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The Lord's Prayer (Lesson 9)
Forgiving Others | Matthew 12
“As we also forgive our debtors.”
– Matthew 6:12
A lot has changed in the burial process over the generations.
For most of human history, before backhoes could dig deep holes effortlessly with hydraulic arms, men dug graves manually by plunging shovels into the ground, pulling up earth, and tossing it to the side.
Without hydraulic help, creating a hole large enough to contain a casket at a depth of at least six feet is a backbreaking task.
This is especially true in locations where the ground is hard and contains rock.
However, the challenge to burial in the old days wasn’t limited to the physical effort required. It took time.
With basic shovels, you can’t quickly carve out a spot in the ground.
It is a process.
I wonder how it felt to be the surviving family member who had to do the digging.
So much time to reflect on the pain of their loss. Time to consider regrets. What would they do differently if they could do it over?
And time simply to grieve. Time to release emotion onto tear-sprinkled dirt.
Having time to process the grief on site, to face the emotions, and to grapple with the loss invites us to a process that I believe is designed to be unexpectedly healing by allowing the tank of gospel hope to slowly refill.
As disciples of Jesus, one of the first things we receive is a shovel.
Because forgiveness is like a burial.
It is personal, painful, and yet unexpectedly restorative.
And at the same time, the call to bury an offense is frightening.
When I pray for God to forgive my sin-debt against him as I forgive the debts of those who have sinned against me, I make the degree of my forgiveness the standard for the degree to which I want God to forgive me.
At this point, we must address any residual traces of easy-forgivism that reside in our minds and hearts.
When faced with the call to forgive, a moment comes when we must grab the shovel and move the earth with sweat and tears.
Like digging a grave, burying an offense with forgiveness takes conscious effort and determination.
In the same way, forgiveness takes conscious effort and determination. A moment comes when we must pay the debt down. In other words, we bury it.
When I forgive, I tear up the invoice on what someone else owes me. I bear the cost. I bury the offense.
Isn’t that what we want God to do with our sins?
Bury them so deep they’ll never be brought up against us again. We want every invoice paid in full.
We want to live debt free.
In view of the cross, this is what the gospel of the kingdom of God calls us to do for others—give the gift of debt free living.
After all, forgiveness is a gift. It’s grace. Forgiveness is nothing less than grace with a different name.
And we know where grace finds its apex.
We read about it in many places, such as Colossians 1:21-22.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were hostile in your minds, engaging in evil deeds. 22 But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy, unblemished, and blameless in His presence. (Berean Study Bible)
The apex of grace is the cross of Jesus, a place of excruciating pain, grief, sorrow, and loss.
The cross teaches us that forgiveness is harder than we think.
Jesus did not practice easy forgivism.
No, with literal blood, sweat, and tears, Jesus paid our sin-debt in full. He buried it once and for all.
No more invoices. None. Ever.
What I find staggering is that, as Hebrews 12:2 tells us, Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him.”
How can the pain required in forgiveness be converted into joy?
Maybe we should ask, “What would Jesus receive for his suffering?”
It’s what Paul in Colossians calls reconciliation. It’s not just that we are reconciled to God through the cross, but God is reconciled to us.
He wants us to draw near to him without the fear of judgement.
His perfect love is what motivated Jesus paying our debts down with blood. The apostle John tells us it’s that love that is intended to cast out fear, inviting us to see ourselves no longer orphans, no longer enemies, and no longer condemned, but as fully forgiven, dearly loved sons and daughters, reconciled to the Father.
That is why Jesus could endure the crucible of crucifixion with joy.
He was reclaiming his runaway bride. Or to use a parable of Jesus, he was making the way for the prodigal to come home.
What if I could forgive others with the same joy as Jesus?
What if forgiveness could be more about re-gifting grace than merely trying harder to overcome a grudge?
What if burying debts became something that I eagerly longed to do for those who sin against me?
I actually do have one relationship like that. Someone who has wounded me deeply.
Yes, my flesh wants justice. But I genuinely sense the Spirit has created a space in my heart that longs for the opportunity to offer objective forgiveness.
What a joy it would be to extend my arms with the words, “I forgive you. Truly and fully, without reservation or hesitation.”
That is what the outstretched arms of Jesus speak from the cross. Even as the Father embraced the prodigal, we are embraced, enfolded into the Triune God by grace.
Can you imagine the power of being so embraced with God’s kindness and mercy that you could extend that embrace to others?
With this prayer, we are being challenged to be people defined by our capacity to regift the grace we’ve received from God in Christ.
As we abide together in Jesus as our sin-bearer and righteousness provider, we just may find a hydraulic power at work within us, as the Holy Spirit does in and through us what only he can do—which is to pay down debts by applying the blood of Jesus to repentant sinners.
What a joy to be the branch—or shovel—through which the Spirit works to reveal the glory of God’s grace in Jesus.
How has the burial process changed over generations, and what challenges did people face in the past that we do not face today?
How does the process of forgiveness resemble the process of burying an offense?
How does the love and grace of God motivate us to forgive others? In what ways can we extend the embrace of God's kindness and mercy to those who have hurt us?
How could it be possible to forgive with joy?
What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the process of forgiveness?
Dear Father in heaven,
Thank you for the gift of forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We know that forgiving others can be a difficult and painful process, but we also know that it is a necessary step in reflecting your love and grace to the world.
We ask for your help and guidance as we seek to forgive those who have hurt us. Please give us the grace to bury offenses, tear up invoices, and bear the cost of forgiveness. Help us to let go of grudges and resentments and to embrace the joy that comes from re-gifting the grace we have received from you.
Give us the courage to forgive others as we have been forgiven, and to live lives that extend grace and mercy to those around us.
We pray all of these things in the name of Jesus, our sin-bearer and righteousness provider. Amen.