Scriptures by MikeJenny


Matthew 18:21-35;

Key Proposition:
God’s mercy gives rest from revenge


 Introduction
 Mercy limits revenge
 Mercy places no limit on forgiveness
 Conclusion

   - Last Tuesday Robyn & I received two free tickets to a Dave
      Dobbyn concert at the Michael Fowler Centre
   - Dave was being accompanied by the Wellington Orchestra
   - So there was a real mix of people there

The music was fantastic
  - However, it just so happened that we were sitting beside a couple
     who wouldn’t stop talking
  - They just kept going on and on in a loud voice the whole time
  - And the things had they to say were not that edifying

I was concentrating on the music – so it didn’t really bothering me at first
   - But it was bothering the people in the row directly in front of us
   - So they turned round and asked the rowdy couple to be quiet
   - But this just made the rowdy couple speak louder

Eventually the people on the other side of them got involved
  - And so the rowdy couple started saying some insulting things about
     the pedigree of the people around them and who they had voted for
  - Then the guy in front of the rowdy couple stood up so they
     couldn’t see

By the time we had got into the second half of the show the animosity had
escalated to the point where people were swearing at each other and
threatening physical violence
   - The whole thing was becoming really tense
   - And I couldn’t help remembering the Queen Street riots
   - Which Dave Dobbyn had been unfairly blamed for years ago
While all this was going on it occurred to me how well this experience
fitted with what I was planning to speak on this morning
    - Which is the need for mercy

Over the past few weeks I have been speaking about rest
  - Sabbath gives rest from works of production and acquisition
  - Jubilee gives rest from poverty
  - And restoration gives rest from loss

This morning I plan to speak about mercy
   - God‟s mercy gives rest from revenge

Revenge is like a virus
  - It spreads between people – it destroys our ability to enjoy life
  - And it destroys the quality of our relationships
  - But mercy is the medicine which releases us from the power of
  - Mercy gives rest from revenge so that healing of relationships may
     take place
  - And so that we can hear and enjoy the music of life once more

Mercy limits revenge:
If we look at the Old Testament we notice that the Law of Moses did not
rule out vengeance altogether
    - But it did place a limit on revenge
    - From Leviticus 24, verse 17 we read…

                             [Display slide 1]

“If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death.
Anyone who takes the life of someone‟s animal must make restitution –
life for life. If anyone injures his neighbour, whatever he has done must
be done to him:

                             [Display slide 2]

fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the
other, so he is to be injured. Whoever kills an animal must make
restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. You are to have
the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.”

May the Spirit of Jesus guide our understanding of this Scripture
Now, when I first read these verses
  - I found it difficult to see where the mercy was
  - These verses about an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth
  - Actually seem to be advocating revenge
  - Further more they don’t seem to be consistent with the principle of
     restoration which we learned about two weeks ago
  - I mean the consequence for killing someone’s animal was restoring
     to that person 4 or 5 times what they had lost
  - And yet the consequence for killing a human being is death???

The death penalty is not restorative
  - If the principle of restoration applies to animals how much more
      should it apply to people?
  - You might not be able to replace someone’s husband or father or
      daughter or sister
  - But taking another life doesn’t usually help anyone

Well, the Law of Moses needs to be understood in its historical and
cultural context
   - By the standards of the day these verses about an eye for an eye
       and a tooth for a tooth were merciful compared with the laws of
       other people groups of that time
   - The Law of Moses sought to limit people’s lust for revenge
   - By saying a life for a life and an eye for an eye,
   - Moses was not advocating retaliation
   - To the contrary he was saying don’t go overboard with revenge
   - Don’t pay back double or worse as other nations do

It’s like our speed limit signs on the road
    - You’ve all seen the sign painted like a bulls eye with a 100 in the
        middle, and the words: It‟s not a target – drive to the conditions
    - The point is, our speed limit signs are not a command to drive
        exactly at that speed regardless of the circumstances
    - They are simply a command not to exceed that speed
    - We are encouraged to drive under the speed limit
    - If the conditions are less than ideal

Same thing with the eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth rule
  - The Israelites were encouraged to show mercy to those who had
     injured them
  - In Leviticus 19, verse 17, (part of the same law) we read...

