Lord's Prayer: Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us

Preached: August 3, 2008

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Dear Father, Your Forgiveness Cancels Our Debt
Colossians 3:13

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with Jesus is Colossians 3.

“. . . bearing with one another and forgiving each other if anyone has a complaint against anyone -- just as even the Lord forgave you, so you also forgive” (Colossians 3:13).

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

A. My debt is so great, but your forgiveness is greater

1) Why is our debt so serious?

Due to the slump in the economy, his company downsized. Gary was one of the casualties. He and his wife Becky managed to get by charging what they had. But then when their four-year old Melinda became sick, their debt skyrocketed. They soon owed more than Gary earned in a year, even when he had a job. Now imagine their renewed hope and happy relief when they receive an unexpected check in the mail that more than covers their debt.

Yet a modern illustration like that doesn't bring the same impact as in days gone by. We don't fear debt like they used to. Modern bankruptcy and social programs laws offer some protection. Think back a couple of centuries when debtors went to jail until the debt was paid. And jails then were dank, putrid, rat-infested prisons. Think of Jesus' parable from the Gospel. Worse than jail, that debtor and his family were to be sold as slaves. Do you feel how much greater the hope and joy when those debts were forgiven?

Yet far worse awaits you and me when our spiritual debt is unpaid. No bankruptcy can protect you. No amount of work can pay it off. All pleading, begging, and praying in the world won't change the account books. If this debt is unpaid, what awaits is the dungeon of hell and its torture chambers. Not even death brings release from this prison. So how much more our hope and joy when that debt is forgiven!

2) Why do you believe with all confidence that such a serious debt has been forgiven?

And that's exactly what the Gospel says to you, dear friends. The text teaches us that Good News in short, simply words. “. . . the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13 NIV). Yes! Your entire debt of sin cancelled, forgiven in full. In our age of hype, to call this merely the Good News sounds like an understatement. It is the magnificent, stupendous, outstanding, absolutely marvelous news!!! The Lord forgave you.

Take note how the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul states this as an accomplished fact. He doesn't say, "The Lord might forgive you." Or "The Lord could forgive you." Or "The Lord will forgive you, if . . ." He says, "The Lord forgave you." That's what God himself says through these words he had written down for you. That's what he says to you later today when you eat and drink Jesus' body and blood in the Lord's Supper. "You have been forgiven. Your debt of sin is cancalled, paid in full." Paid up, not with money or credit cards, not with your works, efforts, or prayers -- but with the blood of God, sacrificed on the cross for you, with Jesus' holy life and his innocent suffering and death in your place. Paid up by Jesus. Paid up for you, dear friend. “. . . the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13 NIV). Your debt is cancelled.

3) Why does Jesus teach us to keep on praying for forgiveness?

"Then why," we might ask, "does Jesus teach us to keep on praying for forgiveness?" "Forgive us our trespasses, our sins." Why pray that if we're already forgiven? He teaches us so to pray, so that we see how much we need God's forgiveness each and every day, in fact each and every moment. The perverseness of our sinful heart hears that our debt of sin is forgiven and then figures we can make it on our own from here. It figures that I can do my duty to God, and if somehow I mess up, I can back at that time and get more forgiveness, if I need it.

But Jesus continually puts these words on our lips: "Forgive us our sins." Can we honestly pray those words without seeing what bankrupt beggars we really are -- not just sometime long ago, but still today? "Heavenly Father, forgive me my debt of sin. For I have nothing to pay you with. Even when I am serving you, doubts and self-glory, despair and pride, selfishness and lusts keep tugging at my heart, moment after moment. What a wretched sinner I am! O God, be merciful to me!"

And even as our hearts cry out in such anguish "Forgive me!", our hearts also overflow in hope and joy. For you know those simple words of the text. You believe the Gospel. “. . . the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13 NIV). Jesus has paid your debt in full. Yes, yesterday, today, and forever -- completely forgiven. No debtor's prison of hell, no torture chambers of Satan await you. The Lord has forgiven you. What hope and joy as we pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, our sins," for you know and believe that Jesus has answered that prayer in full. Yes, dear friend, your debt is cancelled

B. Help me forgive others

1) What reaction does God's forgiveness cause in us?

Now what reaction does this Good News, this most magnificent, stupendous, outstanding, absolutely marvelous News have on us? Yes, it fills us with hope and joy, but what action does it bring from us? This action, dear friends: We in turn forgive those who sin against us. That's what the text teaches us: “. . . bearing with one another and forgiving each other if anyone has a complaint against anyone -- just as even the Lord forgave you, so you also forgive” (Colossians 3:13). Jesus makes the same connection in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who treaspass against us."

