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Authority to Forgive


What do you think of when you hear the word “authority”? Some people think: “police officer” or “parent”. Interestingly enough few people associate “Jesus” with the word "authority". And yet at the end of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

I have come to the conclusion that if Jesus has no place in our picture of God, we have the wrong picture of God in our minds. The same is true of authority. If Jesus has no place in our picture of authority, we have the wrong view of authority. In fact, Jesus transforms the conventional view of authority, especially in this passage from Matthew 9:1-8,
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 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.” 
At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts 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, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.
The first thing we see about authority and forgiveness in this passage is that forgiveness follows from faith. The Scripture says that when Jesus saw their faith, that is the faith of the men who carried the paralytic, and the faith of the paralytic himself, then Jesus forgave the man of his sin.

Jesus spoke to the paralytic in endearing terms. He called him “son”. This story shows us, once again, the great love and compassion of our Savior. Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take heart.” In the King James Version it reads: “Be of good cheer.”

The well known Bible teacher and hymn-writer Wendell P. Loveless once wrote about the “Three Cheers!” of the Gospel. In Matthew 9:2 Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven.” This is the good cheer of pardon and it is the starting point of all Christian life and experience. Then in Matthew 14:22-27 we hear Jesus saying to the disciples as he walks on the water in the midst of the storm, “Be of good cheer; it’s me; don’t be afraid!” That is the good cheer of comfort. Many people today are out on a stormy sea of disappointment, sorrow and temptation. But while we are being tossed about by fear, Jesus comes walking toward us on the water; in his perfect love and grace Jesus calms our hearts. Then in John 16:33 Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” That is the cheer of victory.

Have you experienced the cheer of forgiveness? I believe that if you want to experience it then you must come to Jesus in faith.

The forgiveness which follows from faith is total forgiveness. The tense of the word “forgiven” in Matthew 9 is an aoristic present. The meaning is that this man’s sins have been, are and will remain forgiven. When we come to Christ in faith he forgives our sins past, present and future.

Before he became a Christian, Bob Sheffield played professional hockey in Canada. Bob was a tough guy. He loved to fight and so found himself in jail one night after a barroom brawl. Later Bob and his wife became Christians through the ministry of The Navigators. The Sheffields grew in their faith and soon accepted a temporary assignment working for The Navigators in the United States.

Bob had to apply for landed immigrant status so that he and his wife could continue ministry in the States. However, because Bob had a criminal record this request was denied. Thankfully the Sheffields’ daughter was born in the USA and this worked in their favor. Because of their daughter they received the visa they needed to continue their work here.

This incident made Bob realize that every time The Navigators might send them to a new country and a new ministry they would be facing this same problem. Thus Bob decided to apply in Canada for what is called “The Queen’s Pardon”. A thorough investigation was conducted and the pardon was granted. On any document from that time forward on which Bob was asked if he had a criminal record he was honestly able to answer “no”. The record of his crime had been completely erased. When his fingerprints go to the Canadian Mounted Police and are run through their computer, the message comes back: “No record.”

When we come to Jesus in faith and ask him to forgive us of our sin he grants us his pardon. And from that time forward God keeps no record of our wrongdoing.

Another thing we see in this passage about authority and forgiveness is that forgiveness is God’s prerogative. The teachers of the law thought Jesus was blaspheming when he told this paralytic his sins were forgiven. The teachers believed rightly that God alone has the authority to forgive sins committed against him.

C. S. Lewis discusses the startling nature of Jesus’ claim to forgive sins in his book, Mere Christianity:
One part of the claim (Jesus’ claim to be God) tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.
Jesus refers to the Son of Man being given authority on earth to forgive sins. This title, “Son of Man”, goes back to Daniel 7:13-14 where the prophet Daniel says,
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Jesus clearly claims to be this mysterious Son of Man who is distinct from God the Father, the Ancient of Days, yet is in a special relationship with him, so much so that the Son of Man is given authority on earth, in this case, authority to forgive sin. The Son of Man shares worship with God, worship with the Ancient of Days. And he possesses not only authority, but glory, sovereign power and an everlasting kingdom.

Forgiveness is God’s prerogative. But clearly in this story Jesus is claiming that God has granted him authority to forgive sins. This story, like so many others in Matthew’s Gospel, forces us to ask, “Who is this Jesus?”

This is the Jesus who knows what the teachers of the law are thinking. And so he does something to visibly demonstrate his divine power and authority. The rabbis taught that a person could not be healed unless they were first forgiven. They taught that sin and sickness were inextricably tied together. So to prove that this paralytic had been forgiven Jesus healed him. Jesus’ authority to heal proves his authority to forgive.

