Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
As a pastor I encounter far too many people in the church who are held hostage by seething feelings of unforgiveness. What these folks need to practice is a dose of the Gospel forgiveness Jesus shared with Peter . . . seventy-seven times! Read on and be greatly encouraged today.
When we withhold forgiveness from others, we hold on to some of the most damaging and deadly emotions we can experience: hurt, anger, blame, and vengefulness. These feelings not only cloud our judgment, but they discolor every aspect of our lives. It has been well said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die.
When Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness, he knew that the rabbis taught that forgiveness was to be extended to the wrongdoer . . . up to three times. So Peter, being Peter, supposed that if he went way beyond that and suggested that up to seven times should be sufficient, the Lord would approve. Jesus immediately course-corrected Peter by giving him a dose of Gospel forgiveness, the same kind of forgiveness Peter had been given by God.
In the 2009 film Invictus, actor Morgan Freeman played the part of Nelson Mandala, who was imprisoned for 27 years and subsequently elected President of South Africa to begin the task of unifying a country that was divided by race. In one powerful scene, Mandela vows to the African National Congress, “Forgiveness starts here. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon. The past is the past; we look to the future.”
Have you been held hostage by unforgiveness? I think we all have from time to time. The key to forgiving from the heart is to remember how unconditional God’s forgiveness is for us and to trust Him to give us the strength to offer forgiveness to anyone who has wronged us.
I am not saying this is easy! Some of you have endured unimaginable pain and hurt from others. Forgiveness can only be done in the strength of our Lord. We must keep in view how our Lord offered forgiveness to His enemies as He hung in agony on that cross, bleeding and dying for us. When we do that, we will be given the strength to forgive, even when we would rather not.
20th Century Christian theologian Lewis B. Smedes said it beautifully: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!