Matthew 6:14-15 - (Jesus said) "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
When Peter asked Jesus, "How many times do I have to forgive?" he probably thought He was stretching things a little bit when He said, "seven times?" Then, when Jesus surprisingly said, "No, you don't have to forgive seven times," Peter might have breathed a sigh of relief.
The apostle would have been relieved until Jesus added, "No, not seven times, but seventy times seven."
Four-hundred-and-ninety times?! That's 490 acts of forgiveness! Unbelievable! The worst part was this: Peter knew Jesus wasn't saying that when you finally reached 491 times you could get back at the person who had wronged you. You shouldn't think, "I've forgiven him 486 times; I think it's time to plot my revenge; 487, boy, are we getting close; 488, this is gonna make me feel so good; 489, go ahead, sin against me one more time! Please, please, please," and then bam! you're dead meat.
No, Jesus didn't mean count to 490 and then get even. He meant we should keep on forgiving and forgiving and forgiving and, well, you get His drift.
Now, I imagine Peter probably felt frustrated. That's because, quite probably, Peter's question wasn't hypothetical. Maybe Peter was counting Andrew's sins. Maybe he was angry at Judas, or Matthew, or one of the others. Maybe. I don't know the cause of Peter's anger, but I'm pretty sure he wanted to know when he could get even.
He wondered, and Jesus told him that well, really, you can't.
Forgiveness can be frustrating, especially when it comes to those who are closest to us. They are the ones who most easily get under our skin; they're the ones upon whom we want to take our revenge and get satisfaction. In the 1800s, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, "We humans are like a bunch of porcupines who, on a cold winter's night, decide to huddle together for warmth. But there is a problem: the cold drives us closer, while at the same time our quills push us apart."
Still, Jesus commands His people to forgive.
From this passage and others like it, we can see Jesus wasn't making a general kind of gentle suggestion, a theoretical proposal. To Jesus, forgiveness isn't optional. It isn't something we can offer when it suits us or when it concerns matters inconsequential. Forgiveness is something God's people do. It may be frustrating, but it's something the Savior expects His people to do.
He expects us to forgive because He first forgave us.
Take a look at the life of Jesus. He was born into a world that did not want Him. A stable heard His first baby cries because no one would offer His parents lodging. His king, in a jealous rage, tried to have him murdered. The town in which He grew up tried to kill Him. The religious leaders of His people plotted to take His life. His disciples deserted Him. One denied Him; another betrayed Him. Although His Roman judge knew Him to be innocent, he turned his back on justice and allowed Jesus to be condemned and crucified.
But still Jesus forgave.
Indeed, He died so we might be forgiven, and now the risen Redeemer expects us to live sharing that forgiveness with others.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, it is hard to forgive, especially when someone doesn't deserve it. When we are slow to forgive, help us remember how You died to forgive us. This I ask in the Savior's Name. Amen.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries
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