Mercy and Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35 (NASB)
"Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he had began to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

The question that Peter asked Jesus regarding how many times he should forgive someone who wrongs him is a question that touches us all today as we deal with people in our daily lives. According to Jewish custom at the time, it was common for the aggrieved party to forgive someone who committed an offense up to three times. Peter thought he was being more than generous by extending the number to seven. But Jesus wanted Peter and His disciples to understand the true nature, the true spirit of what forgiveness was all about. Forgiveness of someone for wrongs done against you should not be done according to a tallying sheet. That is why Jesus increased the number to 490 ("seventy times seven"), for He knew it would be at the very least extremely difficult if not impossible to keep count. And such a high number would tend to take the focus away from keeping count and put it on being as forgiving to others as God is forgiving of us when we sin.

The ensuing parable about the unmerciful servant illustrates very forcefully how we should deal with those who sin against us and seek forgiveness. As sinners saved from death by grace offered through Jesus Christ, we have been forgiven a great and impossible-to-pay debt. God forgave us from His heart by offering His only Son to die in our place. How can we accept such a magnanimous canceling of our debt while refusing to forgive our brothers and our sisters who may offend us? Our debt owed to God for which He forgave us far outweighs any debt anyone else may owe us. The sins that Christ forgave us against Him through His own blood far surpasses any sin that anyone may commit against us. The unmerciful servant in this parable did not understand that when one is forgiven a great debt, that such a person should exercise the same kind of mercy toward those who are indebted to him.

God tells us in this parable that He will be as merciful and forgiving to us as we are merciful and forgiving to others. Jesus encourages us to be forgiving as God is, not only because He has forgiven us far more than we can repay, but because it helps to makes us into more godly people. Mercy and forgiveness is a major aspect of the character of God. It is a quality that He seeks to develop in us. As we gaze upon Jesus, being grateful for His grace extended to us, and allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, we can learn to become more merciful and forgiving in dealings with our fellow human beings who may sin against us, especially if they seek our forgiveness and mercy.

"But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 1:7-10, 2:1-2)

We are all sinners, and even after accepting the Gospel of Christ we occasionally succumb to temptation and sin. But are we to lose hope? Fortunately, no. As we are in fellowship with Christ, confessing our sins and accepting His forgiveness and work of sanctification in our lives, we can take hope in the fact that Christ intercedes for us before the Father. And He can do so because of His all-sufficient atoning sacrifice for our sins (past, present, future) on the cross. His grace is more than sufficient for our failings. Because Jesus had gone through so much to forgive us for our sins and reconcile us to God, should we not be able to forgive those who sin against us, or slight us in some way? Since God has forgiven us much, we should be willing, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to forgive others, especially if they seek our forgiveness. This shows that we are children of God, that the Spirit dwells within us.

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