Forgive us our Debts - Matthew 6:5-13
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
At first glance something may appear very straightforward but on closer inspection it is wonderfully more complicated.
Let me give you three examples.
Have you ever seen any pictures like these? Show Star Wars Mosaic picture of Luke Sky Walker. At first glance it looks relatively straightforward but on closer inspection it’s made up of tiny images from the films.
Or do you remember these? Show picture of the Rubix Cube. Although not everyone found them wonderfully more complicated - for some they were frustratingly more complicated.
My third example is the Lord’s Prayer. At first glance it seems very straightforward. It can be read in under a minute and it is said at almost every service we do at St John’s. But when you slow down and ponder what it says, there is a wonderful richness about it. And that’s just the prayer as a whole, it’s when we ponder the individual sentences and petitions.
Tonight our focus will be on verse 12, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
As we ponder this petition we’ll discover something about…
- The price of sin
- The presence of God
- The power of the cross
First, the price of sin
Our sins or wrongdoings against God are described as debts? Why?
When we read the Bible it becomes obvious that our horrendous treatment of God and the monumental consequences of such behaviour cannot be communicated using just one word. So the Bible uses various words to try and get us to understand what sin is and what the consequences are.
Sometimes sin is described as transgression - a stepping over the line. Or missing the mark. Or rebellion. The consequences of sin are described using the language of pollution - something we need cleaned up from before we can enter God’s holy presence. Sometimes the consequences are described in terms of our enslavement, both the penalty and the presence of sin - something we need rescued from.
Here sin is described using the language of a debt. The question is why?
Two reasons for this.
First, because it tells is that sin has a price tag
We understand financial debts. Taking out a loan leads us to make payments that we are obligated to pay.
Likewise, every sin we commit against God incurs a penalty that must be paid. Every sin deserves to be punished.
Not everyone has the same amount of debts.
In Luke chapter 7, Jesus is invited to the Simon the Pharisees’ house. Key lessons: All debts are large. None of us has the ability to pay back what is owed and get free. This is another way of talking about an eternal payment that each of us deserves to make in hell. Our sins are so serious that they deserve to be paid back forever in hell.
The second reason why sin is described as a debt is because it hints at the way our sins will be forgiven.
Imagine a loan you have taken out. Payments are obligated. How can they be paid? Two ways. Either you do it or the one owed the money takes the hit himself.
Imagine you borrowed my tartan trousers.
The same is true with our spiritual debt. It will be paid. It must be paid. Either by ourselves in hell. We can’t barter with God with the currency of good works. There is no way of converting good deeds into payment points.
The only way our spiritual debt can be paid is if the one who deserves to make us pay releases us from the obligation and instead takes the hit. Absorbs the cost themselves.
This is how it happened on the cross of Jesus. Jesus was not some random, unconnected third party who came somehow onto the stage of human history to pay he price of our wrong doing. No, he is the eternal Son of God coming into the world to absorb the debt of sin that we deserved to pay him.
Second, the presence of God
Why do Christians need to pray this?
It is the prayer for those who have been made children of God. Adopted into the Father’s family and have been given a new spiritual nature.
If Christ has paid for all our sins on the cross then why are we asking God to forgive our continuing spiritual debts?
The difference between judicial forgiveness and parental forgiveness.
Judicial forgiveness - our divine judge says at the point of our conversion that “I forgive you.” What he means is that “I release you from the obligation of your sinful debts, past, present and future. They have all be paid for by Jesus.”
The reality is that we will not live in a perfect world until Jesus returns. Christians continue to sin. That impacts our fellowship with God or the felt presence of God in our lives.
This is how such an experience is described in Psalm 32, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
When Christians pray this we are asking our Father for parental forgiveness. Asking him to restore our sweet fellowship. Those new sins deserve to be paid for but wonderfully they have already been by Jesus at the cross.
Third, the power of the cross
The reason for our confidence seems strange and scary. Look again at verse 12. Read verse 12.
It doesn’t say release me from what we owe because of the death of Jesus but because we have forgiven our debtors - that is those who have committed wrong doing against us and so deserve to pay for it.
It appears straightforward but it has a wonderful complexity about it.
It can’t mean that we are released from our payment by releasing other people from their payments. That isn’t the big story of the Bible. That would make a mockery of the cross.
The bigger story makes sense of this.
Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
If someone commits wrong against you then in some sense they deserve to pay for it. They have become a debtor to you.
What does it look like to make a person pay? In your anger, you may do something directly to them. They rob your happiness you do something to them. You may ignore them or verbally abuse them of physically abuse them. You may do something indirectly. For example, curse their name.
What does it mean to forgive someone? You chose to forgo repayment. You choose to not make a person pay for it. You inwardly surrender the right to repayment and pay the debt yourself. This hurts. More than this, you start wanting the best for them, for them to flourish and thrive.
It is really important to forgive. Otherwise it will twist you on the inside. A hard person. Less joyful. Less trusting.
How can we forgive people? It isn’t easy. We can’t say it doesn’t matter. It does. It is a wrong doing.
Where can we find the motivation to suck up the hurt so that others are released from the payment they deserve to pay? Forgive as the Lord forgave you. He take the hit and then blessed us extravagantly.
But Lee you don’t know what people have done to me? I could never do what you are asking.
I am not going to trivialise the wrong things that have been done to you. Doesn’t mean they should not be punished by the justice system. Doesn’t mean God will not punish them in hell. But it means you won’t punish them now. What people owe us is nothing in comparison to what we have done to God.
But let’s be honest, it’s often not massive debts that people owe is. It’s tiny things and we know it - but we have made them huge debts.
Christian - hear this - in the world and in the church the call of Jesus is for you to forgive people their debts.
But I don’t feel like forgiving someone? Can I really grant someone forgiveness if I still feel angry at them? Is this hypocrisy? What the world will say to you. What God will say. Forgiveness is granted before it is felt.
Reconciliation may not be possible if the other person is unrepentant but forgiveness is definitely possible.
So far this has all been about forgiving people who haven’t asked for your forgiveness. They might not even know they have offended you.
If someone does come up to you and ask for forgiveness then please don’t say, “I doesn’t matter.” Say, “I forgive you. I release you from the debt you owe and I will not hold it against you but will instead pray for your blessing.” It is an action not a current feeling.
How does all this connect with verse 12 in the Lord’s Prayer? True children of the Father bear his likeness. Our forgiveness of others is evidence that we are truly children of God So ultimately the basis of our forgiveness is still the cross of Christ but we know we will benefit from that because the power of the cross is working in our lives.
At first glance it was straightforward but on closer inspection is is wonderfully more complicated.
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