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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
Preached At:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
Title:To Err Is Human - To Forgive Is Divine!
Text:LD 51 Q & A 126 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness of Sins

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

To Err Is Human – To Forgive Is Divine!

Sermon by

Rev. S. Bajema

on LORD’S DAY 51

of the Heidelberg Catechism

Scripture Readings: Matthew 6:9-15; 18:21-35



Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ…


A word that’s not very popular today is ‘sin’. Though, when has sin ever been something we have really wanted to talk about? Especially our own sin.

And what is sin anyway? That’s another aspect of our modern age. Who in our society would have heard of the word “sin”, let alone deliberately avoid speaking about it?

And, anyway, isn’t a sinner a bad person - the car thief; the wife basher; the child molester? Things might be getting bad out there but most people seem to live decent, ordinary, respectable lives.

So why pray asking to be forgiven? And why asking to be forgiven “our debts”?


Well, a debt is what we owe. This is something we have to pay back. And, so, in our prayer to God, we ask God to forgive us every-time we haven’t given Him what is His. We were created to praise and glorify the Lord for all his goodness - but we haven’t! We were made to serve Him through everything - but we disobey and insult Him! We were meant to be perfect - but we became sinful!

And we all do it. Everyone - everyday! Whether it’s deliberate or accidental, our debt to God multiples exorbitantly hour by hour.

The difference amongst people is that the Christian doesn’t accept it should be so. A true believer realises that he lives in a broken world. He knows how much he reflects this in his own life. So he pleads with God the way we confess in our Catechism: “don’t hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us.” For we know that... TO ERR IS HUMAN.


To err is human

This is the first aspect to this text. For what we do naturally - humanly - is to act sinfully. TO ERR IS HUMAN.

This is what we acknowledge when we pray, “And forgive us our debts.” We say to the Lord that everyday we sin. Before we can receive forgiveness we first own up to the fact that we have sinned.

Prayer is, after all, being honest with God. And we honestly have to pray that we haven’t made the grade. Whether you’re been a Christian for fifty years, or just five minutes, there’s no difference - absolutely no difference! We all have to keep coming back to the blood of Christ.

This is what Hebrews 9 verse 12 declares. It says about the Lord, “he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” And further on in Hebrews 9 verse 24, it says, “For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear before us in God’s presence.”


It’s because Jesus died that we now keep coming back. If He had not sacrificed Himself we wouldn’t be communing with God anyway! In the words of one preacher, “The really unforgivable sin is the denial of sin, because, by its nature, there’s now nothing to be forgiven.”

Much as we may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, we yet live in a sinful world, with bodies and minds and hearts which are so frail and broken. The more we mature in faith the more we actually realise how sinful we are! Then we find we must turn even more to our Heavenly Father through the blood of Christ.

Forget any idea that God’s going to listen to you because He is our Father and He will forgive us because He loves us. He’s no jolly old Santa Claus who’s going to give you a present anyway!

I mean, how did He show His love? Which way does His love come?

It’s only the cross of the Lord which is the way you are forgiven. It’s this which the apostle John wrote so clearly in his first letter chapter 2. For he says there in the verses 1 and 2, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will no sin. But if anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence - Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”


To forgive is divine

TO ERR IS HUMAN. But... TO FORGIVE IS DIVINE. Our second aspect to this request in the Lord’s Prayer.

It can be no other way! For it doesn’t come naturally! That’s why we pray, after having asked “And forgive us our debts,” that additional phrase, “as we have forgiven our debtors.”

I mean, we’re praying after all! We’ve been drawn out of this world to be able to talk with Almighty God. There’s this incredible connection with the Holy and Almighty LORD. So, how could we pray in the first place if something didn’t happen in our hearts so that we know God and can talk heart-to-heart?

That something, congregation, is the forgiveness of your sins through the blood of Christ. But not being forgiven is something that could break us with the Lord again. And then it’s not that we no longer have the forgiveness of the Lord, but because we didn’t extend that forgiveness to others.


This is so important that Jesus explains it further after He finishes saying the Lord’s Prayer to His disciples. As we read in the verses 14 and 15 of Matthew 6, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

We also read this later in Matthew 18 - in ‘The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.’ If that servant had to pay those millions of dollars - which is our modern equivalent - he would have had a reason to make a start on this bloke who owed him a few dollars. But his life had changed right around. He was now free of his debt! And he refused to share that with his fellow servant.


The famous writer of children’s stories, Robert Louis Stephenson, showed the way we should be affected by the Lord’s forgiveness. When he lived in the South Pacific, every morning he would lead family worship with his household. This time always finished with the Lord’s Prayer.

