How Many Times?


Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

– Matthew 18:21-22, NKJV –

Peter thought he was doing pretty well.

I can just see how he sidled up to Jesus. “So, Master…”

Perhaps Jesus was still with all of the disciples in that place where he held up the child and said they should be like that little one.

Or maybe the disciples had gone to a home to rest and Peter came up to Jesus for a little well-deserved commendation.

His self-approbation was cloaked as a question: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

See, the rabbis taught that since God had only turned away three times from punishing some of Israel’s enemies, God’s people were certainly not expected to forgive anyone more than three times (John MacArthur Study Bible, on Matthew 18:21).

Peter knew he was being generous here. I mean, seven times. He must really be godly, to be willing to forgive seven times. Can’t you just see him struggling to wipe away a triumphant grin and maintain a studious expression as he waited for Jesus’ answer?

I don’t know what Jesus was doing then. Perhaps he and the disciples were still in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee, still at the place where Peter asked Jesus before about paying taxes (Matthew 17). I can see Him on a rooftop at dusk, watching stars that His voice had created sparkle into sight as the sun sank behind the reflecting, rippling yellow-gold sea.

I have to wonder–what did Jesus do? Did he stare deep into Peter, see right through the overconfident outside to the heart-depths of a too-talkative fisherman? Did he look into Peter’s eyes for a long, breathless moment before answering? Did Peter get that sinking feeling when he locked eyes with the Teacher and knew he should have just kept his mouth shut?

Peter’s mistake was not just his. Jewish teaching still puts limits on love, bounds on forgiveness. One current-day rabbi writes:

“Our tradition teaches us to have a big heart, to be forgiving. We are supposed to pursue putting things right. But Jewish tradition also acknowledges the limits of forgiveness as well, and teaches us that sometimes we must withhold forgiveness until the individual who has wronged us has gone through a complete process of teshuvah, repentance.”

But Jesus didn’t agree. He said no to Peter’s generous seven pardons. He raised the bar.

And with those multiples of 7, that number of perfection, he showed that there was no cap on forgiveness.

There’s no end to what we must forgive.

There’s no limit to how much we must love.

There’s no number on how many we are duty-bound to comfort.

Because we have a God of boundlessness, of mercies that are fresh every day.

We have the Savior who is all the fulness of God–and we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10).

We have a well that cannot go dry, a spring that will never cease to bubble life and life abundantly.

Out of this abundance, we must give. We will never lack, never be drained. There is always filling–sweet, deep, fathomless filling–in Immanuel’s land.

How can we forgive the worst, hand over the pain and turn to love? How can we forgive the one who scars us so deeply?

The friend that turned.

The love grown cold.

The words broken.

The dreams shattered.

The trust torn.

How is there forgiveness here?

It is this—God did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all. How will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

All things.

We have healing, comfort, all the love and faithfulness our hearts could crave.

And God did not spare Him, but crushed Him–for us, because of us.

How can we not give Him all in return? Sparing nothing, holding nothing back from Him who gave everything.

Turning over the hurt, the pain, the lostness.

Giving up the ache, the grief, the anger.

For life.


“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

– C.S. Lewis –

Thanks to Bobby Mikul and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!


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