Debt by Pastor Abidan Shah

DEBT by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: Someone said, “There are 3 kinds of people in this world: the have’s, the have-not’s, and the have-not-paid-for-what-they-have’s.”I think most of us are in that last group. To be honest, debt is not all that bad. It’s debt collection that is bad. Having to payback what you owe is not that fun. I found some memes online that I thought were really funny: “Run for your life, the debt collectors are coming”; “I will find you and I will get my money”; and “I paid off all my debts and now no one calls me.” Today’s message in our series on the parables of Jesus is not as much about debt as it’s about debt collection. Of course, by that we are referring to our sin debt and by cancellation of that debt we are referring to forgiveness of sin. Here’s the message in a nutshell: Unless you understand how God has cancelled your sin debt towards him through his son Jesus, you will never truly understand how to cancel the sin debt of others towards you.

Matthew 18     23Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, “Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. 28“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and tookhimby the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Question: Parables are like mirror. Can you see yourself in this story? Are you the servant who was forgiven a big debt but went out and took his fellow servant by the throat for a small debt? Have you ever experienced the forgiveness of sins? Are you saved?

Context: The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant is very basic and clear on the surface but it’s very baffling and complicated when studied in depth. Think about it for a moment: 

  • Why is Sin described as a debt? Does God loan us a certain amount of holiness?
  • What is the connection of our sin debt to God and others sin debt to us?
  • Why is it so hard for us cancel the debt of others to us?
  • Is it really that we cannot cancel a single sin debt or is it more the fear that if we let this one go, more will follow, it will happen again?
  • Can I be saved if I refuse to pardon the sin debt of others towards me?

There is no way that we can answer all those questions in the next 20 minutes. That’s why this is will be a multi-part message. We will take on a couple of those questions today and the rest next time. (A word to the wise – “Don’t miss these messages. They have the potential to change your life and relationships.) So, let’s begin:

Question #1 Why is Sin described as a debt? The common mistake people make in studying this parable is that they quickly jump over the word “debt” and start talking about “sin.” Of course, this parable is about sin (our sin towards God and others sin towards us), but we cannot truly understand the force of this parable until we understand the significance of debt in that society. To understand this, let’s back up and look at the context of this parable in Matthew 18     21Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” We’ve all heard what that implies. Jesus was not saying 70 X 7 = 490. He was saying unlimitedtimes. All that is true but there’s a reason why Jesus used the number 7 and not 3, 5, or 10. Because 7 in the Old Testament is the number of fulfilment. It is the number of Sabbath. It is very significant when it comes to debt.Listen to Deuteronomy 15     1“At the end of everyseven years you shall grant a releaseof debts.2And this isthe form of the release: Every creditor who has lentanythingto his neighbor shall releaseit;he shall not requireitof his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the LORD’S release.” Not only that but even debt slaves were set free. Leviticus 25     8“And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. 9Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenthdayof the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement…10And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout allthe land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. 17Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for Iamthe LORD your God. 19Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety… So when Jesus said to Peter, “not just seven times but seventy times seven,” his listeners knew that he was hinting at the Year of Jubilees.But something else–23“The land shall not be sold permanently, for the landisMine.Not just the land of Israel. Exodus 19:5“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earthisMine.” In other words, it doesn’t matter who has the title, God owns it all.

To us, it doesn’t seem like a big deal but to those people it was nothing short of a revolution.Why? Because the Pharisees had created a system called “prozbul.” According to this system, the debt collector could give someone’s debt over to the court. This way it was no longer an “individual” holding the debt but a court and did not have to be forgiven in the seventh year. Now the creditors could lend in the sixth year and know that their money would be safe and the borrower could borrow money to do their work. On the surface, this seemed like a win-win, but can you imagine what this did to those in big debt. They could never get out of debt. The debt would keep mounting until it would be a foreclosure or slavery. Think about Jesus’ parable for a moment. How much did the servant owe the king? Ten thousand talents. A talent was about 60-90 pounds depending on the metal (gold, silver, or copper). So, 10,000 talents would be about 225 tons. Let’s say a talent of gold would be about 6000 denarii. 10,000 talents would be 60 million denarii. An average laborer would make 1 denarius a day. Herod’s annual salary was 900 talents. It would take Herod 10 years to pay back as long as he didn’t spend at all. How long will it take for the servant to pay back 60 million denarii? It’s impossible.

When Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom, he talked in terms that the average person could understand. In the Lord’s Prayer inMatthew 6:12“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Also, remember the parable of the Two Debtors, one owed 500 and the other only 50. Both were forgiven and Jesus asked “Which one would love more?” You can imagine how this must have impacted the people–“That person has been holding the lien on my property for the past 200 years. I wonder what he will do now.” Here’s a reminder:  Are you generous towards those who are less fortunate? I believe in Capitalism but Generous Capitalism. At Clearview we have many very generous people. How about you?

Now we understand the gravity of why Jesus talked in terms of debt but the question still remains – “How is sin a debt against God?” In the Bible, sin is defined by metaphors:

  • Sometimes it is a burden (bear your iniquities – Lev 20:20) and Jesus said “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden.
  • Sometimes it is a stain (sin be like scarlet – Isaiah 1:18) and it has to be washed (Eph. 5:26).
  • Sometimes it is slavery (Egypt as house of bondage) and it has to be set free (Romans 6:18)
  • And some other metaphors

Sometimes it is also described as a debt. Lev. 5:1“If a person sins in hearing the utterance of an oath, and isa witness, whether he has seen or knownof the matter—if he does not tellit,he bears guilt.” It has the idea of assuming a debt. This idea became very prominent after the children went into Babylonian Exile. They had lost their land. Don’t misunderstand: They didn’t lose it to the Babylonians but to God.Remember, God had told them “the land is mine” and “the whole earth is mine.” They were in debt because of sin. They were in the land but it was God’s land. They still had a debt to pay which was impossible to pay. The prophets repeatedly talked in the language of earning your wages.Jeremiah 31:11For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of one stronger than he.” Zechariah 9:12“Return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope. Even today I declare thatI will restore double to you.” Why did Jesus come? He came to pay a debt that we owe to God that we can never repay. Matthew 20:28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Jesus went about offering forgiveness of sins to all those who came to him. He undermined the authority of the temple priests and messed up the nice system of financial security of the Pharisees and the religious leaders. No wonder they hated him. 

Listen to how Paul describes our salvation inColossians 2     13And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Invitation: There are no bargain pardons. God himself had to pay our debt of sins by sending his Son Jesus to die for our sins. Have you received his pardon? Do you understand how everything you have is his? Are you holding someone’s lien in your hand? Are you saved?

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