Wednesday, March 16, 2016

And Forgive us our Trespasses

Mid-week Lent #6
16 March 2016
“Forgive us our trespasses”
Matthew 6:12

καί ἄφες ἡμῖν τά ἐφειλήματα ἡμῶν, ὡς καί ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Friends in Christ, I urge you all to life you your hearts to God and pray with me as Christ our Lord has taught us and freely promised to hear us. Forgive us our sins as we also forgive those who sin against us so that our hearts may be at peace and may rejoice in a good conscience before Your, and that no sin may ever frighten or alarm us. Lord, in Your mercy…heaver our prayer.[1]

Do not hold our sins against us. Use the gospel of Jesus to bring home to us the joy of your forgiveness, and enable us to stand before you fearlessly on the Last Day. I pray this for myself and all Christians. I pray this as one who has learned from you, Father, how to forgive, and I strive to prove myself your child in this way.

Dear Father, for this reason I come and pray Thee to forgive me not that I can make satisfaction, or can merit anything by my works, but because Thou hast promised and attached the seal thereto that I should be as sure as though I had absolution pronounced by Thyself.

This should serve God’s purpose of breaking our pride and keeping us humble.

This relates to our poor miserable life, which although we have and believe the Word of God and do and submit to His will, and are supported by His gifts and blessings is nevertheless not without sin.  

For still we stumble daily and transgress because we live in the world among men who do us much harm and give us cause for impatience, anger, revenge, etc.  Besides, we have Satan at our back, who sets upon us on every side, and fights against all the foregoing petitions, so that it is not possible always to stand firm in such persistent conflict.

For as much as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper appointed as external signs, effect, so much also this sign can effect to confirm our consciences and cause them to rejoice. And it is especially given for this purpose – that we might use and practice it every hour, as a thing that we have with us at all times. 

Therefore there is here again great need to call upon God and to pray: Dear Father, forgive us our trespasses. Not as though He did not forgive sin without and even before our prayer (for He has given us the Gospel, in which is pure forgiveness before we prayed or ever thought about it). But this is to the intent that we may recognize and accept such forgiveness. 

For since the flesh in which we daily live is of such a nature that it neither trusts nor believes God, and is ever active in evil lusts and devices, so that we sin daily in word and deed, by commission and omission, by which the conscience is thrown into unrest, so that it is afraid of the wrath and displeasure of God, and thus loses the comfort and confidence derived from the Gospel; therefore it is ceaselessly necessary that we run hither and obtain consolation to comfort the conscience again.

But this should serve God’s purpose of breaking our pride and keeping us humble. For in case any one should boast of his godliness and despise others, God has reserved this prerogative to Himself, that the person is to consider himself and place this prayer before his eyes, and he will find that he is no better than others, and that in the presence of God all must lower their plumes, and be glad that they can attain forgiveness. 

And let no one think that as long as we live here he can reach such a position that he will not need such forgiveness. In short, if God does not forgive without ceasing, we are lost.

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.

But there is here attached a necessary, yet consolatory addition: As we forgive. He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet in the manner that we also forgive our neighbor.

For just as we daily sin much against God, and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence, and wrong, shows malice toward us, etc. 

If, therefore, you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you; but if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, for God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches, but in order that He may set this up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise which accords with this prayer, Luke 6, 37: Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Therefore Christ also repeats it soon after the Lord’s Prayer, and says, Matt. 6, 14: For if ye forgive men their trespassesyour heavenly Father will also forgive you, etc. [2]

What does it mean when we pray for forgiveness? How do I know that my heart is in the right place? Is there a process I must go through before forgiveness becomes a reality?  Let’s see what Luther would say to us in the Catechism as we pray “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"

I.        When we pray this petition

A.     We ask that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins. This is what Peter asked when confronted with his sins. He cried, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8) The point is clear. The nearer one comes to God, the more he feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness.

Such was the case of Abraham when he pleaded for the city of Sodom. “Not that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord though I am nothing but dust and ash.” (Genesis 27:1) Job cried: “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) Isaiah replied, “Woe to me!  I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the king, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) No wonder Peter went out and wept bitterly when he denied even knowing the Lord Jesus. (Luke 22:62)

B.     We pray that our heavenly Father would graciously, for Christ’s sake, forgive our sin. We follow the example of the tax collector, standing at a distance, “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) He did not plead his own good works, but the mercy of God in forgiving his sin. 
Thus the church prays, “Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us…Kyrie Eleison! Lord, remember me when You enter into Your kingdom!” (Luke 22:42)
II.     There is a reason why we should ask for forgiveness.

A.      We are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them.  Thy hymnal is ripe with verses that describe this reality. “Not the labors of my hands, could fulfill Thy Law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow.  All for sin could not atone; Thou must save and Thou alone.” (TLH #376 stanza 2)

B.      The point is clear. For we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.  Jacob prayed; “I am unworthy of all of the kindness and faithfulness You have shown to Your servant.” (Genesis 32:10) Thus the prodigal son pleaded to his Father, “Father I have sinned against heaven and against You. I am no longer worthy to be called Your son.” (Luke 15:21)

III.   Forgiveness comes at a price – the price of God’s own Son.  Thus, we must promise that we will also heartily forgive and readily do good to those who sin against us.

A.      In the Gospel of Matthew we hear these words, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, now many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?  Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” 70 x 7.”  The point is clear. We forgive with time without numbers!

B.      Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, abandoned and left for dead, did not hold his brother’s sin against them rather, he forgave them.  God had used the brother’s act, out of personal animosity toward their brothers Joseph to save lives.

Mark his words closely, “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” (Genesis 50:19-20)
IV.  Why must we forgive?

A.      We must forgive because he who would not forgive his brother will not obtain forgiveness from God.  Forgiveness runs in two directions. Forgiveness is a two way street. If we refuse to forgive we will in this petition call down upon ourselves the anger of God.

B.     Jesus tells us in Mark 11, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so Your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (v.25)
In this petition we are called to forgive. Graciously you have been forgiven – graciously you are to forgive. Be compassionate, as God has had compassion on you.

[1] Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service, Setting Five © 2006 Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis
[2] Luther’s Large Catechism 

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