A Daily Prayer Must
Whether we realize it or not, we live each day in the path of Peter or Judas. The 5th Petition enables us to follow the footsteps of Peter rather than Judas, but it must be prayed daily. Last week I said that since Jesus instructs us to pray daily for bread that meant the rest of the petitions connected to it were to be prayed daily. This is true, but even truer for "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
We need to pray this petition daily because we sin daily. That's how Luke records this petition, "Forgive us our sins." Matthew has "forgive us our debts." And we pray, "Forgive us our trespasses." "Trespasses" is Tyndale's 1526 translation that has passed into many liturgies through the 1549 Anglican Book of Common Prayer. So when you pray this petition have your sins, debts, and trespasses all in mind. See that your problem is you have missed the mark God requires you to hit; you owe God obedience you haven't paid; and you have crossed fences on to land belonging to the holy God.
But don't just see this petition as dealing with your actual sins, debts, and trespasses. No it's also a confession of our sinfulness. We aren't sinners, debtors, and trespassers only when we actually do these things. No, we are born sinners, debtors, and trespassers. As coyotes are born coyotes, snakes, snakes, spiders, spiders, we're born guilty, in debt, and intruders and so are objects of God's wrath by nature as Ephesians 2:3 says. Every move we make, every breath we take a cloud of sinfulness boils up around us like Pig Pen in Charlie Brown.
"Forgive us" is to be a daily prayer not only because of the sin and sinfulness we know but because of what we don't know. You have sins you are not aware of. David who spends many Psalms lamenting his sin prays in Psalm 19 to be cleansed from ones hidden to him. I'm not talking about that sin, debt, or trespass you know but hide from everyone else; I'm talking about ones you're not even remotely aware of even having.
If ever a petition could drive you to pray daily, this one should. You sin daily; you need daily confession to deal with it. Unconfessed sins don't go away. They fester; they infect, and they lead to a systemic infection of not just your soul but your body. When David kept silent, maybe for as long as year, about fornicating with Bathsheba and murdering Uriah he says that his "bones wasted away." The only harmful repression the Bible knows of is unconfessed sins; yet I've never read any secular warnings about that, have you? No repressed desires, needs, and anger are warned about. The Bible, however, encourages the repressing of desires, needs, and anger, but not of sins that guilt the conscience and wither the body.
Pray daily, "Forgive us our trespasses," because you sin daily, and because God has provided a remedy for your sins daily. The Lord expects that even as you will need your bread daily, so you will need His forgiveness daily.
The remedy for your guilt is the innocent Jesus bearing it. Think of it: Would you ever say as He did, "If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong?" There isn't a word that comes out of my mouth that isn't stained by sin somehow. Jesus can stand before His enemies and not be afraid that they could find Him guilty of one sin, owing one debt, having stepped over one line. Jesus is the innocent Lamb provided by the Father to carry your sins away from you. He's the scapegoat. Like we sing, "My faith would lay her hand/ On that dear head, of Thine/ While like a penitent I stand/ And there confess my sin."
But your daily sins need more than just carrying away. They need to be paid for. So God the Father provided two goats in one on His great Day of Atonement. Jesus is both the scapegoat that carries sins away and the sacrificial goat that dies for all sins. A hymn challenges those "who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great" to look at the suffering Jesus. I dare you. Not one of you would tolerate me slapping you in the face, let alone spitting on you, mocking you, or beating you. But it's worse than this. While holy Jesus suffers such outrages, such undeserved hatred and pain, His most loyal friend is denying Him repeatedly. Jesus didn't deserve any of this, but you do. Are not your sins that outrageous? Don't they deserve the hatred of the holy God? Don't they deserve the pains of hell itself? And have you really been such a good friend to others that you don't deserve to be denied by them?
If this preaching of the law isn't getting to you, I'll tell you what has happened. "Forgive us our sins" hasn't been a daily petition of yours and/or you think your sin and guilt is no greater than the sins you're able to see. You're burying your sins. You can do that for awhile; maybe for your whole life, but you can't do it forever. The Lord Jesus doesn't' want you to do it for even one day. He daily invites you to pray with great boldness and confidence, "Forgive us our trespasses, debts, and sins" the dozen you can think of, the hundreds you don't know, and the one or two you'd rather not think of at all. Confess your sins daily because you sin daily and God has provided a remedy for your sins. He provided an innocent Man to bear your guilt away and a Man who is God whose suffering and dying is more than enough to pay your debts, forgive your sins, and remove your trespasses.
