January 5, 2003: Let’s Start The New Year Right

Let us pray: Dear Savior, it took Godly courage to die in our place on the cross and it took Godly courage to utter those wonderful words from the heart: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Today instill in us such God-given courage so that we may learn to forgive those who have sinned against us, too. Amen

TEXT: Matthew 6:12: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Colossians 3: 13: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Fellow Redeemed Forgiven Sinners:

What New Year’s resolution did you make? And has it already been broken, or are you still striving to keep it? I like New Year’s. I like the relaxed feeling of having an entire year stretched out before me. (The fact that the various Christmas services are all done probably plays a role in this sense of relaxation, too!) In any case, I’ve been thinking about various New Year’s resolutions. I don’t really need to adopt the usual diet and exercise resolutions because I already eat healthy and stay fairly active. I have already begun to make an effort to better organize my files, paperwork, financial statements and the like, so I don’t need a special resolution for those things. It’s been too cold and snowy to get out in nature more, so that aspect of life is put on hold. Thus, upon careful examination the one area I need to work on is the spiritual realm. Like you, I need to take the Lord’s injunctions to forgive more seriously. I need to practice what I preach about each week. So, with our two texts serving as the basis for this “forgiveness resolution”


What takes more courage? To repay the slights and hurts of another, or to forgive them? As a Christian you know the answer. But, let’s review what repaying evil with more evil accomplishes and what it shows us about ourselves.

It begins with a word uttered in anger, or with a thoughtless action. Someone hurts us. A friend ignores us because emotionally they don’t need us anymore. Life has dealt a tough hand to a brother or sister and they begin to feel unloved or inferior to us in some area. Perhaps an acquaintance has never learned to deal with diverse opinions except through confrontation and we inadvertently wounded their pride. However it happens, a rift is opened up between you and someone else. They begin to use cutting language towards you. They adopt sarcasm, or maybe just give you that infamous “cold shoulder.” And with each remark or each action the rift grows deeper and the hurt grows stronger.

How do you respond to this behavior? You hit back. You treat them exactly like they’re treating you. Your hurting ego tries to “get even” so that you’ll feel you’re on top, in control of the situation. And from that point on it just escalates until a rupture occurs.

Our sinful nature loves to get even. That’s why we feel better when we give someone that proverbial “piece of our mind.” But stroking the sinful nature makes us hard, harsh, flinty people for whom love is just a word, a word which never goes deeper than a repayment plan.—Such as, “I’ll do this for you, if and when you do that for me.” Indeed, such “love” is totally superficial. Thus, it can only give birth to superficial friendships and superficial bonds that easily broken because it has no roots.


Into this mess steps our Savior. He comes to plumb the depths of love. He comes to show us a more excellent way—God’s way. He comes not to “put us in our place” or to exact retribution for our hurts against Him, but to rise above all that. And how does He accomplish this? He forgives us our sins.

Of all those people standing around the cross who were mocking Him, taunting Him, spitting at Him, and insulting Him, which of them deserved a kind word? Which of them deserved His love and compassion? Which of them deserved His forgiveness? Obviously none of them. And yet, what does He say to them? What does He ask His heavenly Father to do for them? Destroy them? Hurt them? Put them in their place? None of the above. No, instead He says: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Did Jesus really mean those words? Yes, He did! And that loving attitude that held out forgiveness toward His enemies from the cross, that loving forgiveness extends to you and me, too. That’s why St. Paul can write: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”


I’m always amazed and brought up a little short when I speak the Lord’s prayer, especially those words of the 5th petition: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Just think about what those words mean? You’re asking God to forgive you in the same way and in the same measure and amount that you forgive those who have hurt you! So, if you’re not willing to let go of their hurts, their trespasses, you’re actually saying to God: “Don’t let go of my sins against you either, Lord.” Folks, that is tough stuff! That’s saying to God: “Don’t save me. Don’t give me heaven. Don’t bless my life. I don’t want your love.”

Forgiveness is true love in action. And it takes courage to love, to forgive. You and I don’t possess such courage or ability on our own. It took God coming to earth, being born in a manger, suffering and dying in our place and rising to a new life for us in order to give us such courage. We don’t come by forgiveness naturally. We come by it supernaturally! It is a gift from God to us! And unless we use that gift, His love and salvation is negated, tossed into the gutter of hate.

The NIV translation of the Greek text of the Lord’s Prayer uses the words: “Debts and debtors” for the more familiar “trespasses.” The meaning is the same. The Greek word used by Christ means “an obligation, a wrong, a sin, guilt.” Christ says elsewhere: “Whatever you do unto the least of these my brothers, you do unto Me.” So, when we fail to forgive another’s hurts, another’s sin against us, we’re not really hurting them as much as we’re hurting Christ.

None of you want to insult or hurt Christ. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here at church today. So, let’s start the New Year right! Let’s resolve today to let go of the emotional baggage we all carry from spouses that have cheated on us, from friends who have let us down, from relatives who have tried to diminish us in order to elevate themselves. Let go of the emotional pain. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” To do anything less merely transfers their cold and loveless heart into your chest. Yes, forgive and be warmed by courage and love that comes from rising above petty pride and embracing Christian humility! Learn to look at those lost, superficial souls with pity and to humbly say: “There but by the grace of God, go I.” Amen