“ Forgive Us Our Debts”
Picture if you will; a man sitting all alone in a darkened prison cell. His elbows propped on his knees and his head resting in his hands. The man’s name is Charles Preston, and he has been on death row for the last seven years of his life for his part in the murder of the son of a high-ranking government official. Today, March 19th, 1976, he is totally consumed by his thoughts. You see, this is the day that Charles is to die for his crime. His execution is less than two hours away and, for the first time in his adult life, Charles is crying .
Let me tell you a little about Charles Preston. He was born into a lower middle-class family that was missing a dad soon after he was able to walk. His mother was not the most caring individual in the world, and for the most part Charles had to fend for himself. And, as he grew up, the only people that he thought he could trust or who cared anything about him were his hoodlum “friends” that he hung around with. Needless to say, he was in and out of juvenile correction facilities and prisons most of his life. He had no sense of direction nor purpose for his
very existence. Alcohol and drugs were his only comfort. Many times he would wish that he could pass out and not wake up again.
One night he and his “friends” were going to rob this rich kid that had carelessly wondered into their territory. Something went terribly wrong and the boy was killed in cold blood. Only two of the gang members were caught and Charles was one of them.
During all of the seven years that he was in prison, Charles was tortured by the memory of what happened that fateful night. He remembered the fear in the young man’s eyes as he desperately cried for mercy. But he was shown no mercy. Because of the pressure from his “friends”, Charles pulled the trigger. He vividly remembers the trial where he had to look upon the faces of the boy’s family--how he had to hear of all the pain and despair that they were now experiencing because of him. But what stuck in his head more than anything is the testimony of the victim’s father who happened to be a United States Senator. Barely able to compose himself on the witness stand, he said; “The death of my innocent son has caused me and my family tremendous grief and (pointing straight at Charles, said) I will not rest until I see ‘that man’ put to death!”
At this point Charles could not disagree. He had seen first hand the result of his actions and pleaded; “guilty as charged.” And, as a result he was sentenced by a jury of twelve to the gas chamber.
Over the next few years Charles wrote many letters to the Senator and his family pleading for forgiveness in hopes that this burden that he’d been carrying might be somewhat eased. But he never received a single reply.
But, back to March 19, 1976 where we left off with Charles in his cell only hours before his execution.... He was crying. Now, was he crying because he was about to be executed? No, he was crying out of joy because even though he was about to die, he had just been freed. You see, moments before, Charles had a visitor. The visitor was none other than that Senator. He came to tell Charles that he didn’t know how or why, but that very day he was finally able to forgive him and for some reason he just had to visit him and tell him personally.
One might say, I’m sure he was glad he’d been forgiven by the boy’s father, but he’s still only moments away from death---why is this condemned man over-joyed to the point of tears? Well, that takes us back a little farther,....for the last three months, Charles had been wrestling with something. You see, he was visited by a minister that briefly presented him with the gospel and left him with a small bible. The minister kept talking about how God loved him so much and that no matter what he had done, he could find forgiveness in Christ.
Well, this was something that Charles had a hard time identifying with, and no matter how good it sounded, he was not going to be taken in by some fairy tale. But, days went by and since he had little else to do, he began reading that bible. As he made his way through the Word of God, he found himself longing for the loving Father he never had, that was portrayed between those pages.
One night as he was reading, he felt impressed to do something he had never done before; pray. You see, he wanted so much to believe that there was such a loving and forgiving God, but he couldn’t see how such a being could exist. He made a deal with the Lord in that prayer; he said that if that Senator ever found it in his heart to forgive him then he would
know for sure that God was real and that all of what he had read about Him in the bible was true. Because Charles knew that this kind of forgiveness would have to come from just such a God.
Three months later, Charles Preston’s prayer was answered. Those last couple of hours that he had left after his visit with the Senator that day were the happiest hours of his life. Happy because he realized that there was a God in heaven that actually loved him and even forgave him for his sins. Right then and there Charles gave his heart to the Lord. He walked down that long corridor to his fate unlike any other before him---tears of joy streaming down his face and praising God until the very end. Friends, Charles experienced the true joy that comes from
knowing that he has been forgiven!
Now we know that there is rejoicing in heaven each time a lost soul is found. But , I need for you to understand that there was more than one man that made a life changing decision that day.....You see, had that Senator not found it in his heart to forgive Charles, he would have been lost himself. I know it’s hard for us to understand but, even if he had all the other characteristics of a “good Christian”, but not have forgiven Charles, he still would have been lost.
Jesus teaches us in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer to pray; “forgive us our debts(sins)...” But there is another part of this petition that rests a certain responsibility on
us.....it also says; “....as we forgive our debtors (those who sin against us).”
