Forgive us - Matthew 6:9-15
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A few days ago I was pleased to see that Peter Kay has been ranked as one of the top five heroes of our generation. Recently an opinion poll was carried out by the Arts Award and the comedian from Bolton was voted as number 5 in a list of the top 5 art heroes.
I don’t know if you like Peter Kay but for myself I love his perceptive observations on life.
Recently my girlfriend, who has now become my fiancé, sent me through an email containing a number of Peter Kay gems, which I thought were fantastic. Let me read a few of them to you.
o Why does mineral water that has trickled through mountains for centuries have a ‘use by’ date?
o Why does nobody dare make cup-a-soup in a bowl?
Some of his one-liners.
o I think animal testing is a terrible idea; they get all nervous and give all the wrong answers.
o (Health warning attached) I’ve often wanted to drown my sorrows but I can’t get my wife to go swimming.
o When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realised that God doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and asked him to forgive me.
One of the reasons why people love Peter Kay is because he connects with real life. He observes things and people can relate to what he says.
One of the reasons why more and more people are rejecting the institutional church. More and more old-fashioned, more and more irrelevant, and more and more distant from the life that we actually lead in the 21st century.
And yet what I love about the teachings of Jesus is that they always seem to connect with real life experience. I read them and I don’t think, “What are you talking about?” but I think, “Yeh, you have hit the nail on the head yet again. I can see how this applies to me.”
This has been my feeling over the last few days as I have been contemplating a very familiar part of the Lord’s prayer.
We find it in Matthew 6:12, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
When I read the Bible I am constantly looking for surprises. I am consistently keeping my eyes open for sentences in the Bible which make me stop and pay attention. Sentences which seem very odd and sentences which I would not have written in the same way.
Reason is because these phrases often contain gems of treasure which are of tremendous value to us if we would contemplate them in more depth.
From verse 12 alone I came up with two surprises that I would like to share with you this morning.
1. Our need of forgiveness
2. The evidence of forgiveness
1. Our need of forgiveness
Jesus says we should ask God to forgive our sins, or actually in Matthew 6 he uses the imagery of a debt that needs to be canceled.
Throughout the Bible sin is portrayed in different ways so that we get a more rounded picture of our human predicament.
o Polluted by sin and so need to be washed.
o In slavery to sin and need to be freed.
o Diseased by sin and need to be healed.
Sin as a debt that needs to be paid. Moral credit card and eveyr time we sin against God and against other people the tab goes up, the penalty increases. Some people think that a few good deeds will help balance out the statement but it doesn’t work like this. We are supposed to do good anyway. No extra points for this. So each day the penalty mounts up and up.
The good news of Jesus who launched the ultimate Make Poverty History Campaign. All your debts are canceled. You owe me big time but in my grace and mercy I will forgive you. Wiped out. The slate wiped clean. Not just the past but the future sins as well.
How is this possible? He bore the cost himself when he died on the cross. Promise: everyone who comes to him in repentance and faith is rescued completely from the judgement they deserve.
Now here comes the surprise. If this is true, which it is, then why does Jesus command Christians to pray verse 12?
Remember the background to this prayer. It is not a prayer for anyone. It is not even what some of us would call a ‘sinners prayer’. You know a prayer that people use to become Christians. But this is a prayer for the family of God. We call it the Lord’s Prayer but perhaps it would be more accurate to call it the Children’s Prayer.
How does it begin? Verse 9. Our Father in heaven. You are not born a child of God. Bible says we are born out of relationship with God, distant from him. Still know that God exists but there is no personal relationship with him. Become children of God when we follow Jesus. This is called adoption – when God adopts us into his family and we can call him Father.
This is a prayer for believers and yet at the very heart of this prayer is a petition to God for ongoing forgiveness. Not that our future is in doubt. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Our future is secure. We are eternal children of God. But Jesus in his realism hits the nail on the head yet again.
We may be God’s children but we are still far from being perfect. Yes as we pray for the kindom to come in all it’s fullness we ourselves are still being transformed to be more like Jesus. We are a work in progress.
And because we are, mistakes will be made. Sins will be committed. Boundaries will be crossed. Insults will be communicated. God will be insulted. And so we will need his ongoing forgiveness.
Do you ever fear that you are the only one who struggles in the Christian life? Look around the church family or your home group and everyone else seems to be handling life very well. But if only they knew about you. What was in your heart, what you thought about, what you wanted to say to another, what you have said or what you have done. But everyone else seems pretty decent. This is a dangerous position to be in because guilt and shame can cripple a life.
But the wonderful thing about Jesus is that he is realistic about the Christian life. At the heart of the family prayer is a request for God’s forgiveness. Implication: we will mock up. We will fail. We will make mistakes. And so we will need to come to God for forgiveness.
Remember: we come as his beloved children. Not as fearful rebels but as the adopted sons and daughters of God. Image is not a stern judge trying to catch us out but a loving father who wants us home.
As we sin as Christians we don’t cease to be God’s children. Our eternal status is not in doubt. Our protection from the judicial wrath of God is not shaken in the least. God is still our Father in heaven.