                             [Display slide 3]
“Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly
so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge
against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the

In other words, the eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth principle is not a
target – it’s not something to aim for
   - It’s an upper limit
   - Speak your truth to your neighbour by all means
   - But drive to the conditions
   - Treat your neighbour as you would like to be treated
   - So if the boot were on the other foot what would you want?
   - I think most people would want mercy

The Law of Moses was more merciful than the cultural norms of the day
in other ways to
    - For example, it provided cities of refuge for people who killed
       someone by accident
    - So you couldn’t take revenge on someone who committed
    - Not only this but the Law also required a process of fair trial for the
       accused so that the truth could be established before any action was
    - In these and other ways the Law of Moses actually went beyond
       the standards of the day in advocating justice and mercy for all

Now, as I’ve said before The Law of Moses was part of God’s covenant
specifically with the people of Israel
   - And we are not a party to that covenant
   - But we do have opportunity to participate in a new covenant
   - A covenant in which our sins are forgiven and God writes his law
       on our hearts
   - A covenant made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection

So what does Jesus (who fulfills the Law) have to say about these things
   - From Matthew 5, verses 38 & 39 we read Jesus’ words…

                             [Display slide 4]

“You have heard that it was said, „Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.‟ But I
tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right
cheek, turn to him the other also…”
What Jesus says here is extremely challenging to me
  - And it raises a whole host of questions
  - For example, does this just apply in personal relationships
  - Or does it also extend to international relations as well?
  - And how are we meant to understand the phrase…
  - Do not resist an evil person
  - Surely Jesus does not mean that we should let evil go unchecked
  - I mean what do you do if someone else is being attacked?
  - During the 2nd World War, the Christian theologian, Dietrich
     Bonheoffer, believed he needed to intervene by plotting to kill

There are lots of ways we can interpret these verses
  - But our understanding is helped most when we read them in light
      of the original context
  - Jesus was addressing his fellow Jews, many of whom had adopted
      a less than merciful interpretation of the Law of Moses
  - So rather than seeing the eye for eye, tooth for tooth principle as a
      limit on retaliation
  - Some saw it as a target or an excuse for exacting personal revenge
  - They were applying the Law in the wrong direction
  - They were taking it to the wrong extreme – away from mercy

I wonder if Jesus is going to the other extreme here
   - In order to make the point that people were heading in the wrong
      direction with their interpretation of the Law
   - It’s like Jesus is saying, the Law was originally pointing in the
      direction of mercy
   - But somehow people have hijacked it to justify personal revenge
   - So let’s turn things around and start heading in the right direction

This idea that people were applying the Law in the wrong way is further
revealed in verse 43 of Matthew 5, where Jesus says…

                             [Display slide 5]

“You have heard that it was said, „Love your neighbour and hate your
enemy.‟ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who
persecute you.”
Now, no where in the Law does it say, ‘Love your neighbour and hate
your enemy’
   - We all heard before from Leviticus 19 how it says ‘Love your
      neighbour as yourself’
   - But it does not say, ‘Hate your enemy’
   - And yet, some people read it that way
   - It’s like Jesus is saying here, much of what you have been brought
      up to believe is wrong
   - So let’s go back to the original text and read it again with new eyes
   - To see what’s it’s really saying

Sometimes we get confused about who our neighbour is
  - Sometimes we think that our neighbours are our friends
  - But this is not necessarily the case
  - Our neighbour is whoever happens to be near us
  - And the people near us are not always friendly or considerate
  - In fact sometimes our neighbours are complete strangers to us
  - Sometimes they sit beside us in Dave Dobbyn concerts talking
     loudly and abusively

So Jesus corrects our misunderstanding and he asks us to love our
neighbour even when our neighbour happens to be an enemy
   - Because that’s where the Law of Moses is heading
   - It’s heading towards justice and mercy
   - It’s heading towards peace for all

