Last week, we shared how Jesus rocked the disciple’s understanding about God’s kingdom. They just didn’t understand it. They viewed Jesus as the Messiah who would take out Rome with an army and establish a new Kingdom. They thought Jesus would be next King and they would have the key power spots around Jesus. Because of this they argued with each other about who was the greatest. Remember we explained how they wanted power, position, and statues? They simply didn’t understand God’s kingdom because they thought it was about what they could get out of it.
Jesus then brought a child in the middle of the crowd. He said, ‘You won’t even see heaven unless you become like this child.’ This had to stun the disciples. Jesus was telling them, God’s kingdom isn’t about you, or your greatness, or what you get out of it, it’s about God and what God is up to. In God’s kingdom you take the focus off of you and put your focus on God and what He is up to. In God’s kingdom, you don’t ask the question, ‘How can I leverage God’s kingdom for my benefit?’ The question is, ‘How can I join God in what He is doing?’
Jesus continues and explained how we must treat others. In God’s kingdom how you treat others is how you are treating Jesus. So don’t be a bully, don’t take advantage of others. If you have sin, deal with it radically, don’t allow your sin to lead others or tempt others into your sin. Don’t be arrogant and look down on others. You might live that way in the world’s kingdom, we don’t live this way in God’s kingdom.
All of that was the context to Jesus sharing the parable of the one lost sheep last week. Jesus explained how there was more joy in heaven over one lost sheep who was found than the ninety-nine sheep who didn’t need to be saved. Jesus did this to help the disciples understand the priorities of God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom isn’t about getting key power spots to leverage for our own advantage. In fact, God’s kingdom isn’t about us. It’s about God and what God is up to. And God is running after people who are lost.
In today’s parable, Jesus continues to talk about how you treat others. Now remember, Jesus just talked about being humble. He talked about how you treat others. Jesus was telling the disciples, God’s kingdom isn’t about you guys, it’s about God going after the lost. After hearing what Jesus said, Peter asks a great question. Peter wants to know, if we do what you say, we are humble, if we treat others well, if we pursue the lost, what do we do when someone hurts us?
Before we read Jesus’ response, I want to stop and pray and ask God to give us ready hearts to hear this story and be forever changed by it.
Let’s read the story.
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.
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 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. 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.” MSG Matthew 18:21-35
Peter’s question is a great question, isn’t it? If we are supposed to treat others humbly and not be self-serving, what do we do when people hurt us? Don’t you have the same question? I’m trying to love my spouse, but they hurt me, they have worn me out, what do I do? I’m trying to treat others well at work, in the community, in the church, and people have hurt me, what do I do? I’m trying to be a great person, but it’s so hard because people wear me out, what do I do?
Don’t you wish you could ask Jesus that question? Wouldn’t it sound something like this, ‘I’m the good guy, girl in the story, they are the ones who hurt me, when is enough-enough? What is the limit of how many times I have to forgive them before I quit the relationship? How long do I have to put up with this?’
That is exactly what Peter asked. ‘Do we forgive them seven times and then be done with them – is that the limit?’ In other words, is there a limit to how many times we forgive others and then cut them off? Even if I go above and beyond what the law requires and forgive them seven times, do I cut people off then?
Jesus says, as my disciple, you forgive, there is no limit. You say seven, I say, try seventy-seven times. In other words, forget three times. Forget seven times. In God’s kingdom, forgiveness is a lifestyle.
That’s why Jesus shared the parable. As a disciple of Jesus, you must see and understand the big picture. Your heavenly Father has forgiven you of your 10-million-dollar debt [Living Bible translation]. When someone hurts you, it’s obvious that you should forgive them of their two-thousand-dollar debt. If you won’t forgive and keep on forgiving, you don’t fully understand who you are and your sin against God. You don’t fully understand the price God paid to forgive you. You don’t fully understand your 10-million-dollar debt. It’s like being the wicked servant in the parable. Forgiveness of others is understanding the big picture of how God has first forgiven you.
Let’s slow down and ask five questions.
