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Posted by Rev. Jeff Dixon, Senior Equipping Minister at Covenant Community Church on Sep 1, 2001, 17:56

Ruth Troutman, the Sunday School teacher, was very keen on religious ceremonies and had spent an entire session talking to the class about the correct way to pray. “Now,” she said finally, “suppose we want to pray to God for forgiveness. What must we do first of all?” “Sin?” suggested one little boy.

"Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive." --C. S. Lewis

There is nothing we do that so perfectly characterizes God as forgiveness. And nothing makes us more like Him than to forgive. But are there limits to forgiveness? Jesus answers that with a simple parable. It is found in Matthew 18:21-35. Look it up and follow along as we think about full-time forgiveness.

The whole story unfolds in the passage and it starts with A Simple Question…The parable begins or is prompted by a simple question in Matthew 18:21, “Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Peter understood human nature (and his own nature) well enough to know that all of us are “repeat offenders” who need forgiveness. This was a simple question looking to see if there was a limit on how many times we need to forgive. The limit that Peter suggested, up to seven times, was more than twice that was required by Jewish tradition and I am sure seemed very generous to him (and in many ways was probably a breakthrough for this old, hard-edged fisherman). But then Jesus responded to the question, and it is an understatement to say that His was A Surprising Response…we read it in Matthew 18:22, “ I tell you not seven times, but seventy seven times.” When He said this it stunned the disciples . . .you must notice that Jesus was not trying to extend the limits of forgiveness, He was removing them! A Christian with a forgiving heart doesn’t keep records but forgives the one-hundredth time just like the first. We are reminded in Romans 5:20, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” In other words we should never allow a fellow believer’s sin to surpass our willingness to forgive.

Then Jesus goes on to tell A Sizzling Story. Jesus follows up his answer to Peter’s question with a parable of two servants with a debt they could not pay. The king forgave the debt of the first servant who owed a sum equal to about two hundred years of wages. But the man promptly forgot about the grace and forgiveness he received and went out and refused to forgive a fellow servant a debt of only several months wages. Understandably the king was angry with the first servant because he had been forgiven all and should have been willing to forgive in return.

The parable teaches us an important lesson. As you can see we have the divine obligation to forgive those who wrong us. We never have grounds to withhold forgiveness. In addition…remember, if God requires us to forgive then He must have made it possible for us to do so. And that is the challenge; to develop the forgiving heart that God wants us to have.

I know what you are saying. It is tough to forgive, and it is. forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you for hurting me.

Whether or not the person wants to restore the relationship is not the issue. The act of forgiveness is something that you do and extend . . .it is not conditional or based on whether the other person wants to accept it!

Reverend Walter H. Everett answered the phone, unprepared for the words he heard: “Scott was murdered last night.” Walter’s anger toward his son’s killer raged through him like a violent riptide, growing even worse when a plea bargain resulted in a reduced sentence for the attacker.

My rage was affecting my entire life. “How am I going to let go of this anger?” I wondered. The answer came the first time I saw Mike, almost a year after Scott’s death. Mike stood in court prior to his sentencing and said he was truly sorry for what he had done.

Three and a half weeks later, on the first anniversary of Scott’s death, I wrote to Mike. I told him about my anger and asked some pointed questions. Then I wrote, “Having said all that, I want to thank you for what you said in court. And as hard as these words are for me to write, I forgive you.” I wrote of God’s love in Christ and invited Mike to write to me if he wished.

Three weeks later his letter arrived. He said that when he had read my letter, he couldn’t believe it. No one had ever said to him, “I forgive you.” That night he had knelt beside his bunk and prayed for, and received, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Additional correspondence led to regular visits during which we spoke often of Mike’s (and my) growing relationship with Christ. Later I spoke on Mike’s behalf before a parole board, and he was given an early release.

In November 1994, I was the officiating minister at his wedding. When asked about his early release, Mike says, “It felt good, but I was already out of prison. God had set me free when I asked for His forgiveness.”

Can I truly forgive? I had wondered if it were possible. But I’ve discovered the meaning of the apostle Paul’s words: “For freedom Christ has set us free.”

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