SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN

January 25

Bible Reading: Matthew 18

Matthew 18:21-22, “Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’  Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’”

It was a tragic mistake that cost the life of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old accountant in Dallas. He was unarmed and watching television in his living room when police officer Amber Guyger walked in. Having mistakenly entered the wrong apartment, and thinking Botham to be an intruder, Amber fired and shot and killed Botham. She was white. He was black. The case garnered much attention. Ultimately she was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison. It’s what happened after her sentencing that was so surprising. Botham’s brother, Brandt, asked for permission from the court to hug the woman who had killed his brother. The teenage brother hugged her and told her, “if you truly are sorry — I know I can speak for myself — I forgive you.” He later explained during an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America that it is what his brother would have wanted for him to do. Then when asked about how some people are slower to forgive, Brandt said that “each and everyone has steps to get towards actually forgiving. I probably went through those faster than other people. … If you are trying to forgive her, understand that she is a human being.” Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. A God thing.

The slaves were aghast at what they had witnessed. Their fellow slave had amassed an enormous debt of 10,000 talents towards their master (Matthew 18:24). A debt so large that it would have taken a couple of centuries’ worth of wages to pay it off.  The master, wishing to settle accounts, brought the slave to himself and demanded payment.  Since he had no means to repay, the master commanded that he be sold, along with his wife and children and belongings, so that payment could be made.  Helpless to rectify his situation, the slave fell to the ground and begged that the master show patience towards him.  In an incredible and unprecedented display of compassion, the master forgave him for the massive debt.  The other slaves were astounded.  What kind of master would show such compassion?

How did the slave respond?  He went and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a debt.  The debt was small by comparison—a mere one hundred denarii.  An amount that could be earned in 100 days or so.  The forgiven slave seized the man and began to choke him.  He too, begged for patience.  But the forgiven slave showed no compassion and instead threw the slave into prison.  The other slaves were “deeply grieved” and reported to the master what had happened.  Oh, the incongruity of it all!  An unpayable debt forgiven by a compassionate master.  Forgiveness of the far smaller debt withheld by a fellow servant.  And so, it goes in this world.

The rabbis had taught that a repeated offense might be forgiven three times, but on the fourth there could be no forgiveness.  Peter questioned Jesus regarding the extent to which forgiveness should be demonstrated, asking, “Up to seven times?”  (Matthew 18:21).  Jesus’ response was not up to seven times, “but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).  Jesus used this parable to illustrate the truth about forgiveness.

It is altogether human to seek revenge. The Devil cheers us on in our anger, bitterness, and vengeance. He would have us to believe that some sort of victory is won in retaliating. The flesh is eager to take part. A deadly and turbulent concoction is brewed when vengeful thoughts are enjoined to the dreaded injustice. The poisonous elixir, having been simmered on the back burner of the mind, is then gladly guzzled down, only to be vomited up, emitting a foul and noxious odor. Revenge yields no genuine or lasting triumph. Temporary gratification is a high price to pay in view of the emotional, physical, and spiritual damage done.

Forgiveness is a God thing.  Were there no God, there would be no such things as forgiveness.  To forgive someone is to release them from liability to suffer punishment or penalty.  It is to make a decision about an injustice suffered: to not think about it, to not bring it up, to not talk about it, and to not allow it to stand between us and the other person.  That kind of response is not always easy.  It is by God’s grace and by the Spirit alone that we can lovingly respond to others in this manner (Galatians 5:20 vs. 5:22; 1 Corinthians 13:5).

Seventy times seven.  God has forgiven much.  It is His nature to forgive (Psalm 103:8-11).  My certificate of debt was of infinite measure (Colossians 2:14).  He “cancelled it out” by nailing it to the cross.  He who knew no sin was made to be sin that I might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It is reasonable to expect that those who have been much forgiven should readily forgive.  That’s the point of the parable.  Anything less is unreasonable and deeply distressing.  Those who have been much forgiven, “as God in Christ has forgiven” (Ephesians 4:32b), should always be “forgiving each other” (Ephesians 4:32a). 

The fount of forgiveness is the cross.  When we forgive, we bear witness to its power to save and transform!

God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name.
I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name
And in Jesus’ name I come to you
To share his love as he told me to.

He said ‘Freely, freely you have received; freely, freely give.
Go in my name, and because you believe others will know that I live.

Author: looking2jesus13

Having served as pastor at Lewis and Clark Bible Church, in Astoria, Oregon, for almost three decades, my wife’s cancer diagnosis led to my retirement and subsequent move to Heppner to be near our two grandchildren. I divide my time between caring for Laura and working as a part time hospice chaplain and spending time with family and spoiling my chocolate lab.

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