Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive a brother who sinned against him, “Seven times?” He thought that was more than generous since it was more than twice what the Law required. I think Peter was more than a little surprised when Jesus told him, “I tell you, you must forgive him more than seven times. You must forgive him even if he wrongs you seventy times seven.”
There is some question as to what Jesus said whether it was seventy times seven or seventy seven times. The point that I think Jesus was trying to help Peter understand was that even if his brother sinned against him too many times to count he should continue to forgive him.
But what about the words Jesus said in verses 15-19? If your brother hurts you work it out between you and if that fails get another brother to go with you and try again. If that still doesn’t work go to the church and have them talk with him. And if that still doesn’t work he said to treat him like a pagan or a tax collector. Now that sounds to me like he should be shunned if he refuses to repent and seek forgiveness.
But then Peter asks his question and Jesus says to keep on forgiving forever if need be. I can understand Peter getting a little confused and frustrated with Jesus’ answers, can’t you?
I think Jesus wanted us to understand that we should never give up trying. After all God hasn’t given up on us. No matter how many times we fail and fall away from Him he forgets our past sins and forgives us again when we come to Him again begging for him to forgive us.
Forgiveness is something we have to carry with us all the time. In fact forgiveness should be put in our bag of necessities every day just like we put on clothes every day. We can’t get through one day without asking for forgiveness or giving forgiveness, sometimes or maybe most times, without being asked for it.
Friends, we have to forgive so that we may be forgiven. Every time we repeat the Lord’s Prayer we are reminded of that fact. “Forgive us our debts (sins) as we also have forgiven our debtors (those who sin against us).”
Why is it so important to forgive and/or be forgiven? What difference does it make to me if I forgive someone or I am forgiven? Let’s think about that for a minute.
Let’s say that every wrong ever done to me is put in this bag. I carry it around on my back every waking minute of the day and maybe even take it to bed with me. Every one of these wrongs is like a dead animal and they begin to rot but I still carry them around in the bag on my shoulder. I can’t let them go.
Now this isn’t a very pretty picture but consider this, the wrongs are decaying and they begin to seep through the fabric of the bag and soak into the fabric of my clothes. I still can’t let go of them. They are still too hurtful. And so eventually it begins to permeate my skin and if I don’t relieve myself of the burden soon my own body will begin to decay. This is an ugly thing to think about but that’s what happens when we can’t bring ourselves to forgive or to accept someone’s forgiveness.
We may not realize it but every hurt that we carry in the bag on our shoulders is preventing us from experiencing the love of God. Think how much easier our load would be if someone would just come along, take the bag from us, and help carry the bag with us, or how much lighter the load would be if we could just get rid of some of the load.
Friends, that’s what happens when we ask for forgiveness to those we have hurt or we offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us. It is such a relief to get that load off our backs. We often don’t realize how heavy the burden is that we are carrying when we can’t or won’t forgive.
Oh, it’s not easy. Sometimes it can take years for God to get us to release our hold on our anger, our hurt, and our hate but if we trust in God and pray to Him in our weakness for faith that is strong enough to believe in his power to forgive us, then it can happen.
Jesus said, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:20).” In Matthew Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Jesus is here for us. He is waiting for us to invite him into our hearts so he can forgive us. He is just waiting for us to hear his voice so he can come in and enjoy an intimate meal with us.
Too many of us are carrying around these bags of hurts when we could be relieved of them and allowed to experience the joy of being forgiven. Sometimes its not that we need to forgive someone else but we need to forgive ourselves for things we know we have done. Sometimes that is the greater burden we carry in the bags on our shoulders.
Friends, we can’t be judging each other and we shouldn’t be judging ourselves so harshly that we can’t see that Jesus is just waiting to offer us forgiveness. We all sin and will continue to sin. We all need to be forgiven. We all need to forgive. And what a joy it is when that happens.
It’s like putting on clothes that have just come out of the dryer smelling all clean and fresh and light. That’s what its like to be rid of the stinky, smelly bag of sins we carry around on our backs every day.
Let go of them and be forgiven. Jesus shed his blood and died so that we could be forgiven. He made the ultimate sacrifice for us when he was nailed to the cross. Friends lay your burdens today at the foot of the cross and know that God loves you and so do I.
Thanks be to God for his grace and forgiveness. Amen.