Jesus Actually Has Authority to Forgive Sins

Jesus’ public preaching and healing ministry started in Capernaum, He travelled across the Sea of Galilee and met some Gentiles, and now He will travel back across the Sea of Galilee to his home town. His early ministry is exclusive to the area of Galilee, north of Samaria, which is north of Judea. Jesus might be described, at this point, as fairly local. In this text we learn something about the limit of the forgiveness of sins and about the necessity of the incarnation.

Matthew 9:1-8

Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.”

And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.”

And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? 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, pick up your bed and go home.”

And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Forgiveness of sins (v. 1-2)

Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.”

Jesus gets back into the boat, presumably with his disciples even though they are not explicitly mentioned, and leaves the gentile Decapolis. He comes to His own city, Nazareth in Galilee (2:22-23).

Normally when we hear about Jesus doing ministry in Nazareth, we hear about the instance in Matthew 13:53-58, during which Jesus did not do much healing because of people’s unbelief. That is where we see the famous words, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household” (13:57). Here, earlier in the story, we see quite the opposite sort of welcome. The people of Nazareth are described as a people of faith who bring to Jesus a paralytic so that He might heal him.

Instead of healing him, Jesus called the paralytic, “son,” and forgave his sins. There are some major implications, here, about Jesus’ view of his own ministry. First, healing is not his primary focus. The forgiveness of sins is. Second, Jesus sees those who receive forgiveness of sins as his children or loved subjects or disciples who learn wisdom from him (represented by the Greek word “τεκνον”). So, it is those who receive the forgiveness of sins who are in Christ. What it means to be in Christ, a follower of Christ, a ‘child’ of Christ is to have one’s sins forgiven by Christ. This basic connection has some major implications as we think about whether or not all people will actually be forgiven. If being forgiven makes a person a loved subject of Christ, then either all people are forgiven and are disciples of Christ or not everyone is a disciple and, therefore, not everyone is forgiven of their sins. If not everyone is a follower of Christ, how might we interpret Mark 3:28?

This may be one reason why Matthew omits the specific wording of Mark 3:28 when he records the same story in 12:22-37. Matthew had Mark’s Gospel available to him, but Mark’s wording was such that, in the context of Matthew’s entire Gospel, that wording might have led people to believe in some sort of doctrine of universal salvation. So, in light of the truth revealed here in Matthew 9, we must perform a proper basic examination of Mark 3:28-30 so that we are not developing doctrines that are contrary to Scripture:

“Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

There are two ways that Jesus’ words can be interpreted at face value and without the surrounding context. Notice, firstly, that Christ does not say, according to John Mark, that all people will be forgiven. He states that all sins will be forgiven. So, this could be interpreted to mean that every individual sin will be forgiven or that every type of sin will be forgiven. The difference between these two interpretations means much concerning doctrine. One interpretation necessitates that every individual sin is forgiven in Christ and, thus, Christ died to atone for everyone. This naturally leads to a form of universalism. The other interpretation refers to the types of sins that will be forgiven and does not necessitate a form of universalism because not everyone has to be atoned for. Which interpretation do you think is the correct interpretation of Mark 3?

In verse 29, Jesus teaches about a type of sin that will not be forgiven. In fact, He states clearly that is the person, “whoever,” who will not be forgiven if he or she commits this sin. In one verse, Jesus states that all the sins of men will be forgiven. In the next, He states that the person who commits a specific sin will never be forgiven. We mentioned briefly what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit last week and we will describe that type of sin in detail when we get to Matthew 12. By basic observation, here, we see that not every single sin will be forgiven and it is not necessarily the case that everyone will be atoned for. It is every type of sin except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that will be forgiven, not every single individual sin. So, what we see in Matthew does not contradict what we see in Mark. This verse in Mark’s Gospel that is often used to defend the Arminian doctrine of “unlimited atonement” is actually an explicit explanation of “limited atonement.” Not everyone is atoned for and Jesus will not die to atone for everyone’s sins.

Accusations against Christ (v. 3-6)

And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.”

