Category Archives: Forgiveness


21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

-Matthew 18:21-22

So Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness.  Jesus answers him with an outlandish answer that harkens back to the braggadocio of Lamech (see previous article) and takes a u-turn, heading in the opposite direction.  Jesus tells Peter that forgiveness must be done with the same passion as Lamech had for revenge.



To illustrate, Jesus’ parable begins with a king who has a passion for compassion (vss. 26-27). Confronted by a servant debtor who owes him a ridiculous amount the king is ready to cut his losses, write off the debt and sell the debtor and his family off as slaves.

Being sold into slavery was not a sentence without hope.  Some day, a kind master may offer an opportunity for the servant to purchase his freedom or he may even set him and his family free once he no longer needed their services.  Or, in the case of a Jewish setting, the servant would have served, at most, 49 years or until the next celebration of Jubilee (cf., Leviticus 25).

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

Matthew 18:26-27

Ridiculous debt, total devastation, over-the-top mercy and grace beyond anyone’s expectations.  Jesus harkens to what will soon become a cosmically defining moment for all time with a cross on a hill and His own suffering and death for the sake of the lost…and a God who is passionate about forgiving those whose incalculable debt of sin most certainly would otherwise ban them from His presence forever.


For the forgiven servant this is his year of Jubilee!  There can be little doubt about his exuberance as the servant rejoices over being forgiven such a huge debt.  Not only that, he has also been released from his sentence for him and his family to be sold into slavery.  What an outlandish gift from the compassionate king!

Jesus’ parable follows the forgiven servant out of the king’s throne room and back into the marketplace.  Suddenly, his smiles and rejoicing turn to scowls and murderous rage as he encounters a fellow servant who owes him a much smaller amount, minuscule in comparison to the debt that has just been forgiven.   Enraged, the forgiven servant grabs his fellow servant around the neck and starts choking him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.

Echoing the forgiven servant’s very words before the king, the debtor servant falls to his knees and begins to beg him:  ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’  (vs. 29).

Jesus continues:  “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt”  (vs. 30).  The contrast between the king and the forgiven servant could hardly be more stark.  Having the man thrown into prison, where he could no longer work to repay his debt, the forgiven servant condemns his fellow servant to prison for the remainder of his life; a hopeless vengeance with no hope of repayment.  Lamech’s boasting suddenly finds resonance in a man who wants more than simple revenge; he wants his fellow servant to suffer beyond repayment to utter devastation and ruin.


Jesus concludes the parable with the king’s servants observing the forgiven servant’s actions with the one who owed the lesser debt.  Outraged themselves they report it to the king who immediately calls in the forgiven servant.  The king says to him:

‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

The king’s sentence matches the one the formerly forgiven servant had meted out to his fellow servant who owed the lesser debt.  Only this time the king adds the prospect of torture until his debt was paid in full (vs. 34)…a day which would never, ever come.


Jesus then concludes the parable with a defining statement:

 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (vs. 35)

This conclusion ties the entire discussion together.  Beginning with  the disciples asking whom among them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus hammers home that kingdom citizenship stands or falls based upon one’s passion to forgive as they have been forgiven.



21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22

In this article on Matthew 18, Peter’s question about forgiveness was extremely generous.  Imagine his shock when Jesus replies with such an outlandish response.  This kind of forgiveness is not a normal human response to the offending words or behavior of another person.

Normal human behavior is detailed for us in Genesis 4 at the beginning.  The familiar story of Cain and Abel demonstrates the powerful emotion of anger and resentment.


Here, in Genesis 4:1-16 Cain’s sacrifices to God were not acceptable while Abel’s were welcomed by God.   Abel had sacrificed from his “firstborn” of his flock of sheep in faith that God would provide for the future.  Conversely,  Cain sacrificed “some of the fruits of the soil” rather than from the firstfruits (vss. 3-5).

A logical response would be for Cain to do what was required to make his sacrifices acceptable to God. Rather than correcting his behavior Cain chose to become angry with his brother (vs. 5) to the point that he attracted God’s attention.  God counseled to Cain:

“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (vss. 6-7).


Cain’s response was to lure his trusting brother into a field.  There, Cain’s anger had consumed him to the point that the only solution he could see for his failure was to murder Abel.  God’s conversation with Cain is enough to strike fear into the heart of anyone whose sin has been revealed:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 The Lord said, “What have you done?” (vss. 9-10)

Continuing, God judges, convicts and sentences Cain:

Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” (vss. 10-12).


When Cain complains in fear of the consequences of his sentence–which would be that he suffer the same fate of his brother–God responds with a promise: “…anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over” (vs. 15).


