December 20 - LD 51; Day 4: Forgive!
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Micah 7:18: “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.”
What do we mean—and what do we ask God to do—when we ask, “Forgive”?
Forgiveness, like grace, mercy and blessing, are common words in a Christian’s vocabulary, but we lose much of their sweetness by our imprecise and vague ideas of these great truths.
The word forgive in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, means to lift up or to carry away. The idea is of a heavy, crushing burden. We struggle under a heavy load of guilt and shame, but God lifts that burden and carries it away, so that we experience blessed relief. That is the teaching of Micah 7:18: “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity …?” The same truth is celebrated in Psalm 32:1: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven …” Another word for forgiveness, also found in Micah 7, is to pass over (“that passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage”). The idea is not to look at sin, not to regard it, and therefore not to treat the sinner according as his sins deserve. It is the opposite of marking transgression which we considered yesterday in Psalm 130. A third Old Testament word for forgive is to cover, also found in Psalm 32 (“…whose sin is covered”). Again, the idea is that God covers over sin so that he does not see it—He covers it over by means of a sacrifice. In that sense, He blots it out.
In the New Testament, the most common word for forgive means to send away or to release. In terms of debts, to forgive means to send the debt away, to remove from the debtor—from us—the obligation to pay. Imagine the relief of a debtor who receives a message from the creditor—“I have removed from you the obligation to pay. You no longer need to concern yourself with the debt. I have wiped your debts clean.” Jesus speaks of this in Luke 7:41-42: “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.” That is forgiveness, except here the debt is sin, and the one who forgives is God.
Therefore, we see what we are asking in the fifth petition.
We are not asking that God should ignore our debts, and pretend that we do not have any debts. We are not asking God to deny His own justice. Not that! We are asking that God not make us pay in full what we owe Him—we are asking that someone else pay for us instead. We are also not asking that God give us more time to pay Him back what we owe Him. We are not promising that, if God be lenient, we will do better in the future. We are not trying to bargain with God. Not that! We confess the debt, but we are asking that, seeing we can never pay, God not make us pay. That is a bold, almost a staggeringly impudent request—but we make it on good grounds.
And the wonder is that God not only forgives—relieves us of the obligation to pay, sends away our debt, carries away the burden of our sins—but that He sends His Son to pay our debt, and sends the Spirit into our hearts to assure us that we are forgiven.
Let us pray, then, with confidence, “Forgive us our debts!”
- Date: December 20
Rev. Martyn McGeown (Larisa)
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010; Providence PRC (Hudsonville, MI), Sept. 2021Website: www.prca.org/current/news/churches/usa-canada/providence-prc-hudsonville-mi
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