Prayer I want to lead us in a prayer in regard to the future of this church and the land and the building that we are considering. I'll just confess my frustration in this process so far. We have been trying to purchase a 19 acre piece of land near the corner of Linder and Overland. We have tried and tried and tried to move this thing forward and we are just stuck. Nothing's moving. When we ask why, we get vague unhelpful responses. Everything is just bogged down in mire, in red tape. It feels very discouraging to me right now. But I want to apply what we've been studying here in the Sermon on the Mount. We have been learning that the right way to pray, is thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Let's take a moment to pray for God's will in this building project.
Introduction We are in this section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches us to pray. And each week we are going to pray this prayer together as a way of learning according to the pattern that our Lord taught us:
Now I'm going to read vs 14-15 as well since they are very much connected to our topic for today.
So today we come to topic of asking God to forgive us. It's probably appropriate that this petition comes right after the request for daily bread. Because just like we need to eat daily we need to receive and give forgiveness daily. It's as common and needful as bread. In someways this is our spiritual bread. Forgiveness is the act of forgiving a debt. Now when we think of debt usually we think in terms of a loan. Somebody needs something, so you go to the bank and you take out a loan and now you are in debt until that loan is paid off. But that is not the kind of debt we are talking about here. It's a slightly different concept. Let me illustrate. When I was in seminary I worked for a guy doing maintenance. He owned several dozen apartment complexes and I'd go around doing whatever needed doing. One day he asked me, do you think you could replace this waterline going into the building? It was a giant 2.5" water main that had corroded and was leaking. So I
told the guy, sure, no problem. I spent an entire day excavating this giant pipe. It was a huge trench, six feet deep and maybe 10 feet long. So my plan was to clean up my mess come back early the next morning, turn the water off, make the necessary connections and be done with it. So I threw everything away and was coming back to the front of the complex when all of the sudden I looked over and I saw a small pinprick of water that was misting out of the junction. I thought, hmm, that's strange. I don't remember seeing that. So I got out of my truck. The joint between the 6" street water main and my water meter had a developed a leak. Then suddenly that pinprick turned into a fan of water. And then a low bass shockwave erupted. The joint completely ruptured and a geyser of water shot straight into the air well overtop the three story apartment complex. In seconds my entire trench was filled with water. The bed of my pickup truck that was nearby was filling with water. There was just so much water. And the worst feeling in the world hit me. There was nothing I could do. The leak was on the street side of the water meter. I couldn't shut it off. So this was pre-cell phones for me. So i ran to a random person in the apartment complex and called the the city of Burbank and told them of the emergency. And they said, well that is not good. We have an emergency at the other end of Los Angeles and all our crews are on scene and we won't be able to get there for some time. So that geyser of water ran for six hours before someone was able to come. They had to shutdown Burbank Blvd and screw on a new water meter. Now, I would have to guess that tens of thousands of gallons of water went down the storm drain. Southern California water prices are not cheap. Whose going to pay? Somebody must pay.
Either I will pay. My boss will pay. Or the city will pay.
But somebody will have to pay. When we talk about the debt of sin that needs forgiveness either between us or between one another, that's the kind of debt we are talking about. A debt of damage. A debt where injury has occurred or loss has been experienced. In my particular case, the city forgave me. They could have taken me to court and garnished my wages for the next 80 years of my life. They could have billed my boss. But they forgave me. That doesn't mean they just pretended like it didn't happen. They absorbed the cost. Somewhere in their financial tracking system there is a minus one million gallons of water with an asterix by it that says, "Jason's sin." Sin is not like taking out a loan that you need to repay. Sin is like taking a baseball bat through the whitehouse and blowing out windows. There's damage - real damage. You know what it feels like, don't you? We have had others sin against us. And it doesn't feel like a loan. It feels like a bat. It hurts. It represents injury. It can come in a lot of different forms. We work hard, and are snubbed for our efforts. We are unfairly attacked. We are taken advantage of. The kinder we are the more we are abused. We love and in return are hated. There is damage at every front.
But the damage is not just to us. We aren't just recipients of injury. We inflict it on others and God. There's a thousand reasons we hurt the Lord every day: We boast in our accomplishments. We talk as if our gifts are our own. We take pride in our sin. We ignore our offense. We ignore him. In shame we shrink away from him. We doubt him. We trust in our own wisdom. We disobey his commands. We idolize and worship men rather than God. We ignore his word.
