“’Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered him, ‘I say to you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven!’” – Matthew 18:21-22 –

The apostle Peter poses a very reasonable question to Jesus. How many times are we to forgive one another? He even offers what appears to be a very generous answer… seven times? Surely Jesus will agree that this is an acceptable number of times to forgive someone. Our Savior instead gives an astonishing number of times we are to forgive… seventy times seven!

Jesus uses symbolic multiples of seven to imply completeness or perfection. This is the forgiveness of God… infinite… times without number He forgives us. Our Savior gave His life so we could be forgiven. There is then to be no maximum placed upon our forgiveness of others.

The Master shares a parable to help Peter better understand…

A king seeks to settle accounts with his debtors. One servant who owes 10,000 talents is unable to repay. The king demands that he and his family be sold for payment. The servant falls on his knees, pleading with the king for mercy as he promises to repay. Moved with compassion, the king exonerates the servant, forgiving him of all his debts.

When this servant meets upon one of his own debtors who owes a mere hundred denarii, he grabs the poor man and demands immediate payment. The man pleads for mercy, promising to repay. Yet the servant heartlessly throws him into debtor’s prison.

When word gets back to the king of his servant’s coldhearted act, he is outraged. He calls in the servant and reproaches him…

“Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” – Matthew 18:33

The king sends the unmerciful servant to prison until his debt is repaid. Jesus shares the parable’s teaching…

“This is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” – Matthew 18:35

Jesus teaches of the importance of forgiveness from the heart… a work of His Spirit in our lives. Forgiveness is to be qualitative not quantitative. It matters not the magnitude of the offense nor the number of repeated offenses. We remember how often He forgives us. We seek to forgive with the heart of God, just as He has forgiven us through Christ.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34

What if the offense is unforgivable in our eyes? Jesus forgave the unforgivable. He forgave everyone during His time on earth. Our Lord did not necessarily choose to keep them close. He did not retain them all as friends, nor did He always associate with them when they continued in their unforgivable ways. Yet He forgave them.

What if the person is unrepentant? Jesus forgave the unrepentant. He forgave Judas whom He allowed into His inner circle. Yet He also asked Judas to leave once He knew he had made his mind up to betray Him.

Jesus even forgave those who crucified Him. For the Master’s plan was for His sacrifice to purchase forgiveness of sins once for all. He displayed His heart of compassion at this most trying time through His act of merciful forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a key attribute of Jesus. We are called to model Him. In forgiving, we are not condoning the actions of others. We may not even choose to associate with them anymore. Yet we let go of unforgiveness and any accompanying negative emotions… anger, resentment, bitterness or thoughts of revenge.

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” – Matthew 6:14-15

Jesus asks that we forgive as He has forgiven us. If we do not forgive, He will not forgive. This may sound harsh… yet this is exactly what He is teaching in His parable. How can we expect His infinite forgiveness when we fail to offer even finite forgiveness to others. We are to extend mercy to one another as He has extended limitless mercy to us.

Forgiveness is not just about our horizontal relationships with one another. Forgiveness is most importantly about our vertical relationship with God. It is about the endless mercy of Christ. Forgiveness keeps that blessed relationship open… unblocked by feelings of unforgiveness. As recipients of the riches of God’s mercy, we mercifully forgive through the power of His Spirit.