Jesus had taught His disciples much about forgiveness, but they still did not understand how much love God has for us and how much love He expects us to have for one another.
He had taught them much about the kingdom of God, but they still looked for an earthly kingdom. Each of the 12 apostles wanted to have the highest position in Jesus’ kingdom. Sometimes they argued about it until they were very angry with each other.
Once, two of the apostles even had their mother ask Jesus to give them the highest places in His kingdom. Peter wanted to show Jesus he had learned his lessons well. Then Jesus would see that Peter was ready for a high position in his kingdom.
The priests, scribes and lawyers taught that a person should forgive someone else just three times and no more. Peter knew Jesus expected more than that. Jesus once said, “Your righteousness must be more than the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.”
So one day Peter said to Jesus, “How often should I forgive my brother? As many as seven times?” This was more than twice as many times as the teachers said. Surely Jesus would praise him for being so generous and forgiving.
But Jesus said, “Peter, don’t forgive just seven times, but as many as seventy times seven.”
Seventy times seven! That was 490 times. Who could ever keep track of forgiving a person 490 times?
That was just the point Jesus wanted to make. We are not supposed to keep track of how many times we forgive someone. We are to keep forgiving, as God keeps forgiving us.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught that we are forgiven only if we forgive others. He told this story, so Peter would understand what He meant:
A king was looking over his accounts and found that one of his official owed him many thousands of dollars. The official had not paid anything on the bill, so the king ordered his servants to auction off all the man’s property. Then they were to sell the man, his wife and his children as slaves to get the money to pay the debt.
The official pleaded with the king to spare him, “Give me time, and I will pay every penny,” he said.
Feeling sorry for the man, the king said, “I will forgive the debt. You don’t have to pay back any of it.” The man was relieved and happy.
On his way out of the palace, the official met another servant, who owed him a few dollars. “Pay me what you owe me,” demanded the official.
“Oh, I don’t have the money right now,” said the other servant. “Give me time and I will pay all of it.” But the official would not listen. He had the servant thrown into debtor’s prison.
Other servants of the king saw what had happened and told their master. The king called the official right back to the palace.
“Shame on you,” cried the king. “I forgave you all that huge debt, because I was sorry for you. Shouldn’t you have been just as sorry for your fellow servant as I was for you?” And the king had the official put into prison that very day, to work at hard labor until he paid off every penny of the debt.
“If someone does wrong to you seven times in one day,” Jesus added, “and then is sorry and asks your forgiveness, you should go ahead and forgive him seven times.”
We can answer Peter’s question about how many times to forgive someone by saying, “How many times do I want God to forgive me?” If I want God to forgive me every time I do wrong, then I must be willing to forgive others every time they do wrong to me. And we are supposed to forgive people even if they don’t ask to be forgiven.
When people went to the temple to pray for forgiveness, they would take an offering. Jesus said, “If you are at the temple with your offering and you remember that someone is angry with you, stop right there. Go and make peace with that person, then come back and give your offering and ask God to forgive your sins.”
Just saying the words of forgiveness is not enough. We must mean the words. “My Father will not forgive your sins unless you forgive others in your heart,” Jesus said.
It isn’t always easy to forgive, but if we ask God to help us, He will give us His love and forgiveness to pass on to others.
Sometimes it is hard to believe God will really forgive us. We may think we are just too bad to be forgiven.
But remember, He does not keep track of the number of times He forgives. “God will forgive every sin,” Jesus promised That is one of the most beautiful and comforting promises in the Bible.
Right in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer you will find the verse on forgiving. Read Matthew 6:12 again. Find these other verses that talk about forgiving: 2 Chronicles 7:14;2 Corinthians 2:7; Daniel 9:9; Psalm 103:2-3; Ephesians 4:32; and Colossians 3:13.
Our Treasure Chest Verse is a most comforting promise.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9