Summary: Forgiveness and the need we have to give and recieve God’s forgiveness
Ernest Hemingway starts his short story, “Capital of the World” by describing Madrid Spain. He says, there is a Madrid joke about a father who took out an add in a local paper which asked his son, Paco, to meet him in front of the newspaper office. And told him that “all was forgiven”. According to Hemingway’s story, the police had to be called out because some 800 Pacos answered the add.
The idea of a father and son being reconciled might be joke for Hemingway but I know of another Father, a perfect Father, who has sent news that “all is forgiven”. And for centuries people have turned out to see if the news is true. I couldn’t believe the news when I first heard it. And after it became a reality in my life I still could hardly believe it. But it’s true. It’s absolutely, 100%, true. And the release from our past mistakes, crimes, sins, and errors may be the number one need we all face in this life.
I want us to understand what a powerful phrase is before us today. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” We may have learned the words debt or trespasses but the meaning behind both is “sin”. Take these words of Jesus and compare them with how the King James translates Romans 5:18-20. Three places in these verses the phrase “free gift” is used to describe our salvation through Jesus Christ. Does it bother any of you that on hand Paul says our salvation, the grace we’ve been given is “free” and at the same time Jesus makes our salvation conditional on our forgiving others?
I’ve read a lot of commentaries on this part of the Lord’s prayer and was amazed at how some would try all sorts of things to get around the clear statement of Jesus. Let me suggest that the real problem isn’t with Jesus’ words but with the way we have latched on to the idea of “free” salvation. First of all our salvation is NOT free. We may not have to pay for it but someone did. In fact, there is nothing more expensive in all of creation than our salvation. It cost Jesus’ his life. It cost God the uninterrupted intimacy he had with his Son, when God had to turn His back on Jesus while he died. To say salvation is free is to cheapen it.
What I think is often mistranslated in the KJV as “free” is the idea of “gifted”. The Greek root is “to give” and it’s pretty easy to understand it as “free” because we’re talking about “gifts”. After all you don’t pay for a gift. Let me suggest that for us, as the recipients of God’s grace it is free. Free because we can’t and don’t earn it. Free because we can’t pay God back for it. Not free because it doesn’t cost anything.
This gift is offered to us. It is after all a gift not a summons. Years back when we I was cleaning out one of the closets in Hawthorne I came across a Christmas gift for Phyllis that I had forgotten I had hid there. Here it is months after Christmas and I come to here with this jewelry case. Even on the top shelf of the closet, behind the other stuff it was a present; but Phyllis couldn’t receive it because it hadn’t been given to her. Yet even after I gave it to her she had a choice to either open it or leave it wrapped and untouched.
God’s grace is given to us to open and use. It doesn’t automatically overrule our lives and change us. It’s not some universal force that invades us when we sleep. It’s a gift and we are free to ignore it, forget it, or even toss it out. And many people do just that.
Here’s where we begin to understand how these two passages relate. It is when we open it and make this gift our own that the conditional part of forgiveness comes into play. If you do not know Jesus as your Lord and Savior you do not have to treat others as you’d like to be treated. It’s still a good idea but it’s not part of the commands that God has for us. If you do not know Jesus as your Lord and Savior you do not have to pray without ceasing, love your enemies or have your life transformed. You can live like most of the world does, but, as my poster says, “If you’re living like there is no God you’d better pray your right.”
It is only after someone has realized that their life is in need of a makeover and that only God can do it do we become subject to the various commands of Christ. Is that because he’s mean and doesn’t want us to enjoy life? No it’s because he knows what it takes to make life worth living. He knows what a life that knows God looks like.