In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus shared a story of a servant who owed his king an impossible debt.
Jesus said his debt was ten thousand talents (Matt 18:24). Now, one talent alone was an incredibly large amount. It was about twenty years wages for a typical laborer at that time. So 10,000 talents is a ridiculously large amount. Some have calculated today’s equivalent of this debt in the billions of dollars. This debt is so large, it would take thousands of lifetimes to pay back.
This was a completely impossible debt for this man to pay back.
Our Impossible Debt
You might ask, “how could anyone possibly run up a debt that large?” And that’s the part we don’t like to think about.
You see, what we have to understand is that this man in the parable is you. This man is me. We all also stand before our king with an impossible debt that we can never pay back even if we had thousands of lifetimes to try.
The debt we’re talking about here is sin. The context of the parable is about forgiveness, so we know that Jesus is equating sin with the man’s financial debt. For us, every sin adds to the debt we owe God. That becomes our greatest problem. Our debt is so great that we can never pay it back. There’s nothing we can do in our lifetime or even in a thousand lifetimes to account for the sin debt we have against God.
This is hard for us because we most often don’t think of ourselves as being that bad. We have a hard time imagining ourselves as having that large of a debt because we misunderstand two things.
- 1) We misunderstand the holiness of God, and
- 2) We misunderstand the sinfulness of man in light of the holiness of God.
We fail to grasp how immensely and perfectly and infinitely holy God truly is. We fail to comprehend how truly amazing is His glory. When we think too low about the true holiness of God, we will inevitably think too low about the sinfulness of man.
Consider Isaiah’s Vision
Consider Isaiah 6 and Isaiah’s vision of God on His throne. Isaiah 6:1-4, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’ And the foundation of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.”
This is an otherworldly glimpse of God in the fullness of His glory. God on His throne.
His robe filled the entire temple. These incredible beings, the seraphim, just call out constantly how great God’s glory is. The entire place was shaking and filled with smoke.
Isaiah sees this vision of the fullness of God’s glory, and his response isn’t “Oh, I guess I’m an alright guy after all.”
No! He says in Verse 5, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
As soon as Isaiah catches a glimpse of the greatness, the holiness, the glory of God, you see what floods his mind? It’s not thoughts of how great a guy he is. That he’s not that bad. That his sin isn’t that big of a deal. His mind is flooded with an awareness of how unbelievably sinful he truly is. That he’s lost, undone, unmade even because of his sin in light of God’s holiness. He realizes there’s nothing he can do! When he sees God’s holiness, Isaiah understands that he too has an impossible debt he can never pay back on his own.
This is what all of us need to understand. We all stand before an infinitely holy God with an impossible debt that we have no possible way of paying back. And there is coming a day for all of us when like the king in Jesus’ parable, God too is going to come to settle accounts with every soul who has ever lived. We all will stand before God in judgment, needing to account for our debt.
What are we going to do? What hope do we possibly have?
Our Only Hope
Jesus continues His parable in verses 26-27 of Matthew 18, “So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”
Just like this man in the parable, our only hope is a merciful King.
Our only hope is that in some way, God will forgive us this incredible debt we owe. That’s our only hope! And that’s exactly what we have in Jesus Christ.
In this parable, the king is in essence paying this debt himself. You don’t wipe out that kind of debt and not have it cost you something. So God Himself steps in and pays our debt for us. God pays our penalty to erase our debt.
Nailed To The Cross
Colossians 2:13-14 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
Our debt was nailed to the cross with Jesus. Forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ is our only hope.
Praise God we have a merciful, forgiving king who takes pity on us. He extends his forgiveness to us through Jesus Christ. We respond by accepting His payment of our debt in our place by repenting of our sin, turning away from it, and turning to Jesus in faith. We believe in Him as the Savior we need.
That’s the only hope for our impossible debt.
This post is adapted from a sermon available here.
Photo by yunchuan luo on Unsplash