All of this mounts up to a giant debt. So all of this damage with our tongue, with our mouths, with our neglect needs atonement. Someone must pay. Someone has to balance the books. So others hurt us and we hurt the Lord. Now you may have noticed already that there is this very interesting link between our asking the Lord for forgiveness and our extending forgiveness to those who have offended us. There's one word in this section of the prayer that for me functioned as the interpretive key to understand this. It's that little insignificant word "as." This tells you something! It doesn't say: forgive us our debts 'for' we also have forgiven our debtors It doesn't say: forgive us our debts 'only if' we also have forgiven our debtors It doesn't say: forgive us our debts 'as' we also
have forgiven our debtors The word 'as' tells you how those two concepts are related. If I said to you, "As your flying in the plane to Phoenix, look out your window and see the Grand Canyon." That tells you something very specific about the relationship between those two actions. It's a simultaneous action. They have to be happening together. As you face north you are not facing south. As you drink water, its going down your throat. As the sun rises the stars begin to fade.
We could even translate the verse in that sort of way, We could say, "As we receive forgiveness, we forgive our debtors." The reason the simultaneous nature of these two events is so important to point out is to make the point as crystal clear as possible that forgiving our debtors is NOT a prerequisite for being forgiven by Christ. We don't first forgive other people who have wronged us and then Christ will forgive us. That is a horribly gross misunderstanding of the principles involved here. No. So if that is not the idea, what is the idea? The idea is that the same mental state of mind that accompanies asking for forgiveness from God is the same mental state of mind can extend forgiveness to others. It's similar to saying, "If you know how to ride a bike, you can ride a scooter. It's the same skill." There is a fundamental attitude in forgiveness that is the same whether or not you extend forgiveness
or receive it. It's the same 'skill' so to speak. Now you may object and say, "Well doesn't the text say it is a prerequisite. It's setup that way. "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15). That sure sounds like prerequisite to me. Now to be fair, grammatically that could be a prerequisite. But grammatically it just as easily could be a corequisite. I could say, if don't board the plane that flies to Phoenix you won't see the Grand Canyon. In one sense it is a prerequisite. Of course you won't see it unless your on the plane. But in a more important sense it's a corequisite. The events will always coincide. The events always coexist. And that's the way the Bible talks about our forgiveness of others and our receiving of forgiveness from others. They always coexist. Now I want to show you this is not a unique sighting in the Bible. All through the Scriptures Jesus connects the idea of our forgiveness of one another with the forgiveness God has for us. All through the Bible Jesus connects extending forgiveness and receiving forgiveness.
Do you see the tight connection here? As you have been forgiven, forgive. It's astonishing. It's very redundant to make the point. Another place Jesus makes this point (and again, it's terribly strong), is in Mark chapter 11. Do you remember the story where Jesus goes into the city of Jerusalem and on his way in he sees a fig tree that is supposed to have fruit (it's the season for fruit on figs) but when he gets there to inspect it, it actually has no fruit. And he curses it. The next day the disciples go back into Jerusalem they come back to see the fig tree completely withered from the roots up. And the disciples saw it and marveled. And Jesus saw their marveling expressions and said
He's talking about great prayers of faith. Jesus, how did you wither that tree? Jesus says, by Faith. If you pray in faith anything can happen. You could pray that Bogus Basin be tossed into the Pacific and it would obey you. And they are staring with wide eyes, thinking, wow, this is incredible. I want this kind of powerful faith that can move mountains. And then Jesus says something so incredibly unexpected, so seemingly bizarre and off track. And without even taking a breath. Jesus says,
That is unexpected. I thought when we were talking about faith that can move mountains? I thought we were talking about praying in such a way as to pull down the power of God? But instead he says, "Whenever you pray, forgive. Why? So that God who is in heaven may forgive you." What does forgiving others and God's forgiveness of me have to do with great prayers of faith that move mountains and power to shrivel fig trees? Do you see the connection again? It has everything to do with it. The same skill that is necessary to receive forgiveness is the same skill necessary to extend forgiveness which is actually the same skill necessary to pray a prayer of great faith. There is a gospel posture that allows us to do all sorts of great
things. The fruits of the spirit start flowing, love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. You forgive. Your receive forgiveness. You pray great prayers of faith. There is the posture that we adopt where great things happen. What is that gospel posture? What is that common denominator that extends through extending and receiving forgiveness, to prayer to the fruits of the Spirit? What do we mean by gospel posture? When you came to Christ, when you became a Christian, what thoughts were going through your head? Without exception, people who come to Christ have in some way come to the end of themselves. They realize that all their reasons for thinking themselves righteous are groundless. Their confidence in their worthiness gets washed out and collapses. They have this very real sense of being naked before perfect holiness - absolutely laid bare. They can't do anything or bring anything to show that they have worth and value. They realize that the only way they can be righteous is to surrender their efforts and receive a righteousness that is not their own. They suspect everything in themselves and hurl themselves at Christ, trusting entirely in him, in his work, his righteousness, his power.
