Unconditional Forgiveness

Apr 23, 2023

Unconditional Forgiveness

Passage: Matthew 18:21-35

Preacher: Jeff Crotts

Series: Matthew

Category: Sunday Morning


Matthew 18:21-35 Unconditional Forgiveness


Intro: [READ verses 19-20]

[KEY] Most agree, life’s a blur

  • Kids, Wife, 2 big dogs.
  • Time passes quickly.


[Question] “What is the main thing you want to see happen in your lifetime?” 

  • What’s on your bucket list?


[App] Covid, tho back-burner’d, measured everything by health. 


  • Scripture says, “Everything comes down to one thing.”
    • “Whether your sins are forgiven?”

[Appl] Experience says so. Someone you love, your child. Most important thing you want is their forgiveness. Salvation.


[Question] “What is forgiveness?”

A debt owed, now canceled, no longer owed. 

[Illus] Years ago, I had money forgiven, “the debt is paid in full.” Received this as a  handwriting a note, “debt paid in full!”  Which is unforgettable. 

[Illus] In relationships more significant. Sinned against someone, beyond repair, person commits: “I forgive you.” This restoration is more unforgettable. 


[TRANS] 75 pictures in Bible on forgiveness. Modernized list. 

To forgive is to turn the key, open the cell door, and let the prisoner free. To forgive is to write in large letters cross a debt “nothing owed.” To forgive is to pound the gavel in a courtroom and declare the person not guilty. To forgive is to shoot an arrow so high and so far that it can never be retrieved. To forgive is to take out the garbage and dispose of it, leaving the house fresh and clean. To forgive is to loose the anchor and set the ship free to sail.

Again, a few more biblical pictures. To forgive is to grant a full pardon to a condemned and sentenced criminal. To forgive is to loosen a stranglehold on a wrestling opponent. To forgive is to sandblast a wall of graffiti, leaving it looking brand new. To forgive is to smash a clay pot into a thousand pieces so it can never be put together again. These are biblical pictures of forgiveness, very instructive. Forgiveness is a marvelous, virtuous, liberating, loving attitude and act. It makes sense to forgive. It is healthy; it is wholesome; it is sensible; it is freeing. It brings peace; it engenders love. That is why Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man’s foolishness is not to forgive.” It is folly.

[TRANS] Text Focus: Christ canceling all sin, for us and others.

  • Forgiveness, priority over everything.

[Question] “If choose between full health or forgiven, what choose?”

[Appl] 99 out of 100 times, the world chooses health.  Covid news and/or w/regulations in recent history validates this.  The “have and have nots” was the way everything was evaluated, representing the high premium everyone puts on their health. 

Wanting to be healthy is not wrong, in fact, it can be a good priority.  The problem is when your health becomes central to life.  When suffering is only sad and not redemptive. 

Christians, likewise, give way to sadness over sickness.  Personal health dominates when forgiveness is really the pearl of great price, the pinnacle gift, the access code to everything.  Without forgiveness we are hopeless, guilty, shameful, and lost in our sins. 

Sin creates the barrier against the One who owns everything.  Our existence, our future, our eternity, our health, our resources, our life circumstances.  When the barrier of our sin is broken down and your guilt of sin is solved, then nothing is withheld in your relationship with God.

ESV  Psalm 84:11 For the LORD God is aa sun and xshield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. bNo good thing does he withhold from those who cwalk uprightly. (Psa 84:11 ESV)

[Illus] I heard recently that what really matters in life is what is accounted for by epithets written on gravestones. “He was a good father; mother; husband.” What matters on your deathbed is that you lived a life reconciled with those you love.

[Context] Jesus address his 12.

  • Answering whether forgiveness ever runs out of gas.
    • “Enough is ever enough?”
    • Forgiveness, when grace-based, is necessarily unconditional.
      • Not based on “conditional” you.
      • Based on “unconditional? grace.


Jesus’ Values of the Kingdom (Matthew 18).

