16 So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, 17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.” ‘ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him (Genesis 50:16–17, NKJV).
There are few more poignant scenes of merciful forgiveness in the Bible than Joseph toward his brothers. They had hated and envied him (Gen. 37:3-11). Some of them wanted to kill him before agreeing to sell him to traders (who sold him into slavery in Egypt). Then, they lied about his death to their father and silently watched him grieve (Gen. 37:12-36). Now their father was dead, and they feared retribution (Gen. 50:15). In contrition, they fell before Joseph, entirely at his mercy (Gen. 50:18). Joseph forgave their sins against him with humble faith in God (Gen. 50:19-20). Instead of responding with bitter, resentful retaliation, Joseph comforted their fears with kindness and promised to provide for them and their children (Gen. 50:21). Oh, that we may forgive others this way! Surely, in Christ, this is how God forgives our sins against Him (Luke 15:17-24; Eph. 2:4-7; 4:31-32). Remember, God will not forgive us if we do not forgive each other from the heart (Matt. 18:35; 6:14-15).
25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25–26, NKJV)
What are we to do when someone sins against us? The temptation is to become resentful, bitter, enraged, even vengeful when someone hurts and harms us. Yet, that is not at all what Jesus taught (Matt. 5:21-26). If we have a complaint against anyone, we are to forgive them. Otherwise, our heavenly Father will not hear and answer our prayer for forgiveness of our sins. To forgive means to send away, to leave, forsake. Forgiveness means the offense does not factor into our actions toward the offender; We do not hold the sin against them. Forgiveness expresses kindness and compassion instead of anger and bitterness; The way God in Christ forgives us (Eph. 4:31-32). There is no better example of the heart of forgiveness than when Jesus was crucified unjustly. Hanging on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Yes, these sinners’ personal forgiveness only came when they believed and obeyed Jesus (Acts 2:36-41). But we are called to have a heart of forgiveness like Jesus, whether those who sin against us ever repent (Col. 3:12-13). Our place is not to hand out vengeance against the evildoer; We leave that to God and overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:17-21). Forgiving others is the measuring stick of being forgiven by God (Matt. 6:12, 14-15; 7:2). Forgiveness is an act of faith by which we trust God will also forgive us.
And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things today!” (Luke 5:26, NKJV)
Jesus was ordinary and extraordinary. His physical appearance was nothing exceptional, but His teachings were (Isa. 53:2; Luke 5:26; Mark 2:12). They were astonishing and authoritative, far surpassing what the people heard from the scribes (Matt. 7:28-29). When officers were sent to seize Him, they returned empty-handed, admitting, “No man ever spoke like this Man” (John 7:32, 45-46). The strange thing the people saw in today’s passage was Jesus giving miraculous proof He is the Son of Man who forgives sins (Luke 5:17-25). Jesus saw the faith of those who had lowered the man through the roof into His presence. They believed Jesus could heal him. Jesus did so much more by healing his soul of sin. Some who heard Him thought Jesus spoke blasphemy, so He challenged them to believe He is God by healing the man. Extraordinary, miraculous proof. Only God can forgive sins and heal the lame. Jesus did things contrary to expectation (i.e., “strange”). The reactions were varied: The healed man glorified God, the people who saw these things praised God in their astonishment, but the scribes and Pharisees refused to believe in Jesus. His extraordinary words and works should compel us to believe and follow Him (like Matthew, Luke 5:27-28; Matt. 9:9).
1 O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure. 2 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled. 3 My soul also is greatly troubled; But You, O Lord—how long (Psalm 6:1–3, NKJV)?
David’s soul experienced deep agony due to his sin that was always before him (Ps. 51:3). David’s sin greatly displeased the Lord, but David repented with a contrite heart, and the Lord was merciful to him (Ps. 51:1-2, 7-13, 17; 2 Sam. 12:13). Nevertheless, enemies and “workers of iniquity” would grieve and afflict David; Sin brings consequences (2 Sam. 12:10-11, 14; Ps. 6:6-7). Today’s psalm reflects David’s distress before his enemies who were sinning against the Lord. He prayed to the Lord for mercy to relieve his pain (Ps. 6:1-7). He also prayed to the Lord for justice against his enemies (Ps. 6:8-10). Like David, our sins and the sins of others bring hardships into our lives (Prov. 13:15; 2 Tim. 2:9; 3:12). If you are groaning and suffering because of your sin, turn to God for mercy. Do not remain silent before Him (Ps. 32:1-3). God will forgive you when you come to Him through His Son (John 6:44-45; Matt. 11:28-30; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Acts 18:8). Christian friend, do not become embittered if you are suffering because of someone else’s sin. In prayer, turn to God for strength to faithfully endure (Heb. 4:15-16; 10:35-39). Ultimately, He will right every wrong (2 Thess. 1:5-10). Praise God today for His mercy. Depend on Him today for the strength to remain faithful went confronted with evil.
14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15, NKJV).
