January 31, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“This then is how you ought to pray, [begin by saying] ‘Father, our Father, hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come and Your Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us today our daily portion of bread. Forgive us our debts [sins, trespasses] as we have forgiven those who owe us a great debt [who have sinned or trespassed against us.” (Matthew 6.9-12)
We know that generally we do not receive anything unless we ask for it. I proposed that observation yesterday around the image of Jesus, who said “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. Anyone who asks Me to come in shall know My presence is with them and I shall come in to eat with them and them with Me.” The onus is ours. Jesus as the Christ of God and our Messiah and Lord is that identity with or without us. His desire is that He be all of that with us. It is for that that He gave His life at Calvary, on Golgotha’s Hill, in the most horrifying and incredulous sacrifice. He spanned the depths of inhumanity to man which reached to the heights of man’s inhumanity to God. On the cross which He took up and followed the will of God that it be done on earth as it was in Heaven, Jesus spread wide His arms to embrace the entire world. Sure, the Romans saw only His surrender to crucifixion. He uttered not a word against them nor against His accusers- the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. To observers, such silence was probably seen as an admission of guilt. What would He have been guilty of in their eyes? We know it was sedition against the state of Rome and Israel. We know it was blasphemy against their “god.” And yes, I indicated the lower case “god” even for those in spiritual leadership of Israel. Their “god” was indeed too small. They had made Him over in their image with such twisting of the Law and the Covenant which God has established with them since the days of Abraham. They then could say, “See, this man is now paying for the debt He owes to us. This is true justice because it is our power over Him which now is in evidence.” The remembered words of the impenitent thief reflect their heart, mind and spirit as he railed against Jesus saying, “If you are the Christ, then let yourself down!” But, it wasn’t that Jesus couldn’t let Himself down from the cross or call ten thousand angels to minister to Him and rise up against the enemies of God and God’s true people. It was that Jesus wouldn’t let Himself down and take vengeance into His own hands. He knew the Word as well as anyone and better: “Vengeance is Mine says the Lord, I will repay. In due time their foot will slip and they will fall. The day of their disaster draws near and their doom rushes in on them.” (Deuteronomy 32.35) To put Himself in the role of avenger was to usurp God’s promise to exact true justice and execute the word of finality. This Jesus would not do. Instead, Jesus offered two significant “words” from the cross: 1) Father, forgive them because they do not have a clue as to what they have done; and 2) It is finished. It is done. Into Your Hands I surrender My Spirit. With the pronouncement of these two significant “words,” Jesus sets in motion the outpouring of God’s saving grace on all those who would call upon His name, abide by His will and declare themselves to be the people of God. Not only in the experience of the resurrection which many testified to beginning “on the third day,” but in the “rushing of the Wind of the Holy Spirit” into the Upper Room came the very doom of the false religion and false religious leadership which had become Old Israel. “Behold, the old has passed away and the new has come. If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5.17)
What does it mean to be that “new creation”? It indicates that the old self bound by the consequence of sin which is eternal death was no longer “in effect.” It brought freedom to make the right choice for all time. That choice was to “believe in one’s heart, with one’s mind and by one’s spirit that Jesus is Lord indeed.” It could only happen when the process of forgiveness was engaged and allowed to run its true course in our lives as it did in the life of Jesus. Oh, that we could be Jesus instantly upon our confession of sinfulness and our profession of faith! Even Jesus had to wait in the tomb to allow the Sabbath rest to be fully effective. Did not the “Law” declare “Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy”? God said “Six days you have labored but on the seventh day we rest.” How we rush around seven days a week! Even in our services of worship, we fear “down time,” solitude, moments of reflection and the silencing of the world in order to hear the quiet whisper of God’s voice into the depths of our being. But, when the time of waiting and transformation had ended, “behold, the new has come.” And with that new coming, the evidence of God’s mercy and grace in raising Jesus from the dead spoke to the gate of Heaven to be opened for all those who would declare themselves to be followers of “the way, the truth and the life.” They would speak in their actions of “walking by faith and not by sight,” against the enemy of God who said “God did not really say you would die.” They would respond “YES HE DID!” Sin kills. Faith revives. And the continuing witness of that statement of faith is evidenced in the very request of forgiveness. Those who seek it, receive it, give it and live by it shall know the fullness of life renewed and revived by the indwelling of and the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. It is by the Spirit which was the creative manifestation from the beginning which would be, and still is, at work in our “here and now.”
I mentioned yesterday that when Jesus taught the disciples how to pray effectively and live effective lives of prayer He included three requests. The first request was “Give us this day our daily bread.” It was a hearkening back to remember when the captives of Israel who had been freed by the power of God were fed in the wilderness with manna from Heaven. Their debt and indebtedness to Egypt had been resolved. They were made a new people who were no longer slaves to Pharaoh but were now, after four centuries, “the people of God’s pasture and the sheep of His hand.” But, they could not go it alone as they often proved in their becoming God’s people over forty years. They faced hardships, some of their own making and some which came upon them, and considered “going back to bondage instead of embracing the life of true freedom to worship and serve God alone.” One of those learning moments came with God’s provision of manna from Heaven. Each day they could gather as much as would feed their family for that day. On the day before Sabbath, they could gather a double portion in order to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy because none would be provided on the Sabbath. If they gathered a double portion or more on any other day, the next day it would be found worm-ridden and of no use. Everyone started the day in the same way: depending upon the grace and mercy of God. It was a lesson in forgiveness and obedience. Jesus taught “I AM the true bread which comes down from Heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate manna from heaven day by day, those who eat of My bread shall live forever.” (John 6.58)
The choice is ours to live as those in the world from “hand to mouth” day by day or as those in the kingdom who seek God first and His righteousness to know His provision forever and ever. That choice includes the second request of “forgiveness.” When Jesus taught them how to pray, He led them in understanding their role in their own forgiveness. It was not merely confessing their sin to God. It was about forgiving others the indebtedness that was owed to them. It was not conditional upon their doing so. It was conditional upon the proviso of forgiving them regardless as we ourselves have been forgiven by God with the sacrifice of Jesus as the Christ on the cross of Calvary. We must embrace the provision we ask of God. It says without question “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” How do we want God to forgive us? We pray it loud and clear- God forgive us in the same measure we forgive others. What???? If we are not experiencing the reality of true forgiveness does that mean we have not fully forgiven others who have sinned and trespassed against us? Do we think that we have a chance to live life to the fullest when we act apart from the paradigm of forgiveness as the righteousness of God? Small wonder that the world is as it is today! We live in a very unforgiving world. The debts we owe are astronomical fiscally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, physically as a community of faith as well as a community without faith. Maybe God has answered our prayers when we think He has not! Can we think about it this way: when we pray saying “Give us what we need as our daily bread and let the measure we give or withhold be the measure we receive.” In other words, “I want my cake and eat it to. You don’t have to forgive me because I haven’t made it my habit to forgive others.” Now that is something to reflect upon and think about for our “daily bread.” God forgive us when we do not!
“Father, our Father, hallowed be Your Name; Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done…ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.” We thank You for the provision of Your Word, the true bread of life which came down from Heaven. We are indebted to You for Your choice to forgive us our spiritual debts which have piled up against us, You and others. We know that You have not forgiven us so that we can continue to live in spiritual poverty. Rather, in our decision to follow Christ Jesus we can be made rich to overflowing with faith, hope and love. Fill us up, Lord and restore us to wholeness in Jesus’ name. Amen.