Here we come to a petition that Jesus never prayed for himself: a request for forgiveness of His own personal sin. Rather, Jesus intends this petition as a model for all of His followers, because Jesus was God in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16; Colossians 2:9) who yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). But Jesus so identified Himself with sinners that He even prayed forgiveness for those who tortured Him and nailed Him to the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The first Christian martyr, Stephen, followed Jesus’ model, asking forgiveness for his executioners: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
So today, we too ask for our Father’s extravagant forgiveness of those who have sinned against us and caused us great pain. In praying this, we follow Jesus’ example and His command: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This is really difficult, so we ask for the Spirit of Christ to help us.
But we expand the meaning of “our sins” as we recognize our solidarity, our oneness with those who have gone before us. Their sins are part of the confession of “our sins”. So we pray as Ezra of old taught God’s people to pray in united confession of sin:
“O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt” (Ezra 9:6-7).
A more recent model of corporate confession of “our sins” is found in Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer in 1863:
“But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and enriched and strengthened us…It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
Without claiming any moral high ground, we ask forgiveness for our corporate sins of humanity and nation. Because “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves” (Romans 14:7), we must pray, “and forgive us our sins.”
PRAY THE LORD’S PRAYER (MORNING-NOON-NIGHT)