One of the hardest phrases to say is, “I forgive you.” Not because the words are hard but the reality behind the words is almost impossible. I mean who can do that? I hear this saying, “forgive and forget” and I’ve probably even said it but I don’t think I mean it. I mean, who can actually do that? We even doubt that God can do that and He can do anything! So what are we praying when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses”?
I’m sure this is the phrase I am happiest is in the plural. There is no better time to be lumped in with a bunch of people than when everyone is declared guilty. Somehow it feels better when the whole team gets in trouble, or all my kids are in deep. So when we pray this prayer of confusion to our heavenly Father requesting forgiveness, it feels good to say it in the plural so I don’t feel singled out. Well, it feels better, but it doesn’t feel good.
It doesn’t feel good because any time we confess, any time we ask for forgiveness it means we need forgiving for some wrong we have done. And it never feels good to be guilty. I mean, if we could just pretend well enough that we haven't done anything wrong, if we can justify ourselves well enough to avoid scrutiny then maybe we won’t have to beg for forgiveness. But praying this prayer every day reveals this painful truth, I am guilty in need of forgiveness every day.
Jesus shows us what forgive us our trespasses looks like clearly on the cross. But before we go to the cross, before we hear Jesus ask the Father to forgive sinners, let’s catch up. Because Jesus’ forgiveness started much earlier, his loving patience is made evident even as he calls his disciples.
Early in Jesus’ ministry he calls twelve guys to be his closest followers. They went everywhere with Jesus. These guys followed Jesus full time, they ate where Jesus ate, walked where Jesus walked, rested where Jesus rested. They heard everything Jesus taught the crowds and got private lessons as well. They were the closest people to Jesus.
Out of twelve men, there were two named Judas, Judas Iscariot and Judas who is also named Thaddeus. Judas Iscariot, almost every time his name is mentioned, this epitaph follows his name, “Judas, the one who would betray him.” Jesus called them Apostles, guys whom Jesus would send out in His name healing, casting out demons, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. As people looked back on Jesus’ ministry and calling these guys there is the temptation to think Jesus made a mistake, like if only he knew that Judas was a backstabbing betrayer none of that had to happen And then we read in John 6:64 tells us that Jesus knew from the beginning who would betray him.
He KNEW! The whole time Jesus knew. When Jesus was in the boat on the sea, Jesus knew. When Judas complained the money from the ointment used to anoint Jesus could have been used to feed the poor, He knew. When Jesus sent out the twelve, giving them his own message and authority, He knew. When Jesus walked with the crowds to Jerusalem, He knew. When Jesus dipped a morsel of bread with Judas during the Last Supper, He knew. Jesus knew the whole time that Judas would betray him, and Jesus loved him anyway, called him anyway, forgave him anyway.
On the night Jesus was betrayed as he tried to keep the other Apostles awake to pray with him, as a crowd with swords and clubs invaded the peaceful night, Jesus knew. Judas walked straight up to Jesus, kissed him, and said “Greetings Rabbi.” betraying the Son of God with a kiss. And Jesus answered “Friend, do what you came to do.” (Matthew 26:50) After all of that, after walking together, speaking together, eating together, and finally being betrayed. Even after Jesus knew the whole time, Jesus still called Judas the Betrayer “friend”. Moment after moment, day after day, year after year; Jesus forgave Judas’ trespasses.
Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest friends. Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night. Jesus was convicted of crimes he did not commit during a false trial with false witnesses. Jesus was beaten, tortured, and marched from ruler to ruler till finally, Pilate sanctions his death by crucifixion. Jesus is forced to carry his cross till his body can no longer carry it. Jesus is nailed to a cross on Skull Hill as the rulers mocked him. And then Jesus says, “Forgive them.”
“And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:33-34)
In a moment of unspeakable agony, Jesus looks upon the very same people who engineered his unlawful death and says, “Father forgive them”.
Every day as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, as we pray, “Father,… Forgive us our trespasses” Jesus the Righteous One is seated at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf, “Father forgive them.”