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The Lord’s Prayer – Part 7-Forgive Us Our Debts/Sins

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The Lord’s Prayer – Part 7-Forgive Us Our Debts/Sins
Hello and welcome to the next episode on the Lord’s Prayer. We have been slowly and methodically working our way through this often-repeated prayer. But we have been looking at it thought the lens of the OT as well as the NT but in light of how Jesus framed the prayer. Not only as a model for us. But as a bold proclamation of a New Exodus to lead the people of God out from under the slavery of sin and depravity of this world.
Today we want to look at the next phrase found in Matthew 6.12. Now when we recite the LP. We normally repeat the one in Matthew 6. But as we have discussed Luke also records the LP. Albeit a more condensed version. The things that make this portion of the prayer unique. Is that although Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray. This is the one part of the prayer that Jesus himself did not need pray. Because His disciples needed to repent. Jesus himself did not. This highlight a very important aspect of the prayer. That this prayer was designed for the disciples to link themselves to the agenda of Jesus’ entire ministry. The idea of forgiveness was central to Jesus’ mission. It was to be offered freely and without payment. This was what caused so much scandal in relationship to temple system. Jesus made this the central theme of the new covenant he was inaugurating. And He made mutual forgiveness a requirement for membership.
Both Matthew and Luke use the language of debt. And we often miss the import of that metaphor.
In Hebrew culture debt was usually connected with usury (the business of lending money on interest). The Hebrew verbs describing usury picture a painful situation. One word for usury means “to bite,” a vivid image for the way high interest “ate up” any kind of business transaction so that borrowers never received the full value of the money. People could be ruined financially by heartless exaction of interest (2 Kgs 4:1–7). Another verb is usually translated as “increase” or “profit” (Lv 25:37), since lenders profited from others’ labor. Ancient Near Eastern interest rates on produce and goods might be as much as 30 percent of the loan per year, on money as much as 20 percent. Clay tablets from Nuzi, a town in northeastern Mesopotamia, indicate interest rates of even 50 percent.[1]
Both Matthew and Luke’s intended usage of this term is to be seen in connection with the Jubilee.
YEAR OF JUBILEE The 50th year after seven cycles of seven years (Lev. 25:10) in which Israel’s land and people gained freedom. It was begun with a blast from a ram’s horn on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 25:9). During this year of joy and liberation the law stipulated three respects in which the land and people were to be sanctified: (1) It was to be a time of rest for the soil as well as people (Lev. 25:11). The unattended growth of the field was for the poor to glean and for the beasts of the field (Exod. 23:11). (2) All land was to revert to the original owner (Lev. 25:10–34; 27:16–24). The original distribution of land was to remain intact. All property which the original owner had been obligated to sell (and had not yet been redeemed) was to revert (without payment) to the original owner or his lawful heirs. Some exceptions to this pattern are noted in Lev. 25:29–30; 27:17–21. (3) Every Israelite who had sold himself—either to his fellow countryman or to a foreigner settled in the land—because of poverty and remained unredeemed was to be freed along with his children (Lev. 25:39–46).
The Year of Jubilee prevented the Israelites from oppression of one another (Lev. 25:17). It had a leveling effect on Israel’s culture by giving everyone a chance for a new start. It discouraged excessive, permanent accumulations of wealth and the deprivation of an Israelite of his inheritance in the land. Families and tribes were preserved by the return of freed bondservants to their own families. Permanent slavery in Israel was rendered impossible.
The idea here is that the disciple understood what they had been given. And should celebrate it among themselves.
The Jubilee provisions, look back to the fact that Israel had been enslaved in Egypt and that God had rescued and delivered her (cf. Lev. 25:38, 42, 55). They were part of the Exodus theology. In the same way, Jesus’ demand that his followers should forgive one another belongs precisely within the same logic. Redeemed slaves must themselves live as redemption people. The inner connection between forgiving others and being forgiven oneself, which is so strongly emphasized in Matt. 6:14–15 and 18:21–35 (cf. Sirach 28:1–7), grows directly out of this Exodus motif.[2]
“Forgive us our debts” renders the Greek literally. Luke 11:4, however, refers to “sins,” (better understood as guilt) as does Matthew in vv. 14–15 (with the more specific paraptōmata, trespasses or conscious transgressions). Spiritual debts to God are first of all in view. Our plea for continued forgiveness as believers, requesting the restoration of fellowship with God following the alienation that sin produces, is predicated on our having forgiven those who have sinned against us. As v. 15 stresses, without this interpersonal reconciliation on the human level, neither can we be reconciled to God.[3]
Jesus is not merely instructing them to pray for absolution of one’s individual sins—although he is certainly doing that. He is also situating that forgiveness within the broader covenantal context of the eschatological Jubilee and the new Exodus. As the Dead Sea Scrolls show, at least some Jews living at the time of Jesus would have understood this new Exodus in terms of a spiritual Jubilee—a deliverance from the debt of sin—that would be inaugurated by the Messiah himself.
A Prayer for Forgiveness
The fundamental qualification for praying this prayer is that we are “debtors”—that is, sinners. Many people who repeat this prayer do not see themselves as sinners. People often pray the Lord’s Prayer with a condescending tolerance that permits them to inwardly say, “I’m praying this along with the people who really need it.” Thousands who say this prayer do not consider themselves guilty before God. Thus for them the Lord’s Prayer is merely an empty repetition by self-satisfied souls. The fact is, it can be properly prayed only by “debtors.” Are we debtors? If we are genuinely Christians, our sins have been paid for by the blood of Christ. But this prayer teaches that we are to engage in daily, ongoing confession of sin. In fact, to do so is a sign of spiritual maturity and health.
In sum, this fifth petition—“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”—tells us to do two things. First, we are to ask God to forgive us. This request for forgiveness follows the request for daily food in the Lord’s Prayer, and numerous commentators have noted that it should surpass our craving for food. If you have not yet had your debts canceled and forgiven, ask God to forgive you by the grace and blood of Jesus Christ. Do it today!
The second thing this fifth petition tells us to do is to forgive those who have wronged us. Do this for the health of your soul. Do it for the health of the church, which is sick from a lack of forgiveness among God’s children. Do it for the sake of the world, which has not yet discovered what Christ is like. But it can if you and I will truly forgive, for “to forgive is divine.”
Do you need to forgive your spouse? Covenant to do so right now. Have you been unwilling to forgive your parents? Promise God that you will do it. Have you forgiven that employer or neighbor or church member who wronged you? Do you have a grudge against your last church, or its pastor or elders? Forgive today!
Forgiveness is not a psychological trick. It is a miracle! And God can help you do it. Do it most of all for God’s sake. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
This “terrible petition” can curse us or bless us. Dare we pray it? Can we pray it? Lord, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.[4]
[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Debt. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 605). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
[2] Wright, N. T. (2002). The Lord’s Prayer as a Paradigm of Christian Prayer. In R. N. Longenecker (Ed.), Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament (p. 143). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
[3] Blomberg, C. (1992). Matthew (Vol. 22, p. 120). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
[4] Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 191–192). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
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