Though the Lord gave the disciples so many blessings day by day, they invariably misused Godís good gifts. This misuse implied that they built up a debt with God of such magnitude that they had no right to appeal to God again for daily bread. With such a debt, prayer is effectively impossible.
Jesusí instruction to the twelve, though, was that they should mention the debt to God very honestly. More, they should ask God in heaven to forgive this debt. With this instruction, Jesus taught His disciples to ask God to take that debt away so that it was irretrievably gone Ė like the gravy stain washed off the dinner plate.
Ground for Forgiveness
Why could Jesus give a petition as this? Here is the gospel of free grace, as God had proclaimed it in the Old Testament. All those sacrifices of the old dispensation Ėand among those numerous sacrifices were offerings that had to be made day by dayĖ heralded to the people of Israel (including the disciples standing around Jesus!) that forgiveness of sins was Godís free gift to His unworthy people. Whereas the Israelite ought to die on account of his sins, whereas the sinner ought to remain eternally in Godís debt and so spend an eternity in hell, God was pleased to wipe sins away so that the sinner might go free, totally and eternally free; the animal died in his place.
The sacrifices of the temple foreshadowed the coming sacrifice of the Perfect Man on the cross. In the words of Isaiah the prophet:
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed" (53:5).
So there was a David who received from the Lordís gracious hand his daily bread, be it health and a home, be it marriage and children, be it food and drink, even the throne of the land. But David did not appreciate Godís good gifts, did not use them to do Godís will in his circumstances (and so glorify Godís name); David instead used his health and his home, his humour and his figure to entice Bethsheba into his bed Ė sin. God gave to this king in Israel the power and mind to rule over His people, but David did not use Godís gifts to do Godís will in His circumstances; he instead used his power and his army to kill innocent Uriah.
This is the man, though, who spoke so gloriously of sins being forgiven. This is the man who could say in Ps 32:
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity" (vss 1f).
Peter stood with the twelve as Jesus instructed His disciples about prayer. Not so very long afterward he denied vehemently that he so much as knew who Jesus was (Luke 22:54ff). Here was sin, here was a debt with God that Peter could not begin to pay off. But on the day of Pentecost, this very same Peter could speak of forgiveness of sins to the crowds who were dismayed at the thought that they had killed Godís greatest gift to them; said Peter:
The author of the letter to the Hebrews describes the effects of Christís sacrifice on the cross. Since there is forgiveness for sins through the blood of Christ, Godís people are boldly to enter the presence of God Himself by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19). Jesusí payment for sin on the cross has torn apart the curtain that prevented access to God, so that Godís people may freely speak their minds to holy God Himself. "Let us draw near", says the apostle, "with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (10:22).
That is: with Jesusí instruction in the fifth petition He told the twelve what to pray to make prayer as a whole possible! In the face of all their misuse of Godís gifts, in the face of all the selfishness that characterised their lives, in the face of all the disobedience to Godís will that abounded in their lives day by day, they could not speak with God unless there was forgiveness of sins. And forgiveness was what God promised in the Old Testament, yes, forgiveness was what Jesus obtained on the cross, and so access is readily available again to God. So the disciples should pray the fifth petition, daily. And we are to pray that same petition also, daily. Though our misuse of Godís bountiful gifts lead us to conclude that we dare not appear in Godís holy presence again ĖHe cannot but be terribly angry with usĖ Jesus tells us here to meet the obstacle to prayer head on, to confess sin, to ask for free remission of that debt Ė for Jesusí sake. In the words of the Catechism: "for the sake of Christís blood, do not impute to us, wretched sinners, any of our transgressions, nor the evil which still clings to us" (Lordís Day 51). Then prayer as a whole is possible again.