You will remember when Peter (the disciple of Jesus) was frustrated. Evidently he had a friend who needed quite often to be forgiven. Peter wanted to have some boundaries and asked Jesus how often he had to forgive this man. Peter said that he had already forgiven him seven times and that seemed sufficient. Jesus astounded Peter by saying, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven [i.e. forgiveness without limit]” (Matthew 18:22).
Jesus told Peter a story that is both instructive and radical. It’s about a servant who owed his master a whole lot of money. Just before the servant was sent off to jail and his family sold into slavery, the servant fell on his knees before his master and pleaded for mercy. The master forgave the debt.
Then in an astonishing display of disingenuous arrogance, the man—who had just been forgiven a major debt himself—refused to forgive a fellow servant a small debt and not only that, had him thrown in jail. When the master heard about it, he was ticked, called the unforgiving servant back and said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (vs. 32). Then the master threw his sorry posterior into jail.
Jesus said, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (vs. 35).
Jesus included “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” in the prayer he taught his disciples (Matthew 6:12). He said that before we offer a sacrifice in worship we should leave it on the altar and do some heavy forgiving in order to restore any broken relationship (Matthew 5:23-24). He made incredible promises about the power of prayer and then added a proviso by saying, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone” (Mark 11:25).
I could go on and on.
Why do you suppose Jesus emphasized forgiveness? Because he wanted us to be “nice”? Because he didn’t care about justice? Because he was naïve about human evil and what we do to one another? Because “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” simply didn’t grasp the horror of injustice?
You’ve got to be kidding.
Forgiveness was the focal point in Christ’s teaching because he knew that without genuine, profound and “to the bone” forgiveness, there is no freedom, no real joy, no peace and no release from the pain and the “root of bitterness” that destroys nations, families and individuals. He understood that the key to everything important in life is forgiveness.
We desperately need forgiveness. We get it and we’re called to give it.
A lot of Christians have the spurious belief that forgiveness is easy. One simply says, “I forgive you” and then goes on about life. Anybody who thinks that has never tried very hard to forgive someone anything bigger than burping at a tea party. Real forgiveness is hard to do. In fact, it’s almost impossible.
Okay. If it’s that hard and Jesus said I should do it, how do I go about it?
I thought you would never ask.
The only way to forgive is to know how much you’ve been forgiven. You can’t forgive until you’ve been forgiven and then you can only forgive to the degree to which you’ve been forgiven.
Paul said in Ephesians 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
“As God in Christ forgave you.”
You want a cheap high? Go forgive someone who did something bad to you. Go forgive someone who needs it. It’s better than drugs.
Time to Draw Away
Read Matthew 6:14-15, Colossians 3:12-15 & Romans 8:1, 31-39
Forgiveness is hard…and it is a process. But it helps to remember just how much God has forgiven you. It’s easier to then turn around and offer forgiveness and love to those just as desperate as you. Without that recognition, it’s impossible. Grace always runs downhill.