Summary: God’s forgiveness frees us to forgive others.
"Forgiveness-God’s and Ours"
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
A driver placed a note under the windshield wiper of his illegally parked car which read: "I’ve circled the block for 20 minutes. I’m late for an appointment, and if I don’t park here I’ll lose my job. ’Forgive us our trespasses’."
When he came back he found a parking ticket and a note from a policeman: "I’ve circled the block for 20 years, and if I don’t give you a ticket, I’ll lose my job. ’Lead us not into temptation’."
Forgiveness is much in the news these days: Former President Clinton has offered some questionable pardons, and Japan is enraged that the Captain of the Naval submarine USS Greenville has not personally apologized for the accident in which the Japanese training ship Ehime Maru was sunk.
This morning we’re going to consider God’s forgiveness…and ours.
"Forgive us our trespasses." Just as we have a need for daily food, we have a need for daily forgiveness.
A visiting minister looked at the church bulletin and noticed that they prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Not wanting to make a mistake, he asked a Deacon, "Are you debtors or trespassers?" In Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer the word "debts" is used, while Luke uses the word "trespasses". They are very similar words. When we hear the word ’trespass’ we think of going where we’re not supposed to be-as in "Trespassers will be prosecuted". When we’re tempted to sin, we should say, "Let’s not go there!" Followers of Christ will want to live lawfully. The Greek word for "trespasses" means "to slip or fall". There are times we fall into sin by violating God’s Law.
A Sunday School teacher asked her class, "What must you first do before you can be forgiven?" A child answered, "Sin."
The word ’debt’ sometimes refers to a monetary debt, but more often it means a moral debt. We owe God obedience, and we can’t deliver; we’re spiritually bankrupt. On the cross Jesus paid a debt He didn’t owe because we have a debt we can’t pay. We’re all sinners in need of forgiveness. The Bible says "there is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10). The cross of Christ represents the cost of our forgiveness. The most essential and difficult thing God ever did was to provide forgiveness for our sins. Forgiveness is our greatest human need. On the cross our debt is stamped ’PAID IN FULL’. The charges against us have been dismissed.
We’ve heard it said, "To err is human, to forgive, divine". We might like to believe that God is obligated to forgive everyone. He forgives those who confess their sin and ask to be forgiven. The problem is, many people do not think of themselves as sinners, and simply aren’t sorry for the things they’ve done. Some people are overwhelmed by unresolved guilt, while others with callused consciences could stand to experience guilt. How come some people struggle with guilt? It may be because they’re guilty! Fallen human nature often minimizes the need for forgiveness. The book of Psalms describes the typical unbeliever: "There is no fear of God before his eyes" (36:1). They don’t worry about their sins; they don’t accept the fact that sin offends the holiness of God. The gravity of sin is diminished by denying moral absolutes-if there is no right and wrong, then anything is permissible and there is no need to be forgiven. Our culture is one that calls evil good and good evil. David Wells (GCTS) observes, "Worldliness is what makes sin look normal in any age and righteousness seem odd."
There is a popular way of apologizing today without admitting guilt: "If you feel I did something wrong, please excuse me." Instead of confessing sin, people claim they made "a mistake". In court, people plead "no contest". When we come to God, we offer no excuses; we simply plead for mercy.
Sin has eternal consequences. The prophet Habakkuk exclaims, "God’s eyes are too pure to look on evil; He cannot tolerate wrong" (1:13). All sin must be punished, and was-upon the cross. Forgiveness is the removal of our guilt. In Isaiah God declares, "I am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more."
"As we forgive those who trespass against us."
We have an obligation to extend forgiveness to others. People who are unforgiving cannot understand or accept the forgiveness God offers. Anyone who is not willing to forgive another has not experienced God’s forgiveness. When we refuse to forgive others, we are asking God not to forgive us.
There are many people who refuse to forgive-they harbor resentments and hold grudges. Victims can become bitter, wishing only to get even. A crime victim said, "If you could lick my heart it would poison you." People often claim, "I forgive-but I’ll never forget!" When I hear this, I do something unexpected-I urge that person not to forget. I say, "I want you to remember! Every time you remember the offense and feel the hurt, I want you to remember your forgiveness." Amnesia isn’t the goal! Jesus says in the Beatitudes, "Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them" (Mt 5:7).