Peter was the same way. Here Jesus was, telling about what to do if someone offends you. Explaining that it is the injured party's responsibility to approach the guilty party. Explaining how it is better to keep the matter as private as possible. And here we find Peter only half listening, intent on what he's going to say next. He's reveling in the thoughts of how his next words are going to impress Jesus. And how this will raise him higher in the ranks of the disciples who will be astounded by what he is going to say next. Peter still has that warm fuzzy feeling from the last time that Jesus blessed him. That was in Caesarea Philippi when Peter recognized Jesus as the Son of God.
What did Peter say? Matthew 18:21 (NIV): Remember, Jesus has just been talking about what to do when someone offends you. "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?'" Peter considers this to be quite the generous statement.
After all, to forgive a person seven times is a great deal of forgiveness, especially since the rabbis at that time were teaching that one must not forgive more that three times. Just look at the life of Saul. Why did God end his life? Because Saul rebelled against Him four times. Look at David. Why did God forgive David? Well, David only had two sins: Bathsheba and the time that he counted Israel against God's wishes. They counted sins as the major things in your life. You could only forgive a person three times because you did not want to out-forgive God. That wouldn't be proper.
Rabbi Jose ben Hanina claimed that "He who begs forgiveness from his neighbor must not do so more than three times." Rabbi Jose ben Jehuda said, "If a man commits an offense once, they forgive him; if he commits an offense a second time, they forgive him; if he commits a third time, they forgive him; the fourth time they do not forgive." They get this from the book of Amos where God is seen to forgive the nation four times. "We don't want to out-forgive God do we?" So nobody gets forgiven more than three times.
So Peter is feeling quite generous when he doubles the limit of forgiveness and adds one for good measure! Up to seven times? That's a good Biblical number, Jesus. Seven times? "Okay Jesus. Now I've said it. Where's my pat on the back? Are you going to bless me in front of the disciples again? I liked it when that happened."
Well, Jesus does answer Peter, but He answers him in two parts. First, Jesus says, the correct number is not seven, but "seventy times seven (490)." Or if you have the NIV, seventy-seven times. The translation could be "seventy-seven." Well, if you say, "seventy times seven," that comes out to four hundred ninety times you should forgive somebody. Well, I don't think that was meant to be a literal number. After all, if you've been forgiving somebody that amount, you've lost track of how many times that person has been forgiven. Or if it is only seventy-seven times you've lost track. For some homework, find out where else 490 is mentioned in the Bible. Try Daniel. "How long will you suffer with my people?" There might be some significance there. That's for you to explore.
Jesus was not putting a limit on forgiveness. Rather, He was removing the limit. This is not the answer Peter expects, for Peter, like the rest of us, is really interested in the limit of Christian love and forbearance than in its extent. After all, it is reassuring to know at what point I can stop loving my neighbor wit a good conscience, isn't it? To know when I have filled my moral quota of love and forgiveness, so that with a clear conscience I can let them have it. I can let him get what's coming to him. The all-too-human question behind Peter's statement is, "When can I let go? When do I have the right to explode?" Jesus answers, "NEVER!"
The second part of Jesus' answer is in the form of a parable. Let's look at Matthew 18:23,24(NIV): "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." Wow!! 10,000 talents! How much is that? Well, I don't know for sure, but that is enough money to pay ten thousand workers for eighteen years. That's a lot of money. The annual budget for the province of Galilee was only 300 talents. This is a national debt. Some have figured in today's terms that it would be over two billion 40 million dollars. Others have figured differently, that's not the point. Don't argue with me on how much it was, because I don't know. I do know that it was more than he could possibly pay, ever. The point is, he couldn't do it. Ross Perot would have a time paying that one off. It might even make Bill Gates a little weak in the knees! A servant of the king would most likely be involved in embezzlement to owe this kind of money. Maybe he had a gambling problem, I don't know, but he had lost that much of the king's money in some form. This is not student loan that we're talking about. Jesus is trying to make a real definite point here.
Let's go on with verse 25: "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." Can you picture that? Bringing in his wife and his children and... "Okay, woman you'll have to go and join this harem over here. Children, you're going to have to be servants over in this household. What a horrible thing!. Verse 26: "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.'" Is it possible? To fulfill the servant's promise, "Be patient with me and I'll pay back everything," it would take him over a hundred and sixty-four thousand three hundred ninety years to do that. And that's considering him working seven days a week, not keeping the Sabbath, and not feeding his family. There's no bankruptcy, no chapter 11. But yet he promises. "Lord I will pay it back." Ridiculous. That's the same thing we tell the Lord when we say, "I'm trying to work my way to heaven." Ridiculous! You can't pay it. the price is too high. Let's look at verse 26 again. "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.'" Verse 27: "The servant's master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go." The actual Greek word here is one that stands for "compassion." Now, there's a difference between pity and compassion. Doug Bachelor tells a story about a man in San Francisco who got trapped under a cable car. People were standing around him, leaning over, saying, "Hold on! We've called an ambulance and help is on the way." That's pity. One man, in his business suit got down on his hands and knees and wormed his way under that car and put his hand on that man's shoulder and said, "I'm right here with you." That's compassion. I am so glad that God took compassion on us and came down here to our level and did something about it.
Well, the debt was forgiven, but the debt was still owed. Somebody had to pay it, and that would be the king himself.
Verse 28: "But when the servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. (Don't you wish the story had ended at the last verse?) He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded." One denarius is equal to one day's wage. This man owed a hundred denarii. In today's terms that would be about $3500. Something that's payable. No, it's not easy to pay that much back, but it's payable. Some of us might owe that much on our Master Card. We hope that's payable. Isn't that a great name for a credit card? MASTER Card! It's the master. So the debt here is quite payable. It's going to hurt, but it's not like the other man's debt by any means. Nothing men can do to us can compare with what we have done to God!
