Matthew 18:21-35 Part 1

The Church today, for the most part, seems to “invest” itself, and “decorate” itself with the culture and society and philosophies of its surroundings.  Somehow it gives itself latitude toward heterodoxy – or non-orthodoxy – for one reason or another.  This is called syncretism.  It is “open-mindedness” and laxity toward the penetration and infiltration of non-Biblical ideas and ways of doing things.  In many cases it is even more than that; it is more than just open-mindedness and laxity – it is often a considered inclusion of pagan ideas by pragmatic rationalism!

And those syncretistic tendencies seem to change (even though there’s nothing new under the sun) with the passing of generations and the crossing of cultural boundaries.  Sometimes it looks like the variety of things with which Christians can have communion – commonality – is almost infinite!  Most anything can be “fit in”, and usually is, in different times and places – even though the nature of fallen man remains the same everywhere, there seem to be “heresies of the day” which are evident from time to time and place to place.

We see syncretism in the Church today, in a big way, in the “human potential” movement which has emasculated the Church and robbed it of its Power in Christ the King.  That’s taken on concrete form in the humanistic, free-will-gospel being preached and taught – if any Gospel is being preached at all.

We also see syncretism in the Church growth movement whereby anything and everything is incorporated into public worship in order to attract the masses.  Syncretism is also apparent in the charismatic community where the attempt is made to incorporate pietism and eastern mysticism into Biblical worship, and to manifest unBiblical “fruits” of the Spirit without growing any roots!

Now, I include us in this when I say that the Church as a whole, the Christian community, needs to be asked some very pertinent questions!  Where is the discipline of every emotion, thought, word and deed being brought into obedience and captivity to the Creator and Savior of mankind?  Where is the humility of obedience?  Where is that precious perspective – that basic presupposition – that Jesus Christ is Lord and King and Head of everything?  Where are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and study God’s Word?  Where are those who humble themselves before God in repentance, supplication and prayer?  Where are the ones who work daily to bring every facet of the creation under the dominion of God’s eternal Truth?  Where are the Churches that highly reverence the public worship of God?  And where are those (with reference to our text this morning) who have a servant’s heart that looks to his brother’s prosperity?  These are all grounded, rooted things, and anything else is counterfeit!

But, no!  The Church has to imitate fallen humanity!  It must borrow from occult heresy!  It has to create, or copy, that which is new!  It is plagiarizing, today, from what is being said and done in the world order!  And every time it happens, the concrete, tangible aspects of the Christian life are seriously affected!

When I meet a man, woman or child who says he’s a Christian, what I want to see right away is one who delights in the public worship of God; who is intense concerning the Truth and who rejoices in it; one who knows who he is in relation to God, and, therefore is poor in spirit (you have to be epistemologically self-conscious in order to be poor in spirit); who loves God’s Law and meekly submits to it – hungering and thirsting for righteousness; one who is merciful, pure of heart, and a peacemaker.  I want to see a real man (or a real woman) who is not vulnerable to money, sex or power.  I want to see right away one whose character radiates love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, patience, long-suffering, humility and self-control.

I want to see one who isn’t self-seeking or easily angered; who doesn’t keep a record of the wrongs done to him; who doesn’t delight in evil, but is vexed by it; one who bears all things, believes all things, hopes and trusts all things and endures all things, whose love doesn’t fail, and whose mind doesn’t turn with the winds of doctrine!

And when I come in contact with a Church, I want to see, right away, a body of believers who have a zeal for the Truth and who guard the Truth, and who humbly submit to Christ as King and Head of the Church; I want to see whether there are real, substantive men preaching and teaching and properly administering the sacraments; and I want to see whether there is enough love in the Church that there is Biblical discipline and edification among the members – such as that which we’ve been learning in this text, in chapter eighteen.

We’ve been finding out about the nature of those who have been “rebirthed” into Christ, haven’t we?  For us there is a New Heavens and a New Earth; and a new beginning in a New Adam; and a new birth into a new nature.  And we are adopted brothers and sisters – joint heirs to this New Creation!  And because of all these glorious things which have been done for us by Christ Jesus, we are to jealously guard all of it – with each other and for each other!

