We have all been hurt by someone in our life. The hurt may be so severe, the betrayal so devastating, that we can never imagine being able to forgive that person. This can pose a problem for true Christians because we are supposed to forgive one another freely from the heart. Perhaps you recall the time when Peter asked Jesus about this.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!
(Matthew 18:21, 22 BSB)
Immediately after uttering the command to forgive 77 times, Jesus provides an illustration that speaks of what is needed to get into the kingdom of heaven. Starting at Matthew 18:23, he tells of a king who forgave one of his servants who owed him a great amount of money. Later, when this slave had the occasion to do the same for a fellow slave who owed him a very small amount of money by comparison, he was not forgiving. The king learned of this heartless action, and reinstated the debt he had previously forgiven, and then had the slave thrown in prison making it impossible for him to pay off the debt.
Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “My heavenly Father will also deal with you in the same way if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35 NWT)
Does that mean that no matter what a person has done to us, we have to forgive them? Are there no conditions that might require us to withhold forgiveness? Are we supposed to forgive all the people all the time?
No, we are not. How can I be so sure? Let’s start with the fruit of the spirit which we discussed in our last video. Notice how Paul sums it up?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22, 23 NKJV)
“Against such there is no law.” What does that mean? Simply that there is no rule limiting or restricting the exercise of these nine qualities. There are many things in life that are good, but which in excess are bad. Water is good. In fact, water is needed for us to live. Yet drink too much water, and you will kill yourself. With these nine qualities there is no such thing as too much. You cannot have too much love or too much faith. With these nine qualities, more is always better. However, there are other good qualities and other good actions which can do harm in excess. Such is the case with the quality of forgiveness. Too much can actually do harm.
Let us start by re-examining the parable of the King at Matthew 18:23.
After telling Peter to give up to 77 times, Jesus provided this parable by way of illustration. Notice how it begins:
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his master commanded that he be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment be made.” (Matthew 18:23-25 NASB)
The king was not in a forgiving mood. He was about to exact payment. What changed his mind?
“So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the master of that slave felt compassion, and he released him and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:26, 27 NASB)
The slave pleaded for forgiveness, and expressed a willingness to set things right.
In the parallel account, the writer Luke gives us a little more perspective.
“So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister a sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3, 4 NIV)
From this, we see that while we should be willing to forgive, the condition upon which that forgiveness is based is some sign of repentance on the part of the one who has sinned against us. If there is no evidence of a repentant heart, then there is no basis for forgiveness.
“But wait a minute,” some will say. “Didn’t Jesus on the cross ask God to forgive everybody? There was no repentance then, was there? But he asked that they be forgiven anyway.”
This verse is very appealing to those who believe in universal salvation. Don’t worry. Eventually everybody is going to be saved.
Well, let’s look that up.
“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” (Luke 23:34 NIV)
If you look up this verse on Biblehub.com in the parallel Bible mode which lists a couple of dozen major Bible translations, you will have no reason to doubt its authenticity. There is nothing there to cause you to think that you are reading anything other then pure Bible canon. The same can be said for the New World Translation 2013 Edition, the so-called Silver Sword. But then, that Bible version was not translated by Bible scholars, so I wouldn’t put much stock in it.
The same cannot be said for the New World Translation Reference Bible, I noticed it placed verse 34 in double square quotes which caused me to look up the footnote which read:
אCVgSyc,p insert these bracketed words; P75BD*WSys omit.
Those symbols represent ancient codices and manuscripts that do not contain this verse. These are:
- Codex Sinaiticus, Gr., fourth cent. C.E., British Museum, H.S., G.S.
- Papyrus Bodmer 14, 15, Gr., c. 200 C.E., Geneva, G.S.
- Vatican ms 1209, Gr., fourth cent. C.E., Vatican City, Rome, H.S., G.S.
- Bezae Codices, Gr. and Lat., fifth and sixth cent. C.E., Cambridge, England, G.S.
- Freer Gospels, fifth cent. C.E., Washington, D.C.
- Sinaitic Syriac codex, fourth and fifth cent. C.E., Gospels.
Given that this verse is disputed, perhaps we can figure out whether or not it belongs in the Bible canon based on its harmony, or lack of harmony, with the rest of Scripture.
In Matthew chapter 9 verse two, Jesus tells a paralytic man that his sins are forgiven, and in verse six he tells the crowd “but the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:2 NWT).
At John 5:22 Jesus tells us, “…the Father judges no one, but has assigned all judgment to the Son…” (BSB).
Given that Jesus has the power to forgive sins and that all judgment had been entrusted to him by the Father, why would he ask the Father to forgive his executioners and their supporters? Why not just do it himself?
But there is more. As we continue to read the account in Luke, we find an interesting development.