Childlike Humility (vv. 1-6)

Radical Amputation (vv. 7-9)

Sacrificial Rescue (vv. 10-14)

Affectionate Holiness (vv. 15-20)

Unconditional Forgiveness (vv. 21-35)


[TRANS] A conversation with Jesus on forgiveness.

[Prop] Jesus’ conversation takes 4 turns proving forgiveness is necessarily unconditional.

1st turn

  1. A pragmatic question (v. 21)

[KEY] Matthew tying X’s teaching on 4 stage “church discipline” w/ Peter’s question.

We owe a very great deal to the fact that Peter had a quick tongue. Again and again he rushed into speech in such a way that his impetuosity drew from Jesus teaching which is immortal. On this occasion Peter thought that he was being very generous. He asked Jesus how often he ought to forgive his brother, and then answered his own question by suggesting that he should forgive seven times. [Barclay]

[TRANS] Peter rep’s group, raising, value of Kingdom.

  • Peter, child-like, to earn X’s favor.
    • Offers 2x Jesus’ expectation to forgive.
    • “When is enough, enough!”


  • When sinned agst/point of no return?
    • When generated by Spirit and grace, forgiveness becom’s/inexhaustible.
    • When you are source of forgiving, you’ll reach capacity.
    • Jesus’ version is by de facto, limitless.


  • Peter’s testing to impress X.
    • How much he’s willing to forgive.


[Illus] Citing rabbi’s, based on Amos (cff. Amos 1:3,6,8,11,13).


  • 3 as a number of completion, 7 also number of completion/ straw in terms of Judah/Israel, in Amos.


  • God’s wrath in term so 3 strikes and you’re out.

ESV  Job 33:29 "Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, (Job 33:29 ESV)

[Point] “three transgressions” akin to “three strikes and you’re out!” comes to mind.

  • Operate w/in the condition of 3 but no more.
    • Peter proposes to operate w/in own strength to live the Xian life.
      • Re-double efforts to achieve favor w/ God.
      • Pattern to forgive 3, willing to do double.
        • Attempting to be magnanimous.
        • Falls short in way Peter nt/think.


  • Forgiveness in terms of quantity not quality.


  • Number-effort quick default, false measure of godliness.
    • Not focused on heart and HS.
    • Forfeiting doctrine of grace alone.


[Appl] Enumerating faithlessness to detriment. And/or, enumerating faithfulness to our detriment. Easily quantify failure/success in terms of counting morning attendance or bible studies/home groups. As measurements calculations vise the heart.


[Appl] Every false religion or every other religion is based on works righteousness.


[TRANS] Jesus reframes conversation toward the heart.

  1. An impossible response (v. 22)

[KEY] Performance-based spirituality is unreachable.

  • Putting performance-based forgiving out of reach off the table.
    • “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (v. 22).
      • ESV’s translation.
      • NASB or LSB say, “seventy times seven” which is 490 times.


  • Literal bt/hyperbolic response.
    • If calculus, ramp frm/7x to 490x.
    • X’s response, “you can live this way.”

[Appl] 500 forgives (flesh) where cont’d/break down is unsustainable. Why forgiving becomes conditional.

  • Failsafe mechanisms protect hearts from unspeakable hurt.

[Illus] Xian version of conditional forgiveness. Only forgive when request made.

  • Jesus’ words (from Luke) misconstrued.

ESV  Luke 17:3-4 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him." (Luk 17:3-4 ESV)


  • Jesus’ point is when people seek forgiveness, relational forgiving is automatic.
    • Not keeping a record of wrong.
    • Record of wrong, not forgiving frm/heart.


  • w/o hesitation, when forgiveness, integrity-based, then involuntary forgiveness!


  • This should not limit prayerful posture of forgiveness.
    • Anyone/everyone who has every sinned against you.
      • No grudging.
      • Unspeakable wounds left in life must be forgiven.
        • “let go of!”
        • To heal.
          • Bitterness will eat you up.
          • Control your life.