Our forgiveness towards others is the evidence that we believe the Good News of the full, free forgiveness we have in Jesus. Our forgiveness towards others doesn't cause God to forgive us. That's contrary to the Gospel. Our forgiveness towards others doesn't improve God's forgiveness. That too is contrary to the Gospel. God's forgiveness comes first, comes freely, comes unconditionally. That's what the Gospel says. God's forgiveness comes because of Jesus, because of what he did for you, because of his perfect life credited to you, his blood and death, his resurrection on the third day. That's what the Gospel says. So our forgiveness towards others is the result of all that Jesus has already done for us.

Yes, our forgiving others is the result, the evidence, that we believe this Good News. To illustrate, we might say, "It rained, since the sidewalk is wet." We don't mean that the wet sidewalk caused the rain. It's the evidence that shows that it has rained. So also you forgiving others is the evidence that God's forgiveness has rained down on you, the evidence that you believe that God has fully and freely forgiven you in Jesus. For how else could vengeful sinners like you and me truly forgive from our hearts, unless God's forgiveness has first filled us? So see your forgiving of others as as sign that God has indeed forgiven you, just as a wet sidewalk is a sign that it has rained.

On the other hand, the heart that refuses to forgive others is not holding on to God's forgiveness. That person may know all about Jesus, may come to church, may give large offerings, but they've closed their heart to God's forgiveness. The dungeon and torture of hell awaits this unforgiving heart. For if the sidewalk is dry, you know it has not rained. So also when a person refuses to forgive, they are no longer under the refreshing showers of God's forgiveness. And without his forgiveness, our debt of sin brings only the debtors' prison of unending hell. Take this warning to heart, dear friends.

2) How can I forgive when someone hurts me so deeply?

But how can I forgive when someone hurts me so deeply? Don't belittle the pain that I or another Christian may feel when someone has wronged or betrayed us. We don't help others become more forgiving by telling them to get over it. The pain is real. Hiding the pain or painting on a smile does not make us forgiving. The pain is real, but even worse is the spiritual danger of cutting ourselves off from God's forgiveness. So this is a serious question: How can I forgive when someone hurts me so deeply?

The answer is not a twelve-step program or a forty-day plan or a list of seven habits to practice. The answer is simpler than any of these and yet much more profound. You can learn it in under a minute but even a lifetime of practice leaves us all novices. How can I forgive when someone hurts me so deeply? The answer: Christ crucified. Go to the cross as Jesus hangs there bloody, despised, forsaken by God -- stricken, smitten, and afflicted

Take good measure of how serious your sin is, how great your debt, how intense the pain you've caused. “If you think of sin but lightly Nor suppose the evil great, Here you see its nature rightly, Here its guilt may estimate” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”, 127:3). For God's forgiveness is meaningfull only if we first see how great our debt is.

But don't leave the cross yet. “Mark the sacrifice appointed; See who bears the awful load” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”, 127:3). Yes, it's our load -- our debt, guilt, sin, and hell. But it's not you or I who bear it. “'Tis the Word, the Lord's Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”, 127:3). What a sacrifice to pay your debt! God's own Son, sacrificed for you. How dearly he has loved you! Loved you so completely that he gave himself to pay your debt, to forgive your sins, to cancel your death sentence.

With your faith firmly focused on the cross, even the greatest pains others have wronged you with fade in comparison. You are wrapped in God's love with your debt fully forgiven. You have no need to get even, no need to carry a grudge, no need even to see that they get what they got coming to them. That's in God's hands and the hands of his governing authorities. We rather forgive from our hearts. For we know and believe how much God has forgiven us. “. . . bearing with one another and forgiving each other if anyone has a complaint against anyone -- just as even the Lord forgave you, so you also forgive” (Colossians 3:13).

How can I forgive when someone hurts me so deeply? Go to Christ crucified. And where do you find Christ crucified? In his Word and Sacraments. Fill your heart with his Word. That's one reason for weekly worship and daily devotions. As his Word fills you, you stand at his cross seeing how great your debt is but how much greater his forgiveness is. Go to Christ crucified by coming often to the Lord's Supper. For here you taste his forgiveness. Here he says, "My body and my blood has paid your debt in full. Yes, your debt. Come, eat and drink believing that you are forgiven. Then go, forgiving others just as you have been forgiven."

So as you pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us," pray with your eyes focused on Christ crucified for you. For as you stand in the downpour of God's forgiveness wiping out your debt of sin, then you will see the evidence of his forgiveness in your life as you forgive those who sin against you. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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