Read Jesus's parable found in Matthew 18...
21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” 22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! 23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. 26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. 28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. 29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full. 31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. 35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Matthew 18 reminds us that we don’t deserve forgiveness - rather, we owe a debt to God, a costly debt: our sin. And yet, God in his grace and mercy extends forgiveness to us through the death of his son, Jesus. And He doesn't just give us extra time to pay our debt, he knows we can never pay it, so we are forgiven entirely because Jesus paid the penalty. But then, we turn around and fail to extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness to those who have wronged us. We think that only those who deserve to be forgiven should be truly forgiven. Only those who have worked hard enough to be sorry enough are worthy of our favor. And yet, we can never, ever, be sorry enough or repentant enough to earn God’s grace. It is a free gift.
Ernest Gordon was a Scottish POW in WWII. His troop fell captive to the Japanese where they had to help build a railroad and were treated as slaves. Gordon describes his time in the camp and how the miserable conditions turned the men into shadows of men filled with hatred and selfishness. Here is an excerpt from his book Miracle on the River Kwai detailing just that….
As conditions steadily worsened, as starvation, exhaustion and disease took an ever-growing toll, the atmosphere in which we lived was increasingly poisoned by selfishness, hatred, and fear. We were slipping rapidly down the scale of degradation.
We lived by the rule of the jungle, “red in tooth and claw” – the evolutionary law of the survival of the fittest. It was a case of “I look out for myself and to hell with everyone else.” The weak were trampled underfoot, the sick ignored or resented, the dead forgotten. When a man lay dying we had no word of mercy. When he cried for our help, we averted our heads.
We had long since resigned ourselves to being derelicts. We were the forsaken men – forsaken by our families, by our friends, by our government. Now even God had left us.Hate, for some, was the only motivation for living. We hated the Japanese. We would willingly have torn them limb from limb, flesh from flesh, had they fallen into our hands. In time even hate died, giving way to numb, black despair.
Ernest Gordon goes on to tell about a day when the men arrived back at the camp after working on the railroad. At the tool check the officers informed the POWs that a shovel was missing. In rage, the officers demanded that the man who stole the shovel come forward, and if no one confessed, the entire group would be killed. Slowly, a man came forward. As he stood before the officers in his moment of confession, the officers beat him to death as punishment.
At the next tool check, all the shovels were accounted for. You see, there had simply been a miscount. A miscount that cost the life of an innocent man. Gordon recounts the disbelief of the men: that a completely innocent man would die to save the rest of them. He said that it was in this moment that the POWs came to recognize an even greater act of mercy: Christ dying on the cross. A completely innocent man who died so that the rest of us don't have to be separated from God. We are the guilty. We deserve the punishment. And yet, Christ paid the penalty.
So, with the grace that has so graciously been extended to us, do we extend it to others?