Series Title: "Pray Then, Like This ..."
We are studying what is traditionally called the Lord’s Prayer phrase by phrase. Our desire is to understand more clearly what Jesus was saying and what he is teaching us to say. Why? To better orient our hearts towards doing his heavenly will here on earth. I don't know about you, but for me, every phrase has taken on an incredibly new depth that is working itself out in my daily life.
We also began, and I hope you are continuing, to practice a daily rhythm of saying the Lord’s Prayer in the morning and the evening. This was the pattern of the early church. And when they prayed it, they prayed with the Jewish discipline of kavanah—with intention, with focus, with understanding, and with commitment. Our Lord will encourage you as you do so.
We now come to the most challenging obligation, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Mtt 6:12). Or as I am translating it hebraically, and forgive us our offenses, for we have forgiven those who have offended us.
That our God is a forgiving God is one of the great themes of Scripture. Yahweh is the God who forgives. He is at once a holy God whose righteousness does not tolerate sin, and he is a God who is merciful and eager to forgive those who fall short of the mark. In a word, God abounds in hesed (grace, steadfast love, covenant loyalty)!
Why is the one true God is so eager to forgive? He is a good Father!
As your Father, he desires a loving, healthy relationship with you. And he knows sin has the power to alienate you from him. That is one of the main reasons he is against sin and why he is eager to forgive. Let me say it again. The entire witness of Scripture is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wants you to be fully reconciled to him, to be in full fellowship with him, to be satisfied by him. Your Father wants you to know the unabated joy, peace, wholeness, and encouragement that comes from a covenant relationship with him. Sin keeps you from those things.
Yet so often, those of us in the new (or renewed) covenant see this in Jesus but fail to see it in God himself. Think about it. In his covenant with Israel, God went to great lengths to make a way for atonement and ongoing forgiveness. All of this is symbolized in the ritual of sacrifice, which we moderns dismiss as primitive and barbaric. The truth is quite to the contrary, the lessons taught and the reality offered are that though sin separates, the God of Salvation (Ex 3:16-17) rescues and reunites in the power of forgiveness.
God as a forgiving God is spoken of repeatedly throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). In Jewish thought, every expression of it stems from Exodus 34. It is the favorite scripture of the sages in Jesus’ day and a sure foundation upon which we can have confidence that God forgives.
The LORD comes down (you should recognize this language now from our prayer), stands before Moses, and proclaims his character embedded in his name. Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty [...]. - Exodus 6:5-7
Every one of the words: iniquity, transgression, sin, is a different Hebrew word. They speak to the pervasive nature and different types of sin, like inadvertent or deliberate, and sins of omission or commission. But don't miss the point of the passage. It is because God is compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger that we can count on the fact he is willing to forgive. He abounds in covenant faithfulness because he is a merciful God who extends the offer of forgiveness to all!
Sadly, not all receive his pardon. Why? Because forgiveness is a dynamic transaction that goes two ways.
Brothers and Sisters, please hear me. I want to assure you that what you see of Jesus Christ in the gospels is the fulfillment of Exodus 34. My teaching ministry is dedicated to helping you make this connection. The character of the God of the Old Testament is fully revealed—his glory is made manifest—in the person of Jesus.
For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed (Malachi 3:6).
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we exist. And there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we exist (1 Cor 8:6).
He forgives us in Messiah Jesus because he has always been a forgiving God, and he has always made a way because he abounds in hesed.
Make no mistake about this, God is righteous and, as a judge, demands justice. But our judge is a Father who is eager to forgive his children and bring them back into a right relationship with him. A willingness and ability to forgive is the heart of God and the great theme of the Bible.
Sin wreaks havoc on the works of his hands. Yet he extends those merciful hands with forgiveness to bring restoration to the world.
Notice the vocabulary of the Old Testament (Tanakh) 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
This is but a sampling of the vivid and varied language that speaks to us of God’s willingness and ability to forgive. These are all Hebraic ways of expressing the central character of Yahweh as a merciful God. Yes, the Holy One of Israel is righteous, pure, just, and unchanging. And at his core, he is a loving Father who is keen to forgive.
So, back to our prayer, where it comes as no surprise that the heart of Jesus’ message is the kingdom of God which—as we've discovered—is inseparably intertwined with the message of forgiveness and salvation. The main thrust and emphasis of Jesus’ teaching is that he is the forgiveness of God to overcome the power of sin in us and in this world.
If forgiveness is an activity at the very heart of God’s character and the chief of his duties, should it not also be the case that God’s people be characterized by forgiveness, mercy, compassion, long-suffering and steadfast love? If this is what the Father is like, then shouldn't his children be like him? As we proceed we will soon discover that Jesus takes a very forceful line on the responsibility of the forgiven to be forgiving.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.