Then came Peter to him, and said, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?”
Jesus said unto him, “I say NOT unto you, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
Lisa sat on the floor of her old room, staring at the box that lay in front of her. It was an old shoe box that she had made into a “memory box” many years before. Stickers and penciled flowers covered the top and sides.
It had been three years since she last opened the box. A sudden move to Boston had kept her from packing it. But now that she was back home, she took time to contemplate its memories.
- There was a picture of their family trip to the Grand Canyon
- a note from her friend telling her that Nick Bicotti liked her
- an old arrowhead
One by one, she remembered the items in the box, lingering over the sweetest, until she came to the last and only painful memory: a single sheet of paper upon which lines had been drawn to form boxes, 490 of them to be exact. And each box contained a check mark.
The story behind it...
"How many times must I forgive my brother?" the disciple Peter had asked Jesus. "Seven times?"
Lisa's Sunday school teacher read Jesus' surprise answer to the class. "Seventy times seven."
Lisa leaned over to her brother Brent as the teacher continued reading. "How many times is that?" she whispered. Brent, though two years younger, was smarter than she was. "Four hundred-ninety," he answered. Lisa nodded, and sat back in her chair.
She watched her brother as the lesson continued. He was small for his age, his glasses were too large for his face, and he was kind of a nerd, but his incredible skills at everything, especially music, made him popular with his classmates. Brent had learned to play several instruments at an early age… his music teachers said he'd be a famous musician some day.
There was only one thing Lisa was better at than
Brent ⇒ basketball. They played it almost every afternoon. Brent could have refused to play, but he knew that it was Lisa's only joy in the midst of her struggles to get C's and D's in school.
Lisa's attention came back to her Sunday school teacher as the woman finished the lesson and closed with prayer.
That afternoon they played basketball in the driveway. It was then that the counting had begun. Brent was guarding Lisa as she dribbled toward the basket. She elbowed him on the chin and made her shot. "Ow!", he cried out and turned away.
She gloated over her success but stopped when she saw Brent. "Are you okay?" she asked. Brent shrugged his shoulders. "I’m sorry… it was a cheap shot" she said. "It's alright. I forgive you," he said. A thin smile then formed on his face. "Just 489 more times though."
"Whaddaya mean?" Lisa asked.
"You know...what we learned in Sunday school today. You're supposed to forgive someone 490 times. I just forgave you, so now you have 489 left," he kidded.
The two of them laughed at the thought of keeping track of every time Lisa did something to Brent. But the more she thought about it, the better the idea seemed.
Brent's forgiving spirit gripped Lisa, and she wanted him to know how sorry she was. So that evening she made a chart with 490 boxes. She showed it to him before he went to bed.
"We can keep track of every time I mess up and you forgive me," she said. "See, I'll put a check in each box--like this." She placed a check-mark for hurting him earlier that day. "This is for today."
Brent raised his hands to protest. "You don't need to keep--" "Yes I do!" Lisa interrupted. "You're always forgiving me, and I want to keep track. Just let me do this!" She went back to her room and tacked the chart to her bulletin board.
Over the years, she kept track of his forgiving spirit. As time went by, more and more boxes were checked.
Once the chart was completely filled, they had a small ceremony. She checked the 490th box with a gold pen, had Brent sign the chart, and then placed it in her memory box. "That's IT!," she said. "No more mistakes from me anymore!" Brent just laughed. "Yeah, right."
Number 491 was just another of Lisa's careless mistakes, but its hurt --- would last a lifetime.
Brent had become all that his music teachers said he would. Few could play the oboe better than he. In his fourth year at the best music school in the United States, he received the opportunity of a lifetime-- a chance to try out for New York City's great Philharmonic.
The tryout would be held sometime during the following two weeks. It would be the fulfillment of his young dreams. But he never got the chance.
Brent had been out when the call about the tryout came to the house. Lisa was the only one home and on her way out the door, eager to get to work on time. "Two-thirty on the tenth," the secretary said on the phone. Lisa didn’t have a pen, but she told herself that she could remember it. "Got it. Thanks." “I can remember that,” she thought.
But she didn’t. It was a week later around the dinner table that Lisa realized her terrible mistake.
"So, Brent," his mom asked, "When do you try out?" "Don't know yet. They're supposed to call." Lisa froze in her seat.
"Oh, no!" she blurted out. "What's today's date?"
