Believe and Obey

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Unending Forgiveness

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A Brief Lesson

This week’s text is Matthew 18: 21-35.  This is a famous lesson Jesus offers regarding forgiveness, specifically, how many times we should forgive.  In two short verses (21-22) Jesus lays out one of His greatest lessons. 

I am profoundly indebted to my former Pastor who gave me these insights in what is still to date the greatest sermon I have ever heard.  In this passage, Peter asks Jesus how often we should forgive and suggests 7 as the number.  It is important to understand that at the time rabbis taught that 3 times was forgiveness enough.  This was based upon Amos 1:3-13.  So, Peter probably figured that doubling this and adding one was a pretty good answer.

In fact, it was probably a better answer than Peter thought.  The numerology of the time held that 7 was a very significant number because it represented spiritual perfection.  This was so because God rested on the 7th. day.  7 becomes a number denoting completion or even perhaps infinity.  So, for Peter, usually chief among the duh-sciples, this is a not bad answer at all.  Yet Jesus corrects Peter and says, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times”.  Jesus adds another 7 to Peter’s answer, the number that signifies perfection, completeness and infinity. 

This answer is stunning!  The meaning cannot be clearer and therefore scary as hell for us to contemplate.  What Jesus is challenging us to is a standard of forgiveness that is absolute and never-ending.  So, in the end what is the standard of forgiveness that Jesus sets for us?  How many times are we to forgive?  One more time than we think we ought to. 

The Lesson Applied

The rest of the passage is the parable of an unforgiving servant.  It is the classic tale of a servant who was shown forgiveness by his master then turned around and failed to show forgiveness to another.  When the master heard of this, he punished the unforgiving servant greatly.  The parable ends with the stern warning that this is what our heavenly Father will  do to us is we do not forgive others from our heart.

The lesson is not that we do these kinds of things-charitable works, acts of forgiveness, etc., to get God to love and forgive us.  We do these things because God loves us and has totally forgiven us.  The punishment due to those who fail to forgive (whatever that may be, we do not know), is not because of an external act or work that we fail to perform.  The punishment would be because we failed to believe.  We have heard God’s good and gracious word and failed to trust in it.

The lesson could not be clearer.  Hear God’s good and gracious word, and trust in it.  Believe that God’s word is true, the resurrection is real, and that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Then go out in response to this amazing, eternal gift and forgive someone else.  All this means is the oft repeated lesson, believe, then obey.

Praise Be to God

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