In the very midst of suffering for sin and sinners, Jesus forgives the friend who betrayed Him. Peter repeatedly denied knowing Jesus even as you do with your sins of thought, word, and deed. The crowing of a roster brought the heinousness, the hideousness, the awful ugliness of his sin home. And just then, "the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter." Jesus turned His beaten, bloody, spit-stained face to His friend and in the Greek gave Peter a warm, winning, forgiving look. And rather than go out and kill himself for his terrible sin; Peter went out and cried.
19th century author George McDonald writes of a traveler in Fairy Land who sleeps and dreams "of pardons implored and granted with such bursting floods of love, that I was almost glad I had sinned" (Phantastes, 127). Could there be forgiveness that complete, that loving, that certain? Jesus wants you to believe there is and that it is available to you everyday. He conveys this to you by teaching you to pray daily, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
Here you might stumble. Even though our Large Catechism calls the "as" clause a "comforting addition" (III, 93), it's regarded as an accusatory one by many, and it can be used that way, but that's not why the Lord put the clause there. Jesus doesn't direct you to think of that person who is hard for you to forgive, who did something wrong to you in childhood, in marriage, in love, in life. Jesus tells you to think of all those (note the plural) you do forgive. When praying think not of who is difficult for you to forgive but who is easy. How easy you let the sins of a child go; with joy you forgive a debt that is no big deal; how eager you forgive a trespasser who got turned around and ended up on your property. That's how easily, joyfully, and eagerly God forgives all your sins for Jesus' sake.
This petition is a daily prayer must because we sin daily, because God has provided a remedy daily, and because without the remedy we are lost daily. Our Catechism bids us when we wake up to make the sign of the cross on ourselves and to say the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. This orients us for the rest of the day: I am a sinner; I am forgiven. Ever been in the mall trying to find out where you were? Ever go to a mall map that someone had scraped off the "You Are Here" logo? How difficult it was to orient yourself. You really couldn't go anywhere until you did. So each day this Petition orients you in right relationship with God, self, and others.
How so with others? Without this daily prayer you are left with the need to constantly defend yourself. You're afraid to be a sinner as opposed to the traveler in Fairy Land who knew forgiveness so fully and joyfully he was "almost glad" to be a sinner. When we don't daily go to the Lord for forgiveness, it's not that we're without sins. No, it's that we don't recognize them, and if we don't recognize them we sure don't want anyone else to. So we circle the wagons. "I'm not as bad as her." "I do my best." "No one could blame me." "I can always use this excuse if I have to." But daily waking to the realization that "I am a sinner forgiven for Jesus' sake," why should I be surprised if other people find me to be what I myself admit to be? My righteousness, my forgiveness, my salvation isn't based on others not being able to find sin in me, but in Jesus forgiving me.
Finally apart from this daily prayer for forgiveness we're left without an answer when the full magnitude of being a sinner comes home to us. If it doesn't happen in life it will certainly happen at death. The weight of our sins, debts, and trespasses will come home then as surely, as heavily, and as hopelessly as Jacob Marley's chains did at his death. This is what overwhelmed Judas in our text. When he "saw that Jesus was condemned he was seized with remorse." What? Judas had agreed to betray Jesus to the men he knew wanted Jesus dead. He agreed to do it for money. But like Peter was awaken to his guilt by a rooster, Judas was awaken to it by Jesus being condemned to death. Something wakes everyone up. It may be at the moment of death, and if it's then, then all that is left to you is shrieking like Jacob Marley, but it usually happens, by God's grace, that we wake to our full guilt in life, often multiple times.
The 5th petition of the Lord's Prayer is a daily wake up call; it's a daily dealing with the sins, debts, and trespasses we can and can't see. It's a daily lancing of the infections of sin so that they can be forgiven and carried away from us so they don't fester into heavy chains.
What a privilege to carry everything, especially our sins to God in prayer. As Rosencrantz tells the troubled Hamlet, "You do surely bar the door upon your own liberty if you deny your griefs to your friend" (III, 2). Even more so when you deny your sins to your Savior. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek III (20100303); 5th Petition, Passion Reading 3