The King’s Authority to Forgive Sins (Exposition of Matthew 9:1-8)

Do you ever miss the point? It’s sometimes easy to do. David Rosati emailed me this week about a new book donated to the activity room of the health facility in which he works. The book is a collection of sermons by a well-known pastor on the seven sayings of Christ on the Cross and is titled: How to Live through a Bad Day. Talk about missing the point of a passage. This is the failure of much preaching today which seeks to be practical but abuses Scripture in order to do so. Through the years many preaching the miracle recorded in Matthew 9:1-8 have missed the point. Taking their text in the parallel accounts in Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:18-26 which mention the four friends who carried the paralyzed man and tore an opening in the roof in order to get their friend to Jesus, many preachers have preached about these four men instead of about the Jesus to which these men brought their friend. The point of this passage is not the importance of friends, but the deity of Jesus Christ who alone has the power to make the lame to walk again and forgive sin. Thankfully, Matthew doesn’t leave us the option of focusing on the roof or the friends since he omits these details. This is another indication that these details are not the main point of the story. Instead the focus is on Jesus who has the divine ability to forgive sins, know men’s thoughts, and heal the paralyzed. This text is once again about the King’s authority.

So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city. (2) 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.” (3) And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, “This Man blasphemes!” (4) But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? (5) For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? (6) 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.” (7) And he arose and departed to his house. (8) Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men. Matthew 9:1-8

The setting is that Jesus is now getting back in a boat to go back across the Sea of Galilee after being rejected by the inhabitants of the country of the Gergesenes. He is heading back to “His own city” which is Capernaeum (see Matthew 4:13). After arriving in Capernaeum, four men bring to Jesus a paralyzed man whom they are carrying on a mattress. Notice that “Jesus saw their faith,” not just his. These four friends’ faith was demonstrated in that they brought this paralyzed man to Jesus believing that He could heal him. Their faith is seen also in that they were so convinced of Jesus’ ability to heal their friend that this men tore a hole in the roof and lowered him into Jesus’ presence (cf. Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:18-26).

In these verses there are three evidences of the Deity of Jesus Christ.

I. Evidence #1: The Ability to Forgive Sins, vv. 1-2.

The text says in v. 2 that, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.'” It’s interesting to note that the text says that “Jesus saw their faith”. Though not the main point of the text, this is still an important point of application. We often hear it said and rightly so that no one can believe “for” someone else, but you can believe “with” someone else. In other words you have friends, family members and co-workers who need someone to come along beside them and bring them to Jesus and believe with them that God will save them from their sin. It is their faith as an individual which will justify them before God, but your faith in God’s ability to save them will be demonstrated by actually pointing them to Jesus. Do we really believe that Jesus can save? If so, we would be bringing more people to Him.

Back to the main point of the passage (see how easy it is to get distracted): Jesus doesn’t do exactly what the man and his friends desire. They brought the man to be healed physically, but instead Jesus pronounces a spiritual healing. This is an important indication that, for Jesus, man’s spiritual problems are more important than one’s physical problems! We always get that backwards, don’t we? What do we spend most of our time praying about? But the important thing to note is what Jesus was claiming when He said, “your sins are forgiven you.” He was claiming nothing less than to be God. Only God can forgive sin. Jehovah God says in Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” The scribes and Pharisees standing by understood this. According to verse 3, the scribes said within themselves, “This man blasphemes.” In Luke’s account the scribes and Pharisees are recorded as saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (5:21). These contemporary critics of Jesus understood what modern day critics of Jesus often fail to understand: Jesus claimed to be God. To pronounce forgiveness of sins was to invite two possibilities. Either the one saying such was God or a blasphemer. These scribes and Pharisees obviously concluded the latter in their unbelief.

By the way, the full deity and the full humanity of Jesus Christ is essential to my and your salvation. For the simple statement “Jesus saves” to be true then Jesus must be fully God and fully man. Jesus had to be fully man in order to take the place of sinful human beings. But man cannot save, only God can, therefore Jesus had to be fully God as well. The statement “Jesus saves” implies and requires the full humanity and deity of Jesus Christ.

II. Evidence #2: The Omniscience of Jesus, vv. 3-5.

In verses 3-5 another evidence of the deity of Jesus Christ is given. In these verses Jesus’ omniscience is seen. Not only does Jesus see the actions which demonstrate the faith of the paralyzed man and his four friends, I also believe that He could see the faith in their hearts. Likewise, Jesus is able to see into the hearts of the scribes and know their very thoughts. But instead of faith, Jesus sees evil in these hearts. Not only does Jesus have the divine power to forgive sin, He also has the divine ability to know men’s hearts. Jehovah God says in Jeremiah 17:9-10,

The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? 10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.

Follow the logic with me: Only God knows the heart. Jesus knows the hearts of the scribes. Therefore, Jesus is God.

Jesus asks a question to the scribes regarding what He has seen in their hearts. They obviously think He is pulling a quick one. Of course, they think, anyone can say your sins are forgiven, but what is the proof? So Jesus asks the question, “Which is easier? To say ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? Of course it would be harder to forgive sins, since only God can do that. But it would be easier to say that someone’s sins were forgiven because there was no way to verify that what was said had actually happened. If you said, “Arise and walk,” there would be immediate verification or falsification of what you have said.

Before the scribes can answer the question, while they are still thinking about it, Jesus says, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” . . . . And this brings us to the final evidence in this text of the deity of Jesus . . .

III. Evidence #3: The Healing Power of Jesus, vv. 6-8.

The Jews of the first century commonly associated physical illness with sin. We see this in John 9, when the disciples ask the question concerning the man born blind, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” They assumed that someone’s sin was responsible for this blindness. This, by the way, was denied by Jesus in the situation of the blind man. But this same idea was no doubt in the minds of those in attendance in Matthew 9. Jesus’ response is to basically say, “If you want proof of forgiveness of sins and you think that his paralysis is a result of sin . . .”, then he turns to the paralyzed man and says, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” “And,” verse 7 says, “he arose and departed to his house.” This is the final evidence for the deity of Jesus. His ability to heal this man from a disease that in that day was seemingly incurable. This final evidence verifies the first evidence that this One who has the power to heal disease also has the power to forgive sin and therefore must be God.

Conclusion:

In verse eight we see the response of the multitude and although there is amazement expressed and they are said to have glorified God, I believe that here again we see yet another example of missing the point. This is not just a problem which preachers have, it was a problem that the multitude had. They had heard Jesus pronounce the forgiveness of sins, they had heard as Jesus had responded to the thoughts of the scribes, and they had seen the paralyzed man spring to his feet and carry the bed out upon which he had been carried in. But they missed the point. They still only saw Jesus as a man, and not as the one which the point of this miracle was to communicate: the God-man. They missed the point which the church confesses concerning Jesus. It is perhaps described clearest in the words of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381):

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us all, and for our salvation he came down from heaven; and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. On the third day he rose from the dead in accordance with the scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.

This is the Jesus of Scripture. This is the one we confess and believe in. This is the one in whose name alone there is salvation. May God grant that we never miss the point! Because it is possible, maybe even easy, to miss the point. To be raised in the USA, attend Sunday School and church all your life, to be a member of a church and to still miss the point. Don’t miss the point!

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