That is what we mean by a gospel posture. Now do you see how this posture makes both the extending and receiving of forgiveness possible. Of course if you are in this gospel posture your left with no choice but to receive from God. Your not going to try to argue your
righteousness. Your not going to try and defend yourself. All you can do is accept. So it's rather easy to see how this gospel posture leads to receiving forgiveness. But it will also lead to extending forgiveness. People who assume this posture are not proud people. They are humble. They don't see themselves as superior. I understand. Were it not for the grace of God, I'd be in the same situation. I see all those seeds of evil in my own heart. My heart has sympathy for you. I see the blindness caused by sin. I understand the snare of the devil. I've been there myself. I've exactly this same thing. By contrast, people who are angry, bitter, judgmental, unforgiving are people who see themselves as superior. They say to themselves, "How could they. How dare they. I don't see how a human being could treat another humans so terribly. I would never, never do such a thing. That kind of behavior is inexcusable. Its unpardonable. The minute you say about another Christian, “I will not forgive,” that minute you’re also forcefully denying that you need Christ the way that person needs Christ. I need Christ in some less significant sort of way. I'm not like that. I have more intrinsic righteousness than they do. Bitterness is functionally embracing the kind of theology that sends people to hell. I might need God as a slight assistant, or perhaps like a doctor. But I don't need God like that person does. That person needs a savior. The next time you feel unforgiving in your spirit, do a little check. You will be so surprised to find out how how strong that feeling of superiority really is.
Why Does God Make This Connection? So God is making it clear, the same attitude, the same skill, the same posture that makes it possible to receive forgiveness is the same posture that is necessary to extend forgiveness. We have to ask why God goes to such great lengths to make this connection? Time and time again we see, if you don't forgive, you won't be forgiven. Why is this so often repeated? Answer: because we are so easily deceived. So easily. It is so easy to think we want forgiveness, when in reality we want something else. To illustrate this, imagine a man is married with a couple kids. He's regularly attending church. But imagine over time his heart is drawn away into a rather serious sin. Imagine he is caught caught in some embarrassing and damaging sin like pornography or adultery. And imagine further that this guy wishes with all his heart that the whole thing would have never happened. His wife has lost all trust. His kids are reeling in confusion and in their eyes all he can see is betrayal. What does this guy want more than anything in the world? He wants to be forgiven. He is begging for forgiveness. He is pleading for it. Everything in him is screaming, "If only I could be forgiven for my sin. I'd pay any price. I'd endure any amount of pain. I'll say anything, do anything." But here's a question: how do you know he's not just pleading to be free of the consequences of his sin? How do you know if he's just ashamed he got caught. If somehow he could just push a magic button and he could guarantee that he wouldn't get caught and all
the knowledge of his sin would be erased, would he continue? Was he really asking for forgiveness or does he just not like the feelings of shame and regret? Does it just irritate him that he's not respected? Is he sorry for the sin itself or or the consequences of it? The level of self-deception here is hard to appreciate. If you asked this guy who was caught in the affair if he was truly repentant or if he just wanted to escape from the consequences of his sin, what is he going to say? Yes, absolutely. I hate my sin. I hate what this has done to my family. I want nothing to do with this ever again in my life. Beat me. Flog me. I don't care. How can I prove to you I'm sorry. How can I prove to you how much I regret my decision.
