Listen: Matthew 6:14-15 : For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Forgiving my neighbor who wronged me is not an option for my new self. My new self, which finds forgiveness in Jesus every day, is compelled by love to forgive. Unfortunately, my sinful nature doesn’t consider forgiveness an option, either, because in my sinful nature there is no room for forgiveness.
That’s why Peter once came to Jesus with a question about forgiveness. “Should I forgive my neighbor seven times?” Do you see Peter’s sinful nature coming through in that question? Do I HAVE to forgive my neighbor? Can I forgive him seven times and consider it done? Jesus answered him and said, “Not seven times, but seven times seventy times.” In other words, you keep on forgiving your neighbor until you are certain you have forgiven him, and he is certain that you have forgiven him.
This passage would give us little room for heaven if we read it any other way. Understand it this way. “For if you keep on forgiving other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not keep on forgiving others their sins, you Father will not forgive your sins.” The only way you will not keep on forgiving your brother is if your new self has died in you and you no longer believe. And that’s why God will not forgive you. Forgiving your neighbor is a struggle between your new self and old self. As long as you keep on struggling and keep on forgiving, you are a believer and forgiven before God.
Prayer: Father, how many sins have I sinned against you already today? How many sins in my lifetime have I committed? If you kept a record of sins, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, for what I stand in awe of you. Teach me to forgive my neighbor from the heart, over and over and over again. I ask this in your name. Amen.
Listen: Matthew 6:16-18: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Fasting was not commanded in the Old or New Testament. At the same time, believers in the Old and New Testament practiced fasting (not eating food) for periods of time in order to spend their time in prayer or in repentance of sins committed or in a time of mourning. Sometimes Christians have fasted before going to the Lord’s Supper. Luther said, “Fasting and other outward preparations may serve a good purpose, but he is properly prepared who believes in these words, “Given” and “poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” What can easily happen is that the custom of fasting becomes more important than the sacrament or prayer or faith. That’s what Jesus was speaking about in these words. Pharisees often fasted to call attention to themselves and their supposedly devout life. They actors on a stage wearing a mask while their hearts told a different story. That’s what hypocrisy is.
Do we sometimes wear the mask of hypocrisy? Yes, we do. We put on a good face and pretend to be devout and righteous while we know that in our hearts there are all kinds of evil thoughts. Who of us wants to be unmasked before our family or our friends or our co-workers?
I only pray that I will never wear a mask before my Father in heaven. Before him, whether I am fasting or not, I will confess my grievous sins. Before him, I will not pretend to be devout, but will freely acknowledge the depravity of my sinful nature in my thoughts, words and actions. I can stand unmasked before my Father in heaven, because I know that he forgives all my sins for Jesus’ sake. Before him, my life is hidden with Christ and that is all that matters.
Prayer: Father, before you I don’t have to pretend, or wear a mask. You know me altogether and see even what lies hidden in my heart. I will not hide myself from you, because I know that I am hidden with Christ in you. Teach me to live my life without a disguise and in my life to let the world see the joy that I have in you. Amen.