Jesus makes it very clear that our forgiveness is conditional. The little word “if” carries much weight. It directs attention to personal responsibility to do something to be forgiven by God. Namely, if we forgive others, our Father will forgive us. If not, then God will not forgive us. Jesus did not say to only forgive your brethren, but “men” (anthropos, person, human being). The gospel teaches Christians to put on hearts of forgiveness (Col. 3:12-13). Christ’s sermon to this point has repeatedly called on kingdom citizens to have a heart that is ready to forgive (Matt. 5:7, 9, 23-24, 39-42, 44). To withhold forgiveness brings punishment from God, not blessing (remember the unforgiving servant, Matt. 18:27-35). If we do not forgive from the heart, we will be punished, too (Matt. 18:35). Now, since forgiveness is conditional, why is there such objection when the gospel tells us of other conditions we must meet to be forgiven by God? The gospel says faith and confession of faith in Jesus, repentance, and baptism are conditions sinners must meet to be forgiven by God (John 8:24; Rom. 10:9-10; Luke 13:3, 5; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-38). So, it is false and futile to say salvation (forgiveness, remission of sins) is unconditional. Instead, we ought to be asking ourselves, do I have faith to submit to God’s conditions to be forgiven of my sins?
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8–10, NKJV)
To confess means to acknowledge, “to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent…to concede” (Thayer, 446). Confessing our sins requires that we agree with God that we have transgressed His truth; we have sinned. God’s assurance of forgiveness to Christians “if we confess our sins” is bookended with “if we say that we have no sin” (v. 8) and “If we say that we have not sinned” (v. 10). We must acknowledge our sins to ourselves before we can and ever will properly confess them to God (Psa. 32:3-4). We must come to ourselves like the prodigal (Lk. 15:17). God’s word describes this process as godly sorrow producing repentance that leads to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). With contrite hearts, we admit our sins to ourselves, and with repentance toward God, we confess our sins to Him (Lk. 15:18-19). With such a confession of sins, we fall before the throne of grace seeking mercy, and God keeps His word to cleanse our defilement (1 Jno. 1:9; Psa. 32:5; 51:3-4, 7-12, 17). John says four things happen when we deny our sin: 1) We deceive ourselves, 2) The truth is not in us, 3) We make God a liar, and 4) His word is not in us. God is faithful to forgive us when we trust Him and confess our sins to Him.
25 And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses. (Mark 11:25–26, NKJV)
Christ teaches us to have a willing heart to forgive those who sin against us. We do not wait until the offender says, “Forgive me” before being ready to forgive. We are to probe our hearts and remove any malice toward one who has sinned against us. True, God grants forgiveness when the sinner petitions Him for relief according to His will (Rom. 10:13; Acts 2:37-38; 22:16). Still, Jesus, Stephen, and Paul illustrate the willing heart of forgiveness before sinners repented of their sinful deeds (Lk. 23:34; Acts 7:59-60; 2 Tim. 4:16). God’s readiness to forgive is our model: “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; And attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon You, for You will answer me” (Psa. 86:5-7). God is ready to forgive. Likewise, we must have hearts of forgiveness (Col. 3:12-13). The provision Christ states is unmistakable. If we are holding something against a person, we must forgive to be forgiven.
21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21–22, NKJV)
Repeatedly forgiving one who has sinned against us is not easy. It requires faith to do as Jesus said (limitless forgiveness). He went on to describe God’s forgiveness is driven by compassion, not withheld due to wearisome repetition. Such unceasing forgiveness means our hearts must be filled with the love, mercy, and longsuffering of God (see Sword Tips #2116 on 1 Timothy 1:15-16). It requires a generous, sympathetic heart toward the sinner and the struggles against sin to repeatedly forgive when wronged. Oh, the magnitude of God’s repeated forgiveness of us and our sins against Him! As God forgives us, we are to forgive others (Matt. 6:12, 14-15; 18:32-35). The numbers Peter proposed were literal. He thought seven was a perfectly generous amount of times to forgive repeat offenders. Jesus used numbers figuratively (“seventy times seven” does not make the four hundred ninety-first sin beyond our need to forgive). In another place Jesus said, “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Lk. 17:4). Ready, willing, abundant forgiveness is our task of faith when sinned against. We want and need God’s unending compassion and forgiveness (Matt. 18:23-27). Let us not withhold the same from those who sin against us (Matt. 18:28-35).
15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16, NKJV)
God’s forgiveness is deep and wide. Note what motivates, mandates, and maintains God’s forgiveness of our sins. 1) God’s love. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and he considered himself to be the prototype, the chief of sinners. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to save us by His death (Jno. 3:16). Without God’s love, we cannot be saved. 2) God’s mercy. Forgiveness is the compassion applied, and God is rich in mercy toward all who call on Him for forgiveness (Eph. 2:4; Rom. 10:12). 3) God’s longsuffering. His forgiveness hinges on His longsuffering toward sinners. He does not want anyone to be lost. He wants every sinner to come to repentance. That’s why He is longsuffering toward us (2 Pet. 3:9). He could punish us all for our sins without patiently giving us opportunities to repent. His “forbearance and longsuffering” ought to “lead us to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). Do not think God cannot save you. Paul’s forgiveness is an example for all believers. Like Paul, have faith to “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Do not take God’s love, mercy, and longsuffering for granted. The day of the Lord will come, and we must be ready (2 Pet. 3:10-13). His longsuffering is for our salvation (2 Pet. 3:14-15).