Our new Adam (Who created us anew and saved us out of sin and death) is also our King.  And all of this, which He has created, is His Kingdom.  And no part of the old is acceptable in the new!  In fact, as the Scripture says, the old will be defeated and put under His feet; and the New will cover the earth.  The old is not acceptable, and it is not to be incorporated (syncretized) with the new – it is incompatible!  As Jesus said at the beginning of this chapter, “In order for you to even enter the Kingdom, you must be changed!”

In our new text this morning, Jesus gives us another of those “distinguishing” attributes of those who have been changed.  An adopted son of God and joint-heir with Christ takes on the character and attributes of His Lord; and this also we ought to be looking for in those who claim to be believers – and in the Churches with which we come in contact.  And if we don’t have this kind of character, then we must repent and put away the evil in us!

Now, at the beginning of this chapter, as we’ve taken notice of before, there seemed to be some rather intense jealousy among Jesus’ disciples.  Apparently it looked to the others as if Jesus was favoring Peter.  He has spoken directly to Peter on a number of occasions; and the double-drachma temple tax was provided for Jesus and for Peter from the mouth of a fish.

Several of the disciples had then come to Jesus to inquire of Him whether He was going to play favorites after He was established as King.  The “veiled” implication was that Jesus might put Peter on His right hand and slight some of the others; and that was “unfair”.  If one of them was going to be the “greatest”, then they wanted to know about it.

But Jesus begins to answer the question in a way that they didn’t expect!  He said to them that they all had to be changed, be humiliated before God with respect to their whole evil being, and become newborn babes.  And as newborns they would be entrapped by the world order – an inevitability.  But the Kingdom involved loving one another to such an extent that the special significance of all of those in the Kingdom was to be highly esteemed and appreciated!  The issue of who is “greater” in the Kingdom is a non-issue.  The point here is that all in the Kingdom are born anew, and none are to be reduced in significance!  This is the greater in the Kingdom!  And looking out for the welfare of a brother in Christ involves putting him to the proof when he sins.  In other words, a newborn babe loves his adopted brother so very much that he does concrete, tangible things (only those which Christ commands) in order to turn him back from his sin!  Christ and His Kingdom is the vital issue of life; and when a brother turns from that and enters once more into the old corruption, chaos and death, then he must be turned.  That’s brotherly love.

Now, with regard to the new text, here, Jesus has a word for Peter, too!  The rest of the group have been taught what their nature is to be in the Kingdom; but Peter is the subject of the jealousy among them.  They have sinned against him by envy!  And Jesus now begins to teach Peter what his nature is to be!

And Peter, knowing what the Pharisees teach about forgiveness (that three times was enough – after that, you’re free to do what you want), augments that number in his question to Jesus.  He sees the jealousy in the group (and there are eleven of them), and he’s probably heard Jesus’ answer to them with regard to their envy and covetousness (and the fact that they had to be changed to even enter the Kingdom).

And he comes to Jesus with a question that sounds kind of “strange”, doesn’t it?


“Lord, how many shall my brother sin against me and I shall forgive him – until seven times?”


Now, that question sounds as if Peter is doing what we might call “coming in the back door.”  He asks a question which has a concealed purpose!  In other words, instead of a simple, straightforward question to gain information, it sounds as if he is letting Jesus know about the sin in his brothers!  That’s his real intent.  He wants Jesus to be aware that they have sinned, and that Jesus knows that Peter knows!  And Peter thinks he’s softening his own guilt by augmenting the occasions of forgiveness from three to seven!  Jesus will probably see through the real intent of the question, so Peter covers up the nature of his heart by demonstrating a forbearance that is more than the Pharisees require!

But, as he assumes, Jesus does see through the question.  But He also sees through the hypocrisy!  And His answer is designed to humiliate Peter’s self-piety as the other eleven were crushed at the answer to their question!

And His answer is particularly pertinent to us, since this ought to be one of those “marks” of a Christian which I listed earlier; and it ought to be evident in all the Churches with which we come in contact.  We ought to be able to “see” the love among the brothers in the Church as this kind of love is demonstrated openly.  It ought to be real and tangible!

And it ought to be particularly pertinent to us also, because Reformed Christians are portrayed as harsh and unloving.  It is true that one who has been Reformed for ten minutes has a pretty good grasp of the failings of non-Reformed Churches and those who allow “syncretistic” worship and doctrine to invade the Church!  I want to say some more about that in a minute.

