Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 28 2013 - Matthew 18:21-19:12 – Forgive as the Lord forgave you

In response to Peter's question concerning how often he should forgive someone who sins against him, Jesus tells a parable concerning a king and his servants. The king forgives one of his servants who owed him an immense debt which he could never repay. That same servant then went out of the king's presence to lay hold of a fellow servant who owed him a small amount and threw him in prison until he could pay the debt. When the king heard of it he was very angry and, in turn, threw the servant who had owed him an immense debt into prison. This, says Jesus, is what the kingdom of heaven is like. And, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart" (Matthew 18:35).

This is a complex and challenging parable. On the one hand the basic message is clear: God has forgiven us a great debt which we could never repay; in response, we should freely and gladly forgive those who sin against us. This much is clear, yet how difficult we find it to forgive from the heart. How easy we find it to harbour resentments against those who have hurt us. Hurts and injustices from years back seem somehow indelibly stamped on our minds and the memory of them floods back when we meet the person again. The only remedy to such resentments and feelings is a deep awareness of our own offences against God and the wonder of his forgiveness of us. We need also to remember the cost of our forgiveness; our great debt was fully paid by another. It is out of the heartfelt awareness that we are a forgiven people that we become a people who forgive others from our heart. Paul urges the Christians to whom he is writing, "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).

But there is a sting in the tail of this parable. Jesus suggests that if we do not forgive one another, neither will God forgive us (Matthew 18:35). This is a hard saying for we are all aware of our own imperfection. We know that we ought to forgive others as we have been forgiven, but we know also that we are not yet all that we should be – and hope yet to be. Is it really true that if we fail in the smallest regard to be like God we will for ever be condemned? I do not wish to dilute the seriousness of this saying of Jesus, but neither do I want to leave us without hope. I think that Jesus is telling us that if we harbour a resentful and unforgiving spirit we show ourselves to be those who have not been touched by the grace of God. Jesus' parable is not told to condemn us but is told to Peter and to us as a call to continual forgiveness, even as God forgives us.

Mutual forgiveness is essential if we are to live well with those closest to us. The harbouring of resentments against a spouse destroys a marriage even as self-denying love strengthens the bonds of family and friends. We need to keep guard over our hearts that they may not become hardened through the imagination that others have not treated us as we deserve; they need constantly to be softened through the wonder that God has not treated us as our sins deserved.

Loving Father, help me to see more clearly the marvel of your grace towards me in the Lord Jesus Christ. Help me by your Spirit always to treat others in ways which reflect the love and forgiveness you have lavished upon me. Help me to value and nurture my relationships with others rather than undermine them through dissatisfaction, bitterness and resentment.

Jan 28 2019 - Genesis 33:1-20 – Brothers reconciled

At last Jacob sees Esau in the distance, coming towards him with his 400 men. Jacob gathers his children with their mothers and walks on ahead of them all to meet his brother, bowing himself to the ground seven times. But Esau ran to meet him and embraced his brother and, "fell on his neck and kissed him, and wept." Jacob, who had tricked his father and wronged his brother, is returning home in fear; but the prodigal son is embraced by his elder brother who rejoices to see that the one who was lost is now found again.

Esau is amazed at all the riches that now belong to his brother. Jacob presses Esau to take a generous portion of the livestock – to share in the blessing that the Lord has given him; he says that seeing Esau again is "like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me" (33:10). Jacob had met God face to face and had not been destroyed; God had dealt graciously with him. Now also he had met his brother and had been shown grace and love in place of the judgment he deserved; it was an echo of his encounter with God.

Nevertheless, Jacob does not fully trust his brother. When Esau returns home, expecting Jacob to follow, Jacob heads off in another direction to make a home for himself at a safe distance from his brother.

The grace by which God has reconciled us to himself in Christ is grace that should be reflected in our own lives, reconciling us to one another and enabling us to live well together in the shared blessing of God. Yet divisions still exist between brothers and sometimes seem beyond resolution. But the day shall come when all division shall be swept away from among the people of God; a day when prodigals who have been embraced by the Father will truly embrace one another and none of the family will be left outside the feast.

Are there members of your own family who have fallen out with each other? Are there some with whom you have a difficult relationship or who you have not spoken with for many years? God has shown you his compassion and undeserved blessing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Are there ways in which you could show forgiveness and compassion towards other members of your family and so be reconciled to one another? Could you host a feast for the prodigal in your family?

Psalm 133 expresses the blessings that might flow from such reconciliation:

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
    life for evermore.

Father God, I have seen your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. You have shown me amazing grace – you have run to embrace me and have kissed me in your love. Help me always to reflect that grace in my dealings with others so that, as far as it depends on me, I may seek to live at peace with everyone. May we enjoy the feast of your blessings in happy companionship.

Peter Misselbrook