According to Matthew and Mark, the two robbers who were crucified with Jesus hurled abuses at him. Then, one had a change of heart. We read:
“One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other responded, and rebuking him, said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our crimes; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”” (Luke 23:39-43 NASB)
So one evildoer repented, and the other didn’t. Did Jesus forgive both, or just the one? All we can say for sure is that the one who asked for forgiveness was granted the assurance of being with Jesus in Paradise.
But there is still more.
“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the entire land until the ninth hour, because the sun stopped shining; and the veil of the temple was torn in two.” (Luke 23:44, 45 NASB)
Matthew also relates that there was an earthquake. What was the impact off these terrifying phenomena on the people viewing the scene?
“Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “This man was in fact innocent.” And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, after watching what had happened, began to return home, beating their chests.” (Luke 23:47, 48 NASB)
This helps us to better understand the reaction of the crowd of Jews 50 days later at Pentecost when Peter told them, “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!
Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” (Acts 2:36, 37 NLT)
The events surrounding Jesus’ death, the three-hour-long darkness, the temple curtain being ripped in two, the earthquake… All these things caused the people to realize they had done something very wrong. They went home beating their chests. So, when Peter gave his speech, their hearts were ready. They wanted to know what to do to put things right. What did Peter tell them to do to get forgiveness from God?
Did Peter say, “Ah, don’t worry about it. God already forgave you when Jesus asked him to back when he was dying on the cross you put him on? You see, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, everybody is going to get saved. Just relax and go home.”
No, “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NLT)
They had to repent to get forgiveness of sins.
There are actually two phases to gain forgiveness. One is to repent; to acknowledge that you were wrong. The second is conversion, to turn away from the wrong course to a new course. At Pentecost, that meant getting baptized. Over three thousand were baptized that day.
This process also works for sins of a personal nature. Let us say that a person has defrauded you of some money. If they won’t acknowledge the wrongdoing, if they won’t ask you to forgive them, then you are under no obligation to do so. What if they do ask for forgiveness? In the case of Jesus’ illustration, both slaves didn’t ask that the debt be forgiven, only that they be given more time. They showed a desire to set matters straight. It is easy to forgive someone making a sincere apology, one who is cut to the heart. That sincerity is evident when the person makes an effort to do more than simply say, “I’m sorry.” We want to feel that it isn’t just an insincere excuse. We want to believe that it won’t happen again.
The quality of forgiveness is, like all good qualities, governed by love. Love seeks to benefit another. Withholding forgiveness from a truly repentant heart is not loving. However, granting forgiveness when there is no repentance is also unloving as we could just be enabling the person to continue to engage in wrongdoing. The Bible warns us, “When the sentence for a crime is not speedily executed, the hearts of men become fully set on doing evil.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11 BSB)
We should also be aware that forgiving someone doesn’t mean that they don’t have to suffer any consequences for their wrongdoing. For example, a husband may sin against his wife by committing adultery with another woman—or another man, for that matter. He may be very sincere when he repents and asks for her forgiveness, and so she may grant him forgiveness. But that doesn’t mean the marital contract isn’t still broken. She is still free to remarry and not obliged to remain with him.
Jehovah forgave King David for his sin in conspiring to murder the husband of Bathsheba, but there were still consequences. The child of their adultery died. Then there was the time that King David disobeyed God’s command and numbered the men of Israel to determine his military might. The anger of God came upon him and Israel. David asked for forgiveness.
“. . .David then said to the true God: “I have sinned greatly by doing this. And now, please, forgive your servant’s error, for I have acted very foolishly.”” (1 Chronicles 21:8)
However, there were still consequences. 70,000 Israelites died in a three-day scourge brought about by Jehovah. “That doesn’t seem fair,” you might say. Well, Jehovah warned the Israelites that there would be consequences to their choosing a human king over him. They sinned by rejecting him. Did they repent of that sin? No, there is no record of the nation ever asking God for forgiveness because they rejected him.
Of course, we all die at God’s hand. Whether we die of old age or disease because the wages of sin is death, or whether some die directly at God’s hand as did the 70,000 Israelites; either way, it is only for a time. Jesus spoke of a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.
The point is that we all fall asleep in death because we are sinners and we will be awakened in the resurrection when Jesus calls. But if we want to avoid the second death, we need to repent. Forgiveness follows repentance. Sadly, a great many of us would rather die than apologize for anything. It is remarkable how seemingly impossible it is for some to utter those three little words, “I was wrong”, and the other three, “I am sorry”.
Yet, apologizing is the way that we can express love. Repenting for wrongs committed helps to heal wounds, to repair broken relationships, to reconnect with others…to reconnect with God.
Do not fool yourself. The judge of all the earth will not forgive any of us unless you ask him to, and you had better mean it, because unlike us humans, Jesus, whom the Father has appointed to do all the judging, can read the heart of Man.
There is another aspect to forgiveness that we haven’t covered yet. Jesus’ parable of the King and the two slaves from Matthew 18 deals with it. It has to do with the quality of mercy. We will analyze that in our next video. Until then, thank you for your time and your support.