"It's the 12th," her dad answered. "Why?" A terrible pain ripped through her heart. She buried her face in her hands, crying. "Lisa, what's the matter?" her mother asked. Through sobs she explained what had happened. "It was two days ago...the tryout...two-thirty...the call came...last week." Brent sat back in his chair, not believing Lisa.
"Is this one of your jokes, sis?" he asked, though he could tell her misery was real. She shook her head, still unable to look at him. "Then I really missed it????" She nodded. Brent ran out of the kitchen without a word. He didn’t come out of his room the rest of the night.
Lisa tried once to knock on his door, but she could not face him. She went to her room where she cried bitterly.
Suddenly she knew what she had to do. She had ruined Brent's life. He could never forgive her for that. She had failed her family, and there was nothing to do but leave home. Lisa packed her car in the middle of the night and left a note, telling her folks she'd be all right. She wanted to write her brother… but she didn’t know what to say.
Two days later she got a job as a waitress in Boston. She found an apartment not too far from the restaurant.
Her parents tried many times over the following weeks to reach her, but Lisa ignored their letters. "It's too late," she once wrote them. "I've ruined Brent's life, and I'm not coming back."
She thought she would never go home again.
But one day in the restaurant where she worked she saw a familiar face. "Lisa! What a surprise!" The woman was a friend of the family back home. "I was so sorry to hear about your brother," she said softly. "Such a terrible accident. But we can be thankful he didn't suffer." Lisa stared at the woman in shock.
"Wh-hat," she finally stammered. It couldn't be! Her brother? Dead? Lisa caught the first bus home that afternoon.
Now she found herself in her room thinking about her brother as she held her memory box. And the memory that broke her heart was Brent's chart. He had made a new one after she left. It read:
It was you who kept count, not me. But if you're stubborn enough to keep count, use this new chart I've made for you.
There was only ONE check mark in the upper left- hand corner. Written in red felt tip pen over the entire page were the words: "Number 491. Forgiven, forever."
If we could put our finger on the ONE THING that keeps most churches from experiencing revival – it would probably be Unforgiveness.
If you considered all the divorces and family conflicts in this country and narrowed the problem down to ONE common denominator – it would be Unforgiveness.
Those times we have been wronged… from little slights… to deep wounds – we dwell on those things. And in time, they take on a life of their own. They sour our spirits. Unforgiveness.
Many church people will never grow in their walk with the Lord because they prefer the prison of bitterness to the freedom of forgiveness. Many will never know the richness of relationship with Christ AND with others, because their soul is consumed with unforgiveness.
The boy in our story, did something that was hard… something his sister didn’t deserve. And in the process, he set them BOTH free.
Who are YOU holding hostage right now? Who do YOU need to forgive?
Peter didn’t know how practical his question was. When he brought up the subject of forgiveness, he probably didn’t know it was something ALL of us struggle with.
The Pharisees and Scribes were thought to be THE authority on all things spiritual and THEY taught that it was perfectly reasonable to limit one’s grace. In THEIR minds, God wanted them to turn the other cheek, but after THAT, all bets were off! So when Peter suggested 7 times, in HIS mind he was being MORE than generous.
But the Lord’s answer overwhelmed Peter – and continues to overwhelm us still today.
What can we learn about grace from this Q & A with the Master?? 4 points:
1. First - there is a Probability found in this text. The very fact that Jesus commanded us to forgive illustrates the fact that people will often NEED it. You are going to be HURT - alot! Sometimes the injury will be known… other times they won’t even realize what they’ve done.
Even the fact that Peter asked about forgiving his “brother,” illustrates that those we love the most, those we give ourselves to and are vulnerable with, will do things that break our hearts and demand grace.
Life is filled with hurts. Yes, even the Christian life. In fact, we may suffer even MORE than others BECAUSE of our love for Christ:
- people taking advantage of our kindnesses or work ethic
- being belittled for our faith
- people failing to keep their word
- Those we respect and hold in such high regard… only to disappoint us.
Life isn’t fair
and the more you expect that, the harder your life will be.
Again and again you will be disappointed. Again and again you will be wounded.
2. Secondly, we find a PRINCIPLE in this text. We should forgive, not just once or twice, or even 490 times. The point IS there should be NO LIMIT to our grace.
Is that unfair? Is it unreasonable to expect humans to be so gracious?? Truth is, it is THE VERY FACT THAT WE ARE HUMAN that serves as the BASIS of His command. The fact that God has forgiven US AGAIN and AGAIN is the very reason WE should forgive.