Verse 29: "His fellow servant fell on his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me and I will pay you back.'" Does that sound familiar? That had just happened for the first servant before the king! The servant uses the same words that his master did. The difference is that this servant's promise is keepable. Not easy to keep, but possible. There's no way that we can pay back God what we owe. But we can make things right with each other. No, it's not easy, but it's possible.
Verse 30-34: "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 his servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I cancelled 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." You know, this is a debtor's prison. Debtor's prisons in those days... If you owed ten dollars, that might be an hour on the wrack. But they tortured you in accordance to how much you owed. Until you had been fully tortured then you were let go. I would hate to be sent to a debtor's prison owing as much as this man did.
Here we see righteous wrath in action. God warns us about this. You know, when you read the Lord's prayer you come to that part "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." That' the only part of the Lord's prayer that Jesus makes a comment on afterwards. If you don't do this your Father won't forgive you. It must be very important to God.
Verse 35: "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." This was not the legalistic forgiveness that Peter knew about, but true forgiveness. But Peter still did not learn. It did not sink in. After all, how did Peter react in Gethsemane when they came to arrest Jesus? He reacted with a sword. Jesus reacted with healing and forgiveness.
Christ's Object Lessons (EG White) states: "He who is unmerciful towards others shows that he himself is NOT a partaker of God's grace. It is true that he may once have received forgiveness but his unmerciful spirit show that he now rejects God's pardoning love."
Jesus taught us to pray: "Forgive us our debts AS we forgive our debtors." Not before, not after, but AS! This can only be done by people who have accepted God's forgiveness and have some sense of their debt to Him. Then the spirit of forgiveness rests upon them. When you have the spirit of forgiveness in your heart and in your life you're not easily offended. Christians should walk around with a spirit of forgiveness; expecting the best from people and forgiving them as they make mistakes. WE don't have to wait for people to ask us to forgive them. We should go ahead and forgive them. We lead a lifestyle of forgiveness. That's stress free! You don't have to worry about hauling a grudge around all the time.
About ten years ago, as I was getting started in my first church, I noticed that there was a situation going on. There were two men that if they were both there on the same Sabbath, one sat at one end of the church and the other sat at the other end. As far away from each other as they could get. These were grown older men! I saw this week after week. I started getting curious and somebody whispered in my ear, "Yes, they've got something going." "Well, I'd better find out what it is." I went to one of the men's homes and I stood there and I talked with him. I said, "Tell me, what is this between you and so-and-so?" Oh, he was all too glad to tell me. "You would not believe what he did! I hired him to bring his tractor and plow my field on Wednesday. He didn't show up until Thursday, and I had already hired somebody else. And he got mad about it. So I'm mad at him and he's mad at me." I thought, "Wow! That must have made you angry." "Yes it made me angry!" I asked, "When was that?" He stopped to think a minute, "About thirty years ago." Thirty year those men were at each other! Over one small item! One of them is dead, now, the other one still lives. There was never any forgiveness. What a waste of life.
You know, when we live with a grudge, Satan comes in, sneak up behind us and soon our allegiance is with him and we don't even realize it. I could tell later by this man's theology he did not know Jesus. Maybe he used to know Jesus, but he no longer did.
The day before the great battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Collingwood went on board the H.M.S. Victory to receive instructions. Lord Admiral Nelson asked him why he had not brought his captain with him, which was a requirement. He told in return that he and the admiral were not on good terms with one another. Nelson at once sent a boat for Captain Rotherham, and on his arrival led him to Collingwood, and said, "Look, yonder are the enemy!" and made them shake hands like Englishmen.
My friends, when we get caught up with little grudges against one another or big grudges, it doesn't matter if it happened thirty years ago or yesterday, we have forgotten who the enemy really is. And Satan can sneak up behind us and catch us before we know what happens.
But poor Peter did not have this experience yet. By his act off a man's ear he was putting himself in the place of God. He was acting as both judge and executioner of judgment. "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord." When we hold a grudge, we are putting ourself in the very place of God.
My wife's grandmother on a nice rural road in Stone Mountain, Georgia within view of the big rock. That road is known for having its mailboxes smashed with a ball bat by people driving by. Any time you drive down that road there's a fresh kill. Somebody lost a mailbox. Year after year, this has gone on. One of her neighbors got tired of this and sought revenge. He filled his mailbox with cement and put it back up! Sure enough, a young man drove by and got the surprise of his life: a broken arm. The young man had the gall to sue the owner of the mailbox. It was in court; it was on the news; it was in the papers because the young man won the lawsuit against the mailbox owner. Doesn't it make you mad? It made me mad when I first read it. Then I got to thinking about it. The man, even though the boy was clearly guilty, had acted as judge and executioner of judgment, and the real judge did not appreciate it. By the way, the outside of a mailbox is yours. The inside is federal property. He got called on that charge. It was a federal offense what he did. Be careful when you go to seek vengeance and act in judgment.
There's another story about a King, not a parable, that Peter actually witnessed. The story of Jesus upon the cross. Peter witnessed what Jesus said and what He did not say that day. He witnessed Jesus' love for him during the act of denial and His love for those driving the spikes into His body. "Father, forgive them!" They hadn't asked for forgiveness, had they? But Jesus was leading a life of forgiveness. They were already forgiven.
After the resurrection was when Peter really learned about forgiveness: when Jesus forgave him his three denials and told him to care for His flock. When Peter experienced that kind of forgiveness, it change his whole life and how he interacted with others.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old had gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
Scripture: Matthew 18:21-22 Opening Song: 103, "O God Our Help" Closing Song: 156, "O Sacred Head Now wounded"
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last updated 2/3/98 by Bob Beckett.