************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 126 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 4, 2012
Q & A 126
"Forgive Us Our Debts"
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34). This is what Jesus said about those who sent Him to die upon the cross.
"Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60). This is what Stephen said about those who were stoning him to death.
Irish raiders captured Patrick, a 16-year-old boy, and sold him into slavery. After six years Patrick escaped. He studied at a monastery in fifth century Scotland. After his studies he asked to be appointed as a missionary and sent to the very place where he had been a slave. He had forgiven the Irish for what they had done to him and wanted them, in turn, to experienced the forgiveness of God.
In May 1981 a Turkish assassin attempted to kill Pope John Paul II. In January 1984 John Paul visited the assassin in prison and forgave him. He embraced his enemy and pardoned him.
Try to imagine life without forgiveness. It would be terrible, wouldn't it? All of us would be left in our sin and misery. None of us would have any hope for salvation and everlasting life. The church would be a shambles because people that cannot forgive one another would hate each other and fight each other. Families and marriages would break apart.
In teaching us the how of prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray about forgiveness: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven us our debtors."
I Forgive Us Our Debts
A The first part of this petition is easy enough to understand: "Forgive us our debts."
"Forgive us our debts." To pray this petition we need to know something about ourselves. To pray this petition we need to know we have a debt with God. A huge debt. A debt that increases every single day. A debt that we can never repay.
What is this debt? The Catechism mentions "the sins we do" and "the evil that constantly clings to us." Notice, the Catechism mentions our corrupt nature and our corrupt practices, the sinful nature we are born with as well as the sin we actually commit.
According to Scripture, the debt of sin means man has a monumental debt with God. We are to picture a debt bigger than the national debt of the United States. We are to picture a debt that is worse than the current situation of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain. We have to picture a debt so big that not even the interest can be paid. We have to picture a debt that gets bigger every single day. Remember Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:21-35)? A servant owed his master ten thousand talents (that is, millions of dollars). There was no possible way to pay this debt. We are like that servant. Truly, man's situation is hopeless and helpless.
You may wonder how we increase our debt every day? Every day God says to us, "Love Me. Love Me above all." Every day we say back, "I will not. I cannot not." Every day God says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Every day we say back, "I cannot. I will not." Every day that we do not perfectly love God and neighbor, we increase our debt.
B "Forgive us our debts." To pray this petition we also need to know something about God.
"Forgive us our debts." We need to know that we have a Father in heaven Who loves us. We need to know that we have a Father in heaven Who is merciful. We need to know that we have a Father in heaven Who is eager to forgive. We need to know we have a Father in heaven Who is like a shepherd who goes after a lost sheep until he finds it. We need to know we have a God in heaven Who is like a compassionate father who runs to his wayward child, throws his arm around her, and kisses her. As Jonah put it,
(Jonah 4:2) I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.Or, as Micah puts it,
(Micah 7:18-19) 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.Or, as the Psalmist puts it,
(Ps 103:8-13) The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (9) He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; (10) he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (11) For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; (12) as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (13) As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
C "Forgive us our debts." Not only must we know that God is eager to forgive but we must also know that no one but God can forgive us our debt (Lk 5:21). We cannot earn forgiveness. We cannot find another creature to pay the debt for us. God, and God alone, is the only source of forgiveness. So, we pray to Him.
D "Forgive us our debts." We also need to recognize man's greatest and most important need is a relationship with God. Sin breaks that relationship. Sin is like a great, big wall standing between us and God. Sin is a wall of enmity that keeps us apart from God.
"Forgive us our debts." Forgive us so we can have a relationship with the King of the Universe. Forgive us so the desire of our heart can be satisfied. Forgive us so we can walk with God and talk with God and enjoy Him forever.
E "Forgive us our debts." How do we fallen sinners even dare to pray this? How do we with our ever-increasing debt even dare to ask this? "Because of Christ's blood" I can pray this. Because of Christ's atonement I can be bold enough to approach the throne of grace for mercy and grace in my time of need (Heb 4:16).
"Forgive us our debts." I can be bold enough to say this because I have been joined to Jesus in His death and resurrection. I can be bold enough to say this because I confess Jesus as Lord and believe in Him as Savior (Rom 10:9-10).
II As We Also Have Forgiven Our Debtors
A "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." This fifth petition recognizes two big needs. First, as I already mentioned, we all need a relationship with God. Second, we need a relationship with one another.
How important is our relationship with one another? So important that the command to love one another is repeated more often than any other command in the Bible. It is mentioned 136 times in the New Testament alone.
Remember the summary of the Law? You are to love your neighbor as yourself.
