Then Peter came up and said to him,
“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Peter’s question to Jesus reminds us of a familiar truth: Forgiveness is hard.
Sometimes we struggle to forgive small offenses because they seem small: A friend not following through on something they said they’d do. Unreturned texts. Being stood up or cancelled on last minute.
Other times, forgiveness is hard because we’ve suffered a deep wrong: A boss or teacher being unkind or unfair. Husbands or wives struggling with lust or looking at porn. Parents hurting us. Friends telling our business and damaging our reputation.
Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18 is meant to show us how urgent it is for us to forgive our brothers. In the parable, we can see three reasons why we fail to forgive.
- We fail to forgive when we fail to realize the severity of our own debt. (vv. 23-26)
- We fail to forgive when we fail to recognize who’s really in charge. (vv. 27-30)
- We fail to forgive when we fail to rejoice in our own release. (vv. 31-34)
Jesus concludes and interprets this parable for us in verse 35: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
What do we do with this statement?
We may not dilute the force of this command. Jesus’ repeats this imperative in Matthew 5.7 and 6.14-15.
“The key to understanding his teaching is to recognize that we do not receive forgiveness because we forgive others, but because we cast ourselves on the mercy of God. Yet we cannot receive forgiveness without forgiving others. The man who mouths the words ‘Forgive us our debts,’ but will not forgive others their debts, has not begun to understand the weight of his own sin. If he did, in the light of it being forgiven, he would be prepared to forgive his brother ‘seventy-seven time’ (Matt. 18:22).”
The point of this parable is not to give us a picture of how God operates but to show us how we should operate.
How does God forgive our sins? Not like the king in the parable.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14 ESV
God does not simply wave his hand and make our impossible, 20,000 year debt magically disappear.
God forgives his people their debts by paying them on our behalf. They have been paid in full. On the cross, Jesus settles our outstanding account. This forgiveness, grounded on Jesus’ perfect payment of our debts, can not be un-done.