Matthew 18:8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.
No one ever spoke more radically about the danger of sin than Jesus Christ. Sin is so common, and feels so normal, that we do not take it seriously. But Jesus saw sin as the way to eternal fire, and something to be avoided at any cost.
A young man was scaling a cliff when he put his hand into a crevice. A boulder suddenly shifted, and he was unable to free himself. Three days later, when no help arrived, he cut off his hand to save his life. No one wants to cut off their hand, of course, but most prefer it to death.
Jesus isn’t teaching self-mutilation, since sin comes from the heart (Matthew 15:19). But he wants us to cut off our sin in order to follow him. We should never endanger our souls by allowing anything to come between us and Jesus Christ. We must learn to say no to ourselves, so that we may say yes to him.
Matthew 18:21 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?
Perhaps another disciple was in the habit of insulting Peter. Peter overlooked it once, twice, even a third time. But his patience was wearing thin, and he was ready to retaliate. Perhaps this question was a warning to his offender that it was time to back off.
We are surrounded by sinners, so we are likely to be sinned against, even by people who like us. Friends, family and coworkers are prone to offend us frequently. Since Jesus preached a message of forgiveness (Luke 6:37), Peter wanted to know if there were any limits.
Matthew 18:22 Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Peter must have been stunned. Who could forgive seventy-seven times, especially if the offense was serious? Even worse, Jesus was not saying that we can retaliate on the seventy-eighth time, but that we must forgive every time, no matter what.
This seems like a dreadful command, but there is a hidden blessing. Everyone has a favorite sin that they are prone to repeat. It could be lying, lust, gossip, greed, or something unmentionable. We confess (1 John 1:9), of course, but we may have wondered if God has a limit to how many times he will forgive.
Good news: if God expects us to forgive an unlimited number of times, he will never turn us away for sinning one too many times. God does not expect us to be more forgiving than he is, but we must understand that forgiving others is never optional.
Jesus illustrated this by telling the story of a man who owed the king ten thousand bags of gold (Matthew 18:24). Since the man could not repay, the king had pity on him, and canceled his debt. But on his way out, the man encountered another who owed him a small amount of money. Since he could not repay at once, he had him thrown into prison. When the king heard of this, he revoked his forgiveness and had the unforgiving person tortured. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart (Matthew 18:35), said Jesus.
Likewise, Jesus taught us to pray, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6:12), Whenever I come to these words, I am reminded what a gracious arrangement it is. God will forgive me for whatever I have done, and simply requires that I forgive others. When I consider how often and badly I have sinned against God, this seems like a bargain.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15), said Jesus. This is a wonderful promise, and a very solemn warning.
Matthew 20:1-2 For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day.
But the landowner needed more workers, so he hired others at nine, noon, three and five. Those who were hired late would expect less pay, but at the end of the day, the landowner paid them all the same. When those who were hired first complained, he said, Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? (Matthew 20:15).
There are two things we should learn from this parable. First, those who come to Christ late in life, will be in heaven with those who served him many years (Luke 23:43). In that sense, we are all paid the same. Second, we should never expect more from Christ than what he gives to us. [W]hen you have done everything you were told to do, [you] should say, We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty (Luke 17:10), said Jesus.
Serving Christ is the highest honor there is, and he will never owe us anything. Whatever we receive from him is a gift, for which we should be thankful. This is the proper attitude for all the servants of Christ.
Matthew 22:15-17 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. . . . Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?
A more explosive question could not have been asked. The Jews were taxed by the Romans to the point of oppression, and they resented it deeply. Furthermore, many thought paying taxes to Caesar was morally wrong, since God alone was their rightful king. If Jesus condoned paying taxes to Rome, he would alienate patriotic Jews. But if he opposed paying taxes to Rome, he could be arrested for insurrection. There was nothing he could do, it seemed. Jesus was trapped.
Matthew 22:18-19 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.
They brought Jesus a Roman coin stamped with the image of Caesar. The suspense was overwhelming, but Jesus remained calm. Whose image is this? And whose inscription? [he asked]. Caesar’s, they replied. Then he said to them, So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:20-21).
[A]stonished by his answer, they became silent (Luke 20:26), wrote Luke. And they were amazed at him (Mark 12:17), wrote Mark. So they left him and went away (Matthew 22:22), wrote Matthew. They wanted to silence Jesus, but Jesus silenced them. From this it appears that Jesus was cool.
Whenever I am challenged by someone’s words, I can usually think of a witty reply about thirty minutes later. But Jesus was so close to his heavenly Father that he never lacked an answer. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken (John 12:49), he said.
But Jesus’ reply was more than cool; it was theologically and politically correct. Since everyone bears the image of God (Genesis 1:27), they rightly belong to God, and should give themselves back to God. Furthermore, God has given Caesar the right to govern within certain limits. Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1); and, If you owe taxes, pay taxes (Romans 13:7), wrote Paul.
The purpose of the church is not to run the government, and the purpose of the government is not to run the church. There is a proper role for each, which ought to be maintained, until Jesus Christ returns. [Give] to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.
Reflection and Review
Why is it hard to forgive?
How does God help us forgive?
Should the church try to control the world?