Summary: So, what are the limits for forgiveness? Jesus tells a parable to answer that very question.
THE LIMITS OF FORGIVENESS
INTRODUCTION… iGoogle Widget: ‘Things to Ponder’
Have you ever asked a dumb question? I have to admit that I have. On my last trip out of town, I had to make a bank deposit in Virginia. For some reason, out of my mouth came, “Can I deposit here in Virginia even though I live in Florida?” I bank with a national bank and I knew the answer, but I still asked it anyway. Without skipping a beat, the teller said, “No, we only accept Virginia money.” I felt dumb. I laughed. She looked at me and thought I was dumb. I had asked the question and knew the answer, but had asked it anyway!
Have you ever asked a dumb question? Here are some questions you may have asked…
[From ‘things to ponder’ widget from iGoogle]
Do little angels have car seats in their chariots in Heaven?
Do they have reserved parking for non-handicap people at the Special Olympics?
If 7-11 is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, why are there locks on the doors?
Why do they call it quicksand when it sucks you down slowly?
Where do forest rangers go to get away from it all?
What was the best thing before sliced bread?
Since light travels faster than sound, isn’t that why some people appear bright until you hear them speak?
You may consider some of those questions dumb and some of those questions not so dumb. This morning, we are going to look at a question that is asked that on the surface seems like a silly question to ask, but in all honesty has a great deal of meaning for us.
I. PETER’S CONVERSATION WITH JESUS (MATTHEW 18:21-22)
READ Matthew 18:21-22
“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?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
The passage begins with Peter reflecting on some teaching that Jesus had just explained. You see, in Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus had taught the disciples how to reconcile with people and how to persevere in difficult relationships. Jesus had explained the process of going to the person, speaking with them and allowing forgiveness to take place. I think Peter perhaps thought he was being generous when he asked his question. His question was a good one I think… until he asked a second one right after.
Peter first asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother?” Peter was rightly asking a follow-up question to what Jesus taught. Peter was asking how many times we should go to someone, share about what they have done to us, and work towards forgiveness. That is an insightful question! I believe it is an insightful question because you and I know that people make mistakes, they make them often, and they make the same ones repeatedly. The Apostle Paul confesses in Romans 7:18-19, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing.” If you are breathing, you have the ability to sin against another person. It happens… and Peter realizes that it happens more than once between the same people! So, the first insightful question is asked, “how many times shall I forgive my brother,” but it is overshadowed by the second.
Peter immediately asks, in the same intelligent insightful instant, “Up to seven times?” I love Peter. I love that he has a question about the limits of forgiveness. Obviously, Jesus has just taught about forgiveness and Peter’s immediate thought is… ‘okay, how many times do I have to do that before I get to stick it to him.’ Peter’s immediate thought is… ‘okay, how many times do I have to forgive before the cycle of forgiveness ends.’ Peter mentions “seven times” which is not a bad number. In the Bible, the number “seven” is something that indicates completeness. So Peter is asking, how many times I forgive until I reach the limit of forgiveness… and Peter assumes it is “seven.” Seven times is the number that blood was sprinkled on the altar (Leviticus 4:6). Seven times is the number that priests walked around Jericho (Joshua 6:4), Elijah’s servant looks for rain (1 Kings 18:43), and Naaman dips in the Jordan River to be healed (2 Kings 5:10). Seven was a good number and a logical number to assume was the limit of forgiveness.
Peter wants to know about the limits of forgiveness because it is obvious to him, I think, that forgiveness has to have a limit… there has to be a number of times after a person sins against you in the same way… over and over and over… that you finally stop forgiving them.