Once upon a time in their marriage, a husband did something really stupid. His wife chewed him out for it. He apologized, they made up. However, from time to time, she would mention what he had done. “Honey,” he finally said one day, “why do you keep bringing that up? I thought your policy was ‘forgive and forget.'” “It is,” his wife said. “I just don’t want YOU to forget that I’VE forgiven and forgotten!”
Tonight, we begin a new Sunday night series. It’s a 147-part series and, y’all, I’m REAL excited about it! No, seriously, it is a 5-week series that will take us to the beginning of Advent- the season of Christmas. Imagine that for a moment- in 5 weeks, we will be on the threshold of the Christmas season! How did THAT happen?!
This new series is called God’s Promises. Since we just completed the 6 steps to God’s grace, I thought it appropriate that we spent some time focusing on some of God’s other promises. There are lots of promises God makes to us- this is NOT an exhaustive list. But we will look at 5 important promises- what they are, WHY they are and what they mean for our lives.
We start with one of the most basic, elemental promises God offers us- forgiveness.
Question #1- How would you define “forgiveness”?
To forgive means: “to grant pardon for an offense or debt, to absolve, to stop feeling resentment against, to cancel an indebtedness to”. There are people in this world who seem to think that forgiveness is a flaw of the weak. But God makes it clear- forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.
Matthew 18:21-35 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 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. “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Question #2- Which is harder- to give or receive forgiveness? Is it harder to forgive someone else…or yourself?
So Peter- impulsive, “shoot first and ask questions later” Peter- comes to Jesus looking for clarification. Let’s be honest- he wants Jesus to define for him the bare minimum- “What is the absolute LEAST I can do in this circumstance?”
In Jewish rabbinical law, the consensus was that someone might be forgiven for a repeated sin three times. On the fourth offense, there would be no forgiveness. But Peter, wanting to show himself as big-hearted, volunteers “seven times” in answer to his own question. Seven here would be a rather generic larger figure that was often used- it was, after all, the umber of perfection. It was meant to be seen as a perfect, “round” number.
Jesus’ response to Peter refers back to Genesis 4:24, which says- “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.” Lamech was a sixth generation descendant of Cain- he of Cain and Abel fame. And Jesus takes Lamech’s “seventy and sevenfold” revenge and transforms it instead into a principle of forgiveness. He then punctuates the whole thing with this powerful parable about forgiveness.
To give you some idea of the size of the indebtedness owed to the king- 10,000 talents- David donated three thousand talents of gold and seven thousand talents of silver for the construction of the temple. Such indebtedness couldn’t possibly be covered by selling the family into slavery: top price for a slave was about one talent.
Or let’s look at it this way- a denarius was one day’s wage for a typical day laborer. He would work six days a week and, taking Jewish holidays into consideration, would work about 50 weeks a year- earning 300 denarii/year. It took 6,000 denarii to equal one talent, meaning it would take you 20 years to earn a talent. But this guy owed 10,000 talents. That would take…ready?…200,000 YEARS to earn! Extrapolate the numbers out, looking at current minimum wage, and what he owed, in today’s dollars, suddenly blossoms into the billions with a “B”! The servant’s plight is desperate. He has neither the resources or the hope to ever pay this back. But the master takes pity on him and cancels the debt.
And instead of carrying that forgiveness on to the next person, the servant behaves horribly to the one who owes HIM money- a LOT less money, I might add. The king gets wind and has the servant thrown into prison and tortured until he can pay back what he owes- which, as we just established, will be…never.
People read this parable and they understand that the king is God and we are the servant. But they blanch at the notion that a loving God Who would forgive such a debt would be the SAME God Who would mete out such awful punish. “My God would NEVER do THAT!”
But Jesus sees no with the actions of a heavenly Father Who forgives so extravagantly and yet seems willing to punish so ruthlessly. But if you think about it, it’s exactly BECAUSE He has such compassion and mercy that He can’t possibly accept those devoid of such things. Let’s be clear here- Jesus is NOT saying that 77 times is the upper limit of forgiveness. Instead, He is saying that forgiveness should not, and cannot, be limited by numerical limitations like frequency or quantity.
Question #3- Do “forgive” and “forget” truly go hand in hand?
Who do you need to forgive? What are the things that you have been unable to let go that threaten to keep you bound forever? Here’s my advice- let go of them. Or to quote those great theologians over at Frozen- Let it Go! Holding a grudge has NO negative impact on the other person. They’re sleeping just fine at night, thank you very much! It’s YOU who suffers when you refuse to forgive. It eats you alive, from the inside out. AND it separates you from the love and forgiveness of God.
Actor Bradley Whitford said this, “Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.” In other words, seek forgiveness with all your heart…and offer it that same way.