Question 1: Who is it that you need to forgive? Question 2: Who is it that you are refusing to forgive because they have worn you out and you believe it’s time to cut them off? Question 3: Who is it that you feel doesn’t deserve your forgiveness? Question 4: The person you want to cut off, do you have a long list of reasons as to why you don’t have to forgive? And is that list your proof, almost like winning a court case, that you are in the right and they are in the wrong? Question 5: When is the last time you were emotionally impacted when you realized how much Jesus has forgiven you?
Jesus told us this.
Be alert. If you see your friend going wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Even if it’s personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times he says, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ forgive him. MSG Luke 17:3-4
Even if it’s personal and repeated seven times throughout the day, forgive. Why? Because unforgiveness in our hearts always, always, always, over time, goes toxic. Unforgiveness, is you drinking poison hoping the other person will die. It never works. It’s toxic and it hurts you.
I want to give you three big points about forgiveness, and I want to close with a few details about forgiveness.
First, forgiveness involves three people. You, the person who hurt you, and God.
Here is our real-life experience. Someone has or will hurt you or at least disappoint you – a lot. Or they have or will hurt someone you love like your kid. And because of that, you will be hurt. In the past, what happened inside of you when you felt that hurt? You wanted them to feel the pain you felt – right? You wanted to get even. You wanted revenge. Why? We think we need to bring justice to the relationship. And to bring justice to the relationship, they need to feel the pain we feel. When you think that the relationship only involves two people, you and the other person, you will want justice. You will be comfortable being the judge, the jury, and the executioner.
This is what Jesus would say.
Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. MSG Matthew 5:38-41
As a disciple of Jesus, we need to understand there are more than two people in our relationship because you gave your life to Christ. As a Christian, there are three people. You, the other person, and God. As disciples of Jesus, Jesus tells us, when others hurt us, we must understand something huge. Hurt is a key moment when we can share with that person God’s love and grace. Why would anyone live like this? Because it’s what God did for you.
People don’t always make that decision. Instead, they do what comes naturally to us all. They react to the hurt. They become the judge and try to get justice. Please see what Jesus taught. It’s not about getting justice anymore; it’s not about tit-for-tat, it’s about sharing with others the forgiveness God gave us.
What does the Bible say about revenge or justice?
18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. 19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. 20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” 21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. NLT Romans 12:18-21
Let’s be honest, that isn’t easy, is it? And for us to be disciples of Christ, it may not always feel good. There are lots of things God asks of us that make us feel good. Things like, accept His grace. Things like, serving the poor. Forgiveness doesn’t always feel good. It may take you a day or a month or a year but you will have to wrestle with hurt, justice, grace at some point.
Don’t you immediately want to ask follow up questions? Don’t you have a specific situation, and you think that Jesus didn’t cover your specific situation? Isn’t Jesus’ talk on forgiveness a little broad? Don’t worry, we talk about details later.
But let’s stop and ask, how do you treat your spouse? How do you treat the coach who cut your kid? How do you treat those at work who took advantage of you? How do you treat people? Are you out for justice or as hard as it is, do you respond with the forgiveness and grace that God has given you?
Can I be even pushy and ask you, if God forgave you, who are you not to forgive others? Do you think what Jesus taught doesn’t apply to you? Do you think your situation is different?
You want to resurrect your marriage? Your family? You must forgive and release God’s grace into those relationships. You want to resurrect your workplace? Your Church? Your community? You must forgive and release God’s grace. You want to be healed in your life to experience God’s grace? You must forgive and release God’s grace. In forgiveness, you are getting rid of how toxic unforgiveness is.
In October of 2006, a man entered a Mennonite school and shot 10 young girls. 5 were killed, 5 were injured. This is what was reported.
“In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn’t cast blame, they didn’t point fingers, they didn’t hold a press conference with attorneys at their sides. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family.
The afternoon of the shooting an Amish grandfather of one of the girls who was killed expressed forgiveness toward the killer, Charles Roberts. That same day Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain.
