Forgiveness: Received And Given

Text:  Matthew 18:21-35 and the Fifth Petition of the Lord's Prayer

We will never reach the point in this Christian life that we will not need the forgiveness of sins; therefore, we will never stop praying the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

It is true my friends, because we daily sin, we daily need the Lord’s forgiveness.  Furthermore, because we daily sin and are sinned against, our relationships with one another are often “marred by sinful words and actions, some recurring over and over again. In every marriage, in every family, in every friendship, Christians [like you and me] will be faced with the situation in which forgiveness is requested of us [and given to us]—again”[1] and again and again.

And so we pray the fifth petition.

We pray, because forgiveness is not natural to our sinful nature.  Left to ourselves, we tend to limit forgiveness to others.  We are often more interested in justice and keeping score of other people’s wrongs towards us, rather than forgiving.

This is the way that it is with the old Adam.  We want to be let off the hook, but rarely apply that same standard to others.  We don’t want to pay our debts, but expect others to pay theirs.  We want free handouts but expect others to dig themselves out of their own graves.    

It actually gets a lot worse than this though.  You see, when “Satan gets another Christian to sin against us in deed or word . . . Satan gets us to brood over it, like a stuck track or a video loop, repeatedly and obsessively in our minds, with every greater emphasis on the gravity and injustice of it.  As we process the offense and its effect on us, Satan gradually distorts our remembrance and our assessment of it.  He uses this offense to encourage us to bring our mental accusations against the offender in the court of our minds.  There he presides over the proceedings as we hold a secret trial in which we both prosecute and pass judgment on the wrongdoer.”[2]   

Instead of forgiving our neighbor, we end up brooding on the offense.  The more we think over the offense, “the angrier we get against the offender.  We remember all the other offenses that we have ever suffered from that person and all the other people that have ever hurt us.  And that fuels our anger and our desire for justice.  We maintain that we are in the right; we are justified in our judgment of them.  We hold the moral high ground against them.  Then, before we know it, we have [abandoned prayer and forgiveness, which then leads to anger.  This embedded anger does not lie dormant, but] leads to bitterness and resentment.  This, in turn, leads to outrage, hatred, and lust for revenge. And so we end up stewing in our own poison.”[3]  

“When we begin to hate those whom we should love [and forgive], Satan has us where he wants us.  Once hatred sets in, he can slowly and patiently dislodge us from the Church and from Christ.”[4]  

My friends, this is all quite the opposite of forgiveness and it is the opposite of the fifth petition of The Lord’s Prayer. This “hatred is spiritual suicide, [for it assassinates forgiveness.]  It marks the end of eternal life, the new life we have in Christ.  [You see,] anger is seductive because it makes us feel justified in hating those who have hurt us.  We are right and they are wrong.  We are right in hating them and taking revenge on them because they are our enemies.  The revenge that we take is subtle and hidden.  We don’t usually attack them physically or verbally, but emotionally and spiritually.  We write them off and give them the cold shoulder [keeping forgiveness from them].  We reject them in our hearts, dissociate ourselves from them, and treat them as if they were dead to us.  Sadly, by cutting ourselves off from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we cut ourselves off from Christ as well.  The upshot of that is withdrawal from the family of God and increasing isolation in the darkness of hatred.  That is a kind of spiritual suicide, for hatred opens up a secret place for Satan in our hearts,”[5] while simultaneously driving out forgiveness.

Oh, dear Baptized saints, this lack of forgiveness wreaks havoc in the lives of Christians, churches, and communities.  It is destructive.  It is the wishes of Satan and the results of our sinful nature. 

And this is what we pray against in the Lord’s Prayer.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” 

Consider the beginning of this evening’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew.  Yes, in this evening’s Gospel reading we hear that you and I have been “rescued and released from an unfathomable, crushing debt that, by legal right, would otherwise have condemned”[6] us to a lifetime in hell.  It is so true, our sin of withholding forgiveness is forgiven by the one who does not withhold forgiveness from us—Christ forgives you and me.  Your sin and mine of putting people on trial in our minds is forgiven by the one who was tried and condemned guilty on our behalf—Christ forgives you and me.  Your sin of limiting forgiveness from others is forgiven by the unlimited forgiveness of Christ-crucified—for you and for me.  King Jesus cancels all of our whopping debt of sin – a liability that you and I could not possibly repay and He does this because He is rich in love and abounding in grace.  He forgives you and me and considers it well worthwhile.

All this stated, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer that we daily remember, receive, and recline in the Lord’s forgiveness for us.  We pray that as God’s forgiven people that we daily forgive others.  Indeed, “only forgiven people can really forgive.”[7]  This is so, because the Holy Spirit through the Gospel will lead you and me to forgiveness while granting grace and peace to our sometimes confused emotions.  Indeed, as forgiven people we pray in the fifth petition that the Father would set us free from harboring grudges and withholding forgiveness, for Christ sake.  As this happens, we rejoice in the forgiveness received by us and given to others. 

As we continually sin against our neighbor though, we continually pray the fifth petition and receive the forgiveness given by the Lord in the Word and Sacraments.  As others continually sin against us, we continually pray the fifth petition and receive the forgiveness given by the Lord in the Word and Sacraments.

Baptized saints, because of the Father’s merciful nature, you and your neighbors have been forgiven an insurmountable debt of sin, ransomed by the death of Christ.  This is true today, is true for the next seven days, and will be true until He comes again—for you and for me.  Therefore we pray,

Dear Father, we come to you and pray that you will forgive us, not because we can make satisfaction or deserve anything by our own works, but because you have promised and have set this seal on it, making it certain.  We pray that you would keep us from the tactics of the evil one; we pray that we would be delivered from spiritual hatred and that all of our relationships be continually placed in your forgiving love. 

In the name of Jesus:  Amen.

[1] Balge, R. D., & Ehlke, R. C. (1989). Sermon Studies on the Gospels (ILCW Series A) (p. 306). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House.
[2] John W. Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2008), 234-236.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 11:2-20:34: Concordia Commentary, 938.
[7] Francis C. Rossow, Gospel Handles: Finding New Connections in Biblical Texts, 68.

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