The Son of Man’s Authority on Earth to Forgive Sins
The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity| October 11, 2015| St. Matthew 9:1-8
So he got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city. Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, “This Man blasphemes!” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”; then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” And he arose and departed to his house. Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men. St. Matthew 9:1-8
This account of Jesus forgiving the paralyzed man and then to prove his authority to do so healing him of his paralysis is a wonderful lesson for us today. Our faith is under constant attack. The father of lies would divert us from trusting in God’s word. He’ll try to falsify it, replace it with bogus promises, divert our attention from it, or convince us that we know better in our heart of hearts than what God says to us in the Holy Scriptures. This Gospel account teaches us that God forgives us our sins through the spoken word. Jesus Christ, the Son of man, has authority on earth to forgive sins. He didn’t lock that power up in heaven at his ascension. Rather, as St. Paul teaches in his Epistle to the Ephesians, after ascending on high he gave gifts to men, establishing the ministry of the Word in and for his church. Christ gave to his Christians the power to forgive sins. To the end of time Jesus will forgive sins in and through his church on earth.
On the basis of our text please consider with me this morning four things about the forgiveness of sins that Jesus speaks to us. First: We need the forgiveness of sins. Second: Only Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. Third: Faith is the only way to receive the forgiveness of sins. Fourth: Forgiving sinners is what brings glory to God.
We need the forgiveness of sins. Who would deny it? But we do deny it when we set our need for forgiveness aside as being less important than other needs that we feel are more pressing. I need to take control of my life. I need to make more money. I need to get rid of the pains I feel in my body. We feel certain needs and we evaluate our greatest needs by the strength of our feelings.
If you were paralyzed, unable to walk, without a wheelchair, without handicap access, and totally dependent on the charity of others to carry you where you need to go, you might think that your greatest need would be to gain the ability to walk. St. Mark’s account of this event reports that it occurred in a house where Jesus was preaching. It was so crowded that they could not get in the door, so the paralytic’s friends took him up to the roof of the house, broke a hole through the ceiling, and lowered him down to where Jesus was. Why? Why, to be healed! So that their friend could walk! If anyone could heal him it was Jesus. Jesus had healed others. To gain the ability to walk was what this man needed most of all.
But that’s not so. He needed forgiveness of sins most of all. He needed to be forgiven of his sins against God more than he needed the ability to walk and become self-reliant. When Jesus saw the paralyzed man he did not immediately heal his paralysis. He immediately forgave him his sins. He gave him what he needed the most.
Sin is self-love. It is placing our wants above the needs of the other. It is placing our affection on our own opinions and desires as being more important than God’s honor and word. It is using God’s commandments to justify ourselves and condemn our neighbors. This is what sinners do. We need forgiveness. We cannot live before God without it.
That we don’t feel the need doesn’t make it any less compelling. We think according to how we feel and we feel according to the needs and comfort of the body. But we are not animals. Our bodily pain or lack thereof is a poor measure of our wellbeing. We were created in God’s image to know him and to love him as our greatest good. To be alienated from God is to be spiritually dead. It is to have no purpose, no true meaning in life, and no life worth living. To live without the forgiveness of sins is to live under God’s judgment. If we are at odds with our Creator, suffering bodily hardship cannot ennoble us and being relieved of physical pain cannot bring us true joy. The deepest need of those made in God’s image is to be at peace with God.
There is nothing we need more in this life than to receive the forgiveness of sins from God. The Psalmist writes:
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit. Psalm 32:1-2
To be forgiven means your sins are covered by the blood of Jesus. God does not impute your guilt to you. It is washed away.
Second: Only Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. It is only through Jesus that sins are forgiven. Only Jesus has borne our sins. He who bore them can forgive them. God gave the Ten Commandments. Sins are acts of disobedience to God. Since God is the One who is sinned against only God can forgive sins. This is why the Bible scholars thought evil in their hearts against Jesus. They thought that Jesus was blaspheming by claiming the authority to do what only God can do. Only God has the authority to forgive sins. Jesus is God in the flesh. He took upon himself the sin of the whole world. John the Baptist identified him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He who lived a life of perfect obedience to the law and suffered the punishment for all sin against the law has the authority to forgive sinners their sins against that law.
