Then his master called him and said to him, “You wicked and contemptible slave, I forgave all that great debt of yours because you begged me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, who owed you little by comparison, as I had mercy on you?” And in wrath his master turned him over to the torturers (jailers) until he paid all that he owed. My heavenly Father will also do the same to every one of you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.

Matthew 18:32-35


Some scriptures really scare us and therefore we avoid them. We like to think of God as a cuddly teddy bear or like some kind of Santa waiting to treat us with nice little gifts. His love is beyond measure, but He is not a God of no consequence. His consequences are not always for the reasons we might think. We could interpret from this scripture that somehow God is harsh to this slave, but again we so easily forget the 6 billion that was forgiven. Our avoidance of scriptures about God’s wrath is founded on our failure at seeing His Holiness.

Jesus is telling a story, so He is using imagery to make a point. When Jesus reveals the result of this slave not forgiving another, He is painting a picture for our minds of what it’s like when we don’t forgive. Jesus is revealing the effect of unforgiveness on our souls.

When we don’t forgive, we all know the torment that can occur in our minds and hearts: we become a prisoner in our unforgiveness towards others; our souls are tormented and tortured. Just as we bring Heaven to earth today through forgiveness and love towards others, we also have the power to bring hell to earth through unforgiveness towards other humans. Heaven has no unforgiveness. Heaven has no bitterness towards others—these things are from the enemy and not from our loving God.

So rather than turning this into a debate about what happens when we die, I think Jesus is revealing the power of forgiveness that’s at our fingertips today. We taste what hell might be like everyday in the disconnection we feel between us and others. Heaven is not (just) a place we go when we die. Heaven is the presence of God: we taste it everyday, and we bring Heaven to earth when we live towards others the way Christ has revealed to us. Hell is not a place we go when we die; hell is the absence of God—and we taste hell everyday, and we bring hell to earth when we live towards others the way sin has taught us to live. It’s the enemy’s plan for us to do things on our own and get our own way, and this brings the opposite of heaven into this world. That’s why the gospel is so important—the gospel means “good news.” It’s good news because we have been set free from the bondage of sin and debt, so we don’t have to go around choking others to make up for that feeling of debt on the inside.

We are set free today and for all of eternity, through Christ. We bring Heaven, or the presence of God, into our relationships because Jesus has made a way for us to experience the Holy presence of God. In our sin, we once could not experience and know that presence because God is a Holy God. Because of this debt of sin, we could not be in His presence. God is unchangeable and immutable. His holiness cannot change, nor would we want it to change. Praise God He is unwilling to change His nature to make us feel ok about our sin nature! Instead of compromising His Holiness, He came to earth to transform us. His perfect love came down and put on flesh. He became human and lived the perfect life towards other humans. The life we haven’t lived and should have lived for His glory, this life He lived for us. Not only that, but even though He lived the perfect life and therefore the wages of sin—which are death—don’t apply to Him, He died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice to make up for our wrongs and pay the debt we could not pay. He forgave us our sins, our debt.

We now have access to the Holy Presence of God today and forever, so when we die, we will forever be in His Holy Presence because we have been fully forgiven of any unholiness and can stand boldly before His throne of grace. This is very good news. But our actions—our forgiveness or not of others—show whether we only think it’s good news or if have truly received it. Jesus loves us, but He also loves the person you haven’t forgiven. Jesus loves you, and He loves you enough not to want you to live in any torment of unforgiveness. He also knows that your unforgiveness towards another person will bring guilt and shame upon them. And so the cycle goes on and on—or the cycle could stop with us today by fully receiving our forgiveness and passing on that forgiveness to others.

Marriages could be restored through this: husbands towards wives, and wives towards husbands. Father’s hearts could be turned towards children and children towards fathers. Mother’s hearts towards children and children towards mothers; sisters towards brothers and brothers towards sisters; whites towards blacks and blacks towards white. Nation towards nation and nation towards nations. Presidents towards dictators and dictators towards presidents. $6,000,000,000 towards $12,000.

Let’s stop the cycle with us. Forgive and you will be forgiven.

// Pastor Josh Kelsey