However, we do need to seek his daily forgiveness because relationships which, although secure, are marred, need to be mended.
Think back to many days when I was a boy and I did many things which insulted my father and displeased him. I was still his son but the relationship was not as it should have been until I ate humble pie and sought his forgiveness.
It’s the same with God. So Jesus says be a regular confessor of your sins to God. Be realistic. You are not perfect. No one is. And so make sure you mend the relationship with God whenever you sin against him.
Surprise number 1: our need of forgiveness.
2. The evidence of forgiveness
Again we find this in verse 12. Not only does Jesus say, “Forgive us our debts” but then he adds, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
And then verses 14 and 15. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Massive surprise! At first sight it seems to be saying that we can earn God’s forgiveness by our forgiveness of other people. Which seems to go against the whole of the Bible’s teaching doesn’t it? Of course it does.
Leaves the question: What does Jesus mean? There is some connection between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of other people. What is the connection?
Has to do with the evidence of forgiveness. Or the evidence that we have genuinely become a child of God.
You may remember what Jesus says at the end of Matthew chapter 5: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Adopted sons and daughters. Transformed from our old sinful ways. Or in other words, we are to take on the family likeness. We are to become like God when we relate to other people. He is a God of outrageous forgiveness. We are to be people who are known for their outrageous forgiveness. If we are not then it is a sign that we are not children God and so therefore those who will not receive the forgiveness of God.
Various checks throughout the Bible to see if we are genuine followers of Christ. Not just put it on the census or claim it by what we say. Checks to see if we are the genuine article. Different tests but the one Jesus gives here is rather shocking. He wants us to look at our personal relationships with other people and work out if they are marked by forgiveness because if they are not then it may well be that we are not God’s children.
You may be thinking: if you only knew some of the things that had been done to me then you would not be so glib. There are some people I cannot forgive. I’m not trying to be glib but trying to be straight with you because Jesus is very straight with us.
He is basically saying that the one who has truly recieved God’s forgiveness will be a forgiver of others. The reason is that God’s forgiveness truly understood is a motivation to forgive the inexcusable in other people. And why? Because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us.
Jesus drives the point home in the parable of the unmerciful servant. Do you remember it? We had it read to us from Matthew 18.
o Peter came to Jesus and asked how many times he should forgive his brother [another Christian] when he sins against me? The Jewish leaders of the time suggested three but Peter opts for seven.
o Jesus says – 77 times. Implication: not stop at 77 but keep on going and going.
o Why? He tells the parable.
o One servant owes millions of pounds to his master and is let off.
o He then meets another servant who owes a tiny amount in comparison. He does not let him off.
o Master gets to hear of this and throws this servant into jail.
o Jesus’ conclusion: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart.”
What’s the point? We show we have truly appreciated the mercy of God when we treat other people with forgiveness. But when we refuse to forgive someone then we minimise our own sin against God – which is a sign that we are not Christians.
When we have understood the magantiude of our crime then we will forgive the inexcusable in others because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us.
I want to end answering the question: What is forgiveness? What does it mean in practice to forgive someone.
Definition that comes from Thomas Watson, about 300 years ago. Commenting on the Lord’s Prayer and he asked, “When do we forgive others?” Answer: “When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them.”
Very Biblical. Very outrageous. Uniquely Christian.
1. Resisting revenge
2. Not returning evil for evil
3. Wishing them well
4. Grieving at their calamities
5. Praying for their welfare
6. Seeking reconciliation so far as it depends on you.
7. Coming to their aid in distress.
Not to say all this is easy to put into practice. When the sting is painful, when the wound is recent. But this is the attitude we are to cultivate in our hearts.
What forgiveness is not
o Not the absence of anger at sin
Forgiveness of an unrepentant person
o Commanded to love our enemies and pray for them.
o Same attitude of the heart.
o Difference is that an unrepentant person cuts off the full work of forgiveness. We can lay down our ill-will, hand over anger to God, we can seek to do good but we cannot carry through to intimacy and reconciliation.
With these guidelines in place we have a massive challenge confronting us. How can we show that we appreciate what God has done for us?
Examples of great forgiveness from Christians in the past.
o Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch Christian, who survived Ravensbruck concentration camp. Once after the war she was delivering a lecture on forgiveness in Germany. After the lecture one of the concentration guards walked in. She struggled to forgive. She felt the pain. But she chose to forgive.
o Gordon Wilson. His daughter Marie died in the Enniskillen bomb in 1987. Cradled her in his arms. Then expressed forgiveness for his daughters killers and pleaded for loyalists not to take revenge. Of course he was angry but he chose to actively forgive.
Those are the big scale examples. What of ourselves? What grievances are we gripping tightly with our fist?
Non-Christians or even members of the church family.
In a few moments we will have communion. Before we do we stand and say ‘Peace be with you.’ Not simply formality but a sign of real forgiveness between us. Don;t take communion before you do this.
I know it’s not easy. It is possible and especially with God’s help.
2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.”
So let us pray for God’s strength to put what we have heard into practice. Let’s pray.
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