"Forgive Us Our Trespasses" (Part 1 of 4)
From the sixth lecture in the audio seminar Praying Biblically
Father, this is a holy moment, because your Scriptures are inspired Scriptures. Your Holy Spirit brings them to life and empowers them to transform us into the image of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. So we give this time up to you. Receive it as the thanksgiving of our lips. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Matthew 6:12 is the most challenging obligation in the Lord’s prayer. In our study on praying biblically we have looked at what is traditionally called the Lord’s Prayer phrase by phrase, to try to understand more clearly what it was Jesus was saying, what he was teaching us to say and to set our hearts to do. Every phrase has taken on an incredible new depth and an appreciation. I hope some of you are continuing to do this little discipline that we have tried for a while—twice daily to say the Lord’s Prayer—in the morning and in the evening (the early church did this as a discipline). As you pray it, pray it with kavanah—with intention, with focus, with understanding and with commitment. See if the Lord does not encourage you in the process of doing this.
Today we come to the phrase: “forgive us our trespasses (debts/sins) because we have forgiven those who have sinned, trespassed or wounded us.” Last time we looked at: “give use this day our sufficiency.” The next phrase is: “forgive us when we have fallen short because we forgive others when they fall short.” If there is one great theme of Scripture it is that our God is a forgiving God. He is the God who forgives. He is at the same time a holy God, his holiness demands righteousness and his holiness is intolerant of sin. Yet as he abounds in chesed, grace, steadfast love, he is a God who is merciful and eager to forgive those who fall short of the mark, those who sin.
One of the reasons he is so eager is because he is a father. And he knows that sin has the power to alienate you from a loving healthy relationship with your father, and he desires that kind of relationship with you. And so he is against sin and he is eager to forgive because he wants you to be fully reconciled to him in full fellowship with him, in unabated joy, in peace, in wholeness, in integrity, in encouragement and in provision. Sin keeps you from those things. So God even in his covenant with Israel went to great lengths to make a way for forgiveness and for atonement, symbolized in the ritual of sacrifice. Sin separates, but God unites in the power of forgiveness. God as a forgiving God is spoken of so many times in the Tanach (Old Testament), but every expression of it stems from Exodus 34. It is the favorite scripture of all the sages in Jesus’ day, and the foundation upon which we can have confidence that God forgives.
Exodus 34:5-7: the Lord comes down in a cloud and stands before Moses and he proclaims there his name, Yahweh. He passes in front of Moses and proclaims “Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…" Every one of the phrases “wickedness, rebellion and sin” is a different Hebrew word that speaks of different types of sin—inadvertent, deliberate, sins of omission, sins of commission. Because God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, because he abounds in covenantal faithfulness (steadfast love, chesed), because he is merciful we can count on the fact that he is willing to forgive. God extends the offer of forgiveness to all but not all receive his pardon, because forgiveness is a dynamic transaction that goes two ways.
I want to assure you that what you see of Jesus Christ in the gospels is the fulfillment of Exodus 34. The character of the God of the Old Testament is fully revealed—his glory is made manifest in the person of Jesus. He is one and the same, he changes not. He forgives us in Jesus Christ; he has always been a forgiving God and he has always made a way because he abounds in mercy. He is a judge who demands justice, he is holy and he demands righteousness; and yet he is also a Father who is eager to forgive his children and to bring them back into a full, right relationship with him. So forgiveness is the great theme of all the Scripture. Sin wrecks havoc with the world. God extends forgiveness to bring restoration to the world.
Notice the vocabulary of the OT as it speaks of God:
Wiping away sin: Isaiah 43
Purifying us of our sin: Jeremiah 33
Washing us of our sin: Isaiah 1
Purging us: Ezekiel 16
Overlooking sin: Micah 7
He does not reckon sin to us: Psalm 32
He does not remember our sins: Psalm 25
He hides his face from sin: Psalm 51
He removes it: Psalm 103
He throws our sin behind his back: Isaiah 38
and Tosses them into the sea: Micah 7
All this varied language speaks in idiomatic ways of God’s eagerness to forgive. These are all Hebraic ways of expressing the central character of God as a God who forgives. The Holy One of Israel–righteous, pure, unchanging–is a loving Father who is eager to forgive. So it should not surprise us that the very heart of Jesus’ message, the kingdom of God, is inseparably intertwined with the message of the forgiveness of sins. It is the power of the kingdom to forgive sins and to restore fellowship. The main emphasis and thrust of Jesus’ teaching is that he is the forgiveness of God to overcome the power of sin in us, and in this world. Therefore if forgiveness is an activity that is at the very heart of God’s character and the very chief of his duties, should it not also be the case that God’s people should be characterized by forgiveness, mercy, compassion, long-suffering and steadfast love? If this is what God is like, then is this not what we as God’s people should be like? I want to tell you that Jesus takes a very forceful line on the subject of your responsibility to be forgiving.
We are assured of God’s forgiveness of our sins. His holiness has been satisfied in the sacrifice of the unblemished Passover Lamb, Jesus, and his fatherly eagerness to forgive is embodied in the person of Jesus, so we can be right with God, forgiven and restored by virtue of Jesus’ blood (the new covenant in his blood poured out of us— Matthew 26). But what Jesus goes on to say to us is that we, the people of God, must in all ways imitate God, and nowhere is that more important for the life of the community, for the vitality of the kingdom of God in our midst, than in the issue of forgiveness. Nothing is more powerful and nothing is less engaged in by Christians than forgiveness.
Jesus emphasizes man’s responsibility to forgive. It is a duty, it is also an enormous privilege in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Luke 5, Jesus says to a man who is paralytic: “your sins are forgiven you, rise up and walk.” Those around him were distressed by this because they understood from Jesus’ language that he was speaking as if he were God. He uses the very language from Leviticus in which a man’s sins are forgiven by God. Jesus had the power of extending God’s forgiveness to your life and to mine. So in instance after instance after instance he comes upon people who are in sin, who are separated, alienated and distressed, and he extends God’s forgiveness to them. For example, he extends forgiveness to the woman taken in adultery, Peter who is always falling short of the mark, Judas who betrays him, the woman with many husbands in Samaria. Even his final act was an act of forgiveness. The very ones who pierced his hands and feet, he prayed and interceded for them: “Father, extend your forgiveness to them.”
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.