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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Our Master Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father for forgiveness
Text:LD 51 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 82

Psalm 103:1,4,5

Hymn 63:1,6

Hymn 1

Psalm 134

Scripture readings:  Jeremiah 31:31-37, Matthew 18:21-35

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 51

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

A few years ago, a young man attended a Bible study at a black church in the United States, in Charleston, South Carolina.  He was warmly welcomed there.  After a while, however, he took out a gun and started shooting.  He killed nine people, including the senior pastor.  It was sad and tragic.  But what happened at the shooter’s bond hearing was remarkable.  Some of those who’d lost loved ones confronted the shooter.  They told him how he’d hurt them and their families.  Then they forgave him.  Anthony Thompson lost his wife Myra.  He said, “I forgive you, and my family forgives you.  But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Change your ways.” 

Now someone might be inclined to say that this was backwards.  Someone might be inclined to point out that forgiveness really can’t happen without repentance and someone asking for forgiveness.  Technically perhaps that’s true.  But when someone is going through a tragedy, do we really need to criticize them for saying “I forgive you,” when they should have said, “I’m prepared to forgive you” or whatever other more correct way there is to say it?  This isn’t the time to beat someone up over their imprecise words.  Instead, we should commend them for showing a gracious Christian attitude to someone who hurt them terribly.  Brothers and sisters, if one of us were to be hurt in this sort of tragic way, I pray we’d have the same gracious forgiving hearts as the members of that church in Charleston.  It’s a powerful gospel testimony to the world. 

This afternoon we’re learning about forgiveness in the context of the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  Our chief prophet and teacher wants us to understand how we forgive others and how God forgives us, so we can pray accordingly.   So I preach to you God’s Word with this theme, Our Master Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father for forgiveness

We’ll learn about:

  1. The meaning of forgiveness
  2. The basis of forgiveness
  3. The practice of forgiveness

In the fifth petition, Christ teaches us to pray for forgiveness.  If we’re going to pray about forgiveness, then naturally we need to know what we’re praying for.  What is forgiveness?  What does it involve?  We can’t take it for granted that everyone knows the answer.  Perhaps you’ve forgotten the definition of forgiveness.  There are kids here this afternoon and maybe this is the first time they’re listening and learning about forgiveness.  Well, listen carefully and we’ll learn together what forgiveness is all about.

Here’s what it means:  forgiveness is about fixing a broken relationship.  We have to imagine a person who has sinned against another person.  They had a good relationship.  But the hurt caused the relationship to break down.  There were hard feelings.  The sin caused an obstacle to go up between the two people.  The hurt put up a wall between them and that wall has made it impossible for there to be a good relationship.  Forgiveness fixes this.  When forgiveness happens, the relationship is restored.  The obstacle is taken out of the way, the wall is taken down.  The relationship is again friendly and healthy.  This is a good starting place for understanding what biblical forgiveness looks like.

However, we can and should go further and deeper.  Forgiveness is also a promise.  The one who forgives makes a promise to the one who asks for forgiveness.  There’s a commitment that the offence of the forgiven will never be brought up again.  The offence will never be used against you.  The one who forgives also promises not to talk about it with others or to hold on to it in their own heart.  You see, forgiveness is the promise of release.  The one forgiven is released from their offence.  They won’t be punished for it or held to account for it.

We see that beautifully illustrated in what we read from Jeremiah 31.  In that passage, God speaks of the age of the new covenant administration.  His people will have his law on their hearts and they will know him.  And then we read in verse 34, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  There are two things we should notice here.  First, forgiveness comes in the context of a restored covenant relationship.  That shows us how forgiveness is indeed about fixing a broken relationship.  The other thing to notice is that forgiveness and forgetting parallel each other here.  God says that he will forgive and no more remember their sins.  Those two things go together.  Forgiveness means no more remembering a sin – forgetting the sin.  God says he forgives and forgets.  What that means is that sin is taken out of the way in the relationship – it’s not a barrier or obstacle to covenant fellowship with the holy God.

All of us need this forgiveness from God.  After all, we’re all sinners.  Every day we sin against our Father.  So our Master Jesus teaches us poor sinners to pray for this forgiveness.  When he teaches us to pray for that, he doesn’t mean that we do it only once, or that we do it only on Sundays, but that we do it all the time.  “Father, please forgive us our debts” is to be heard constantly in our prayers.

But someone might say, “Why do we need to pray constantly for forgiveness?  If we believe in Jesus Christ, aren’t all our sins forgiven?  When we trust in Christ, don’t we have forgiveness of all our sins, past, present, and future?  So why pray every day for forgiveness?”  The simple answer is that Jesus taught his disciples to do this, and we’re his disciples too.  Don’t you think that when he taught the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples that they believed in him and had all their sins forgiven through him?  Yet he taught them to pray the fifth petition.  The same is true for us. 