  • Jesus template says, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (cf. Mt. 6:12) which unconditional.
    • Forgive, bc/Jesus first forgave us!
    • Paul calls to be kind one to another, tender hearted forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you (cf. Eph. 4:32).
      • Emphasis on softening in heart, our kindness.
      • No requirement in section.


[Appl] Come to X by repentance and faith but the emphasis here is being soft to offenders like X was toward us. This is being reconciled towards others in terms of God, vertically. While not necessarily being reconciled horizontally with others relationally. 

Jesus models this on the cross when he says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Steven in kind at his martyrdom (cf. Acts 7), with Jesus’ standing in full affirmation at the right hand of the Father, prays for God to now hold this sin against them.


ESV  Acts 7:60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

 (Act 7:60 ESV)

  • Paul let go of harm done against him, leaving Alexander the coppersmith to the Lord’s justice.

ESV  2 Timothy 4:14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. (2Ti 4:14 ESV)

[KEY] Forgiveness floods out like an ocean bc/forgiveness nt/originate frm/self.

  • “Outside of you, grace” “Outside of you, forgiveness.”


[Appl] When forgiveness originates from/w/in: identities, control, met w/decision to either bottle up resentment or let something go.

The world knows undealt with wounds, scars, stored resentment is a killer, so they say do one of three things.

One, you must forget it which is accomplished by a series of prescribes or unprescribed distractions coming in the form of drugs, entertainment, immorality, or relationships.

Second, is to seek revenge for what was done to you, whether by legal justice or illegal vengeance, just so long as they get what’s coming to them, so you can be at peace. Sound familiar?

Third, is some form of self-forgiveness. This is a psychological katharsis where you come to find inner peace through a self-cleansing, by playing to role of priest to yourself, saying “I forgive me!”  Act of self-pronouncement is to free you from feeling bound by your own hurt or false-guilt in relationship to others.

All trails are dead ends of self-worship which deaden the spirit.

[KEY] One last trail Christianized as Peter’s proposal - conditional forgiveness.

  • To say, I will forgive you if your sins against me do not persist, literally passed seven times.
    • Playing God-role.
    • Only God can solve.


  • Six times, well okay, seventh.
    • Any self-prescribed number becomes a measurement of grace you can give.
    • Have capacity to offer.
      • Can only offer this much only.
      • Limited grace eventually turns into a wall.


  • Door closes, your will closes.


[TRANS] Jesus counteracts this kind of thinking with an illustration which is more a story.


  1. An indicting illustration (vv. 23-34)

[READ vv. 23-33]


  1. Scenario 1


  1. The problem (vv. 23-25)

[Note] “Therefore” makes the immediate connection to Jesus’ counterpoint to Peter.

  • Story explains what Jesus means by “seventy times seven” (cf. v. 22).
    • X teaching values of kingdom.
      • What his kingdom all about.
      • Unconditionally forgiving others.


  • Jesus compares God to this ruling king.

[Appl] Heaven not a democracy but monarchy; only way it could be in terms of  King who is God, ruling mankind.


  • First scene, the king reconciling accounts w/servants.
    • Basic taxes owed.
    • Collections, nothing nefarious.


  • Man, father, husband brought to king bc/owed 10,000 talents.
    • Unpayable amount.
    • Debt-to-income ratio is overblown.
      • No recourse but beg for grace.
        • Makes a first pronouncement based on the numbers (imagine that!).
          • Logic says, “deserves what’s coming.”
          • Orders to be sold into slavery w/wife, children.
            • All he had.
            • Payment to me made.


  • Slave and family bound for the rest of life.
    • Paying w/life and family’s lives.
    • Lives as collateral for what, never pay back.


  1. The plea (v. 26)

[KEY] Hopeless adjudication.

  • Crushing w/man falling on knees, bowed in worship-post.
    • Reduced to begging: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything” (v. 26).
      • Cry of desperation, no recourse for repayment.
      • Nothing could ever do, to make this right.


  • Appears to take responsibility for what done.
    • Posture, less about self-pity.
    • More about taking responsibility.

[Appl] Culture blames everyone else for your circumstances claiming victim status is what weakens society.

