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

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 7

Psalm 65:1-3

Hymn 63:1,6

Hymn 1

Hymn 3:5

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 Jesus,

The fifth petition is about forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a rare commodity these days.  Even in the church, people often talk more about apologizing then asking for forgiveness.  There’s often this idea that apologies and forgiveness are the same thing, but the Bible doesn’t teach that.  It’s sometimes been said by Christians that sorry is for accidents, apologizing is for accidents, whereas forgiveness is for sins.  There’s truth in that – it’s a good thing to teach your children.  Sorry is for accidents, forgiveness is for sins.  Nevertheless, expressing sorrow for your wrongdoing is a step in the forgiveness process, but it isn’t the only step, nor the last step.    The Bible teaches us that when we sin, whether against God or one another, we have to seek forgiveness. 

Here in the fifth petition our Lord Jesus is teaching us what to do when we sin against God our Father.  As we’ll see, that also has a relationship to what happens when another person sins against us.  But the focus here first of all is on sins against our Father and forgiveness from our Father.  Our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray for forgiveness from him.

We’ll learn about three things:

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

One of the most important things to understand about forgiveness is that it has to do with relationships.  It’s not in the first place about making us feel better, but about healing a broken relationship.  There’s been some kind of sin or offense that’s damaged the relationship.  When forgiveness takes place, that sin or offense is removed and the relationship is restored to the way that it was before, with the hope that the relationship may even be better than before. 

One of the classic passages from the Old Testament about forgiveness is what we read from Jeremiah 31.  God promises a new covenant with his people.  In this new covenant, the relationship of God to his people will be closer than ever.  The foundation of this relationship is found with God’s forgiveness.  Verse 34 says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  There’s a special poetic device being used here called parallelism.  There are two lines, “I will forgive their wickedness,” and “I will remember their sins no more.”  Those two thoughts are parallel to one another, they explain one another.  What does it mean that God will forgive the wickedness of his people?  Well, it means that he will no more remember their sins.  In other words, he will forget their sins.  The Hebrew word for “remember” in the Old Testament is often used in the context of relationships as well, especially the covenant relationship.  God is saying here in Jeremiah 31 that when he forgives, he no more remembers, he forgets.  That means that the relationship is restored to the way that it should be.  Those sins will never be used against you.  God promises that they’re out of the way and nothing stands between you and your Father. 

That’s the way forgiveness works with God and that’s also the way that forgiveness is supposed to work among people.  Forgiveness is a transaction, an interaction between two persons.  One person asks for forgiveness (at least that’s the way it should ideally happen) and the other person grants forgiveness.  The granting of forgiveness is a promise.  It is a promise that the offense is out of the way and it’ll never be brought up again, not in your own mind, not in conversations with others, and certainly not to the one who offended.  Forgiveness is a promise to no more remember. 

Now when we speak about God’s forgiveness, there are at least a couple of questions that people often ask.  The first has to do with the Day of Judgment.  At the last day, Scripture tells us, the books will be opened and everything we have ever done will be exposed for the whole world to see.  These books are God’s, so doesn’t that actually fly in the face of not remembering our sins anymore?  Doesn’t that actually mean that God isn’t so good about forgetting our offenses? 

To answer those questions, we need to think about a couple of things.  First of all, God’s forgiveness means that our sins are out of the way so that the relationship can be restored and even improved.  We can trust God’s promise that this is the case and that it always will be.  We can further trust that God will never use our sins against us.  And that brings us to the second thing and that’s the character of the opening of those books.  Those books are not opened to shame us, but to vindicate us and to glorify God.  Yes, our sins and everything we’ve done will be laid open and made public and at that day, it will also be clear that Jesus Christ has paid for every single one of them and that we are a forgiven people.  God will be glorified by one and all for the wonderful depth and extent of his salvation.  This will not be a time for shame, but a time for praise: praise for God, praise for our Saviour Jesus Christ.  God will forever keep his promise that our sins will not be used against us – that we are truly forgiven.

That bring us to a second question that people often ask and that has to do with justification.  We believe that justification is a one time event.  When we believe in Jesus Christ, God declares us right with himself.  All our sins are forgiven and we are accounted righteous.  That is a one time event.  It takes place at a particular moment for each and every believer. 