That sounds very sincere. But still, in all that language and all that emotion, there's still no test as to whether or not you've humbled yourself to really ask for forgiveness or whether or not you're just concerned about the consequences. This points to the reason why God links our forgiveness of others to our receiving of forgiveness from God. Because this is one of the truest tests. There is only one way you can forgive someone else. One way. You have to believe that you are not superior to them. You have to believe you are capable of that exact sin. You have to have sympathy for his weakness because you can see that same weakness in you! When you are in that condition, seeing your weakness, seeing clearly your sin, seeing your destitute condition, you can forgive him,
but guess what else you do? You seek forgiveness for God. You extend forgiveness and you seek forgiveness. It's one in the same motion. All sorts of spiritual doors open up when you are in this condition. You can pray with faith. You can pray, I don't want these things for my good and my kingdom. I'm not even thinking about me. My only good is what Christ has done in me. I want him to be exalted more. I want his promotion, his glory, his power, his name to be exalted. As we said earlier, there are a thousand wonderful fruits that flow from the heart when we are in the posture of gospel humility but the reason he keeps pressing on this issue of forgiving others is that it's the best test of whether you are really in that posture or not. Jesus said in Mark 11, Every time you pray forgive. It's the best way to tell if you're leaning into God and are in an attitude of receiving his forgiveness. It's the best test of your gospel posture. Can you forgive? If so, your there. Your walking in the fruit of the Spirit. Your receiving forgiveness. So often people read this part of the Lord's prayer or other verses like it and they say, man this sounds so cruel of God. This sounds like some kind of mean trick he's playing on them. This sounds like some sort of works-based righteousness where the prerequisite to being forgiven by God is that you have to be forgiving toward others.
Listen, this verse is not God saying, I won't forgive you. That's God saying, You never asked. That is not God withholding mercy from sinful man. That is sinful man refusing God's mercy which is being extended to them. God is saying, you wanted freedom from your sin but you didn't want me. You'd like to escape the consequences without having to humble yourself and confess your true condition. No Jesus says I want true repentance, true confession, true contrition. There's a word we don't use much any more but it was used a lot in the church : Contrition. The root word in contrition is the latin word to grind down. What kinds of things to you grind? You don't grind wood, or grind soap or grind foam. Those are soft materials. You grind steel or
stone. These are things that resist shaping. They are hard and stubborn materials. And the idea of contrition is that you are laying your soul against a grinder. Our souls are hard and stubborn and resist shaping. You can't just easily bend them or shape them. They need to be pressed against something even harder and sparks are going to fly and heat will build up from all that friction. And the idea is that you are grinding down your self-righteousness, your self-exaltation, your self-reliance. Everything in us wants to keep that shape. Everything in us wants our kingdom, our will. Everything in us wants to be righteous in ourselves. But asking God for you to confess and forgive others. When we move into that gospel posture where we forgive others, it like is laying our souls against the grinder of God's holiness. We confess our need, we see our failure and don't try to run away from it. Instead we just sit there and see our problem, see our weakness and receive forgiveness. It's good to sit in that posture as much as we hate it and just let the holiness of God grind on our hearts. Grind down the pride. Grind down the self-reliance. Pray that prayer. Lord, grind me. Help me to not to resist what I need. Grind my resistance. Let me see all that friction as a good thing, a needful thing. Grind me into the shape that conforms perfectly to your image. That will create heat. There will be resistance in all that. But it's good. I want to end today with a little bit of a warning. What is the largest danger any person faces in life? It's not getting sick or losing something. It's being lost forever.
There is a sense in which this is startlingly true at the highest level. Do you remember the parable in Mt 18 that we call the parable of the unforgiving servant? In super short form, there is a servant who owes something like a trillion dollars to the king. Of course he can't pay. He's going to be imprisoned. And he grovels at the foot of the king. Please forgive me! Save me. But we already know the story don't we. He's not asking for forgiveness. He wants to escape imprisonment. He wants to be free of the consequences of his sin. He's not in the gospel posture. He not ready to admit weakness and failure. He's not ready to humble himself. He just wants freedom from the consequences. And the evidence of this comes next when goes off and finds a guy who owes him comparatively little (but still a lot), something like a half a years wages. He goes off and chokes the guy and shakes him and demands that he give it all back. And the king hears of this behavior and is enraged.
And then Jesus brings the parable home to us. He says these chilling words.
The could not accept Christ's forgiveness which was evidenced in his inability to forgive. So watch out for that bitter unforgiving spirit. What does that evidence about your ability to receive forgiveness. One can sincerely count on God to find a wide open door of forgiveness opened up to us when we open that door to others who need pardon. A door shut, closing others out of pardon, is a door shut at the same time to God, not sensitively open to His forgiveness for oneself.