Repeatedly we are taught in the scriptures to extend the same grace to others that God has bestowed upon us.
That’s humbling, isn’t it? I mean, wow… I have failed God so many times. Daily. How often I must break His heart and do those VERY THINGS that nailed Him to the cross. Even STILL, He forgives me.
And you know what, when we forgive others, it isn’t just for THEM – it’s for US too. Bitterness, anger, vengeance… these things destroy us. Like a cancer sucking the life out of our spirit... it will ruin our relationships. It will harden our hearts. It will destroy our testimonies.
Forgiveness - - - it isn’t just for THEM… it is for US! Maybe an example would help…
SAY you get a splinter in your hand. When it first happened, it hurt. You winced. But after a while, you don't notice it anymore.
Is the problem gone? Not by a long shot. If you don’t get that thing out, you might have an infection develop that causes even BIGGER problems.
The Lord knows this about the injuries we suffer in life. He knows that the pain we experience in the beginning of a wrong is often ignored… but then becomes infected, feverish, sensitive to the touch. He doesn’t want that thing to fester. So He challenges us to forgive to keep our spiritual lives from becoming infected.
3. But after learning that I will be wounded repeatedly… AND that I am to respond in grace to those who hurt me…THIRD I learn that Forgiveness isn’t just a one-time act – it’s a PROCESS.
SOME of the injuries we suffer are small. We can easily dismiss those things and move on and honestly never give it another thought. But SOME things aren’t so easy to let go. SOME of our injuries run DEEP and we wonder if we’ll EVER get over them.
One trip to the altar, one handshake or embrace – is not enough to turn back the flood of emotion we experience when something triggers a long forgotten memory.
And when that happens, we will need to forgive - - again.
We tell ourselves that we have ALREADY forgiven them and REALLY mean it. But something will happen in the future, we will see them or hear their name in conversation and we will be hit with a wave of emotion, remembering the pain as if it happened yesterday.
When we feel that way, the devil will use it as an opportunity to create GUILT - and - DIVISION. It's what he does. His whole MISSION is to rob us of peace and mar the image of Christ in us.
So I'm telling right you now: forgiveness is a process. When I suffer an injury:
I must forgive it immediately. And every time that thing comes up, I need to face it with grace and forgive it again. Each time I need to pray that God would heal my hurt and give me the strength to show grace EVEN when I don’t FEEL like it.
“How long do I have to do this?” Peter asked. In essence, Jesus answered, “forever.”
4. But there is MORE here than a probability, a principle, and a process. We also find A purpose. There is a PURPOSE for this lesson.
As you read further into the text, Jesus offers His disciples a story of a servant who owed his king an incalculable debt. On his day of reckoning, the servant begged for more time - - but the King, filled with grace, forgave the tremendous debt.
We LOVE that - don’t we?? We love it because we know that servant - is US!
But immediately after leaving the presence of his King, the servant finds a fellow servant who owed him mere pocket change in comparison to the debt he had owed his king. He grabbed the servant and threw him into prison to work off his debt.
We DON'T like THAT, because we know that servant is us!
Interesting, don't you think? In comparison to all that he owed his king, the debt of his fellow was miniscule. But TO HIM, it was anything BUT.
It is easy for us to see other’s problems as SMALL, but when it is US - we go to great lengths to JUSTIFY our bitterness.
The King found out and was angry with his ungracious servant, and commanded he be sent to debtor’s prison.
Seems fair, doesn’t it?? Seems poetic... until you remember - - He’s talking about - - US!!
When those of us who have been forgiven of SO MUCH refuse to extend grace to those who offend US – well, that’s when we have a HUGE problem.
The purpose of God’s grace at work in YOUR LIFE is so that you might extend grace to those who wound YOU.
Who do YOU need to forgive? I know…
- you THINK you have it covered up.
- You THINK it isn’t harming anybody.
- You try to excuse it by saying you are ‘only human.’
But in reality, it is
- eating away at your relationships,
- robbing you of joy,
- and hurting your ability to serve God,
- not to mention the damage it is doing to the family of God as WE suffer the consequences of bitterness WITH you.
Paul the Apostle said, “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ Who strengthens me.” In your OWN strength you CAN’T do this. But in HIS, you can!
Why not open your heart and pour all that bitterness out before the Lord in prayer and ask God to give you the STRENGTH to forgive? As MANY TIMES as it takes. Will you do that?