One morning, though, in the middle of this prayer, he got up from his knees and left the room. Now, he wasn’t a healthy man - in fact, he was living in Samoa because of his health - so his wife followed him, thinking he was ill. She asked him, “Is there anything wrong?” Then Stephenson replied, “Only this, I am not fit to pray the Lord’s Prayer today.”

No-one is fit to pray the Lord’s Prayer as long as the unforgiving spirit controls his heart, no matter how great he might seem to be. If we haven’t put things right with those around us, we can’t put things right with God.


You see, then we’re not really open. That’s not praying. The words may appear to be piously coming out, but now they poison the very communion which should be blossoming out through us!

Friend, there is the closest possible connection between human and divine forgiveness. So to be unforgiving to others is cutting ourselves off from the forgiveness of God. When someone is honestly sorry for their wrong to us, and they’re trying to show that, we have to acknowledge God’s Work. And then, like Him, to forgive means we forget.


In Psalm 103 the Lord says that when He forgives us our sins He puts it behind His back. Now physically we know that God doesn’t have a back. But the meaning is clear. He takes our sins - that terrible debt we owe Him and which we can never repay - and He forgets it!

So, who are we to drag up old wrongs which have been forgiven? How many people haven’t gone from one church to another - and even to others - because they couldn’t forget what had been forgiven?

Who among us now is carrying this burden of what we feel someone did against us? And they could be sitting just a few rows in front, behind or on the other side!


The Lord doesn’t gloss over sin. Forgiveness is no easy salve for all our wrongs. Just as we don’t like it when someone says sorry and then carries on doing that wrong all over again, God doesn’t like it when we do the same. I mean, it cost His Son! He paid the ultimate price!

So when we’re praying we’re saying it’s costing us a lot as well. Because look what we’re asking! In this request we’re actually asking the Lord to imitate us. We’re asking Him to forgive us our debts, as we have done the same to others. We are called to forgive first and to make this matter of forgiveness real in our lives every day. And since this is happening in our lives we pray and ask God to follow in our steps. While in every other thing we have to copy God, here it’s the opposite.

What an opportunity! How incredible that we can be as God to those right next to us in our own creative, fresh and individual way! And it’s nothing we have to do because it’s what we already are!

Paul said it in Ephesians 4 verse 32. In his words there, we are meant to be “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” In fact, this forgiving is so much a part of our new character that the apostle John writes in his first letter chapter 4, verse 20, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he hasn’t seen.”


This is the spirit the Catechism describes to us. For look what’s living in us! “Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbours.” Then we take it beyond the human. We prove that... TO FORGIVE IS DIVINE.

William Penn brought out this difference so vividly. He once said, “If I am even with my enemy, the debt is paid; but if I forgive him, I oblige him forever.” You see, the Lord obliged us forever with the forgiveness through Christ’s blood. Though there was no way we could ever even begin to start paying back our debt, He took it away.

That’s exactly what we are like to others. We don’t take - we give! We place them in such a privileged position they will know it’s not human.


During one of the persecutions of the Armenians by the Turks, an Armenian girl and her brother were pursued by a blood-thirst Turkish soldier. He trapped them at the end of a lane and killed the brother before the sister’s eyes. The sister managed to escape by leaping over the wall and fleeing into the country.

Later she became a nurse. And one day a wounded soldier was brought into her hospital. She recognised him at once as the soldier who had killed her brother and had tried to kill her. His wounds were that bad that the least amount of neglect or carelessness on her part would have cost him his life. But she gave him the most painstaking and constant care.

One day when he was on the road to recovery he recognised her as the girl whose brother he’d murdered. He said to her, “Why have you done this for me who killed your brother?” She answered, “Because I have a religion which teaches me to forgive my enemies.”


Is that your faith, too, friend? Do you turn the other cheek?

That’s certainly what Jesus did. Hanging there on the cross, suffering the pains of hell itself, He could yet ask to His Father to forgive those who had done this to Him. And you have to carry your cross as well!






Let’s pray...

O Father of our Lord Jesus, we owe You the greatest debt of all; the debt of thankfulness for all You have done, and for everything You continue to do for Your own chosen children in Your Son.

What did we deserve? How could we repay? But we can pray! We’re speaking to You right now by faith. And we know the way that faith forgives. We can forget when we’ve been forgiven.

Maybe those people we forgive Lord don’t mean it. Perhaps they aren’t really sorry. But who are we to talk? We who have been forgiven so many times. More than seven times seventy!

But if we’ve lived for You, no matter how many times we’ve tripped and fallen; if our hearts mean it, we forgiven. What release! What inner joy! The peace that passes all understanding!

Oh, Prince of Peace don’t stop now. Rule in and through us that Your way is ours - everyday! Amen.






* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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