The Terrible Petition
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matthew 6:12c “. . . as we forgive . . .”
Even if convinced of God’s delight to forgive, we still have nagging questions about ourselves. How can we be sure we are seeking forgiveness in the right spirit and attitude? Are our humility and repentance genuine?
We are not left to our subjective feelings in testing the validity of our attitude, or the sincerity of our humility and repentance. Jesus gave a litmus test we can apply to ourselves to know for sure if our prayer for forgiveness is legitimate or spurious. The same frame of mind which spawns in us an authentic request to be forgiven also creates in us a willingness to forgive.
If our spirit and attitude are right, our humility and repentance real, we will deem our sins against God as much more serious than any wrongs committed by others against us. God has far more to forgive each of us for than any of us will ever have to forgive anyone else. This is not to minimize the severity or seriousness of the hurt others cause us. The issue is, what is done against us affronts humanity, what is done against God affronts deity.
Matthew 6:12d “. . . our debtors.”
Augustine called “as we forgive our debtors” the terrible petition. It forces us to include our enemies in our prayers, to reckon with God over people we don’t like. “Me, my four, and a few friendly more” is out the door.
We can not be made right with God until willing to be made right with people. If we forgive not others, we break the bridge over which we have to cross to be forgiven. Anyone who does not forgive others is not forgiven by God. Unforgiving, unforgiven.
General Oglethorp, founder and first governor of the colony of Georgia, outraged at a servant on a trip to America, said to John Wesley, “I never forgive.” The preacher promptly replied, “Then I hope you never sin.”
Our willingness to forgive must be a predisposition, an ongoing unconditional state of mind rather than something we decide whether or not to do based on how we feel after each incident. We are not to take time to measure how badly hurt we are, and then choose whether or not to forgive. We rather decide in advance to forgive, whatever happens.
Matthew 6:13a “And . . .”
Note the conjunction. In the spiritual realm, future success is inextricably connected to rightfully handling the past. “No man should go into the future with God till he has a clear heart” (Vaughan, in B.I.) about the past. Once forgiven, though, our battle is not over. Forgiveness for past sin is not enough. We also need prevention of future sin.
A forgiven sinner has an increased sense of personal weakness. Our text is the cry of a humble self-distrusting sinner who realizes he is ever in danger of becoming a worse sinner still. A forgiven sinner pleads, “Oh, Lord, please do not let the devil run roughshod over me again. Surround me with Your hedge of protection. Be a wall of fire about me.”
Forgiven sinners know there never comes an hour when we are invincible. Past forgiveness does not remove the inevitability of future conflicts. Our old man, our sin nature, our tendency to sin remains ever in us. We can never let down our guard.
Matthew 6:13b “. . . lead us not into temptation, . . .”
“Us” reminds us “we are not fighting alone” (Blyth). Do not pray selfishly. Hundreds of us gather here every Sunday morning for mutual support. Many come struggling with temptations and addictions. Pray for one another.
In praying, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are not asking God to remove from us trials and ordeals, His means appointed for our growth. We are asking that our own lusts not be allowed to trip us. We pray to be neither tried too severely nor to be led into a situation where we might fall into sin.
It is essentially impossible to predict how we will fare in the wake of persistent, insidious, and violent temptations. Thus, let us humbly beware, never contradicting our prayers by our deeds.
Many become their own tempters by rushing into dangerous situations. We know where temptation is and often head straight for it. To pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” and then expose ourselves to temptation is to live a lie.
“Lead us not into temptation” is the heartfelt cry of all whose greatest dread is sin. Ambrose said, “If I were standing on a wall between hell and sin, I would leap into hell rather than into sin.” I wonder how strong our convictions are against offending God. How would we have phrased this, the only negative petition in the Lord’s Prayer – lead us not into poverty, sickness, death? Is our strongest desire the urge to walk close to God? McCheyne prayed, “Lord, make me as holy as a saved sinner can be.” Wesley said, “My one aim in life is to secure personal holiness.” Do these words express our sentiment? Is pleasing God our chief aim?
Spurgeon told of a coal miner who had lived a sensual life and been a blasphemer. When converted, he endured scorn, mockery, and ill-treatment from old friends who kept trying to drag him down. Sensing his lusts strengthening and his resolve weakening, in dread of falling, he one morning knelt at the mine entrance, and prayed earnestly for God to let him die before he fell back into his old ways. He died that day. Was his prayer too urgent? To pray it and mean it we must have for God a white hot love, the kind of passion He means for us to have as we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”
Matthew 6:13c “. . . but deliver us from evil: . . .”
The first person plural is given again to prevent selfishness, the vice of prayer. I urge us all to develop a personal ministry of intercession. Pray for others. Intercession is a favorite part of my prayer time.
“Deliver us from evil,” the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer, brings us face to face again with our recurring nemesis – evil. “It surrounds the purest, clings to the holiest, shadows the brightest” (Vaughan, in B.I.).
Because evil is a constant, formidable foe, our Lord taught us to pray boldly against it. The word translated “deliver” is a power word, picturing snatching away, pulling out, dragging from, rescuing someone from a perilous situation. It is the urgent cry of people who know they can not rescue themselves, but know they serve a God who can break every yoke and let the oppressed go free.
Never despair. Do recognize, confront, and acknowledge our own abject weakness, but once this is done, reach out and take of God’s absolute power. Our walk with God should not be one of despair, but rather one of confidence. We can always triumph over temptation.
This is our birthright. When praying for victory over evil, expect an affirmative answer, for deliverance from sin is always God’s will for our life. “This is God’s will, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Matthew 6:13d “For thine is the kingdom, . . .”
All sovereignty is inherently invested in Jesus. He alone has intrinsic authority to justly govern all things. Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords even now. This fact may sometimes seem hard to believe.
The kingdom of this world often appears to belong to fate or chance or even to evil itself. Rest assured Jesus is in the final analysis Earth’s supreme ruler, reigning with absolute authority.
To say “thine is the kingdom” is to pledge to King Jesus our own personal disciplined obedience. We thereby admit we are under orders, having a mandate to fulfill, a kingdom to extend, a Savior to tell the world about.
Matthew 6:13e “. . and the power, and the glory, . . .”
“The power” – I love this note of unbounded confidence. Christians should never fear or doubt the final outcome. God is able and sufficient, having “the power” to provide all we need.
He alone has this “power.” Thus, seek no honor for us, but praise Him for all we are and ever hope to be. Give Him “the glory”.
Matthew 6:13f “. . . for ever. Amen.”
Praise is the never ending, ever ongoing, work of Heaven. Let’s begin our Heaven rehearsal now. It always becomes Christians to be lavish in their praise.
We should be glad the glory will be His forever. Even eternity will not last long enough to give Jesus all the praise He deserves. We will eternally do it because it is eternally due Him.
He shall forevermore be “the central Figure on the whole drama of the universe” (Keller). In light of this, I sound a solemn note. Before this timeless One we will all one day stand and give an account. Are we ready?