  • Flesh is weak and defaults to lazy when we allow for this.


[Illus] The sin of Thessalonica, was a sin of laziness, where Paul called upon the church-to-church discipline those unwilling to work. “If you do not work, you do not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). You cannot freeload off the Body of Christ, when your testimony is being a lazy sluggard, who no doubt blames everyone else but himself for not providing.


  • This man’s knee jerk response is saying, if you give me a chance, I will work off my loan!


  • The pity (v. 27)

[KEY] Master moved w/compassion towards slave’s response, inside guts.

  • Pity for man generated from pitiable state as well as willingness to work.


  1. The pronouncement (v. 27b)

[KEY] Master moved decision frm/forever slave to whole again.

  • Forgave and released full obligation.
    • Defines forgiveness.
    • Total reset w/o conditions.


  • Two words express action: “release” and “let go of.”
    • Origin of master’s forgiveness? Pity.
    • Heart spawned magnanimous gesture.

[Illus] 10,000 talents [bags of gold bars] is 3.48 billion. 200,000 years of labor. Making this truly an unpayable amount. 10,000 is [Grk murios] “myriads and myriads” (cf. Rev. 5:11; 1 Cor. 4:15 uncountable angels).


  1. Scenario 2


  1. The problem (v. 28)

[KEY] Next scenario, absolute contrast first scenario.

  • Same servant w/zero-time lapse, found delinquent, pleading for mercy, being forgiven.
    • First slave appeared repentant bt/was superficial.
    • “Time and truth go hand in hand!”


  • Repentance false what he does next.
    • Peer owed him a hundred denarii.
      • 3-month wages and he throttles him.
      • Seizing and choking, saying Pay what you owe (v. 28).


  • Violence reveals this person’s volatile, angry state of heart.
    • Demand for money reveals greed.   


  1. The plea (v. 29)

[KEY] Difference between man’s debt vs. other, is this slave could work it off.

  • Jesus explains man saying exact same words as the other slave.
    • Same plea, different circumstances.

[Illus] Prior debt, 10,000 talents (gold bags, kings fortune, value of entire region). This amount is 100 denarii [silver coins], days wage is denarii, this is 3.5 mos. Wages, 20/30K. You can pay this amount back.

  • The pity (v. 30)

[KEY] In terms of pity, there is none.

  • First man could not possibly pay it back and this man could.
    • Revealing massive disparity btwn/2 positioned to forgive.
    • Man’s heart, hard, where the former Master was soft.


  • This man both refused to forgive and imprisoned him.
    • Not release the dept.
    • Ended life as this man new it.


  • Debtor’s prison puts someone in perpetual debt.
    • Stay here until debt is paid.
    • Where cannot pay it from.
      • No way out.
      • Airs of spirituality.


[Appl] Bottled up guilt hardens heart, irrational behavior attempts to incarcerate someone, causing this guilt. Jail the guilt.


  1. The pronouncement (vv. 31-34)


  1. Peer pronouncement (v. 31)

[KEY] A reaction to injustice.

  • Servants witnessed incredible mercy given.
    • Same one who turned on their friend.
    • They could not stand for this.


  • “…greatly distressed” (v. 31), so that told on him.
    • Hypocrisy too much.
    • They made a report.


  1. Master’s pronouncement (vv. 32-34)

[KEY] Picture God’s righteous anger angst/being unforgiving.

  • Master surmised the prior plea for forgiveness was superficial.

[Illus] Like so many pursuing debt forgiveness for what they know they truly owe. Student loan forgiveness. An appeal for cheap grace.

  • Master draws massive disparity btwn/man forgiven w/what this man was unwilling to do.
    • The key is to understand that the issue was not quantity of forgiveness but quality of forgiveness.
    • What drove the master’s forgiveness is what should have driven the servant’s forgiveness. Mercy.
      • A changed heart is a merciful heart.
      • A heart that is moved by mercy gives mercy and a heart that is impassive or unmoved by mercy will not care to give mercy.