Later that week the Roberts family was invited to the funeral of one of the Amish girls who had been killed. And Amish mourners outnumbered the non-Amish at Charles Roberts’ funeral.
It’s ironic that the killer was tormented for nine years by the pre-mature death of his young daughter. He never forgave God for her death. Yet, after he cold-bloodedly shot 10 innocent Amish school girls, the Amish almost immediately forgave him and showed compassion toward his family.
In a world at war and in a society that often points fingers and blames others, this reaction was unheard of. Many reporters and interested followers of the story asked, “How could they forgive such a terrible, unprovoked act of violence against innocent lives?””
What do you see in this real story? You see the love of Jesus and it’s unexplainable. It rocked the community. Listen, that’s the power of forgiveness. The power of God. And I can’t imagine how painful it was for the Amish parents of those innocent girls. When you forgive, you release God’s grace. Have you released God’s grace in your marriage? How about work? Where do you need to release God’s grace?
Secondly, unforgiveness goes toxic overtime.
What if you have been so hurt, so worn down, you give up? If you give up, if you choose not to forgive, the unforgiveness inside you will go toxic. The hurt that is in you doesn’t go away. It doesn’t turn into good feelings. It doesn’t turn into a field of wildflowers, butterflies, birds, and bees. It always turns toxic; it becomes a waste site. Maybe you are married. Maybe you are in a bad job situation. Maybe you left a church that hurt you. All the hurts you keep, the list of all the wrongs against you, that list will go toxic inside you and harm you deeply.
The person you hurt the most when you don’t forgive, is you. You think you are really making them pay but in reality, you are harmed the most. It’s like drinking poison.
If you are not forgiving someone, Jesus would ask you this question.
If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them? MSG John 20:23
Jesus wants to know, what are you going to do with your unforgiveness? Why? Because you can’t hold on to it without it going toxic and hurting yourself. Unforgiveness is a spiritual wound and humans are unable to hold onto it.
Third, God’s forgiveness of you requires you to forgive.
The other reality about forgiving someone, if you don’t forgive, God clearly says, He doesn’t forgive you.
If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done. GNT Matthew 6:15
That’s pretty strong isn’t it. You must understand that as a Christian, as a disciple of Jesus, you gave your life to Jesus. That means Jesus is your Lord and Savior. He decides how you live. He will advance His kingdom through you. And if someone hurts you, God is the judge, He will take care of it. Your role is to forgive.
Let’s talk about the details of forgiveness.
Okay, let’s get practical. Let’s share 7 things about forgiveness you must know and 3 misconceptions.
1.) Forgiveness is not forgetting.
2.) Forgiveness is a choice, a decision of the will, not a feeling.
3.) Forgiveness is agreeing to live with the consequences of another person’s sin.
4.) Forgiveness is agreeing to not hold someone’s sin against them anymore.
5.) Forgiveness doesn’t mean you tolerate sin or re-enter the relationship without changes.
6.) Forgiveness doesn’t seek revenge.
7.) Forgiveness means you are not the judge, God is.
Three very common misconceptions about forgiveness:
Misconception #1.) I haven’t truly forgiven until I forget about what happened – WRONG. You can truly forgive and still remember, but you shouldn’t emotionally hang onto it. After you forgive, if you find that you are emotionally hanging onto it, forgive again.
Misconception #2.) If I forgive, that means I must minimize the offense and pain that was caused – WRONG. To forgive someone never minimizes or condones what the person did. It simply means you are not allowing that hurt to ruin the rest of your life.
Misconception #3.) If I forgive, that means I resume the relationship without changes – WRONG. There is a difference between forgiving and restoring. To forgive means you are addressing the damage that was done to your heart. To restore a relationship takes time to build trust.
Are you hanging onto the hurt and sin of others? Is your heart a mix of hurt and lies? Have you gone toxic? Who do you need to forgive? People close to you? God? Yourself? Remember, God forgave you of your 10-million-dollar debt.
Let’s close with the words of Paul.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. NIV Ephesians 4:31
If you want God’s grace and love and mercy to pour through you and heal you, forgive.