Jesus often told parables in response to questions. Parables are short stories designed to help us understand how God’s Kingdom operates. Parables offered glimpses and a far different way of seeing the world than we normally do. Arguably the most well-known parable, The Good Samaritan, came as a response to a question. Jesus told the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-45) in response to another question on forgiveness from Peter, the spokesman for the twelve disciples.
Peter wanted to know the limitations surrounding forgiveness. He asked if forgiving someone seven times was acceptable. In Jewish culture, seven is associated with the idea of completeness. God created the universe in seven days. Jesus responded,, “Not seven times, Peter, but seventy times seven!” In other words, there is no limit to forgiveness. We must always forgive and be willing to work through the process of forgiving.
Why does Jesus command this response? A few reasons.
First, forgiveness liberates us and protects us from being consumed by hatred, bitterness and anger that would enslave and destroy us.
Nelson Mandela was unjustly imprisoned for twenty-seven years. He credited his faith in Christ with helping him endure the injustice and enable him to forgive. When he was finally released from prison Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Mandela understood forgiveness was a gateway to spiritual freedom, and he choose to forgive. When we forgive, we’re choosing to set aside the wrong that has been done to us. Doesn’t mean we forget it. It just means we surrender any bitterness, anger, and hatred that would take root in our hearts to God. We ask for God’s strength and grace to help us forgive.
Second, it is the very heartbeat of God to forgive.
As Jesus is dying on the cross having completely surrendered to the will of the Father, what is on his heart? Forgiveness. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). As he’s struggling for His final breaths, he is pleading to the Father that he grant forgiveness for others.
Think about that for a moment. People are mocking him, torturing him, and murdering him. Jesus doesn’t discount the wrong he is enduring on the cross. That’s why he asks for their forgiveness. In the face of evil and total depravity, Jesus’ heart is merciful and forgiving. He understands his attackers are deceived and unable to grasp the wickedness they are doing to him. His heart is amazingly gracious and compassionate. And that heart—a heart like Jesus—is what the Father offers to give you and me by His grace.
Forgiveness is essential, because it’s the gateway to freedom.
You can watch my message on forgiveness here.