Mercy and grace. What does it take to obtain these and what changes do they make inside of a life? These attributes of God are deeply embedded identities of His that are glorious beyond my simple understanding!
Simply put, mercy is why I am clean before God the Father. Grace will keep me that way.
When I went to Hell, I understood with supernatural revelation the parable Jesus taught us about unforgiveness (see Matt. 18). I understood that it was because of my lack of mercy that it was completely righteous for me to be sentenced to Hell.
The conversation begins with Jesus being asked who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is an important question. If we know who God says is the most important, then we can structure our lives in the same way as great ones to achieve that same greatness. Jesus answered by bringing a little child in front of everyone as an object lesson. Then He said:
Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:3-6).
I have pondered His answer. Is He answering the question He was asked or giving the answer to a question that should have been asked? First, how “little” of a child did Jesus choose? Technically, a child in Jesus’ time was someone under the age of 13 years old. At 13, boys were considered to be men. But who is a little child? Children had chores, but little children were, like today, not really given chores. Not much has changed between the little children of Jesus’ day and ours.
For the sake of discussion, let’s choose a boy child of five years old. This is a little less than half the age of maturity at Jesus’ time. I have a grandson who is five years old. He is a delight! He needs help getting dressed, putting on his shoes, bathing, and cutting up his food as well as the security from his parents to be at peace. He is a little child. He also possesses innocence, obedience, affection, acceptance, and trust. For Jesus to put the child in front of everyone messes with me, and I think it may have messed with them. The question, remember, is who is the 가장 큰 in the Kingdom of Heaven.
If you were to ask me who I think is the greatest, I may give answers like God, Moses, Abraham, David, etc. I am sure that object lesson was not what anyone would have expected. And how crazy to be told that they had to be converted 과 become like the object lesson or they would never enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. These words were confusing to say the least, and who would want to go back to being a little child? The dialogue continues as Jesus says that whoever is guilty of causing a child not to believe in Him is better off dead. And then He says:
Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! (Matthew 18:7)
Stop the story! I mean what is happening? Why is Jesus now speaking about offenses? And to use such a strong introduction as “Woe,” which means great sorrow or distress. How powerful then is an offense?
Though it seems confusing, Jesus begins addressing the whole topic of offense because the object lesson 였다 offensive. He was telling how to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and the hearers didn’t want to accept His way. Jesus continues talking to the people: If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 18:8-10).
I am a literal person. I do not have a problem with what Jesus said. I think Jesus is being very serious about sin and so should we. I understood in Hell that Jesus is helping us by telling us these seemingly harsh words. If I want to say that it is my hand that is causing me to sin, then I need to get rid of it so that I do not end up in Hell but rather can enter Heaven. Or if I am going to say that it is my eyes that are the reason I sin then I should blind myself so that I stop sinning and am not cast into Hell. These seem like such extreme measures, which Jesus deemed necessary to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And yet, if we are not careful we miss the extreme warning about offenses. Jesus continues: “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost” (Matt. 18:11).This is one of my favorite scriptures, which is often taken out of context. Jesus is still talking about people being offended. He goes on to tell the story of a shepherd who will leave the 99 sheep that are safe and go find the one that is lost. Then the man will celebrate because the lost one has been found. This was an example everyone could identify with because shepherding was a common job. Then He says:
Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18:14).
Jesus is tying together the truths that He came to save the lost, that everyone should go find the lost one, and that the Father in Heaven doesn’t want anyone to perish. According to the dictionary, perish means to die, especially in a violent or sudden way, to suffer complete ruin or destruction. He is helping us understand that the question of who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is not as simple as giving the name of someone we think is a good person. In fact, just getting to Heaven requires a great effort. We must pay attention, be diligent, and become like children in our trust and obedience to God. As Jesus continues, He discusses the problems between people. Isn’t this where the majority of offenses take place?
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector (Matthew 18:15-17).Offenses, remember, are dangerous. Jesus is giving us directions that are very timely. Jesus spells out what to do in a simple four-step process so that offenses don’t cause us to suffer.
