Matthew 18:21-35 – Seventy x Seven = A Boatload of Forgiveness

Posted: February 7, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 18:21-35
Jesus Tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor

If any of you out there have been through a divorce, you know that there is no such thing as a friendly one. Even if there is no real offense that causes a divorce but people just fall out of love with one another, there are no civil divorces. Somewhere along the way someone moves on while the other does not and it becomes a nasty fight. My first marriage ended with a nasty divorce. My first wife had an affair but we overcame it in the marriage. There was the pain killer addiction of my wife as she tried to smother the pain of losing her brother but we overcome it. However, all of these troubles that my first wife had laid upon me caused my feelings for her to turn from love to burden, from love to disdain, from love to hate. Eventually, I strayed and had an affair with whom would become my second wife. Don’t get me wrong in thinking that this was the right reaction. My choice in this was a sin and I paid a high price for what I did. I know now that it was wrong. But I use the example here to show the danger of the inability to forgive. My first wife was unable to handle it and it became her aim in life to destroy me. It was similar to that movie, A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story. It was all very mean and nasty. I won’t go into a lot of detail but there were things that were said and done that would cause a man to hate his ex-wife for the rest of his life and it was certainly true that even after the passing years my first wife never really forgave me for having an affair and it consumed her life until the day she died. Although there periods of time in later years that we were able to get along, she never really forgave. On my part, I could have hated for the things she accused me of, for the games she played with kids, but as time progressed, my hatred cooled. What was once full-on anger gave way to feeling nothing toward her but pity. What was once anger, now, looked upon my ex-wife with simply the desire that she become what she could have been. What was best for the kids even as they become grown was to be neutral about their mother. Although I would not lie about things that were said and done or allow lies that were told about me to stand as true, mainly I just remained neutral. If there was a time in my life that I could have hated them forever, it was in this case.

In the heat of the divorce, though, it would have been difficult for me to hear what Jesus says about forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-35. Let’s read it now together.
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?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 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.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
If you are a numbers nerd like I am, you did the calculation, didn’t you? According to my calculations, seventy times seven is four hundred ninety (70 x 7 = 490). Are we supposed to forgive someone 490 times before we can stop? What Jesus was saying is that we never stop forgiving someone. Forgiving someone 490 times for 490 offenses would take a lifetime and how many do we know long enough for us to have been hurt by them for 490 different offenses. So, we are to practice forgiveness for others always. We are called to forgive.
What if the person is unrepentant? You and I both know examples in our lives of people who seem to be flaunting their sins against us in our faces. A husband leaves his wife with two small children at home to find a younger woman and starts living it up with her and posts it all over Facebook about how he has found it all in this new, younger woman. Is the wife at home with her two young children supposed to forgive him? There are other examples of how others seem to not care that they have hurt us. Are we supposed to forgive them when they hurt us and have never apologized for it and seem to enjoy grinding our face in it? According to Christ, we are. According to gotquestions.com,

“the fact that God makes repentance a condition for saving a person does not give us license to withhold forgiveness. God can judge a person’s intentions because He knows what’s in a person’s heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Hebrews 4:12–13), and we don’t. We are not God. We are not the Judge. For us to play God by refusing to offer forgiveness is an act of judgment on our part, something Jesus warns us against (Matthew 7:2).”

Wow! That’s a tall order. The only way that I was ever able to release the anger toward my first wife was for the battles to stop, for there to quiet after the war, for time and space to pass. That and meeting Christ as my Savior in December 2000. Don’t you know someone that you find it hard to forgive? How many times they have hurt you? Just the mention of that person’s name makes you cringe and relive memories that are painful. Yet, we must think of Jesus suffering immense pain on the cross (Yes, in his humanness, on the cross, he was in immense pain). The Roman and Jewish authorities put him there not because of Him having done something illegal but rather because He was a threat to the status quo. Jesus knew He had done nothing wrong and did not deserve, in the human realm, to be there on the cross but yet He still uttered the words for His Father to forgive them because they did not know what they were doing. Jesus forgave His persecutors. God forgives us through Jesus Christ as the sacrificial Lamb for our sins. But yet we feel that we have the right to withhold forgiveness and play God toward those who have hurt us badly. I know it’s a tall order. But, isn’t withholding forgiveness a sin of pride. We have been hurt, sometimes to the very core of our being by the actions of someone else. Our pride takes a blow in these situations. I can think of people who have right now every right to still be angry at their spouses and go down the road of divorce that the herd goes down. There are two couples that I know right now that are living the setting aside of pride and working to save their marriages. That is uncommon these days. Who is it that you have not forgiven? We are not God. We cannot know people’s hearts like He does. Let us examine ourselves and how we are not without sin ourselves. God has forgiven us through Jesus Christ when we accept Him as our Savior. God does not hold grudges against us though He could. We do not deserve God’s forgiveness on our own merits. Based on what we have done to deserve His wrath and punishment, we do not deserve His love. But through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, He gladly accepts us back into His arms as if we had done nothing to deserve His wrath. I know it’s hard to forgive those who have hurt us badly and particularly when they continue to do so. Have you thought that our venomous responses to those who have hurt us or are hurting us gives them justification in their own mind for why their sins against us are OK. What if we chose (get that, CHOSE) to react against our grain and act with a forgiving heart toward those who have hurt us. How disarming is that? Have you ever noticed that when we do not respond with venom for venom that people don’t know how to handle it?

Man, this is a tall order. Because we all know of instances where we felt perfectly justified for cutting people out of our lives for having hurt us. I pretty much had to do that with my first wife. As time marched on, the only contact was over our kids (either about finances or logistics). After the kids got grown, the contact was almost nil. Sometimes, yes, people drift out of our lives for different reasons but sometimes we choose to cut people out of our lives because they have hurt us. God does not do that with us. Through Jesus, He accepts us cleanly back into His sight. I know, I hear you saying it right now. There’s just no way I can forgive __________ for what they did to me. I know. I know. It would be hard to forgive _________ because of ___________ that they did to you. I have had those same experiences in my life and I am sitting here thinking of how hard it is to forgive in an active situation of hurt. I know that it took time for me to get to the point that the mention of my first wife’s name conjured up anger and resentment. It took time for me to simply pray for her to find a sense of peace. It took time for me to understand the factors of life that contributed to her reacting to me the way she did. It took time for my pride to subside. Nobody said this Christ follower thing was going to be easy. Forgiveness is a choice to be like Christ. Surely, hurts and pains will forever change or relationship with that person that hurt us but we have God’s own example with us that you don’t just throw the relationship away. We choose to react against our nature. We choose to work on forgiveness. We choose to give our anger to the God. We choose. Being like Jesus is never easy because He is perfect and He is God. But we are to emulate Him as much as we can. We are to emulate Him on the cross forgiving what He could have rightfully not forgiven. God does not by rights have to forgive us through Christ. He really doesn’t. He is Sovereign God. He is perfect and sinless and He is our Creator and we rebel against Him. He could cast us out. But He doesn’t.

Let us emulate our Maker when it comes to others that we are finding it hard to forgive. Let us pray to God to help us to forgive. We want to be like you God. Help us with our pride. Help us to forgive as you forgive. Help us not to play God and withhold forgiveness because of our hurt pride. Help us to struggle with this struggle. Help us to get there and forgive. Help us with the hardest part of being a child of God. Amen and amen.

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