Summary: Sermon on the Fifth Petition: "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."
According to the latest statistics I could find, Canadians are carrying close to 74 billion dollars in credit card debt. That comes out to about $5,000 per adult. That doesn’t include other debt like student loans, car payments, and mortgages. If you factored in those costs, the debt total is more like $50,000 per adult. Is this cause for alarm? It should be if you were paying attention to what happened in the States a year ago. Many people ended up losing their homes because they took on more debt than they could pay back.
As we continue our study of the Lord’s Prayer we’re going to take a closer look at the Fifth Petition. When we pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us,” we’re asking God to forgive the debt of sin that we owe him. He has promised to do that in Christ Jesus of course so that we don’t have to sweat this debt. But with this petition we’re also asking that God give us a forgiving attitude towards others. In other words neither do we want to sweat the debt of sin that others “owe” us.
I am calling sin a debt because that’s what Jesus called it in our text from Matthew. Sin is more than a mistake – like getting 2 + 2 wrong on your math test. That will cost you a point on the test but little else. Sin’s effect is more like throwing a ball through a closed window. Whether you meant to do that or not payment needs to be made to replace the window. Likewise when we break God’s laws, whether we meant to or not, payment is required. God emphasized this truth in Old Testament times by demanding that an animal be sacrificed to pay for sin. These animal sacrifices of course really only pointed ahead to the sacrifice that Jesus would make of his own life on the cross. This payment needed to be made because for human sin, human blood must be shed. And when Jesus died on the cross it wasn’t because he was paying for his own debt of sin; he was paying for our debt. When Jesus hung on the cross it was as if he wore your name tag and mine, for he was being punished for our sins (John Jeske).
Now if Jesus’ death on the cross has won forgiveness, why do we need to keep asking for pardon whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer? Isn’t that like continually asking for a ticket to go on the rides at Galaxyland when we’ve already been given a pass? Forgiveness is not a pass that allows us to sin as often as we want. It’s more like an insurance policy that explorers to the North Pole might carry. This insurance policy states that an airplane will come to their rescue should the explorers get into trouble. Of course this doesn’t mean that the explorers will be careless and take unnecessary risks. An arctic explorer knows that he could slip through a crack in the ice and freeze to death before ever having the chance to call for help. Likewise those who know they have been forgiven by Christ will not rush headlong back into sin, not because Jesus will not forgive them if they do, but because they know how dangerous sin is. Like ice, sin dulls the senses making us believe that what we’re doing really isn’t that bad, or that we’ll have plenty of time to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness later.
Just as an explorer will double check his safety gear every morning to make sure it’s functioning correctly, a Christian will want to daily check that his relationship with Jesus is still intact. The best way to do this is by expressing our continual need for Jesus’ forgiveness. So when you come to the Fifth Petition, pause and confess specific sins just as we do after the opening hymn in our worship service. Don’t just say, “Yep. I messed up again, Lord. I’m a sinner.” But repent for how you grumbled at how long it was taking your children to get their snow boots on. Repent of your laziness for not doing your best on that school project. Repent of giving family members the silent treatment when you didn’t get your way. Don’t just confess these sins; express your confidence that Jesus has forgiven them. Don’t sweat the debt, it’s been paid.
But if our debt of sin has been paid, why did Jesus teach us to pray: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”? Doesn’t this imply that only by forgiving others can we be certain that God has forgiven us? It may seem that we offer the Fifth Petition as a way of melting God’s heart and persuading him to forgive us, but God forgave your sins long before you ever learned how to pray the Lord’s Prayer. He forgave your sins when his Son made the payment for your debts on the cross. By praying, “Forgive us, as we forgive others,” Jesus wants us to realize and that those who have been forgiven will want to forgive others. If we refuse to forgive, it shows that we really don’t have faith in or an appreciation of God’s forgiveness for us. What’s more, Jesus said right after the Lord’s Prayer: “…if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). With the Fifth Petition we’re really saying, “Lord, use the same standard of mercy on me that I use on others.”