But then there are some people who come along and say that if we are justified, then we are forgiven, all our sins past, present and future have been forgiven.  This is true, but then they go on and say there’s now no need for Christians to continue asking God for forgiveness. This is unnecessary, superfluous and actually undermines what Christ has done.  Once forgiven, always forgiven, they say.

That way of thinking is appealing.  It convinces a lot of people.  But it runs into problems here with the Lord’s Prayer.  Our Lord Jesus teaches his people to pray to the Father for the forgiveness of sins.  It’s clear that this wasn’t meant as a kind of “sinner’s prayer” that someone might pray when they first believe.  The people who pray this prayer already know God as their Father through Jesus Christ. 

That’s really the key to understanding why justified sinners still pray for the forgiveness of their sins.  When we speak about justification and the forgiveness associated with that, we’re relating to God as a judge.  The forgiveness that takes place in our justification is what we call “judicial forgiveness.”  Justification takes place in God’s courtroom, in what we call a judicial context.  In that setting, we have guilt and we are liable to eternal punishment as a just dessert from God as judge.  His declaration of justification lifts the threat of hell from us and establishes a new relationship with God, a relationship in which God is now our Father rather than our judge and enemy. 

Loved ones, you see, that’s the key in the Lord’s Prayer.  We’re taught to address God as our Father.  He’s no longer our judge, but our Father.  This isn’t about judicial forgiveness, but about seeking and receiving forgiveness from our Father in heaven.  This is about parental forgiveness.  When we sin as God’s children, we make ourselves liable to his discipline and chastisement.  God gives us rebuke as correction.  We have a sense of guilt because we displeased and offended our Father.  When we confess our sins to him, we do so as a child speaking to his or her Father.  When the Father forgives us, he lifts the threat of discipline and our relationship with him is improved.  Parental forgiveness, not judicial forgiveness.  That’s why our Lord Jesus teaches us to continue praying for the forgiveness of our sins. 

To make this more practical, let me make a concrete suggestion.  Each day, you pray for the forgiveness of your sins.  Some of us are in the habit of always addressing God as ‘Lord’ in prayer.  In itself, there’s nothing wrong with that.  But look at the way our Lord Jesus teaches us to address God.  He teaches us to address him as Father.  Especially when we confess our sins and seek forgiveness from him, we should always make it our habit to address God as Father.  That way it becomes ever clearer in our own hearts that we’re not seeking judicial forgiveness but parental forgiveness.  We have a right standing with God already through Christ and through the verdict of justification.  Our sins past, present or future will never change that.  But we do need to understand that God is our Father and our sins still displease him and affect our relationship with him.  When you pray and ask for forgiveness, let me encourage you to do so not looking at God as your judge, but as your Father and address him in that way.

Let’s now briefly consider the basis of God’s forgiveness.  Whether judicial or parental, it’s always on the basis of what Christ has done.  That’s why the Catechism says, “For the sake of Christ’s blood...”  On account of what Christ suffered on the cross for us and in our place.  Jesus Christ was the sacrifice which satisfied God’s wrath and paid the penalty which we had incurred against ourselves.  As John puts it in 1 John 2:2, “He is the propitiation for our sins….”  We’re forgiven not because of anything in us, not because of anything we’ve done, but only and entirely because of Christ’s satisfaction.  In 1 John 1:7 we’re reminded that it is the blood of Jesus that purifies us from all sin.  In Ephesians 1:7, the apostle writes that we have forgiveness of sins through the blood of our Lord Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, this is something that we must never take for granted.  Whenever we pray to the Father to forgive our sins, we need to remember to appeal to what Christ has done for us.  We constantly make it clear to our Father that we don’t expect to be forgiven because we’re so forgivable.  Continuously we make it known to our Father that we understand the foundation for our relationship is in Christ, not in us and what we have done. 

Approaching God in this way is biblical and proper and it will bear fruit in our lives in various ways.  Let me just mention one.  Our broader culture encourages us to have pride.  In ages past, the church regarded pride as one of the seven deadly sins.  Today it’s been rehabilitated and it seems like everyone is encouraged to have pride and to think of themselves as highly as they can.  The Bible, however, hasn’t changed.  When we approach God our Father and ask him to forgive our sins because of Christ, we are humbling ourselves before him and that’s a good, biblical posture to be in.  As the old hymn says, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”   Prayer has much to do with our sanctification.  As we pray in the way our Lord Jesus teaches us, the Holy Spirit will more and more shape us into who he wants us to be.  Among other things, he wants us to be people of humility.  Praying, “For the sake of Christ’s blood do not impute to us wretched sinners any of our transgressions nor the evil which still clings to us,” praying like that humbles us.

