Matthew 9:1-8 (NIV) Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “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 I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 Then 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 man.
Who has the authority to do what? This question looms large lately in high places in our country. But it also really is part of everyday life in many ways. Where does your doctor get the authority to write out prescriptions? Why does your teacher have the authority to give assignments and administer tests? Who gives authority to your mom and dad to tell you to clean your room? What gives the policeman the authority to pull you over for speeding or going through a red light? Questions regarding authority are very much part of everyday life. None looms larger, though, then the one in the Word of God before us today. Does Jesus really have the authority to forgive your and my sins, sins that would otherwise send us to the well-deserved fires of hell forever? So let’s give our full attention to God’s answer the Holy Spirit caused Matthew to pen as we heard a few moments ago and this grand truth: JESUS HAS THE AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE SINS. I. His words of forgiveness contain that inherent authority. II. His words of healing back up that authority.
Jesus had just performed the miracle of driving out demons from some men on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Now he and the disciples had gone by boat over the sea toward its north coast to the town he now called home, Capernaum. Great crowds were now following him everywhere to hear his teaching and, perhaps even more to see him perform some miracle. Some friends of a man who was paralyzed brought him on a mat to the house where Jesus was teaching. When they got there they found the house so crowded that they could not get near Jesus. So they climbed the stairs to the flat roof of the house, tore up some of the tiles, and made a hole big enough to let down their friend on the mat right in front of Jesus. Imagine yourself one of those friends now peering down through that hole, hoping Jesus will heal your friend and hear the first thing Jesus said to him.
Jesus saw an even greater need of healing than the man’s legs. He saw in him as he sees in all people by nature, sin, damning sin. Some might have thought that Jesus saw some sin that had caused this man’s dilemma, something like when Job’s friends accused him of some certain, awful sin that caused God to punish him with all his troubles. No, this man had the same need all have. As the apostle Paul wrote, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So Jesus healed this man spiritually, speaking the words of absolution, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Jesus saw their faith, we are told, the faith of the friends that brought this man and the faith of this man. Faith that Jesus could heal him, yes, but, even more, faith that Jesus had the authority to forgive his sins.
Not so with the teachers of the law that were part of the crowd. They didn’t have the courage to say it out loud, but inwardly they said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming”. In one of the other gospels we are told they also thought, “Only God can forgive sins.” Oh, how right they were without knowing it. Jesus is God, God’s own Son in human flesh, come to win forgiveness of sins for all lost sinners. That is why, as he hung on the cross as payment for all sins some of his last words were a plea for forgiveness for those who nailed him there, “Father, forgive them.” Yes, inherent in the fact that Jesus is God and inherent in his full payment for all sin, Jesus words of forgiveness inherently contain the authority to forgive sins.
Just like this paralytic, Jesus looks into our hearts and lives and sees our greatest need, forgiveness of sins. The word for sin here is from archery. It means to miss the bull’s eye perfectly. Miss the bull’s eye, I don’t even hit the target of fulfilling God’s law perfectly and neither do you. How do we know? In sin our mothers conceived us and we see our sins daily in the mirror of God’s law. Love God and people perfectly? Not close. So when we hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness for our every sin that would otherwise damn us to hell, we can indeed do as Jesus told the paralytic, “Take heart”, be encouraged, be filled with hope, look forward to heaven, “Son, daughter, your sins are forgiven.” This is God and your Savior speaking to you. He has the inherent authority to forgive our sins. And he has given that authority to his people to forgive the sins of the penitent sinners. So when we hear our pastor here in worship say, “For the sake of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins”, take heart, soak it in, those words are just as certain as if Christ Jesus spoke them himself.
“Easy for you to say”, is a fairly common expression. I might tell you I am going to mail you a million dollars. Easy for me to say, but can I back it up? Well, to those law teacher skeptics, Jesus said, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? As God and Savior Jesus could say both with all authority. But to back up his authority to forgive sins in a very visible way Jesus said to the paralyzed man on the mat, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And just like depicted in the video, the man got up, took up his mat, and went home. This was an awesome miracle for this man and his friends. Healing of the body is a great blessing. But the greater blessing remained that his healing backed up Jesus’ authority to give the even greater blessing, forgiveness of sins. For sickness and trouble would still likely come to this man. Death would surely come. But the forgiveness of sins takes away separation from God, assures his presence and peace in this life, overcomes death and the grave, and opens the door to the joy and peace of paradise eternally. What a blessing that Jesus has the authority to forgive our sins.
As all of Scripture, this incident is written for our learning, even more for the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith in Jesus and his life and death as our Savior who has the inherent authority to forgive our sins and does. Surely as the crowd did on seeing the healing, we praise and thank God for his many times of physical healing of our bodies and the bodies of loved ones. But those healings are temporary. Forgiveness of our sins is a forever blessing. And we have another incident recorded in Scripture that makes his authority even more certain. When Jesus rose from the dead the Father put his seal of approval on that authority in answer to Jesus’ plea from the cross for those who nailed him there, including you and me and our sins, “Father, forgive them.” As the risen Savior, he himself said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That includes, “Son, daughter, take heart, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus added one more layer to that security blanket when he prayed to his heavenly Father the night before he paid for all sins, “For you have granted him (Jesus) authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given to him.” Yes, when Jesus comes again on the last day he will say to us, “Get up. Take up your new body and go home.” He has that authority also.
This word of God was assigned to me for my first sermon some 54 years ago in my first year at the seminary. I probably preached that sermon in various places ten to fifteen times. I remember my theme like it was yesterday, “The Certainty of Salvation.” I share this with you not to reminisce, but to share with you the grand truth that here some 54 years later Jesus still has the authority to forgive all our sins and, therefore, salvation is still certain and it will always be. Amen.