Extravagant Forgiveness

You can get high on sex. You can get high on alcohol. You can get high on all kinds of drugs. I was high on hate and violence.

Nicky Cruz

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Mat. 18:21-22).

There are two obvious facts from this exchange between Peter and Jesus. First, someone was doing a lot of sinning, without repenting. Second, it is the will of the Lord that extravagant love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness be extended to the underserving.

In context, Jesus had been teaching about what to do when offended. Specific steps are to be taken. First, the individual is to be personally confronted in private. “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother” (Matt. 18:15).

If a private conversation fails to resolve the issue, a second step can be taken. Two, or three witnesses are to be made aware of the situation, who are to go and speak to the offending person. “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matt. 18:16).

If these first two steps prove to be unfruitful, the issue is to be brought before the church for review and evaluation. “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglects to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican” (Matt. 18:17).

The presentation of a private matter before a public assembly is a solemn matter. It is designed to be a solemn occasion, which is why the process of confrontation and Church discipline is to proceed with caution, and not in a moment of fiery passion.

As difficult as dealing with an offending person might be, Jesus has promised to be in the middle of the process. “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:18-20).

The promise of Jesus to be with His people is usually applied to the Lord’s presence when the church gathers for prayer. However, the context for this promise of the Lord involves the matter of church discipline being administered. When such a moment comes, Jesus has promised to be present.

The subject of being sinned against seems to have weighed heavenly on the mind of Peter, who gave the matter serious consideration. Apparently, Peter thought he had found a noble solution. Peter would extend unilateral forgiveness, not once, but seven times, and avoid a private rebuke followed by a public confrontation.

Peter thought the idea of extending forgiveness was a pretty good idea. It was an idea worthy of praise, and so Peter asked Jesus a question. “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?”

Seven, in Hebrew numerology is associated with perfection. Forgiving someone seven times would be a perfect practice, or so Peter thought.

It is possible the apostle was very surprised when Jesus responded to his generous spirit and said unto him, “Peter, I say unto you, do not stop forgiving after seven times, but, until seventy times seven.” What Jesus was saying is, “Peter, a generous spirit of forgiveness is good, but extravagant willingness to forgiven is even better.”

An extravagant willingness to forgive sin reflects the heart and practice of God Himself, illustrated in the Old Testament in the Lord’s relationship to Israel.

In Jeremiah 24, a perfect illustration of extravagant forgiveness is recorded. The year, 598 BC. In that year the word of the Lord came to a prophet in Judah named Jeremiah. The prophet was given a vision of Two Baskets of Figs.

1 The LORD shewed me, and, behold, two baskets of figs were set before the temple of the LORD, after that Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, with the carpenters and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon. 2 One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad.

According to the prophet, God had divided the people of Judah and put them in one of two baskets. There was a basket of good figs. These figs represented the righteous who would survive the tribulation that was to come. There was a basket of naughty [Heb. ra’ (rah)], or very bad figs that would not survive. These were evil individuals who were traditors to God, and to their country.

3 Then said the LORD unto me, What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, Figs; the good figs, very good; and the evil, very evil, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.

The Lord had a question for Jeremiah. “Jeremiah, what are you studying?” And Jeremiah replied, “I am studying how the good figs are very good, and how the evil figs are very evil to the point they cannot be consumed.”

4 Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,  5 Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. 6 For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up.

When Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah again in 586 BC, he gathered many of the leading citizens and put them on a Death March. However, according to the promise of the Lord, many would survive that terrible ordeal and one day return to the Land of Promise. Why? Because the Lord set His eyes upon certain individuals for good.

In the sixth century BC, the eyes of the Lord were fixed on some people in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Despite their transgressions, the Lord was going to show individuals extravagant forgiveness. 

7 And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.

In addition to forgiving people of their sins, the Lord was going to give individuals a new heart. The word for heart is leb (labe), and includes the feelings, the will and even the intellect. With a new heart, individuals would be able to know the Lord and embrace Him with passion. Such is the response to extravagant forgiveness. “I will give them a heart to know me… [and] they shall return unto me with their whole heart.” Later, the apostle John would write, “We love the Lord, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

It is very difficult to extend extravagant forgiveness to a repeat offender who is non-repentant. But it is possible to do this based on the essence of the one doing the forgiving, and not on the merit of the one being forgiven.

“New York was a jungle. The law of the jungle… you behave like an animal,” Nicky Cruz recalls. “Animals don’t know the difference between right and wrong. An animal has to kill another animal for survival.”

Nicky Cruz was speaking from experience for he was once the leader of the Mau Maus, a Brooklyn Puerto Rican gang operating from 1954 to 1962.

At the pinnacle of his gangster fame, his personal battles brought him to his knees. Instinctively Nicky knew he had to do something different. “The most you can live the way I lived is 20 years. I was 19 already. One more year, and I probably would be dead.”

Only two people saw Nicky in a different light.  One was a psychologist. Nicky recalls that “he told me about five times. ‘There’s a dark side in your life that nobody can penetrate. Nicky, you are walking straight to jail, the electric chair, and hell. There’s no hope.’”

The other was an Assemblies of God pastor named David Wilkerson. He risked his life to tell Nicky there was hope. “I heard his voice: ‘God has the power to change your life.’ I started cursing loud,” says Nicky. “I spit in his face, and I hit him. I told him, ‘I don’t believe in what you say and you get out of here.’” Nicky never expected what he heard Wilkerson say next.

Wilkerson replied, “You could cut me up into 1,000 pieces and lay them in the street. Every piece will still love you.”

“It did damage. Good [damage] in my brain and in my heart. I began to question, and for two weeks I could not sleep thinking about love.”

Nicky and his gang showed up at one of Wilkerson’s rallies. One by one, they gave their lives to Christ. It was the crucifixion – Jesus’ death on the cross — that grabbed Nicky.

“I was choked up with pain, and my eyes were fighting and tears began to come down and more tears and I was fighting and then I surrendered,” says Nicky. “I let Jesus hug me, and I let my head rest on His chest. I said I’m sorry. Forgive me, and for the first time, I told somebody I love you.”

I commend to you the giving of extravagant forgiveness.

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