All right, but then we could say, “Why?  Why did Jesus teach his disciples to pray the fifth petition if all their sins are already forgiven through him?”  Here we need to notice something crucially important in the Lord’s Prayer.  Our Master Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father, also for forgiveness.  He is teaching us to pray to the one who is already our Father.  There’s already a covenant bond with him.  You see, we aren’t praying to God as our Judge, but to him as our Father.  In other words, we’re not asking for judicial forgiveness, but for parental forgiveness.  Judicial forgiveness is what we have in our justification.  Justification means that, as our Judge, God has declared us right with himself.  The Judge has declared that we are forgiven, released from all our sins, and we are positively right with him.  That’s judicial forgiveness and that happens when someone places their trust in Jesus Christ at the beginning of their Christian life.  That happens once, at a certain point.  And from that point forward, the believer has God as their Father.  The believer, however, is still a sinner.  He or she still continues to have transgressions and the “evil which still clings to us,” in the words of our Catechism.  But now this is in the context of the relationship of a Father with his children.  When Christ teaches us to pray to our Father for forgiveness, this is about parental forgiveness.  We know how we’ve displeased our Father with our sins.  We know how our sins are out of place in this relationship we have with our Father.  We know the guilt and discomfort our sins create in our hearts and this needs to be addressed.  We know he’ll always be our Father, but we also know we need to go to him in confession and seek his forgiveness.  That’s what Christ is teaching us to do in the fifth petition.

So, brothers and sisters, let’s every day go to our Father in the way taught by our Master Jesus.  Every day go to him with confession of your sin.  Repent from your sin, tell him that you turn from it and you hate it.  And ask your Father to forgive you.  He promises to do that.  He promises to assure you again of his love and the peace you have with him through the gospel.

What is the basis of forgiveness?  That’s our second point this afternoon.  We need to divide this up.  First, we need to consider the basis of God’s forgiveness of us.  Then we can look at the basis of our forgiveness of others.   

Why would God forgive our sins as either Judge or Father?  The answer to that has to do entirely with the gospel.  The gospel is the good news – remember, that’s what gospel means.  Gospel means good news.  The good news is that we have a Saviour who paid the debt we owe to God’s justice so we’re forgiven, so we’re released, and restored to a relationship of fellowship with God.  The Catechism expresses that with the words at the beginning of answer 126, “For the sake of Christ’s blood…”  It’s because of what Christ has done for us on the cross that we are forgiven.  God forgives us as a Judge because of Christ.  God forgives us as a Father because of Christ.  We have forgiveness with God in every sense only because we have Jesus as our Saviour. 

So when we pray and seek forgiveness from our Father, we should always express that.  It should be made explicit every time.  Why?  So we’d never take the gospel for granted and so we honour our Saviour and his work for us.  Every time we pray, we should tell our Father we’re asking for forgiveness not because of anything we’ve done, but only because of what Christ has done for us.  Loved ones, we have to make it our habit to pray like that.  If we don’t, we may still be asking for forgiveness, but we’d be in danger of forgetting why God can and does forgive our sins.  We’d be in danger of forgetting the gospel and the Saviour it speaks of.  That would be dishonouring to God and damaging to us. 

But what about forgiving others?  On what basis can we extend forgiveness to our neighbours who may hurt or offend us?  When someone comes to us and asks for forgiveness, we can and must forgive because we’ve been forgiven so much by our gracious God through Jesus Christ.  We’ve received so much grace from above that it simply has to overflow in our relationships here below.  The Christian who’s experienced the grace of God is going to want to share that and display that with others. 

Admittedly, this isn’t always easy.  It doesn’t come naturally to us to forgive those who’ve sinned against us.  Our natural inclination is to seek payback or revenge.  Even when they’re sorry for what they’ve done, we may want to see them get what they deserve or worse.  But Scripture says in Romans 12:17, “Repay no one evil for evil…”  And in 1 Peter 3:9, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”  In Lord’s Day 40, we confess how the sixth commandment includes putting away “all desire of revenge.”  Doing this requires grace from God, grace available from the Holy Spirit.  Brothers and sisters, to receive this grace, we need to pray for it.  Pray to your Father and ask him to give you a gracious heart that’ll show grace to the undeserving.  Pray for God to give you a heart to grant forgiveness to those who sin against you.

Before we move on to our third point, I just want to briefly address the question of the connection between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others in the fifth petition.  Christ teaches us to pray, “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  That might be misunderstood, as if we’re asking for God’s forgiveness on the basis of our forgiveness of those who sin against us.  It may sound like our Father forgives us because we forgive others.  This isn’t the case.  Our Catechism speaks of our determination to forgive as being evidence of God’s grace in our lives.  Our willingness to forgive others is the fruit of God’s grace shown to us in Jesus Christ.  When we’re willing to forgive others, it shows that the gospel has found roots in our hearts.  The gospel is bearing fruit.  But the basis is always the gospel – it’s not what we do or might be willing to do, but what God in his grace has done for us and in us.           

Last of all, there’s the practice of forgiveness.  We’ve already touched on this a little bit, but let’s now go a little bit further.  We can do that with the help of the parable told by our Master Jesus in Matthew 18.

But first, think of what happens in another passage, in Luke 7:36-50.  There Christ came into the house of a Pharisee named Simon.  A woman who’d been a notorious sinner also came into the house and cleaned his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and then anointed his feet with expensive perfume.  Christ used that occasion as a teaching moment.  He taught those listening that God’s great forgiveness leads to the sinner’s great love.  Because she’d been forgiven so much, she loved the Lord much and showed it.  The emphasis in that passage fell on the vertical, on the sinner’s love for the Lord because of the forgiveness received from him.