                         [Stop displaying slide 5]

Clint Eastwood made a film called Letters from Iwo Jima
   - It tells the story of the battle for Iwo Jima from the Japanese
   - I’d like to play you a short clip from the movie now

  [Play the clip from “Letters from Iwo Jima” starting from chapter 22
              Mark in at: 1:21:30 and mark out at: 1:22:48
           You will need to put the English subtitles on first]

In the clip we just saw, an American soldier is shot by a Japanese soldier
    - The Japanese officer then orders his men to bring the wounded
       American into their cave
    - One Japanese soldier asks, “Shall I finish him off?”
    - To which the officer replies, “No. Treat him – you would expect
       the same wouldn‟t you? Treat him”
   - “But we are low on morphine as it is and the Americans would not
     treat a wounded Japanese soldier”
   - “Son, have you ever met one? Treat him.”

Even though he was an enemy and even though they were low on
  - The Japanese officer showed mercy to the American soldier
  - They bandaged his wounds and relieved him of his pain

Later, after the American dies they find a letter from his mother on him
   - The Japanese officer reads it aloud
   - And the Japanese soldiers realize that the Americans, their enemy,
       weren’t that different from them after-all
   - The letter finishes with the words…
   - “Remember son, always do what is right because it is right.”

Mercy calls for a limit to revenge, even in war
  - But there is no limit to forgiveness

Mercy places no limit on forgiveness:
From Matthew 18, verse 21 we read…

                             [Display slide 6]

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?" Jesus
answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

                             [Display slide 7]

"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle
accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed
him ten thousand talents was brought to him.

                             [Display slide 8]

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. "The servant
fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will
pay back everything.'

                             [Display slide 9]
The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him
go. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke
him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

                            [Display slide 10]

"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me,
and I will pay you back.' "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the
man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

                            [Display slide 11]

When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly
distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I
canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.

                            [Display slide 12]

Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on
you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured,
until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father
will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

May the Spirit of Jesus guide our understanding of these verses

                            [Display slide 13]

This passage begins with Peter asking Jesus how many times he should
forgive his brother (or a fellow Israelite in other words)
   - Peter doesn’t wait for Jesus to respond however
   - He offers the answer straight away, saying “Seven times?”
   - The cultural norm for Jews at the time was to forgive someone
      three times
   - Three strikes and you’re out
   - So by suggesting seven times, Peter is showing how generous he is
   - But this is still not generous enough for Jesus who answers…
   - Not seven times but seventy seven times

Some translations have seventy times seven which is literally 490 times
  - In any case Jesus is not offering a specific number here
  - Jesus is speaking metaphorically
   - He is going to an extreme in order to make the point that there is no
     upper limit to forgiveness
   - The Law does prescribe a limit to revenge
   - But there is no limit to forgiveness

Jesus then proceeds to illustrate his point by telling a parable about a
merciful king and his servants

                             [Display slide 14]

The king wanted to settle accounts with his servants and at the beginning
of this process a man is brought to him who owes 10,000 talents
    - Now in this context a talent is not something you are good at
    - A talent is a measure of wealth
    - The highest measure of wealth there is in-fact
    - In those days whole provinces measured their GDP in talents
    - For example, some historians say that the total revenue of a
       wealthy province like Galilee was 300 talents per annum
    - So 10,000 talents represented more money than you could imagine
    - It was like 33 years worth of revenue for the entire province of
       Galilee – It’s an extreme amount.
    - But perhaps Jesus is going to extremes in order to make a point

                             [Display slide 15]

The servant begs the king saying…
  - “Be patient with me, I will pay back everything”
  - The servant can not repay this amount of course, it is impossible
  - Which makes the king’s mercy even more incredible
  - For he is not only forgiving an unimaginable debt
  - He is also forgiving his servant for lying to his face

Notice the words, “…and let him go”
  - In the song we heard earlier while collecting the offering
  - The singer, Duffy. keeps saying …
  - “I‟m begging you for mercy, why won‟t you release me”
  - Mercy and release go together
  - The mercy of forgiveness is about letting go
  - The mercy of forgiveness is about releasing people
  - And not holding power over them

