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Jesus said, “Pray like this, ‘Our Father in heaven, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
I. The Plural Perspective
A. We pray WITH Jesus
One of the things that is finally beginning to sink in for me as we make our way through this in-depth consideration of the Lord’s Prayer this summer is the “PLURAL PERSPECTIVE” that the prayer is set in. I know we touched on this last week when we said that in the 4th Petition, Jesus tells us to pray that our Father would give US OUR daily bread and not ME MY daily bread. Jesus has us pray that the whole community have enough to eat, not just me personally.
But right from the start Jesus tells us that we are to address the Father in heaven, not as MY Father but as OUR Father. I checked, and sure enough, in the entire New Testament, there is only one person who ever talks about the Father as MY Father. And that is Jesus.
And this is because He is, as we just confessed, “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds.” (Nicene Creed) But you and I are nothing like that. We would totally understand if Jesus were to have said, “Pray like this, “The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” But He says, “Pray like this, OUR Father in heaven…” It is really an incredible thing that Jesus gives us His identity before the Father.
B. We pray His prayer.
But there is something else to all of this as well. Not only does this mean that we come to Father WITH Jesus Christ, it also means that this prayer that He gives us to pray, is HIS PRAYER that He invites US to pray along with Him.
And now we realize that the PLURAL nature of this prayer goes the other way as well. Not only are we fully identified WITH Jesus before the Father, but Jesus is fully identified WITH us before the Father.
We come to the Father as though we were Jesus and call him OUR FATHER. And Jesus comes to the Father as though He were US, and He asks the Father to give us OUR daily bread and forgive us OUR sins and deliver US from temptation and evil.
And since the Son is ONE WITH US in our humanity and ONE WITH THE FATHER in His divinity, we know that the Father hears Jesus when He prays, and when we pray as the Son prays.
II. 5th Petition
A. “In My Name”
So, maybe this helps us understand why God WILL NOT do for us anything that Jesus Christ Himself does not, would not ask the Father to do for us?
When we pray to the Father for what the Son does NOT pray to the Father for, we are disconnecting OUR PRAYER FROM HIS PRAYER. We are coming to the Father apart from Jesus Christ, which is always a very dangerous thing to do.
This is what Jesus was getting at when He told His disciples, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14). “IN MY NAME” means that we pray WITH Jesus and for what Jesus is praying for. And when we do, we can be fully assured that it will be done. And the opposite also applies.
B. The Confusion
I lay this groundwork here, because this is important to understand if we’re going to hear the 5th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer correctly, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
There’s been a lot of confusion about this Petition over the years. Is Jesus saying that the Father forgives us ONLY on the basis of and in proportion the way we forgive others? That’s the way it sounds isn’t it? The problem is, this goes against everything else that Bible teaches about how God forgives our sins by GRACE ALONE, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE ALONE, EVEN WITHOUT OUR PRAYER.
But then again, this is the Word of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and it comes to us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Who works without error in perfect accord with the Will of God and without any contradiction. And so we can’t just ignore the second part of this or change so that it fits neatly into some box that we want it to fit into.
And the box that we would like this to fit into is one in which GOD’S FORGIVENESS for our trespasses is completely disconnected from OUR FORGIVENESS of those who trespass against us.
But if we pray that God would forgive our trespasses, without connecting our willingness to forgive others their trespasses against us, we are not praying what Jesus is praying.
I’d suggest that if we are confused about this Petition, it’s NOT because the Petition is confusing. It’s because it doesn’t say what we want it to say. Or more to the point, it says MORE than we want it to say. We wish Jesus had said “Pray like this… Our Father in heaven… forgive us our trespasses,” and stopped right there. What are we to do with this connection of OUR FORGIVENESS TO OUR FORGIVING?
C. Our Forgiveness Comes First
So, let’s see if we can make things better without making them worse.
Let’s take first things first. And clearly, purposefully, the thing that comes first in this Petition is the request that Our Father would forgive OUR trespasses.
And there are no “ifs” about it. He doesn’t say, “if you have sinned, then pray for forgiveness.” No, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God and Jesus compels us to admit it. We are born with a sinful nature that cannot not sin. We’re a bad tree that can only bear bad fruit.
But the Gospel is all about the Good News that God forgives our sins and gives us His life and salvation by grace alone, for Christ’s sake alone.
