus was staying at Peter’s house in Capernaum. But the irony was, that Jesus had disputed the need to pay taxes since He and His disciples were royalty, and royalty did not pay taxes.
When the other disciples heard that they were considered royalty because they were children of the King of Heaven, they came to Jesus and wanted to know who were the most outstanding citizens of God’s Kingdom. To their amazement, Jesus motioned to a little child standing nearby and called the child to Him. Then looking at the disciples Jesus told them that it was people, who like little children, with their trust and willingness to learn that symbolized members of the kingdom of God.
Furthermore, Jesus told them that if anyone causes such a young innocent believer to go astray it would be better for them to be taken out to sea and dropped overboard with a large stone around their necks than for them to continue misleading others. Jesus made it clear that neither He nor His heavenly Father liked people who cause other people to sin.
Jesus even suggested that if a person knows they have a weakness that leads them to sin, get rid of it even it may be painful and limit them in some way, like a person who has their leg amputated because of gangrene. It is better for a person to go through life with one leg than to put their whole body at risk because they don’t want to lose it. While it would be easy to see this as representative of bad habits and addictions, Jesus was not talking about the body but the soul. The body will one day decay, but the soul lives on.
So our Lord decided to tell some parables to help His disciples understand the point He was trying to make. He started with the story of a sheep that wandered away from the flock. When the shepherd noticed that one of his 100 sheep was gone, he left the 99 in the care of one of his helpers and went off in search of that lost sheep. He did not stop until he found the sheep and brought it back to the fold. Then Jesus told them that God was that shepherd. And if any of His children are lead astray, for some reason, He will not give up until that sheep if brought back.
But Jesus wasn’t through, He then went on to tell how His children should deal with those in the congregation who go astray; that it is to be a matter of counseling, not condemnation. And if that person cannot be persuaded to repent, then take along others to help in getting them to turn around. Don’t stop until you have done all you can possibly do to get them to come back. If they do decide to return and become obedient again to the way of a believer, then those who went in search of them can tell them all is forgiven. Jesus said, even His Father in heaven will agree to such forgiveness. But, if they are stubborn and refuse to repent, then if they are told they can no longer be part of the congregation, God will also sanction that decision.
This prompted Peter to approach Jesus and ask Him how many times can someone like that be forgiven. Can it be up to seven times? Jesus told him, it can be up to seventy-seven times. As long as there is genuine repentance, there is forgiveness. Forgiveness is like soothing, healing medication. It has already been paid for and is always available in sufficient quantity to meet any need. But repentance is opening the lid in order to use it.
Apparently Jesus was not satisfied with the look on Peter’s face, so He told another parable about a king who was collecting the taxes owed him. One of his subjects was so far behind in his taxes that the amount owed was insurmountable. Based on the laws of those days, if the man could not pay, then the king could have the man’s land, houses, barns, sheep, cattle, wife, children, and servants sold in order to pay the tax bill. The man fell on his knees and begged the king to give him some tax relief. The king was so moved that he canceled the whole debt.
The man went away rejoicing until he met a neighbor who owed him a small amount of money. But instead of doing the same thing for his neighbor that the king had just done for him, he grabbed the man by the neck and demanded that he pay what he owed immediately. His neighbor fell on his knees and begged for more time in order to pay, but the man had no mercy on him and called the authorities to have him thrown in jail.
When others living around heard what this ungrateful man had done to his neighbor, they went and told the king. The king immediately had this despicable man brought back in and harshly condemned him for his actions. Then he had him thrown in jail where he was to be tortured until he agreed to sell whatever he needed in order to pay the king what he owed. Jesus told Peter and the others that this was how God would deal with those to whom He offered forgiveness but who have not forgiven others. What a tremendous lesson for all of us to learn.
We will begin in chapter nineteen tomorrow. I hope you will continue the journey with me as we go down what may be to many of you an unfamiliar road. I’m sure there will be surprises and many nuggets of wisdom along the way. God bless you for your dedication to His Word.