Matthew presents Jesus as the King who has authority over disease, authority over disastrous storms, and authority over demons. Now Matthew shows us Jesus as the King who has authority to forgive. Jesus’ visible authority over disease proves his invisible authority to forgive.

The great news of this story is that Jesus can forgive us if we come to him in faith. We can know that we are forgiven of all our sin even when we don’t feel like it is so.

Martin Luther, in one of his moods of depression, felt as if Satan was closing in on him. It seemed as if Satan was whispering in Luther’s ear, “Martin, do you feel your sins are forgiven?” Suddenly, Luther rose to his feet and shouted, “No, I don’t, but I know they are because God says so in his Word!”

Forgiveness is dependent on God’s Word. Jesus spoke the word and the paralytic was healed. Jesus spoke the word and the paralytic was forgiven. When we rest on God’s Word of forgiveness, feelings of forgiveness will eventually follow.

The story is told of a Christian who was carrying a sack of potatoes on his back. He was asked by a skeptic, “How do you know you are forgiven?”

Taking a few steps forward and letting the potatoes fall the Christian replied, “How do I know I have dropped the bag? I haven’t looked around.”

“No,” replied the critic, “but I suppose you can tell by the lessening of the weight.”

“Exactly!” said the Christian. “That’s how I know I’m forgiven. I have lost the guilty feeling of sin and sorrow and have found peace and satisfaction in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by simply resting on His Word.”

Now, the reason why God can forgive us is all-important. God can forgive us our sins because his Son paid the price on the cross. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Nothing but the blood of Christ will remove sin.

I have heard that the Koreans have a unique New Year’s custom. Desiring to forget unpleasant things from the past and make a fresh start, each person determines what bad habits he or she wants to eliminate and what past deeds he or she wants forgiven. Then the person writes the names of these evils on a kite and flies it high into the air. When the kite is almost out of sight the person cuts the string.

Would that receiving forgiveness were that easy ... but it is not. Forgiveness of sins cost Jesus his blood, shed on the cross. I believe that through Christ and Christ alone can we be forgiven of all sin—past, present and future.

Have you come to Christ in faith to be forgiven of your sin?

A magazine clipping advertised a set of labels that could be used in billing customers. One of them read, “Neither of us can afford to let this account grow any older. Why not send a check today and get it off our minds?”

We cannot afford to allow our debt to God to grow any older. Jesus paid the debt for us if we will just receive his gift.

In 1880 James Garfield was elected president of the United States, but after only six months in office he was shot in the back with a revolver. Garfield never lost consciousness and while fully awake at the hospital the doctor probed Garfield’s wound with his little finger, seeking the bullet. The doctor could not locate it, so he used a silver-tipped probe. Still he could not find the bullet.

Garfield was taken back to Washington, D. C. Despite the summer heat, his aides tried to keep him comfortable. As Garfield grew weaker and weaker teams of doctors tried to locate the bullet, probing the wound over and over again.

In desperation, Garfield’s aides asked Alexander Graham Bell, who was working on his telephone invention, if he could locate the metal inside the president’s body. He came, he probed, and he too failed. The president hung on through July and August, but in September he finally died—not from the gunshot wound itself but from the infection which followed. The repeated probing, which the doctors thought would help the president, eventually killed him.

So it is with us when we dwell too long on our sin, probing ever deeper. What we need to do is take it to Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing.

What is your response to Jesus? The teachers of the law remained close-minded. Even with the physical evidence of Jesus’ miracle before their eyes, they still did not believe that Jesus had authority from God. And so they did not come to Jesus for forgiveness.

The crowd, on the other hand, remained confused. They praised God for the miracle and thanked him for giving such authority to men, that is, to Jesus. But they still didn’t understand who Jesus was and so did not come to him for forgiveness either.

The friends of the paralytic, on the other hand, brought him into the presence of Jesus. There was no other way that this paralytic would have made it into Jesus’ presence. He was completely paralyzed, lying on a mat. He could not help himself. His friends had to bring him.

I don’t like hearing Christians complain about people who don’t come to church. What do we expect? Do we really expect spiritually paralyzed people to make their own way into Jesus’ presence? No. We have to bring them. That is what Jesus would have us do.

William Barclay has written, “It is very characteristic of a really holy man that he clings to a really bad or an entirely thoughtless man, until he has brought that man into the presence of Jesus. . . . We cannot make a man a Christian, but we can do everything possible to bring him into Christ’s presence.”

What is your response to Jesus? Are you close-minded like the teachers of the law? Are you confused like the crowd? Or are you like the friends of the paralytic, coming and bringing others with you to Jesus?

England cricketer and missionary pioneer C. T. Studd once said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.” Let us make whatever sacrifice is necessary to come to Christ ourselves and bear others into the presence of Jesus where they too can receive the forgiveness we ourselves are experiencing.

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