The Mathematics of Mercy

by Dennis Michelson
(Novelty, Ohio)

Matthew 18


Introduction: When mercy and forgiveness are withheld then the blessing of God tends to be also withheld. "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."

1. The Interrogation (18:21-22)

The Lord asks Peter about his concept of forgiveness. Peter felt it was "generous" to extend forgiveness seven times. This was far beyond the Jewish concept of his day. The Lord calculates the matter from the perspective of mercy (and not justice) and says "until seventy times seven." It probabably does not mean count to 490 and then drop the boom at 491 but simply compounded the numbers to make the point that mercy does not count the times of forgiveness.

2. The Illustration (18:23-25)

Of course the point here is that if God has forgiven you then how could you ever withhold forgiveness from anyone else? The greater emphasis is that if you withhold forgiveness (or keep count) then perhaps you have never really been forgiven.

3. The Interpretation (Jeremiah 31:34)

The blessing of the New Covenant states that God "will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Notice that he does not say I will "forget" their sin but that he would "remember" it no more.

The clear implication here is that God remembers our sins against us no more. Forgiveness (and mercy) do not mean we forget since that is virtually impossible. It means that we do not calculate or hold things against someone else - just like God has done with us.

4. The Imitation (Colossians 3:13)

Notice the phrase "even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." Therefore we do not ask "what would Jesus do?" but "what has Jesus done?" Our forgiveness and mercy extended to others is simply a natural - or supernatural - result of what God has already done for us.

Conclusion: If you study revivals in the history of the Church you will note that one of the first manifestations of a real work of God is a sharp increase in mercy and forgiveness. People who have withheld both for years can no longer hold their bitterness and unforgiveness in the wake of the mighty working of the Spirit of God.

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