Go talk to the person. When someone sins against us, we should go talk to them. Truthfully, this is not something I want to do. I want the person to “알고있다” that they have hurt me. I begin pulling away and making judgments in my heart about them. I start thinking that they did it on purpose and that they will keep doing it on purpose. My natural tendency, instead of doing step one in Jesus’ plan, is to create a “but” as explained in the previous chapter. When I have humbled myself and gone to talk to the person, it almost always reveals itself to have been a big misunderstanding, unclear communication, hyper sensitivity, or at the very least a lack of clarity. Most of the time there is no need for step two. I have a sweet granddaughter who is very special to me. For her birthday she forgoes a special present to have a three-day sleepover. She is a “quality time” child. One year, we started day one of the sleepover only to discover that a distant relative would arrive in the morning as a surprise. Instead of being able to hang out and play, I had to get groceries and prepare for the visit. I explained that she could sleep over that one night but that she would need to go home in the morning and we would reschedule the sleepover.
What she heard with my explanation was that her sleepover wasn’t important and that all she would get was a grocery shopping trip and a frantic time of preparation for company. She also believed she would have to wait for her next birthday to have another three-day sleepover.
She became very unruly, disrespectful, and all-around difficult, but I didn’t realize why at the time. She requested to go home. Once home she explained her story to my daughter who called me right away. She knew there was a mix up as it is our great delight to have our grandchildren stay with us. I returned to speak with our granddaughter who was by now quite an emotional mess. (I believe many of us have learned how to hide the emotional mess as we have grown up.)
I began by telling her how sorry I was that there was a problem and I thanked her for trusting me to listen to her as she explained her side. She burst into tears as she tried to tell me how much she loves me and how much she had looked forward, since her last birthday, to get to spend three days with me. I let her get everything out. I have found that letting someone tell me everything before I talk is most important. (This takes practice.) I hugged her and explained that this was a misunderstanding. I explained that it wouldn’t be the last misunderstanding in our lives, as they happen all the time to almost everyone. I explained again but this time I took more time and gave her more details. I also gave her dates to look forward to and offered for her to come back with me to sleep over that night as a bonus. I took the blame, or at least 51 percent of it. I asked her to forgive me and she grabbed me and hugged me tightly. She told me that it was all her fault and asked me to forgive her. My granddaughter learned a very valuable lesson that day about following Jesus’ plan for handling offense. She learned the importance of talking to someone who has caused hurt so she could get her heart clean. Relationships are very fragile and Jesus gave the perfect plan for fixing problems. If step one doesn’t work, we must continue to the end because offense is dangerous.
Try again, but this time with a witness. Notice Jesus said a witness. This can be an eyewitness, a person who can establish that something is wrong or provide guidance as to the correct way, or a person who has heard first-hand knowledge about the problem and is committed to helping find a solution. In my experience, there are fewer times we get to this step because usually the problem can be fixed at step one. However, I remember when my oldest daughter called and asked if we could have a girl’s night out—just my two daughters and me. I was excited and said yes. They chose a Mexican restaurant and as soon as the order was placed, our oldest daughter said, “Mom we want to talk to you about how you are treating Dad. We feel that you are not listening to us individually so we want to bring it up together.” I was instantly upset. They both told me things they did not like. They took turns telling me all kinds of patterns they were noticing. Then they ended by telling me how much they loved me and wanted everything inside my marriage to their dad to be right. I was very defensive, argumentative, and unpleasant, to say the least. We had also planned on a window-shopping time to follow dinner. When we arrived at the mall, I slipped away to pout. Our oldest daughter called me and asked where I was. Then she said, “Mom, you know we are right. You need to repent to Dad when you get home. You know he will forgive you. You need to come hang out with us because we won’t get to do this again for a while.” It was like a light went on. Both our daughters had seen my behavior and God was sending them to help me. By the way, Mike did forgive me and all of our relationships are stronger because of it.