This is what makes Christianity unique and different from every other religion there is. In every other religion, good works always come first and forgiveness and life and salvation are dependant on how good we are.
But the gospel of Jesus Christ is based on the fact that the love of God came first, “while we were still sinners.” God’s forgiveness for our sins always comes first.
D. Forgiven to be Forgiving – Community
But here’s the thing that we need understand. What comes first cannot be separated from what comes second. It’s the same connection that James wants to establish when he talks about faith and works. Faith always comes first, but you can’t separate what comes first from what comes second – good works.
So far in this prayer, Jesus has told us to pray for God’s Name to be kept Holy, His Kingdom to come and His Will to be done HERE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN. Now in this petition, we pray for the same thing but in particular detail. God’s NAME IS HALLOWED among us and His WILL is done among us and His Kingdom has come among us, when His FORIVEN people are also His FORGIVING people.
Here again, we see Jesus’ deep concern for His community of believers, what we have learned to call, ‘the communion of saints.’ He knows that His Christians are not always going to live together in perfect harmony as we should. He knows that there will be terrible disagreements between the brothers and sisters and they will treat each other terribly at times.
Unless His people are able to apply the forgiveness that they received from God to one another, the community will suffer and split apart, and isn’t that exactly what has happened?
The mutual forgiveness of one another is what makes it possible for the COMMUNITY to make this pilgrimage of faith TOGETHER as a COMMUNITY. Here is something that we have lost sight of these days. Many are too willing to give up on the COMMUNITY and go it alone; partly because we can’t stand the fighting, but also partly so that we don’t have to ‘forgive those who trespass against them.’
E. Two Points about Forgiveness
I want to make two points about this business of forgiving those who trespass against us. And I make them in light of the fact that even though we are forgiven sinners, we are still sinners and the full ACTUALIZATION of what we are through Christ and His Cross, will not happen until the final day with Christ comes again.
1 – Not Easy
The first point is simply this: forgiving those who have trespassed against me is not easy. As long as I live in this body of sin, the conscious decision that I am NOT going to hold a grudge and I am NOT going to retaliate and I AM going to try to do good in return for evil, it is not easy.
The greater the wrong done to me the harder it is to forgive. Even though I pray in all sincerity and diligence, I may very well struggle a great deal spiritually and emotionally for weeks or months or even years.
The point here is that we should not confuse the EMOTIONS of forgiveness with the FACT of forgiveness. Just because we may not be totally free of the pain of being betrayed or wronged, doesn’t mean that we haven’t forgiven the one who has trespassed against us. Part of the JOY that awaits us in heaven is the final and complete catching up of emotions with the facts.
There is a very helpful story that I have used many times about a woman named Corrie Ten Boom who was taken with her family by the Nazis into the concentration camps where she experienced great suffering including the death of several family members. Several years after she was freed, she met one of the Nazi soldiers who was from the camp. In the course of a conversation, he asked her for her forgiveness. Although she forgave the soldier, she still couldn’t find the peace that she knew she should have. She writes how she later came into contact with a Lutheran pastor who helped her. He pointed a church that had a bell tower on the roof. He explained that the bell was rung by pulling on the rope that hung down from the bell. And as long as someone pulled on that rope, the bell would continue to ring. But when someone decided to take their hands off of the rope, the bell would NOT STOP RINGING IMMEDIATELY. It would slow down and the sounds would get softer until finally, over time, it would stop ringing.
Forgiving someone else can sometimes mean that you stop pulling on the rope and take you hand off it. And over time it will stop ringing.
2nd – Not being able vs. refusing
The second point just adds some more grace and patience onto the first. Sometimes the wrong that has been done to us may be so great and so painful that we find it very, very hard to forgive the wrongdoer. Here we need to recognize that there is a real difference between NOT BEING ABLE to forgive and REFUSING to forgive someone.
There may well be times when the best that we can do is to pray with David, as one who is ‘poor in spirit’ and has a ‘broken and contrite heart’ and ask for the Father to grant His Holy Spirit to ‘renew in us a right spirit.’
But if we are simply unwilling to forgive and insist on holding onto the anger and the grudge, if we refuse to take our hand off of the rope and stop pulling on it, we should listen very carefully Jesus’ parable about the Unforgiving Servant which concludes with these terrible words, “should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:33-35).
Jesus said, “Pray like this, ‘Our Father in heaven… forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”