“Back to the basics: Forgive us our tresspasses”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Her name was 66730. At least that’s what they called her. Her father and sister had already been murdered in a German concentration camp. And now, stripped of her freedom, her dignity, and her humanity, she somehow survived. They had taken everything that had been important to her, except Jesus. And so, each day she was imprisoned in Ravensbruck, she shared the gospel and ministered to those who were more needy than herself.
Later she said, “This was evil’s hour: we could not run from it. Perhaps only when human effort had done its best and failed, would God’s power alone be free to work.” And she said, “The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God.”
Finally, the day came when the war was over and she was released. Then she traveled around the world to tell the story of Jesus and the help, even in the absolute worst of circumstances, He had so graciously given her.
And one day as she was telling the story of her captivity, she saw him. He was a former German officer who had stood guard at the shower room door. And when she saw him, the horrors of her captivity came back in a blinding moment of fright--the heaps of clothing, the humiliated, terrified women and the roomful of mocking men.
And as the church was emptying at the end of her presentation, he came up to her and said, “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein. To think, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
He thrust his hand out to shake hers. And she, who had preached so often of the need to forgive, kept her hand at her side.
Yet even as thoughts of hatred and anger and rage boiled inside of her, she remembered--Jesus Christ died for this man. How could she ask for more? So she prayed, “Lord Jesus, forgive me and help me to forgive him.”
She tried to smile. She struggled to raise her hand. And feeling not even the slightest spark of warmth or charity, she again breathed a silent prayer--”Jesus, I can’t forgive him for what he’s done to me. Give me Your forgiveness.”
And as she took his hand, she said the most incredible thing happened. From her shoulder, along her arm, and through her hand, a current seemed to pass from her to him, and a love sprang in her heart that almost overwhelmed her. Somehow, by the grace of God, he was forgiven.
In the words of teacher and author William Arthur Ward, “We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. And we are most like Christ when we forgive.”
For these past few weeks, we’ve taken time to focus on the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s step back for just a moment to see how far we’ve come.
“Our Father who art in heaven” -- that’s God’s Paternity.
“Hallowed be Thy Name” --that’s God’s Priority.
“Thy Kingdom come” - that’s God’s Program.
“Thy will be done” --that’s God’s Purpose.
“Give us this day our daily bread” --that’s God’s Provision.
“Forgive us our trespasses” --that’s God’s Pardon.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” -- that’s God’s Protection and…
“For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever” --that’s God’s Preeminence.
Look closely and you’ll see that the entire prayer is about God. He adopts us as a loving Father. He shares His name. He makes us members of His kingdom. He accomplishes His will. He meets our daily needs. He forgives our sins. And He keeps us and protects us and will someday bring us into the glory of heaven.
And today, as we continue our study of the Lord’s Prayer, we’ll look at the words of the fifth petition: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12).
Luther wrote in the words of his Small Catechism: “What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”
And he wrote in the words of his Large Catechism: “It is therefore the intent of this petition that God would not regard our sins and hold up to us what we daily deserve, but would deal graciously with us, and forgive, as He has promised, and thus grant us a joyful and confident conscience to stand before Him in prayer. For where the heart is not in right relation towards God, nor can take such confidence, it will nevermore venture to pray. But such a confident and joyful heart can spring from nothing else than the certain knowledge of the forgiveness of sin.”
If you think about it, forgiveness is the most important thing the Lord could ever give us. And while there are many things we could live without, there’s one thing we could never live without--and that’s forgiveness of sin.
But not only is it the most important thing our Lord could ever give us, it’s also the most difficult thing, for it cost Jesus, the sinless Son of God, His life on a cross. And there’s nothing in all the world that could be more painful or more difficult than that.
It’s easy to say that sin is the reigning monarch in all the world. It rules the heart of every man, woman, and child on earth, lording itself over every human soul and contaminating every living person at every level--thoughts, words and deeds. It’s the virus that infiltrates every human bloodstream, making us susceptible to disease, sickness, and death. It’s the villain behind every broken marriage, every broken home, every shattered friendship, every argument, every conflict, every war, every pain, every sorrow, and every death.
And there’s nothing we can do about it! It dominates our minds, our wills, our affections, and our emotions. It makes us absolutely miserable and robs us of our health, our sleep, and our peace.
And that’s the very reason why, when Jesus taught us to pray, said, “When you pray, say, ‘Forgive us our trespasses’” (Matthew 6:12).
The Bible uses five different words for sin. It calls it a “hamartia,” a word that means “to miss the mark.” It calls it a “parabasis,” “to step across the line.” It calls it an “anomia,” an open, flagrant rebellion against God. It calls it a “paraptoma,” a word that means to slip or fall. And it calls it an “opheilemata,” a debt that you could never pay.
Paul wrote to the Romans: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). John wrote: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). Isaiah wrote: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). And Jesus said in Matthew chapter 5: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
No wonder Luther wrote: “If God does not forgive without ceasing, we are lost.”
And on what basis should God forgive? For what reason should He cover over our sin? Jesus said: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12)
Think about it. God forgives us as we forgive others. God deals with us as we deal with others. If we love and forgive others, God loves and forgives us. But if we harbor any resentment or hostility, then we’re robbing ourselves of the love and forgiveness that our almighty God is more than willing to provide.
The Bible says that, one day, Peter came up to Jesus and said, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21).
And that was pretty good. Most any other Jew would have forgiven his brother three times, and Peter not only doubled it, he added one more!
Still Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).
Then He told him a story. He said once upon a time there was a king who was settling accounts with his servants. And as he did, he came across one who owed him ten thousand talents.
How much is that? One talent is the same as six thousand denarii and one denarius was worth one day’s work. So in order for the man to pay back what he owed, he’d have to work six days a week for a thousand weeks or about nineteen years to earn one talent. And he owed ten thousand talents!
Needless to say, he’d have to work a long, long time to even think about paying back that debt!
And when his enormous debt was discovered, he fell down before the king and said, “Be patient with me and I will pay back everything I owe.” Sure you will, buddy. There’s no way on earth you could work for the next nineteen thousand years!
But what happened? Jesus said, “His master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go” (Matthew 18:27).
But just as soon as his master let him go, he went and found a man who owed him a hundred denarii--three month’s work--hardly anything at all. Still he grabbed him around the neck, choked him and said, “Pay me what you owe!” And he threw him into prison until he could pay his debt.
Now imagine you were the king and you heard what happened, what would you do? He called him in and said, “You wicked servant. I canceled all your debt because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”
In your life and in mine, there are many who have hurt you, offended you, and even sinned against you. And you hurt like you’ve never hurt before.
But you know, there’s something you need to do. You need to forgive, for our God in heaven has already forgiven you.
Hidden in the corner of a cemetery, just outside of New York City, there’s a small gravestone, polished smooth by years of wind and weather. There’s no name, nor is there any date inscribed on it. It says nothing about the man, woman, or child whose earthly remains lie beneath.
Yet clearly legible on the face of that granite stone is one word. Stretching from one end to the other, it says, “Forgiven.”
It’s hard to forgive. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things we would ever do. But as we remember God’s grace and mercy toward us, then we can turn and forgive too.
Forgiveness, dear Father, is not only the most important thing, it’s also the most difficult thing. Grant us the grace to forgive just as You have so freely forgiven us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen