And if I don’t forgive? (Matthew 18:35)

How will God treat us if we don’t forgive?

Jesus gives a single-sentence explanation of his parable about the unforgiving servant:

Matthew 18:35 (my translation, compare NIV)
“And that’s how my heavenly Father will treat you [plural], unless you each release your brother or sister from your hearts.”

Now we know who’s who in this story, and how they relate:

  • The king is God — my heavenly Father.
  • The servants are you (plural) — the kingdom of the king.
  • The Son of the sovereign (implied by my heavenly Father) teaches kingdom ethics.
  • The Son counts the servants as family — brothers and sisters.
  • Counting offences (verse 21) doesn’t count as forgiving from the heart.

Most unsettling is the way Jesus presents his Father. God is like a king who in anger handed him over to the torturers (verse 34), and that’s how my Heavenly Father will treat you. Disturbing?

Continue reading “And if I don’t forgive? (Matthew 18:35)”

When forgiveness outweighs repayment (Matthew 18:23–35)

Should people pay for their mistakes, or is it better to let them off the hook? Which works best in the long-term? Jesus had an opinion about that.

What thoughts spring to mind when you read forgiveness in the Bible? If your first thought is personal guilt and asking for salvation, you may struggle with the stories of Jesus, where it sounds like salvation is contingent on your works. It might make more sense to read them as stories about corporate restoration.

This one is about the kind of kingdom our king expects to run, how he expects his servants to represent him in his realm.

Jesus’ story

Continue reading “When forgiveness outweighs repayment (Matthew 18:23–35)”

Forgiveness: reciprocated or rescinded (Matthew 18:23-35)

Does God ever back out on forgiving us?

Did you hear the one about the guy who received forgiveness, and then lost it?

Some of Jesus’ stories don’t sit well with how we understand the gospel. I often hear salvation offered as a free gift: admit you’re a sinner, ask for forgiveness, and receive the gift of eternal life. You pray the prayer, and they assure you that you’re saved, because God promised it and wouldn’t lie.

But Jesus told a story where the unforgiving guy had his forgiveness rescinded. Unnerving?

Continue reading “Forgiveness: reciprocated or rescinded (Matthew 18:23-35)”

Forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47)

If the gospel isn’t a message about personal guilt, why did Jesus commission his followers to announce “repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name?”

My friend Tim Healy has responded with a great question. We’ve been emphasizing that the gospel of the kingdom is good news of the restoration of God’s kingship, liberation of the earth through his anointed ruler (Christ, our Lord). Over the last 2000 years, the Western church has veered towards a message about individual guilt. We need to recover the blazingly good news Jesus announced and enacted.

Here’s Tim’s question:

Continue reading “Forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47)”

What’s the unforgivable sin? (Matthew 12:30-32)

Ever worried you’ve committed the unpardonable sin?

You’re a baptized follower of Jesus, but you’ve blown it. Like, really blown it. Have you messed up your one chance to be saved? Have you committed the unpardonable sin? This question has troubled believers for 2000 years.

Are some sins unforgivable? How about these words from Jesus: Continue reading “What’s the unforgivable sin? (Matthew 12:30-32)”

Jesus’ authority on earth (Matthew 9:2-8)

When Jesus healed and forgave sins, was he showing his deity or his human authority?

Open Matthew 9:2-8.

Matthew 9:2-8 (my translation)
2 Look, they presented him with a paralysed person restricted to a stretcher. Having seen their trust, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Be encouraged, child, your sins are revoked.” 3 Look, some of the Bible scholars said among themselves, “He’s blaspheming!”
4 Seeing how they were thinking, he said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? 5 What’s easier? To say, ‘Your sins are revoked’ or to say ‘Get up and walk’? 6 So you can know that the son of man has authority on the earth to revoke sins,” he says to the paralysed person, “Get up, pick up your stretcher, and head off home.” 7 Having been raised up, he went off home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were overawed and honoured the God who gave such authority to people.

When Jesus finally mentions someone’s sin in the New Testament, it’s to revoke it. The Bible scholars (scribes) weren’t happy. Jesus revoking sins? They can’t let him do that! They need to drag him down into the morass of human sin too. He’s a sinner, they say, a blasphemer.

Blasphemy isn’t just saying a naughty word against God; it’s demeaning our sovereign’s authority, often by making a claim to that authority. When Assyria attacked Jerusalem in King Hezekiah’s day, the Assyrian general claimed to be more powerful than Israel’s God. He claimed God had given him authority to take Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:25, 35). Isaiah denounced his claim as blasphemy (2 Kings 19:6, 22 NIV). When the scribes label Jesus as a blasphemer, they reject his claim to speak and act on earth on behalf of Israel’s sovereign God. Continue reading “Jesus’ authority on earth (Matthew 9:2-8)”

What is forgiveness? (Matthew 9:5-6)

If you think of forgiveness as dealing with your personal guilt, you’ve only got part of the story.

Open Matthew 9:5-6.

Jubilee. What a joyful word! It’s the Hebrew word yôbēl carried over into English.

The way God designed it, Israel’s economy was to be reset every 50 years. Slaves would be freed. Debts would be forgiven. Property sold in tragedy would be returned. Obligations would be released.

A couple of centuries before Jesus, the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, and they chose an interesting word for yôbēl. It’s Greek word ἄφεσις (AH-fe-sis), meaning forgiveness. That’s right: in the Septuagint, the Jubilee year was known as the Forgiveness year. Continue reading “What is forgiveness? (Matthew 9:5-6)”

Unconditional forgiveness? (Matthew 6:14-15)

Why did Jesus say God wouldn’t forgive us if we didn’t forgive each other?

Open Matthew 6:14-15.

If you forgive, you will be forgiven? Jesus words do not sit well with the way we’ve understood the gospel in the last five centuries. We understand God’s forgiveness as unconditional. It is all of grace. It has nothing to do with our works. There’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. So how can Jesus add an “If …” to the message? How can he make God’s forgiveness dependent on what we do? Continue reading “Unconditional forgiveness? (Matthew 6:14-15)”