                             [Display slide 16]
So what does the servant do with his freedom?
   - From verse 28 we learn that he goes out straight away,
   - Finds one of his fellow servants who owes him a hundred denarii
   - Grabs him by the throat, starts choking him
   - And demands to be repaid the money he is owed
   - Then when the second servant begs for mercy using the same
     words the first servant had used…
   - “Be patient with me and I will pay you back.”
   - The unforgiving servant throws him in prison

Can you see the contrasts here?
  - There is the contrast in the amount of money that is owed
  - A denarii was equivalent to a days pay for a labourer at that time
  - So 100 denarii is about 3 or 4 months pay
  - By comparison with the 10,000 talents it is hardly anything at all
  - It could have easily been repaid with a little time

Then there is the contrast between the unforgiving servant and the king
  - The king was not violent – he gave a fair hearing
  - But the unforgiving servant was violent
  - Grabbing his fellow workmate by the throat and demanding

And when his workmate begged for mercy
  - The unforgiving servant threw him in prison
  - The exact opposite of what the king had done in setting him free

                            [Display slide 17]

Interestingly when the other servants see what’s going on
   - They become greatly distressed
   - The other servants see themselves as their brother’s keeper
   - And so it bothers them to see injustice
   - They don’t ignore the situation
   - Nor do they take matters into their own hands
   - Rather they go to the king and tell him everything
   - Clearly this king has a reputation for doing the right thing
   - Because his servants trust him

                            [Display slide 18]

When the king hears about all this he calls the unforgiving servant in and
rebukes him, calling him wicked and saying…
   - “I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.
     Shouldn‟t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had
     on you?
   - Then the king handed the unforgiving servant over to be tortured
     by the jailers until he should repay the debt

There’s no way a man can earn money to repay his debt while in prison
  - Nor does going to prison in any way compensate for the debt
  - The idea was to see if any wealthy friends or relatives might come
      out of the wood work to repay the money owed
  - Of course, given the incredible sum of the debt
  - And given the fact that the unforgiving servant probably didn’t
      have too many friends by this stage
  - It seems likely that this man would die in prison
  - The punishment is severe
  - But no more severe than the servant’s own behaviour
  - He was willing to lock someone up for just 100 denarii
  - How much more should he be locked up for 10,000 talents

Looking at the flip side of this punishment, as severe as it sounds
  - It actually represents mercy for the community as a whole
  - Because a man like the unforgiving servant was destructive to the
     well-being of those around him

Some people read these words of Jesus and they jump to the conclusion
that the prison where the servant goes to be tortured is a reference to hell
   - A place of eternal pain and torment
   - I don’t believe we need to read it that way at all
   - There is no reference to hell in these verses
   - The parable is primarily about God’s mercy to us
   - And our need to show mercy to others
   - As Jesus’ concluding remark makes clear…

                             [Display slide 19]

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

God is like the king
  - His first inclination toward us is abundant mercy
  - Extreme mercy beyond comprehension is God’s default setting
  - And God expects us to treat others the way He treats us
  - With generous mercy and forgiveness
But if we don’t, then God becomes angry
  - And he treats us with the same severity with which we have treated
       others – the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth principle
  - Perhaps the corporal punishment aspects of the law of Moses were
       only meant to apply in extreme cases
  - Cases like the unforgiving servant

                       [Stop displaying slide 19]

Whichever way we look at it though…
  - Jesus means for us to choose mercy for others and for ourselves

Mercy places a limit on revenge
  - But mercy places no limit on forgiveness

God’s mercy gives rest from revenge
  - It makes it possible for us to forgive others
  - And to find release for our ourselves

Let us pray…

I’m not sure what these Scriptures might touch on for you
   - Or indeed what might have happened for you during the past week
   - But if you would like someone to pray with you after the service
   - There will be two people available at the back of the auditorium on
      your left
   - Now let us sing about the love of God…

♫     Love Divine…

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