  • The issue here is not the experience of mercy but the recognition of it.
    • Being changed by mercy makes for being merciful.
    • “And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (v. 33).

[KEY] “And in anger” which is righteous anger, his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay his debt.

  • What does this mean?
    • This man given ultimate grace ended right back where he began, debtors prison, a picture of eternal hell.
    • The inescapable reality of perpetual indebtedness.


  • Jailers are the angels of God, carrying out God’s will to punish a hardened heart.

“Jesus sees not incongruity in the actions of a heavenly Father who forgives so bountifully and punishes so ruthlessly. Neither should we” [Expositor’s Bible Com].

ESV  Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,

5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,

6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Heb 6:4-6 ESV)

[Barclay] …X’s parable teaches certain lessons which Jesus never tired of teaching.

It teaches that lesson which runs through all the New Testament--a man must forgive in order to be forgiven. He who will not forgive his fellow-men cannot hope that God will forgive him. "Blessed are the merciful," said Jesus, "for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt. 5:7).

No sooner had Jesus taught his men his own prayer, than he went on to expand and explain one petition in it: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15). Divine and human forgiveness go hand in hand.

  1. An ultimate principle (v. 35)


  1. Warning of Hell

[KEY] Jesus’ makes the clear principled statement as an application.

  • God the Father will do this to “every one of you” – Jesus speaking to a crowd that for all appearances seemed fine.


[Appl] The scary thing to this warning is to consider how this applies to everyone susceptible to works-based religion. No one would think this servant forgiven so much could remain susceptible to hardening his heart so much. However, when forgiveness remains superficial, not penetrating the heart, then someone is in the same spiritual state as before.


This was Peter’s vulnerable condition. We know he was a true believer but if not. If like Judas, a called Apostle, who for all appearances was born again, if he could be found unmerciful, then everyone should examine themselves in light of this warning.


[Appl] Are we willing to forgive the wayward sinner, who under church discipline, returns? Or do we shut the doorway in our hearts, not leaving a way for someone to return home?


[Appl] Peter was on the tipping point of hardening where he could have come under discipline. If mercy is squandered and ignored, then our heart to forgive will dry up. The Gospel gives us so much, that when spurned will backfire on someone’s heart. What more could we be given, so failing to acknowledge this kind of mercy, renders the heart dead to showing mercy.  


  • They were not the enemies of Christ on the face of things.
    • Not Pharisees.
    • But when it comes down to being forgiving.

ESV  James 2:13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (Jam 2:13 ESV)

  • About being someone who would bestow unconditional forgiveness flowing out of a transformed heart, who will be left standing?
    • Most people will say, “enough is enough!” I tried but I’m done, and ready to exact vengeance.
    • Seize and choke not release and forgive.


  1. Want of Heart

[Question] “What does someone need to unconditionally forgive?”

  • One thing. A new heart.
    • The condition is being a “brother” equipped to forgive from “your heart” (v. 35).
    • What kind of heart can forgive and will genuinely forgive?


  • Transformed heart that recognizes the unfathomable mercy that has been first bestowed to us.
    • We deserve hell, eternal hell and instead we have been given mercy!
    • Released and forgiven, not seized and choked! We forgive everyone and every time because we know we were forgiven – everyone who has believed and for every sin – committed every time.


  • This is why we forgive.

[Appl] Practically speaking it is important to realize that forgiveness does not mean everything in every case returns to it was before.

There can be a testing period. There can be final consequences to decisions made in marriage, ministries, or employment. This is to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

The one biblical implication is to not remember a sin against someone. Do you remember someone’s offence?

In terms of traumatic scars, yes, but no in terms of holding someone responsible for your judgment, no.

We leave judgments and justice with the Lord, otherwise, we will become enslaved by the fallout of what has been done against us.

[Question] “Do you have a heart equipped to forgive?” “Unconditionally?”

  • This is the Xians’s heart.


  • Soft hearts enter heaven; hard hearts will not.


  • X’s mercy is the only difference, it always makes the difference.


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