Now, does this mean that we have to forgive everyone who sins against us in order to enter the kingdom of heaven? I won’t answer that myself, but let’s go to God’s word and see what He says....Read what Jesus says to us in Matthew 6:14,15
“14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
I’m afraid that a lot of people are going to stumble at this very point. Let’s face it, forgiveness is not in our nature. When someone does us wrong, we tend to be very unforgiving. And, even when we become born again Christians, many of us wonder to what extent and how often we should be willing to forgive someone who sins against us. Well one day Jesus was teaching His disciples about forgiveness when Peter came to Him and asked Him that very question. Matthew chapter 18:21-35
“21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay,
the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything
that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his
master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Again, if we do NOT forgive those who sin against us, our Heavenly Father will not forgive us for our sins. Turn with me to the Gospel of Mark 11:24,25:
“24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Now, what exactly does it mean to forgive? Well, the main idea behind both the Greek and Hebrew words that are translated into “forgive” is; to release an offender from guilt and to restore the personal relationship to it’s original status before the offense. That’s what Jesus meant when He said that we have to forgive our brother “from our heart.” Now Jesus is not saying that we have to become close friends with the offender, He doesn’t even say that we have to necessarily “like” them--only love them.
We need to realize that “holding a grudge” against someone can be very detrimental to a Christian life. It is, in itself, a form of hate and any kind of hate is like a cancer in our soul that continues to fester and grow until it totally consumes us. No, we need to find a way to eliminate this evil tendency from our lives. We need to forgive in the same way that God forgives us.
Let’s look at just a couple of scriptures that tell in what way God is willing to forgive those who seek His mercy;
Micah 7:18-19: “18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
Psalm 103:12; “..as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
Jeremiah 31:34 God says; “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Now, do any of these descriptions of God’s forgiveness sound anything like how we forgive those who sin against us? We say, I forgive....but I’ll never FORGET. But God says; “I will remember your sins no more.”!
Brothers and sisters, the Roman soldiers didn’t nail Jesus to that cross on Calvary by themselves---we were accessories to the crime. Our sins--our transgressions were the reason behind the suffering and death of our Lord. As spikes were being driven into the hands of our Savior-- into those hands that brought only healing, Jesus said; “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.
“They know not what they do..” But, what about when we DO know what we do? What about the times when we know that what we are about to do is a sin, but we do it anyway thinking that we will just ask for forgiveness later? Well, let’s turn together to Hebrews 10:26,27
“26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”
Friends, there is a terrible misconception among most Christians today; they realize that we are saved by Grace and they seem to want to see just how much they can take advantage of that Grace. It’s like a lot of people do with their charge card; they look at how much they already owe and figure “what’s the difference if I charge this--I’ll never be able to pay it off anyway.”
Brothers and sisters, instead of taking advantage of God’s forgiveness so much, let’s take advantage of His strength to overcome sin in our lives!
Now, exactly what is sin? Well in 1John 3:4 he tells us that sin is defined as “transgression of the Law.” That means that when we break any one of the Ten Commandments--any way shape or form, then we are sinning. You may be surprised at the number of Christians who don’t know what sin is. Make no mistake about it friends, Jesus died to give us the victory over sin in our lives, not a license to continue in it.
Let’s turn in our bibles to Romans 5:20-6:4
“20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Why is forgiveness so important? Well, it gives us the ability to start a “new” life. It is not God’s will that any should be lost but that all should be saved. Satan wants us to believe that we’ve gone too far--that we’ve amassed such a huge debt of sin that we could never even think of approaching the Father for forgiveness. But friends, don’t believe him. Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son, you know the stroy......the boy takes his inheritance and leaves the house of his father and goes off to the city where he lives the wild life thinking that the
pleasures of sin would be better than what he had at home. Remember it wasn’t long before he had spent all of his inheritance and found himself penniless and oh so hungry standing in a pigs wallow so wanting to eat the slop. It was here at the lowest point of his life that he began to miss his father and wanted to go back home and beg for a servant’s position. Jesus said that as the boy was still “afar off” his father saw him! He was waiting and watching for the boy to come home. Then, running to meet his son, we’re told that he kissed him, put his robe over the boy’s filthy, ragged clothes, put the family ring on his hand and welcomed him back--not as a servant but as a son, saying my son was dead but now he is alive!
God knows all of our sins no matter how terrible they might be, but He still wants more than anything to put His arms around you, He wants to cover our filthy garments with His robe of righteousness. He is waiting to turn to the angels and say; “My child was dead, but now he is truly alive!” But friends, the Father is not going to force you to come to Him. You must first, like the prodigal son, humble yourself and start walking towards home. May God bless you as you continue to seek Him through His word.
****The illustration of Charles Preston is fictional.