In Isaiah 43:25-28, we see that, even though God’s people had rebelled against Him and have “burdened [God] with [their] iniquities,” God is the one who wipes out their transgressions. This makes sense, right? If God is the one we have rebelled against according to His Law, it is God who must forgive our rebellion. So, when Jesus tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven, the thought of the scribes is that only God has authority to forgive. No man has this authority because people have sinned against God. This is a correct doctrine. Jesus only has the authority to forgive sins, according to the Old Testament, if He is God. This is the second time in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus has claimed to be God and to do the things that only God has the authority to do. The first was in chapter 7, verse 21, when Jesus referred to Himself as Lord and as the one who admits people into the kingdom of heaven or rejects them. Multiple times, so far, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has allowed others to refer to Him as Lord. Here, Jesus acts as if He has authority to forgive sin, which only God can do.

So, naturally, some of the scribes say among themselves that Jesus is a blasphemer- claiming to be God without actually being God. They do this even though God has promised a Messiah who is Himself (Isaiah 53).

And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? 

Jesus knows their thoughts. He knows even their intentions. Even though they are questioning Jesus because only God can forgive sins according to the Old Testament, Jesus asks them why they are thinking evil. The word evil, πονηρος, is a word that refers to malicious intent. So, their thoughts were not based on the Bibles declaration that only God can forgive sin, but formed from their intent to think little of Jesus. Their thoughts were their own perceptions and not that of Scripture according to God’s own word.

We can do this, too, can’t we? We will criticize someone or argue with someone about something and we use thoughts that may be Biblical but our intentions are not necessarily to honor God. We speak with malicious intent and make it seem Biblical or spiritual. Jesus refers to this tendency as thinking evil in our hearts.

Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? 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, pick up your bed and go home.”

Jesus heals the paralytic as proof of his authority to forgive sins. If we remember, Isaiah 35:4-6 foretold that signs of healing would accompany the coming of the Messiah. So, when Jesus heals the paralytic, it is proof that He is God and can forgive sins. This has some implications regarding the healing ministries we see today, but the subject is too involved for us to consider as we look at this text. It will suffice to say, here, that at this juncture, Jesus authority to heal proved according to the Old Testament that He is God and has authority to forgive sin.

Here, we can apply this truth by recognizing the difference between a Christlike culture and a merely religious culture. To be Christlike is to have the intent to build others up while to merely be religious is, many times, to use the things that God has given (e.g. His word) with malicious intent. This even applies to the way we address sin and practice church discipline. Our intention is always to build others up according to Christ’s word, not to tear people down according to the thoughts or intentions of our own hearts. Most often, building others up takes the form of forgiveness, and the source of real forgiveness is Christ.

So, being Christlike means overlooking much so that we can build others up rather than tearing them down. This is a difficult thing.

The reaction of the Nazarenes (v. 7-8)

And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

The paralytic simply got up and went home. There is no mention of him after this. Matthew doesn’t make a big deal about him getting up and walking. He doesn’t stay and celebrate. He does not praise Jesus. In fact, it was others who brought him to Jesus. When he is finally able to move, he simply leaves and goes home. I find this detail to be interesting. It is the other Nazarenes who see this healing and are awestruck. The other Nazarenes glorify God. The most perplexing detail to me, in this passage, is that Matthew describes God using this adjectival phrase, “…who had given such authority to men.” God’s authority to forgive and to heal belongs to God. When Jesus heals, it is proof that He is God and has authority to forgive. What could Matthew possibly mean when he identifies God as the one who has given such authority to men? The only way that this is possible is if God, Himself, has become a man and exercises this authority as a man. At the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew described the incarnation. Here, he explains the incarnation as doctrinal truth while referencing Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah.

Jesus taught as one who had authority and He verbally forgives sins. So that the scribes (and others) may know that He has the authority, He also heals. Jesus took the time to prove His own identity as Messiah.

Questions

  1. Is it difficult to think that Christ may not forgive every individual sin or make atonement on behalf of every person?
    1. Is this different from what you have hear before?
  2. How can malicious intent sneak into our hearts as we think about other’s actions or words?
  3. What is the doctrine of the incarnation and why is it essential to Christian belief?
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