"Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."
3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!"
4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Get up and walk'? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . ." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." 7 And the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men."
I would like to look at two issues that this passage raises.
1. Why does Jesus forgive the man's sin?
2. How can Jesus forgive sin?
1. WHY DOES JESUS FORGIVE THE MAN'S SIN?
Some people bring a friend to Jesus. The friend is paralysed. We assume that they have brought him for healing. But Jesus looks at the man and says "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven".
Some of the commentaries suggest that the forgiveness of the man's sins was part of the physical healing: Jesus looked at this paralysed man and realised that the problem was psychosomatic. So Jesus says to him, 'Your sins are forgiven. Your guilt is taken away' - and in saying that he releases the man.
Now of course much sickness is psychosomatic. I remember when my granny came down to breakfast one morning and her left arm was waving uncontrollably. We thought she had had a stroke. But when the doctor cane it turned out that the problem was not her arm. My mother had been complaining of an aching left arm. In the end the remedy for my grannies arm was an injection into my mother's arm.
But I do not think that that is going on here.
The friends bring the man for healing. Jesus could have exercised his authority to heal the man immediately
Instead, he sees the faith of the friends and the man, and Jesus gratuitously exercises his authority to forgive sin.
From our perspective, physical or emotional healing is the most important thing that we could possibly need.
We certainly do not think that we need forgiveness.
Jesus spoke to a culture that had and knew the Old Testament law. They had an idea of what sin was. But we live in a culture which says that 'anything goes', so long as it does not hurt another person. And the only sin we recognise is the sin that might put a person in prison.
From our perspective we do not need forgiveness
From God's perspective, the most important thing that we need is forgiveness
Jesus came to deal with sin. That was his purpose. Jesus was the sin-buster. That was his life. That was his message. That is why he died.
Let me explain: Sin is the barrier that cuts me off from God and from true life.
I sin, because I reject God, because I will not listen to God, because I choose to do what is convenient or easy and not what God would have me do, because I live for my desires, because I am arrogant and proud and judgmental and cynical and critical and cold, because I live by law and not by faith.
And because I sin, I am paralysed, spiritually paralysed.
I live but I do not know God and I do not know life.
It is possible to be physically paralysed and still to know life. Some of you will have read of Joni Earikson. She was an 18 year old who dived into a swimming pool, hit the bottom, and has been paralysed ever since. She despaired of life. But then she met God. She started to learn to paint with her mouth, she writes and she lives. She lives life to the full. One person wrote: "That Joni in her motorised wheel chair lives life far more fully than many fully able people".
It is possible to be physically paralysed and to know life.
It is not possible to ignore sin and to know real life.
Sin is very real and needs to be dealt with. And Jesus here deals with it. He says, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven"
And notice the word 'son'. It is very striking. Jesus does not use it of an individual anywhere else in Matthew's gospel. He talks of people being 'sons of the kingdom; sons of God; even sons of hell'. But on this occasion Jesus speaks to this man either as a parent, or more accurately, he speaks with the authority of Father God. And Father God, through Jesus, declares the man's sins forgiven, and declares him to be his child.
That is what forgiveness does. It wipes out the barrier of sin that separates us from God and enables us to become children of God. It enables us in our prayers to cry out to God, "Father". It is the beginning of real life.
2. HOW CAN JESUS FORGIVE SIN?
Only God can forgive sin. If N slaps P on the cheek, I cannot turn to N and say, "You are forgiven". Only the person who has been wronged has the power to say, "I forgive you". Unless of course I made both of you, and it was I who said, "A must not slap B". Unless of course I am God, or I am speaking with the authority of God.
Jesus, in declaring the forgiveness of sins, is claiming to speak with the authority of God.
That of course gave rise to fierce criticism: "This fellow is blaspheming".
But Jesus demonstrates his authority to speak for God in two things
1. He knows what the teachers of the law were saying: v4 "knowing their thoughts"
2. He changes the life of the paralysed man. He sets the paralysed man free.
Chapters 7, 8 and 9 are all about the authority of Jesus.
We have seen that he has authority in teaching (7.29), over leprosy and sickness, wind and waves, demons.
And in this passage, Jesus claims authority to forgive sin.
It is quite a claim to make.
The situation is this:
But in this passage Jesus does not only just claim to be able to forgive sin. He also justifies that claim.
Jesus asks a question.
Which is easier? To say to someone 'yours sins are forgiven', or to say, 'get up and walk'.
At one level the harder thing to say is 'Your sins are forgiven', because only God can forgive sins. However anyone can say, 'Your sins are forgiven'. It cannot really be verified.
So at another level, it is harder to say, 'get up and walk', because that can be verified immediately.
So Jesus says: v6: "But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins .. Get up, take your mat and go home". And the man gets up and goes home.
It was enough for some people to believe.
Certainly the paralysed man believed Jesus
And we are told that the crowd, "were filled with awe; and they praised God who had given such authority to men"
So what about us?
1. When we come to Jesus we have to recognise that we come to someone who has authority.
We need to let him do what he would do. For instance, we might be praying for someone's physical healing, when what Jesus wishes to do is to restore them to a relationship with God, and to give them eternal life. He does do far more than we can ask for or imagine.
2. Do you believe that your sins are forgiven?
Of course I am talking now to people who are aware that they have sins that need to be forgiven. If you don't think that you are a sinner, you can turn off, because this bit is only for sinners.
But maybe you do look into your heart and you see the rubbish - you see the things that you have thought or think or do or have done - and you wince inside. You see how you have hurt other people. You see how you are messed up. You begin to see the destructive patterns that have built up in your mind. And you begin to understand how you have rebelled against God, how you have hurt God.
Maybe you have tried to improve.
Maybe you have tried education: if I can only understand myself.
But as D. L. Moody, the great American evangelist, once memorably said, "If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and, in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track."
Maybe you have tried positive thinking:
Or perhaps we feel a bit like the villagers who had been sold a special powder by an alchemist, that he claimed would turn water into gold provided that when they mixed it, they never thought of red monkeys. Well, of course, no one ever got the gold, because when they told themselves to stop thinking about red monkeys they could only think of red monkeys. It doesn't work to say, "Well, I'm just not going to think about those things. I'm going to put all of that out of my mind."
We know the power of sin, and maybe we feel that we cannot be forgiven.
I remember a man walking into church and saying, "God could never forgive me after what I have done".
Listen. What is bigger: your sin or Jesus? Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. We declare that authority here in church. The minister says, "Your/our sins are forgiven .. in the name of Jesus". And if you come to him, with even the biggest amount of sin and the tiniest amount of faith, and you ask for forgiveness, you will walk away a forgiven sinner. And God really has wiped the slate clean: the disk is not only erased, but smashed into pieces and melted down.
So when you go back and say, "God, I am sorry, but I have done it again", God will answer, "Done what again?"
The story is told of a child who broke one of mum's best vases. She said, "Mummy I am sorry I've broken your vase." Mum had a bit of a strop, but then said, "It's OK. It's done with now. I still love you. You're forgiven". The following day you go to mum: "Mum I'm ever so sorry. I've broken the vase". "What! Another one!". "No. I broke the vase yesterday". But, mum says, "I have forgiven you"
We can be like that with God. Going back and back and back to him, going over the same old sin.
When you go to Jesus with the tiniest faith, and say sorry, you are forgiven.
So two questions:
Why does Jesus forgive the man's sin?
It is at the heart of what he came to do.
How could he?
Because Jesus speaks with the authority of God. And God can forgive sin: And when Jesus tells you that your sins are forgiven and that you are a child of God, your sins are forgiven and you are a child of God.