WHEN GOD FORGIVES by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: We have reached the 6th message in this series on the Lord’s Prayer called “Talking to the Father” and today’s message is titled “When God Forgives.”
Matthew 6 9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Overall Background: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This is probably the hardest line in the Lord’s Prayer, if not the whole Bible. “God – show me the same mercy that I show others.” Just when we are tempted to justify and rationalize our bitterness, resentment, grudge, and spite against someone, Jesus comes back with a P.S. (Post script) in 14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Why did Jesus feel that it was necessary to add this comment? Because Jesus knew the human heart. He knew that this petition would be ignored, compromised, altered, and, flat out, disobeyed. R.T. Kendall said – “this petition has made liars out of more people than any document in human history!”
Here are some questions: Is there unforgiveness in your heart? Who in your life deserves to pay for what they’ve done to you? Do you understand the forgiveness that has come to you through Jesus Christ? Are you saved? It is hard as it is to forgive others as a Christian, but it’s so much harder to forgive when you haven’t received God’s grace.
2 things we will consider in this message on forgiveness and my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will fill your heart with forgiveness – from God and towards others.
I. THE DEBT OF SIN
12 “And forgive us our debts…”
Background: What is interesting is that when we look at the parallel passage in Luke 11:4 on the Lord’s Prayer, it says, “And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Here we find the words sin and debt used interchangeably. To complicate matters, the P.S. in Matthew 6 says, 14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Here we find another Greek word used for sin. Some of you may be thinking – “I don’t care about any of this. Just preach to me on forgiveness.” These things matter because when our young people go off to their colleges, these things are thrown into their faces and they’re told – “your Bible has contradictions. How do you know what Jesus really said?” We have an obligation to give them solid answers so that their faith may not be shaken.
So what’s the answer? Keep in mind that Jesus preached in Aramaic and more than likely He used the Aramaic term “hob,” which can be translated as both debt and sin. Matthew is directed more towards the Jewish people, who understand sin as debt but Luke is towards the Greek audience who don’t have the same understanding of sin.
Why would sin as debt connect with the Jewish people? When we study the concept of sin in the Bible, we find some powerful metaphors. In early times, sin was described as a stain that had to be washed. If you remember the prayer of David in Psalm 51:2 “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.” Then there was the idea of sin as a burden that had to be lifted. Again, David writes in Psalm 38:4 “For my iniquities have gone over my head; Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.” There are many more but these are the two main ones. By the time of Jesus, another metaphor had become prominent – sin was being referred to as a debt that had to be paid back. Where did this come from? You see it all over the book of Isaiah. If you remember, the people of Judah had rebelled against God. You could say that they had become spiritually bankrupt and God offered them a deal. Isaiah 1 18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; 20 But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword…” What was their answer? No deal. We’ll be fine. God sent the Babylonians against them who dragged them into exile and they lost their land, Jerusalem, and the temple. Now they were in debtor’s prison.
But God showed Isaiah the future and said in 40:2 “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.” Meaning: God not only retrieved His sin debt from His people but He charged them two-fold. That seems so unfair! Why would God make them pay double for their sins? He didn’t. By the way, can we pay for our sins? No. They were disciplined for their sins but they didn’t pay for their sin. Who did? Isaiah 53 4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. Here’s the point: The Jewish people didn’t pay their debt but the Messiah would one day. What could they do? Isaiah 55 1 “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.” The Jewish people knew that they were feeding on God’s nourishment at the Messiah’s expense. I’m not suggesting that all of them realized that but they were supposed to. Isn’t it beautiful how Jesus picks up on this very imagery and reminds them that their very existence was by the grace of God?!
Here’s the point: Sin is a debt that none of us can repay. It cannot be written off because that would compromise the holiness of God. Someone had to pay it and that someone was Jesus. Like that old song – “He paid a debt He did not owe. I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away. And now I sing a brand new song Amazing Grace Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.”
Application: Has your sin debt been wiped clean? Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Have you received the gift of God? Do you realize what Christ went through to pay your debt of sin?
II. THE CANCELLATION OF DEBTS
12 “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Background: While the first part of the petition has zero problems, the second part – “as we forgive our debtors” or as Luke puts it “For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us” – this is where the problem comes in. Is Jesus implying that our forgiveness from God is contingent/dependent on our forgiveness of others? Just when we try to move along to the next topic, Jesus drags us back in with the P.S. – 14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Does this mean that we have to forgive others before we can receive God’s forgiveness?” “Will God hold back his forgiveness towards us until we forgive others?” Typically, conservative scholars and commentators try to make sure that we don’t make forgiveness of others a condition to receive God’s forgiveness because that would remove grace out of the picture and make salvation “work-based.” So, they do all kinds of hermeneutical gymnastics to prove that Jesus didn’t really mean what He said.
What did Jesus mean? To understand what Jesus meant we have to understand the context in which He said those words. To start with, the idea that God’s forgiveness for us is somehow connected to our forgiveness for others was nothing new among the Jewish people in the time of Jesus. In fact, a Jewish wise man, scribe named Ben Sira wrote two centuries before Christ – “If you forgive someone who has wronged you, your sins will be forgiven when you pray. You cannot expect the Lord to pardon you while you are holding a grudge against someone else.” The Jewish people didn’t have a problem with what Jesus said because it was not about eternal forgiveness but temporal. It was not about judicial forgiveness but relational.
Agriculture in Israel1 (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)
Agriculture in Israel2 (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)
To understand this we need to maintain the debt metaphor that Jesus used. Most of the Jewish people at the time were under heavy debt. They could not survive without borrowing money at high interest rates. If there was a bad harvest, drought, illness, death, it was pretty much over. To make matters worse, the creditor could change the terms and it would become even worse. God in His word had established certain restrictions on usury. Exodus 22 25 “If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. 26 If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. 27 For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious. So also, God had instituted the Year of the Jubilee, every 49th or 50th year. Leviticus 25 13 “In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. Meaning: You have someone’s land because they couldn’t pay. You made a lot of money out of that but now return it so that family can have a chance to stand again. 14 And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another… Meaning: You still have your wealth. Your family can buy more but don’t be mean.
Bottom line: You have to forgive their debt:
- Regardless of how you feel
- Regardless of whether or not they’ve asked you to
- Regardless of how much they owe you
- Regardless of how much you had planned on doing with what they owed you
Agriculture in Israel3 (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)
What if you refuse to forgive their debt? 17 …but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God. 18 “So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety. 19 Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety. If you refuse to forgive their debt –
- You will not dwell in the land in safety
- The land will not yield its fruit
- You will not eat your fill
- And you will not dwell their in safety
Here’s the point: This petition is not about going to heaven. That has been covered under our judicial forgiveness. This petition is about how you live on earth. It has to do with relational forgiveness. This has to do with God’s blessing in your life. If you refuse to show mercy to others in this life, God will not show mercy to you in this life.
Whose debt do you need to cancel today? Who has failed to pay up to you?
This is so hard because we judge ourselves by our motives and others by their actions.
By the way, you don’t have to go far to find these people. They are right around you.
Let me warn you – it matters how you cancel their debts. Don’t go and tell people – “I forgive you” – unless they need to hear that. Most of the times when people do that, they are using forgiveness as a club.
Jesus gave the best demonstration of debt cancellation on the cross. Luke 23 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.