Summary: Debt traps us in a life of despair. And it goes much deeper than financial debt. Jesus provides the only escape from a deeper, darker debt that is propelling us forward to a day of reckoning.
Good morning. My name is Bobby Gilles; I’m on staff here. For the past few weeks we’ve been preaching through the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer Jesus taught us to pray. Today we arrive at the final two verses:
“Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
Years ago, I read about two brothers out West named Norman and Paul Maclean, sons of a Presbyterian minister. Some of you may know about them, too. Two young men who love their parents, love their hometown, love to go fly fishing, and love each other. But the younger brother Paul starts drinking too much. He becomes an alcoholic. Then he starts gambling at a backwoods casino. He falls deeply into debt.
One night his big brother Norman gets a call from the police: “We’ve arrested your brother for being drunk and disorderly.”
Norman picks his brother Paul up at the station, and the police chief says, “We’re picking your brother up too often. And he’s fallen deeply in debt at the big card game in Hot Springs. That’s not safe.”
Later, Norman offers to help Paul with his debt but Paul brushes him off. He refuses to talk about it. He’s willing to go fishing with Norman and their father, and he remains a loving son to their mother. But why won’t he take their help?
This question haunts Norman as he stands with Paul outside Lolo’s, the casino, and pleads with him not to go in. Norman shouts, “You’re in debt up to your neck!”
Paul stiffs up, squares his jaw, and says, “It’s my debt, Norman. My debt.”
And so, not long after that, Norman gets a call to come to the police station. His brother Paul has been beaten to death with the butt end of a revolver. He owed too much money to the wrong sort of people, and finally they killed him.
Norman and his parents spend the rest of their lives struggling to understand. Eventually Norman writes a book about it called A River Runs Through It, which is later turned into a film.
Debt traps us in a life of despair, with an ending that’s worse than the butt end of a revolver. And it goes much deeper than financial debt, as we’ll see in a minute. You may be financially free this morning, and just as unaware as Paul Maclean seemed to be of the deeper, darker debt that is propelling you forward to a day of reckoning. This is the reality Jesus is speaking to in these final verses of the Lord’s prayer.
Jesus says when we pray, we should ask God,
“Forgive us our debts,”
The Old Testament regarded sins as debts before God – Jesus backs up this point later on, right here in chapter 6. So Jesus is using a familiar illustration to say, “You must confess your sins to God and ask his forgiveness.”
Why? Because by the time we’re old enough to understand this statement, we’ve already committed more sin that we could count. We’re already so far in debt that we could never pay it off.
The life and teaching of Jesus shows us that each of us is living like Paul Maclean, racking up unimaginable debt with little concern for the consequences. Here in our time and place, there are two kinds of people who have a problem with this teaching: people who aren’t Christians and people who are.
Non-Christians, say, “I’m a good person. I know I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes. But the good outweighs the bad. I try to do the right thing. Most people would say I’m a nice guy.”
If you know Jesus, you hear that and think, “Man, he’s way off base.” But it shouldn’t surprise us when people who don’t know Jesus say things like that, because Jesus is the one who shows us what makes someone good or bad. He sets the standard.
The Lord’s Prayer is one small part right in the middle of a famous sermon Jesus preached, beginning in the previous chapter, called the Sermon On The Mount. Large crowds from all across the country had been flocking to see him, so he went up on a mountainside and began to teach them.
Today when many people think of the Sermon On The Mount, they think, “How beautiful, how wonderful, how inspirational.” But his original listeners must have been horrified as he revealed a standard of holiness that even their best, brightest and purest – the Pharisees – couldn’t keep. And to leave no doubt, he said, “You have to be more righteous than the Pharisees.”
So by the time Jesus teaches them how to pray, he’s already said things like, “If you call your brother a fool, you’re just as guilty as a murderer.”