In Genesis 4:17-24, seven generations after Adam and Eve through Cain’s descendants, we are briefly introduced to Lamech who brags to his two wives:

“I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
    then Lamech seventy-seven times” (vss. 23-24).

Cain’s murderous rage at his brother began with a perceived injustice that festered from one generation to the next.  Lemech represents the darker side of the family trait of rage as it blows past simple revenge and an “eye for an eye” sort-of justice to an extreme  that knows no limits.  Crushing vengeance that destroys others over the slightest offense to make sure they suffer beyond measure.

The trend in Cain’s death spiral genealogy would finally meet its termination in Lamech’s son of whom he would predict:  “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed” *Genesis 5:29).  Lemech named his son, Noah.


One reference to those perilous times by Peter’s question would elicit a 3-dimentional response from Jesus that would be driven home by The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.

This powerful ending to Matthew 18, a significant chapter on conflict resolution and forgiveness, would conclude with Jesus’ assertion that citizens of the kingdom of heaven must “forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (vs. 35).  We will address this parable and Jesus’ conclusion in the final article of this series on Forgiveness and Matthew 18.


Matthew 18 is an incredible chapter on conflict resolution and forgiveness.  It begins with the disciples asking Jesus who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom (vs. 1).  The chapter concludes with Jesus telling them that God’s harshest judgement awaits those who do not practice forgiveness “from your heart” (vs. 35).  The following is an overview of this chapter.


Jesus answers the disciples’ question “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” by calling a little child to Himself.  Placing the child in front of them, Jesus says:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Ideally, we think of little children as innocent, trusting, vulnerable, obedient, loving and so much more.  Obviously Jesus is not just speaking of the chronological age of a person because because He instructs the adults around Him that they must change and become like them.  For these little ones, Jesus will say later, in verse 10: “For I tell you that their [God’s children’s] angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

THE FATHER’S JUDGEMENT  – Matthew 18:7-10*

Anyone who causes one of these children of the Father to stumble will meet their doom by the wrath of God.  The options that Jesus gives them are so  severe that they would be better off dead, sent to the bottom of the sea.  Their change must be as radical as cutting off a limb or plucking out an eye.  These options would be so much better alternatives for them than being sentenced to hell.  God’s angelic emissaries are watching!

THE FATHER SEEKS THE LOST – Matthew 18:12-14

Just like the man who leaves the 99 sheep safely in the fold in order to seek out the one lost sheep, so Jesus’ Father searches high and low for those who have been hurt and are wandering alone.  When He finds the lost sheep their Father, by Name, rejoices over them because He does not want to lose a single one.


The process is simple, yet profound.  So much so that whatever is agreed to on earth comes full circle and is validated in heaven as well (verses 18-19).   Jesus concludes this section stating plainly: “For where two or three have gathered in My name, there I am in their
midst” (vs. 20).  So, how does the offended person go about seeking resolution to the conflict and forgiveness?


The person who has been hurt acknowledges the injury and damage and clarifies his or her thoughts enough to approach the one who has caused them to stumble.  The challenge is to privately confront the one who has hurt them in hope that they will listen and do whatever it takes to set things right (cf., verses 7-10).  When this happens, Jesus says, “you have won your brother”(vs. 15).  However, when the other person does not listen and is not interested in reconciliation, the process advances to the next step.


f the other person is not receptive to resolving the conflict Jesus encourages the one offended to bring along one or two more witnesses in hopes of resolving the issue.  Perhaps they will be able to moderate and offer advice with the goal of achieving an outcome with which all agree.  If this is not successful, Jesus offers a third step.


Jesus instructs that the offended person and the witnesses  “tell it to the church.”  If even this is unsuccessful, then Jesus gives the final, fourth step upon which to follow through.


Jesus says that if the person will not even listen to the church, “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (vs. 17).

All along, the ultimate hope of the Father is that the matter being addressed will lead to repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation, even through the final step 4. Perhaps that is the reason for the later scribe’s addition of verse 11, based upon Luke 19:10: “ For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

More will be written about this and the next passages in a later blog.


The chapter closes with Jesus’ poignant parable about a king who forgives a huge debt of one of his subjects.  The point of the parable is in the king’s unspoken expectation that the forgiven subject will extend a similar mercy to those indebted to him.  When he blatantly disregards this principle, strangling and imprisoning a man who owes him a comparatively insignificant amount, the king is livid.  The story ends with the king revoking his mercy, imprisoning the original subject and permitting the jailers to torture him until the debt is paid in full.

This story was Jesus’  answer to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  The moral of the story about mercy and forgiveness comes in the final verse: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The following two posts will be focused upon both Matthew 18:15-20 and verses 21-34.

Forgiveness, Part 2

Forgiveness, Part 3


*Verse 11 is not included among the most reliable manuscripts.