Before we look at our last point, let me just make a brief remark on the expression “wretched sinners” in the Catechism.  Some people find that expression offensive, as if even Christians are despicable wretches whom God merely tolerates and just barely loves.  So far as I can tell, our edition of the Catechism is the only English version to use this language.  The original German had “poor sinners,” Dutch editions have always had that too.  I don’t want to bore you with the details, but I’d say that we need to understand “wretched” in our edition to mean “poor.”  It simply means we have nothing to offer as the basis for the forgiveness of our sins.  Recognizing that is enough to humble us.  We bring nothing to God except our sin.  Martin Luther’s last words before he died were “We are beggars.  That is true.”  Luther knew it, believed it and understood it.  We are poor, we are nothing and our works are nothing.  Christ is everything.

That bring us to the practice of forgiveness.  Here we’re speaking of our forgiveness of other people, on the horizontal, human level.   What’s the relationship between God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness?  Well, it has nothing to do with the root and everything to do with fruit.  God’s forgiveness bears the fruit of forgiveness in our lives.  

Loved ones, I’d encourage you to think of it in terms of our union with Christ.  Through Christ we are forgiven much.  Christ himself forgave.  Our Lord Jesus was and is a forgiving Saviour.  If we’re united to him through faith and the Holy Spirit, it’s natural and expected that we’d go and do likewise.  And if we should find that we aren’t fully determined wholeheartedly to forgive our neighbours, we should be wondering whether we are truly united to Christ.  A forgiving Saviour is united to a forgiving people, a people who are always ready and willing to forgive others who have hurt them and offended them.

Isn’t that what we learn from the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18?  When asked about how much forgiveness is necessary, our Lord Jesus told this parable to encourage those who have been forgiven much to be forgiving.  This servant owed a huge debt to his master, millions of dollars worth.  He went and begged and the debt was cancelled.  He was forgiven much.  Then going out he found a fellow servant who owed just a few dollars and he demanded repayment and when the man couldn’t repay, he had him thrown in prison.  When the master heard about it, he became furious and tore a strip off that wicked servant and had him tortured.  A man who had been forgiven so much wasn’t inclined to forgive just a little.

Loved ones, as believers in Christ our debt has been cancelled.  When we go to the Father in prayer each day confessing and asking for forgiveness, our sins are forgiven.  Now believing in Christ, we’re to be a forgiving people.  We should be eager to forgive when others ask for it and even when they don’t.  This is one way the gospel comes to expression in our lives – people can see what forgiveness looks like and get a sense of God’s forgiveness.  Nowhere is this more important than in our homes and families.  When husbands sin against their wives, they should go to them and ask for forgiveness.  Wives should do the same when they sin against their husbands, and parents with their children and vice-versa.  When this happens, because of God’s grace shown to us, we should be “fully determined wholeheartedly” to forgive our loved ones.  And do forgive.  And when we do, our children and grandchildren will see and hear this.  They’ll see how believers relate to one another because of the way that God has related to them in Christ.  That will be a testimony to the power of the gospel to transform our lives.  That’s what we want, isn’t it?  We want our children and grandchildren to be impressed with Christ and themselves respond in faith to the promises that have been signed and sealed in their baptism.  Practicing forgiveness in our homes is a powerful means to that end.

So, brothers and sisters, we make it our habit to pray for our Father to forgive our sins because of Christ.  And because of Christ and what he has done for us, because we’re united to him, we too will be a forgiving people, illustrating his forgiveness in our lives.  And do you know what the result of all that is?  In Isaiah 44, God speaks of how he has swept away the offenses of his people like a cloud – that’s a picture of forgiveness.  Then he calls for the heavens to sing for joy and for the earth to shout aloud.  He calls for the mountains, forests and trees to burst into song.  The heavens and the earth, the mountains, forests and trees don’t have mouths to sing and shout.  But we do!  And we will, magnifying God’s worth, making much of him because of our Father’s forgiveness, exalting him also as we forgive others.  AMEN.

* 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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