Try again. This time involve the church. This means a trusted pastor, elders, or leader. When I first got saved, we belonged to a church that had a prayer chain. A friend, who was also on our church board, was sick. I stopped by and she shared that she was facing a cancer threat and her appointment was later that day. I called someone on the prayer chain so the church could pray. The whole church was notified in only a few hours. Then, I received a phone call from the leader of the prayer chain requesting a meeting the next afternoon. That same day, I went back to visit our friend after her doctor’s appointment and learned more of her situation. I made a second call to let the prayer chain know how it had gone. Then I had a brilliant idea to call and put my sick friend on prayer chains of other churches. By nightfall, our whole town of prayer chains had been contacted. I was very proud of my efforts. In a short time, my sick friend called to tell me how upset she was that I had shared about her sickness with the prayer chain at our church. For her it was very private and she had only told me as a personal friend. I was sorry and wondered if I should tell her that I had called other churches as well or if that would make it worse. I decided to tell her everything. She was very upset. In the early evening, I received a call requesting that I meet with an elder of our church the next day. When I arrived, my sick friend, the lady in charge of the prayer chain, and the elder were waiting for me. It was very intimidating!
The elder asked me if I knew why I was there. He was very patient and kind. He asked me to explain about what I knew had happened about the prayer chain. When I finished, the prayer chain leader wanted to know why I had made the second call after she had set up a meeting with me. I explained how I didn’t know she was meeting with me because I had done a wrong thing. I thought she was wanting to get to know me better.
The elder said that he believed I had told the truth. He said that he loved my heart but that my actions had resulted in gossip. It was all true information but it was all true gossip because if we share anyone’s stuff without their permission, it is gossip. He asked me if I understood that I had hurt my friend. I could see it clearly now.
He explained that my friend had shared with me because she wanted me to pray. It was for her to put herself on the prayer chain. He also explained how only the prayer chain leader starts the chain and that everyone on the chain should be reminded of that fact. He clarified that contacting other churches is the job of the pastor or an elder. He told me that I was a leader and that he wanted to help me understand the ways of godly leadership. He said, “Laurie, please forgive me for not having done a better job of explaining the ways of God to you.” I was shocked. Wasn’t I the one in trouble? The prayer chain leader asked for forgiveness for the team not responding correctly and it all getting out of hand.
My friend asked me to forgive her for becoming so offended. She said that prayer is a very good thing and because of her fear she had left out prayer. I couldn’t believe that getting all the people involved with the church could have turned out so lovingly. But Jesus knew this all along.
Treat him like a heathen or tax collector—neither of them know God. Jesus is our perfect example. How did He treat someone who doesn’t know God? Didn’t He try to make sure that everyone would have an opportunity to know Him and His ways? Jesus brought both tax collectors and heathens to the saving knowledge of His Father because the Father desires that none should perish (see 2 Pet. 3:9). A person cannot be godly if they don’t know God. So Jesus is warning us to beware of the heathen and tax collector and not trust them as we would a fellow believer. But we should help them to know our Father and to become like Him. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:18-20).There are many teachings about the binding and loosing meanings of this scripture. The first meaning of this, inside of its context, is referring to being reconciled to your brother and getting out of offense. The chapter continues with Peter asking Jesus about how often he should forgive and how many times someone should be allowed to sin against him. Then Peter offers an answer of the number seven, believing he was being very generous in offering the perfect number. In Hell, I understood this question and answer very clearly.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22 NIV).
Jesus is revealing the heart that He has about forgiveness and offense. To further answer the question, Jesus gives Peter the famous parable of the unforgiving servant. In Hell, there were so many people there for unforgiveness and every one of us knew that this parable exemplified why we were guilty.
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 bags of gold was brought to him. 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. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” 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 silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.” But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged 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. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed (Matthew 18:23-34 NIV).
Throughout Matthew 18, Jesus ties together and warns us with these truths:
Understanding how to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven;
Becoming like and being converted as little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven;
Cutting off a foot that causes sin;
Knowing that the Son of Man came to save that which was lost;
Believing the fact that it is not the will of the Father that one of these little ones should perish;
Going to our brother if he sins against us in a four step plan;
Answering the question of how many times we should forgive our brother;
But especially in His warning:
So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses (Matthew 18:35).
I was in Hell, eternally, because I would not forgive others.