This passage from Matthew 18 also speaks about forgiveness, but the emphasis here is on the horizontal.  The emphasis here is on human beings forgiving one another in view of the forgiveness they’ve received from above.  It’s a well-known parable.  A servant owes the king a huge amount of money – ten thousand talents equals 200,000 years’ worth of wages.  In today’s terms, this is millions or even billions of dollars.  The king graciously forgives this enormous debt.  Then the forgiven debtor goes out and encounters a fellow servant who owed him a hundred days’ worth of wages – 100 denarii.  This is a relatively small amount.  The forgiven servant gets all worked up over it, chokes his debtor, and even has him put in prison.  Being forgiven so much didn’t put him in a forgiving mood!  The king finds out about it.  He’s outraged.  The end result is that the first servant ends up in prison with a life sentence.  It’s a powerful story with a pointed message.  If you’ve been forgiven much by your Father in heaven, it’s going to have to show in your life.  There’s got to be forgiveness for your neighbour from your heart.  If that forgiving spirit isn’t there, it shows you haven’t really understood or believed the gospel.

So we’re reminded by this passage to pray to our Father for soft hearts that are gracious and merciful to the people around us.  If you’re united to Christ, you don’t want to be that unforgiving servant, do you?  That thought should be repulsive to you.  I’d hate to have someone compare me to that man in the parable, and above all, I’d hate for my Father to see me acting like that man in the parable.  Therefore, I need to pray that God would work in my heart with his Holy Spirit to make me a more forgiving person.

When it comes to the practice of forgiveness, there’s one more thing we should notice in answer 126 of our Catechism.  The last two lines speak of us being “fully determined wholeheartedly to forgive our neighbour.”  That’s well-said.  That’s biblical.  Properly understood, forgiveness is a transaction between persons.  There’s the offender and the offended.  Forgiveness involves the offender asking for forgiveness from the offended.  This is what happens between God and sinners.  To be forgiven by God, you need to ask for his forgiveness through Christ.  Human forgiveness is to be modeled on God’s forgiveness.  But now here’s the point:  the gracious God always stands ready to forgive sinners who repent and ask him for forgiveness.  He is fully determined wholeheartedly to forgive those who ask.  He desires that sinners repent, turn to Christ, and live – it’s in Scripture in passages like Ezekiel 18.  And we are called to reflect this God who doesn’t desire the death of the wicked. 

There may be instances where someone has offended us and they never ask for forgiveness.  You may have pursued them and spoken with them about their offence, but they don’t see it or they don’t care and so they just go their way and there’s nothing you can do.  Or it can happen that someone offended us and then God called them out of this life before there was an opportunity to speak about the offense.  There was no opportunity for forgiveness to properly take place, for that transaction to happen.  Some of us have experienced that.  In these types of instances, God still calls us to have an attitude of forgiveness, a willingness to forgive, a heart that would definitely forgive if the opportunity were there.  That’s what the Catechism is speaking of at the end of answer 126 – it’s the determination to forgive.  When you’re determined to forgive, you’d do it if you had the chance.  That may not come, it might not be realistic, but in your heart you’re still reflecting our gracious God who always stands ready to forgive sinners.

Now that has to be a matter for prayer too, especially if there are instances where proper forgiveness doesn’t look likely or possible.  We have to ask our Father for the grace to be determined to forgive, even if we can’t actually extend forgiveness for whatever reason beyond our control.  We have to ask him to make us more like him, so that we’ll bring honour and praise to him with what’s going on in our hearts and lives.

Loved ones, forgiveness isn’t easy.  Think of what it took for God to forgive us.  It took the suffering and death of his Son.  An enormous price was paid so we could be released from our debts.  We can praise our Father and thank him that our great debt has been erased.  Forgiveness isn’t easy for us either.  To forgive another human being who hurts you, especially when the hurt is great, that takes enormous grace from the Holy Spirit.  This is why our Saviour teaches us to pray about this regularly.  He wants us to depend on our Father for his forgiveness of us and for our forgiveness of others.  This is a petition which we’ll need to continue praying until Christ returns or until he calls us home.  AMEN.


Heavenly Father,

We thank you for the gospel of our forgiveness.  Thank you that through Jesus Christ, all our sins are forgiven.  We’re released from our enormous debt and in a relationship of fellowship with you.  As your children, Father, we know we still sin against you regularly.  So we ask you to continue to forgive our sins, not as our Judge, but now as our Father.  Please do that because of our Saviour and what he has done for us on the cross.  Father, we also ask for your continued work in our hearts.  With your Spirit, please make us fully determined wholeheartedly to forgive those who offend us or sin against us.  Make us kind and merciful.  When we have the opportunity to forgive, please give us the grace to do it and in a way that honours you and serves the good of our neighbour.  Let your forgiveness for us overflow into our lives.  Father, we want to reflect your kind and forgiving heart, and we ask for the Spirit to work that in us.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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