10th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Dear friends in Christ Jesus: Today we are considering the petition “Heavenly Father…forgive us our sins.” What is forgiveness?
Try to picture that crime scene. It was horrible. Who could’ve ever thought up such injustice, such tragedy? Oh, revenge is sweet, isn’t it? Pay back? Didn’t he have every right to get even? After all he’d been through, after all he’d experienced, after all he’d suffered, and didn’t he have every right for revenge? Remember the account about Joseph in the OT? His own brothers, his own family, seethed with hate against him. So when they saw Joseph coming they plotted, they schemed, “Let’s murder him or let’s sell him into slavery and convince dad that some wild animal attacked and killed him.” So his own brothers did just that. Then in slavery in Egypt things were starting to look up, he was the head of Potiphar’s household, then another crime scene. He was framed, the evidence was falsified against him, and he was thrown into prison for a crime he never committed. How would you feel? Surely, if anyone, God would understand a refusal to forgive, right? And later those same brothers, those criminals, stood bowing before him, now 2nd in command of a powerful nation- he had the opportunity for revenge, to get back at them- after all he was the victim- but instead what did he do? He forgave them.
How could Joseph do that? After being the victim of such horrid crimes? How could he forgive? What’s the answer? Each one of us are in Joseph’s shoes as well, aren’t we? Each one of us has indeed been wronged by someone and probably someone close to us. But that isn’t the worst part. The worst part is that each one of us here, like Joseph, has committed the worst crime possible. Each one of us has sinned; we have wronged the almighty God of the universe. Because we’ve committed this crime we deserve to die eternally. We’re in a desperate situation. The only escape from rightful punishment that we have is… forgiveness from God. Joseph understood that and we do too.
Thankfully in His Word God tells us that He has forgiven us. And what’s His forgiveness like? God’s love and forgiveness have always been there- even before we ask for it or realize we need it. God’s forgiveness is full and complete- when He forgives He forgets. God loves and rejoices in forgiving sinners. And God’s forgiveness begins with Him. What a comfort and joy it is to know that! We don’t have to wonder if God’s forgiven us, we don’t have to doubt God’s forgiveness, we don’t have to do anything to earn God’s forgiveness! He gives it freely!
So, why then do we pray, “Our Father…forgive us our sins”? Even before we prayed for it, God already gave us forgiveness because He already told us what He’s already done for us in His Son Jesus. When Jesus died on that cross He didn’t leave any sin of any person unpaid for, on the cross Jesus said, “It is finished” and God does not lie. So why pray this petition? We pray that God would lead us to both recognize that we constantly need His forgiveness AND that indeed we have forgiveness because of what Jesus has done for us.
But what about that second part “as we forgive those who sin against us”? Is it hard? Is it difficult? Oh it can be a struggle can’t it? “Well, they sold me into slavery!” “She’s the one who lied about me!” “It’s his addiction that’s deprived our family of the necessities to live!” “We’re the ones who were wronged! Don’t we have rights?” And yet how much five words from the heart change everything: “I’m sorry, I forgive you.” Habits are broken. Patterns are changed. Hurts are healed. Relationships are restored. Loads of guilt are lifted. Love grows.
And what’s the alternative? To not forgive? What happens then? Rifts cause divisions that last months, years, decades! What else? Resentment: clinging to the memory of how someone wronged me and ready to bring it up in a moment, always picking at that scab so that it’ll never heal. Revenge: determining that we know better how to give someone “what they deserve” better than God does. How horrid the cycle of un-forgiveness can be!
Thank the Lord that someone broke that cycle. Thank the Lord that God stepped in and when there was no reason to, no wrong on His part, nothing for Him to gain, He forgave us. In His kindness He did the unthinkable, in His compassion He poured out His heart, in His love He forgave us. It’s because of Him and only because of Him that we’re able to forgive one another. And He’s even told us over and over in His Word how much He’s forgiven us. Our text is one of those examples: (read text)
That’s where it all starts. Forgiveness begins in the heart of God. In the heart of God who so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life! God is the one who did not treat us as our sins deserve but graciously “gave Himself up for us”. God made us His “dearly loved children” and gave us the only possible reasons to be kind, compassionate, loving, and forgiving. He first loved us and “gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” in our place. Now that’s forgiveness! That’s something to imitate! To imitate the love of our gracious Father in heaven!
“Be imitators of God”- literally the Greek says to “mimic” or “to do exactly the way as”? Ok, easy enough…right? Well, let’s think about it. By nature each one of us was born into this world a sinner and therefore God’s enemy and hostile to God. And what did God do? He gave His own Son up on the cross to forgive you and me, His enemies!
Imitate that to my enemy? “What about when I’m wronged, when I’m the victim of a horrid crime, when I’ve suffered terribly at the hands of someone else, when I’m lost in tears at a crime scene against me? Where’s my justice? Let the government use its tool, the sword and carry out justice as it sees fit, but don’t tell me that the church should then use its tool, the Gospel, and tell that low-life that Jesus died for his sin as well. No way! And don’t dare tell me that I should share with him the Gospel. No, put me on the witness stand in God’s courtroom and let me testify at the proper time, I’ll decide what is right. I’ll decide that Jesus’ blood should not count for him. If you were a victim of such a crime you would too!” How horrible…of me. Because if you could see the crime scene that is in my heart you would tell me that Jesus’ blood should not count for me either…and it shouldn’t. Jesus tells me, “When I hate my brother I am a murderer.” There’s nothing clean about that.
And if only that one out of a countless offenses is true, and it is, then this gathering here is a shocking and graphic crime scene. Each one of our hearts is covered in blood. And without words like our text this morning, I would have never known…you would have never known that this blood covering us is not our own. Only the words like our text will tell us that this blood that covers us is the blood payment of Jesus who said, “Let me testify at the proper time and I’ll decide what is right, not according to the crime scene in your heart, but according to the crime scene… on the cross. Because there I took your sins every one of them and washed them clean in my holiness; there God showed you His love; there God forgave you completely; there is now no evidence to convict you, there God forgave your enormous debt of sin.”
At the cross Jesus gave Himself up in your place for you. So know this: Your sins, everyone one of them, have been forgiven completely by God Himself, you are at complete peace with God! That forgiveness is yours! That’s forgiveness to share! So yes, reminded, assured, and motivated by God’s forgiveness in Jesus we pray: “Heavenly Father…forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”