But first we have to mention some things about allegories again.  I do this every time, but it’s always worth doing again, since these are so frequently misinterpreted.  All of Jesus’ parables and allegories have a reason which is predetermined in the mind of Christ – this one being the heart of Peter, and, therefore being the hearts of all newborn babes in Christ.  We’ve already discussed the situation in which the sin has come to the surface.

But if we were to attempt to erect Theological “building blocks” from all the details of the allegory, then we would get into trouble.  And the reason for that is, that it wasn’t intended for that purpose!  All of the disciples have come to Jesus with the sin of self-interest in their hearts.  And the allegory spoken to Peter is for the purpose of humbling him before God in repentance – exposing his sin and teaching him Truth!  (This he would remember after the Resurrection.)

Let me give you a couple of examples of incorrect interpretation.  In verse twenty-seven, the allegory has the master of the house remitting the entire debt to his servant.  Yet in verse thirty-four the debt is reinstated – re-imposed.  Now, if each detail of the allegory is used to establish the building blocks of the faith, then it would be necessary for us to conclude that once adopted into the Kingdom and being made joint-heirs with Christ and in union with Him, then through our sinfulness we could be “unborn” and reunited with our original father – Adam!  And, indeed, some branches of “Christendom” have come to that conclusion!  But we know that not to be the case, since we have the promise of Scripture that that which God begins in us He will finish.  The security of the newborn in Christ is an unquestioned teaching of Scripture – as is evidenced by all the writings in the Reformed Churches concerning the doctrines of grace.

The second example of incorrect Biblical interpretation of an allegory can be easily seen also in verse thirty-four.  Roman Catholic theology, by extension of the details of the allegory, holds strongly to the doctrine of purgatory, whereby Church members who sin without absolution can pay for their sins by spending time in that “prison”.  Their loved ones who remain can also participate in shortening their “prison” time by praying for them and giving money to the priest!

We could all probably come up with some more examples, but that’s enough for now.  You get the point.  This allegory is put forth to Peter in a given set of circumstances, and for a specific purpose – which is to convict him of the sin in his heart (and ours by extension), to let him know the nature of the newborn in Christ.

For we who have been bought and paid for, and whose sins have been remitted, it is a “mark” – a distinguishing characteristic – that we remit the sins of our brothers (whose sins have also been remitted through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ).  We have been “loosed” from our huge debt to God and “bound” in Christ Jesus; and we must not hold our brothers to their sins against us!

We will explore this subject in more depth next Lord’s Day, and, hopefully, the Spirit will convict us all of our sin and cause us to grieve over our hard-heartedness toward each other in deep repentance.

But for our last few minutes today, I began this sermon by condemning the syncretism by which our Churches have conformed to the world order.  By craftiness and by design, the “marks” and characteristics of a Christian Church, and of individual Christians, and of Christian families, have been eroded.

I’ve already said what I look for right away when I meet a person who says he’s a believer.  And to that list we must add that which Jesus here requires of Peter – that a believer is one who shows mercy to his brothers and forgives them their personal sins against him – just as Jesus required Peter to forgive his fellow-disciples of their sin of envy and covetousness and jealousy.  Jesus showed them what was required of them, and He showed Peter what was required of him.

But the syncretism with the world has made this “mark” of the Christian (and other marks) almost non-existent.  Arminians don’t spend much time on the “hard” things; Romanists are too involved in “goddess” worship; charismatics aren’t much interested in ethical relationships – they’re too busy looking for emotional signs of favor from God; and the Church-growth people are so involved in putting on “shows” to fill the Churches that they don’t have much to say about this very important issue.

But we will examine it next Lord’s Day from the words of Jesus, and from the words of the rest of the New Testament.  And we mustn’t allow anything to invade our minds (syncretism) which would deter us from full submission to whatever He says is required of us as members of His Kingdom.

The question is: “What have we allowed into our thinking – what is it about us – that erodes our character and disables our Christ-like natures so that our brothers and sisters in the Lord are excluded from our forgiveness?  Why is there a lack of concrete, tangible love and compassion for our own brothers?  Why do we continue to hold our brother responsible (in contempt) for their sin against us?

The “old” is incompatible with the new.  It is unacceptable!  “You must be changed to even enter the Kingdom,” Jesus said.  The visible, tangible, distinguishing marks of a Christian, and of a Christian Church, include forgiveness of personal sins committed by another newborn babe in Christ!  If we don’t have this character of Christ, then we must be humbled in repentance.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has remitted the debt owed by His servants.  So who are we to do otherwise?