Since Hell, I have studied the parable of the unforgiving servant and will probably always study it. I believe that it is key to understanding the necessity of mercy and grace. The king in the parable is like the King in Heaven. Jesus shares the ways of the king, which implies that this story is a trustworthy example of the ways of Heaven. The King of Heaven, like the king of the parable, will settle accounts. We will stand before the King in the same way that the servant in the parable did and give account for what we owe. This servant owed 10,000 talents. In the economy of the time, this would be about 200,000 years’ wages. So, 10,000 talents are easily described as a debt that could 못 be repaid. And when the servant asked the King to have patience with him, it was a ridiculous request. This servant could never pay it back. Instead of patience, the King offered something else—mercy and grace. Mercy and grace are often confused. While the terms have similar meanings, grace and mercy are not the same. To summarize the difference: mercy is God not punishing us as our sins deserve, and grace is God blessing us despite the fact that we do not deserve it. Mercy is deliverance from judgment. Grace is extending kindness to the unworthy.
When the servant sees the King again the situation is dire. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled 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?” In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed (Matthew 18:32-34 NIV).
What Jesus is teaching in the parable is that when He forgives the debt, He is also giving pieces of His identity, which are mercy and grace. The wicked servant of this parable only accepted the debt cancellation and not the identity of becoming merciful and filled with grace.The wicked servant asked for patience, for time to pay back the debt. The king could have done as he asked and given an extension of the due date or he could have cut the debt in half. Instead, what the king gave His servant was a very kingly identity gift that should have changed him. There should have been a heart transformation. But the servant only received the cancelled debt, not the gifts of mercy and grace that would have transformed him.
Similarly, when Jesus forgave my sins, if I actually received that gift from Him, I also received the ability to become merciful like Him. If all I received was just the cancelled debt and not the heart of mercy that was extended, then all I can do is choose to cancel a debt when someone wrongs me. I don’t have the ability to extend mercy and grace until I can receive it (see 2 Cor. 1:4).When the servant missed the heart of the king, he placed himself outside the mercy and grace of the king. If I cannot receive the gift from the king, I am not really in relationship with Him. I have an inability to be like Him.This parable is important because, at first glance, it appears that a rich king simply looked the other way about a debt because it wasn’t important. When we study it, we see that the hard-hearted servant wouldn’t change even after the king gave him the greatest gift he could have received. Therefore, the wicked servant doesn’t want to be part of that kingdom. It leaves the king in the parable angry. Similarly, it makes our King angry when we won’t receive the gift He has given us. The man took it, but he didn’t let the gift change him. So when Jesus says, “My heavenly Father will do the same to you if you don’t forgive from your heart,” it has nothing to do with debt and everything to do with mercy and grace. If I really did receive mercy from Jesus, then that gift of being forgiven should change me and I should not only desire to forgive but be able and willing.
Like the servant, Jesus has forgiven me a debt too large for me to ever repay. The cost for my sin is innocent shed blood. The only one who has ever had that price to pay for any sin is Jesus Christ, the pure spotless lamb! When He forgave me, it was more than just paying for my sin. In truly receiving His gift of mercy and grace for my sins, my heart should have become one that owns and uses His powerful gifts. In the parable, the problem is not that the servant didn’t release the fellow servant from the debt of money. He may have needed the money to be paid back. The problem was that he had not received the gift and heart transformation of mercy from the king to be like the king and had only received the cancelling of the monetary debt. The king gave him more than a debt cancellation. Then the wicked servant had the other servant thrown into prison where he could never make money to pay his debt. Therefore, the wicked servant was punished by the king for his actions against his fellow servant.b This made the king very angry. He desires that his ways be replicated in his kingdom. Now let’s look at the heavenly Father’s gift of mercy to me. I am a sinner. My sin will take me to Hell. No amount of patience will fix my sin. The only fix is innocent shed blood, and only Jesus, the Son of God, has any. The payment includes His suffering the most terrible of deaths on the Cross to procure it.
I was forgiven every sin so that I can be allowed to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Receiving this gift into my heart included receiving God and His ways of mercy and grace. I have to choose to not only have patience but to also be like my Savior and extend mercy and grace to my offenders. When I went to Hell, I went because I would not forgive. I would not follow Jesus’ great example. Pray the Lord’s Prayer with me:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen (Matthew 6:9-13 KJV).
Unforgiveness is very dangerous! In the words of Jesus’ warning, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matt. 18:35).