He has the authority here on earth. He exercises that authority here on earth. At the beginning of the church service every Sunday we confess our sins to God and God’s minister stands up and forgives us all our sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Some years ago I was talking to a pastor who took over a congregational vacancy in northern Minnesota and got a real shock the first Sunday morning he was there when, after absolving the congregation of their sins, an entire family stood up and walked out of the church. He later learned that the previous pastor never absolved the congregation and that that particular family didn’t believe any man had the authority to do so. They deny this authority to the church and her ministers by the pious assertion: only God has the authority to forgive sins! Therefore, no man can.
Well, I have a question for those Christians who deny our authority to forgive sins. Do you deny God’s right to appoint men to speak on his behalf? May Jesus, who has the authority to forgive sins here on earth, designate men to forgive sins on his behalf? You may not deny Jesus this authority. He purchased this authority with his own blood. He bore the sin of the whole world on the cross, and on Easter Sunday he appeared to his disciples, displayed to them the wounds of his crucifixion, and said:
Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)
Jesus has authority on earth to forgive sins. On earth is where the sinners do their sinning. If you could leap on up into heaven to find God for yourself, you wouldn’t need Jesus and you wouldn’t need his ministry. But you can’t. You can’t fly up to heaven by your own powers. Thank God that heaven has come down to you and remained with you.
Third: Faith is the only way to receive the forgiveness of sins. Only Jesus can forgive sins and only faith can receive the forgiveness he gives. Faith is a slippery thing. Religious people talk about it, but it is widely misunderstood. You can know if you believe but only God can see the faith of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus saw the faith of the men who brought the paralytic to him. They brought their friend to Jesus because they had confidence in Jesus. And so it is. Parents bring their children to church. That’s where Jesus is. Jesus sees their faith and has mercy on their children. It’s not that the faith of the parents can substitute for the faith of the children. Everyone must personally believe the gospel to receive the benefits of it. But there is no faith except where the Holy Spirit is there to create it. Jesus and the Holy Spirit go together.
Faith is the only way to receive the forgiveness of sins. It doesn’t do so by reflecting on itself, asking if it is sufficiently sincere, strong, or fruitful in good deeds. True faith doesn’t consider itself at all. My faith hears the words of the gospel and says Amen to them, trusting they are true, trusting that they apply, not just to others, but to me. Jesus bore my sins. He is talking to me when he says, “Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.”
They say that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. Well, I don’t know what else will. What is church but where Jesus preaches his gospel and administers his sacraments? And where he exercises his authority to forgive sins, does he not also establish faith, nourish faith, and give to faith what it trusts in? When Jesus says the words that forgive us our sins and we believe what he says we receive the forgiveness of sins. This makes us Christians. This makes us heirs of everlasting life. This brings us healing for both body and soul. If our bodies don’t experience perfect healing until the resurrection on the last day, that’s just fine. Because we live by faith and faith doesn’t go by what it sees or feels. It goes by what it hears from God. It lives on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
Finally: Forgiving sinners is what brings glory to God. They glorified God for giving such power to men. Jesus isn’t men. He’s a man. He’s one person: true God and true man. They glorified God for giving such power to men. The power does not belong solely to Jesus. It belongs to his church. It belongs to every man, woman, and child in his church. What brings God glory is what he gives to us unworthy sinners here on earth. He brings the power of heaven to earth. It was here on earth that he purchased the authority to forgive. It is here on earth that we need the forgiveness. So it is here that he exercises his authority to forgive us our sins.
There is nothing we need more in life than the forgiveness of our sins. That’s why we need to come to church. Here is Jesus with the full authority of his almighty word. Here faith is born and nourished. Here God is glorified by exercising such power among us. So here we come, Sunday after Sunday, to receive from the Son of Man the forgiveness that he alone can give.