B However, we humans are such bone-heads. We keep hurting one another. We keep on biting and devouring each other. "Watch out," says Paul, "or you will be destroyed by each other" (Gal 5:15).
Consciously or unconsciously, we sin against each other as often as we sin against God. So we need to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
In pre-marital counseling I spend some time teaching couples how to fight. I tell the couples there are going to be disagreements and I expect them to handle the disagreements in a Christian fashion. So, I give them certain rules to live and fight by:
-Rule 1: Ask God for help.
-Rule 2: Read what the Bible says about strife, fighting, quarreling, and contention.
-Rule 3: Memorize Bible verses that speak to this.
-Rule 4: Analyze your strife and
a) ask yourself if what you did was Biblical
b) admit the ways in which your erred
c) think what you could have done differently
-Rule 5: Don't make your fight public by running to family or friends. Unless your life is in danger, your fights are none of their business.
-Rule 6: Work at changing yourself rather than changing your partner.
-Rule 7: Pray for forgiveness.
I lecture the husband-to-be about loving his wife in the same way as Christ loves the church – in a sacrificial way. I speak to the wife-to-be about submitting to her husband's spiritual leadership in the same way as the church submits to Christ.
Yet, we keep breaking these basic rules, don't we? As husband and wives we need to forgive one another. So we need to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
"Love one another." We fail this not only as husbands and wives but also as brothers and sisters. We fail this as church members. We fail this in every one of our relationships. So, again and again, we need to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
C "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Forgiveness is not easy and natural for us, is it? All sorts of people want to nurse their anger, cling to their hatred, and hold on to grudges. All sorts of people go to bed angry at the people around them.
I was attending a men's conference. The speaker made us break up into groups of four or five. Each person had to tell the others the names of the people with whom he was angry. I was amazed and shocked at what I heard. Everyone of the men were especially angry with the women in their life: their mother, their wife, their secretary, their daughter. Most of them were angry with their brothers and co-workers too. I remember thinking, "What a lot of anger!"
Jesus knows this about the human heart. He knows our sin. He knows our need. So He taught us to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
All of us, if we are honest enough to admit it, like to use a double-standard when it comes to forgiveness. We prefer God to be lenient. We prefer God's forgiveness of us to be easy and quick and automatic. When we curse instead of bless, or hurt instead of heal, or show ingratitude instead of thanks, that's when we want God to be lenient. When we step out on our own and ignore all of God's warnings and love, we like those moments erased from God's mind.
What's more, we like all our friends and neighbors to also operate by the standard of leniency. When we cruelly poke fun of them, we would like them to have all smiles in return. When we tell lies about them, we like it all forgotten when we are caught. And if we try to cheat, or gossip, or ruin their reputations, we would like them to forgive us as soon as they find out.
But when someone hurts us, forgiveness comes less easy. When we hear others speak bad of us and slander our name, we are not inclined to forgive slurs or accusations. If they hurt us, we think up schemes to get even with them. When it comes to paying debts, we are all for charity. But when it comes to collecting debts, then it is payment due in full.
Many times we are like the Pharisees: so quick to condemn and so slow to forgive. I usually don't like to mention this story, but the King James Version of the Bible contains the story of the woman caught in adultery.
A whole crowd of people were panting to cast the first stone. Jesus silenced them and shamed them with, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." The crowd silently departed one by one. "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir." "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin" (Jn 8:7ff).Like Jesus, we are to be slow to condemn and quick to forgive.
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
We pray for a two-fold grace. We pray, first, for God's grace for us. After all, our relationship with God is the most important relationship in our life. So, we want the sin that comes between us and God to be forgiven.
Secondly, we pray that we may show grace to others. After all, these are the people we live with, work with, play with, and pray with.
You know, or you should know, that the two graces are joined together. Those who are forgiven by God always make a point of forgiving their neighbor. Those who are forgiven by God cannot help but forgive their spouse, their children, their parents, their co-workers, their fellow church members.
Let me end this sermon on forgiveness with the story of Corrie ten Boom. Corrie ten Boom was one of the few survivors of Ravensbruck, the Nazi concentration camp where 96,000 women died. In her book, "Tramp for the Lord", she recounted her experience after she returned to Germany in 1947 to preach God's forgiveness.
One night in a Munich church, she met one of her former guards. She was overwhelmed with memories of the man's inhumane cruelty. The guard approach Corrie, thrust out his hand, and asked for forgiveness. She stood there frozen, unable to lift her hand; her words about forgiveness echoed hollow in her ears.
Then, as she wrote in her book, "I prayed silently. 'I can lift my hand. I can do that much.' And so, woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did ... healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. 'I forgive you, brother!' I cried ... For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I have never known God's love so intensely as I did then."
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
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