Authorized to Forgive – Sermon on Matthew 9:1-8 for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Matthew 9:1-8

1 And getting into a boat [Jesus] crossed over and came to his own city.

2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 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,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – a “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

What is the main thing in this text? Matthew tells us about this wonderful healing of a paralyzed man by a simple statement from Jesus. As amazing as that is, it isn’t what Matthew focuses on as he tells this story under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The healing actually takes second fiddle because it only takes up the last half of v. 6. Instead, the Holy Spirit would have us notice and focus on the absolution, the forgiveness of sins. God wants all sinners on earth to regularly hear the declaration that our sins are forgiven through Christ. So, as we consider this text, may our reaction be the same as the crowds. May we glorify God that He has given authority to all people to forgive sins.

This paralyzed man was brought to Jesus by his friends. Both Mark [2:3-12] and Luke [5:18-26] also tell this story, and they let us know that this man’s friends tore a hole in the roof where Jesus was teaching in order to lower the paralytic in front of Christ. After all this demolition and careful lowering of the man on his bed, there is the man before Jesus unable to move. Jesus sees the friends looking through the hole above him, He sees the shock of those who were listening to His teaching, and He sees the eyes of this man’s face. But most importantly, Christ sees the troubled conscience of this paralyzed man. So, Jesus says to him, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

This is an amazing thing for Jesus to say under the conditions. It was obvious to everyone in the room what this man needs. He can’t move. His limbs don’t work. Everyone in that house, and probably even us, expect Jesus to say, “Be healed.” But it doesn’t happen – at least not right away. Instead, Jesus speaks the absolution. Christ speaks first not to the man’s limbs but to his soul.

We know how the scribes responded. They concluded that Jesus was blaspheming. It would be interesting to hear what everyone else, especially this man’s friends, thought. They had to lug him up to the roof, tear open the ceiling, and carefully lower him down. I would love to know what they thought. They were probably wondering if all their efforts and all the risks they took to get their friend before Jesus had been worth it. But I wonder even more what the man thought.

Now, this is simply me speculating, but I think this man was more comforted hearing the absolution than being healed. I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to think that God is angry with me whenever something bad happens to me. I would guess you are similar. And I would also guess the same is true for this paralytic man, and he got to hear what he needed most. Jesus says to him, “Dear man, God isn’t mad at you. Your sins are no problem. They will be covered by My blood and by My death. You will have problems in this life, but your eternal life is absolutely, completely secure. And I will bring you to the resurrection where you will have a perfected body in eternal bliss.”

I have little doubt that these words that Jesus speaks are the sweetest, most life-giving words that the paralyzed man could have heard from Jesus.

Now, before we move on, let’s all agree on this – forgiving sins is an act of God. Right? Only God can declare what is sinful, only God can judge, and only God can forgive sins. In Psalm 51[:4] David confesses to God, “Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.” Remember, David is speaking this after he sinned against Bathsheba and after he killed Uriah. But David rightly recognizes that, while his sin has and will affect many others, David recognizes that his sin is against God. So, if any and every sin is against God, only God can forgive sin.

So, while the scribes are grumbling about Jesus forgiving sins, Jesus says, “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, rise pick up your bed and go home.” And the man goes home – forgiven and healed. It is clearly demonstrated that Jesus can and, most importantly, does forgive sins. And there is enough there to cause us to rejoice all our days. Jesus can heal broken bodies, and even better, Jesus can heal broken souls. Jesus has the authority to and does forgive sins here on earth. But Matthew gives us something more that we need to consider today.

Matthew tells us that when the crowds see all of this, “they glorified God who had given such authority to men.” Notice, Matthew doesn’t way that they glorified God who had given such authority to ‘a man.’ That authority is given to men – plural. Forgiveness belongs to Jesus, but Jesus also passes that authority on to others, in fact to all, as well. Jesus gives the authority to forgive sins to His entire church.

Dear saints, you have Jesus’ authority to announce the absolution. In John 20:22-23, Jesus breathes on the disciples giving them the Holy Spirit and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” So, please notice, Jesus, the One who proves that He has authority to forgive sins, passes that authority on to you, Christian.

The best analogy for this is one I have used before. Imagine someone in prison. He is guilty and locked up for his crime and is in jail. Across town, the governor decrees that he is pardoned. His guilt and punishment is gone. But that act alone doesn’t do him any good. As far as the law is concerned, he is free. But he is still in his cell. So, the governor’s pardon has to be communicated to the prison warden. And even that doesn’t do the prisoner any good unless the warden sends a guard to the man’s cell who opens the door and lets the man out. Each of those steps must happen for the man to be truly free.

If the governor doesn’t pardon and the guard simply opens the cell, that guard is breaking the law. The guy may be out of prison, but he is still guilty, and he will always be looking behind him waiting for the authorities to arrest him again. And if the man is pardoned, but the guard never comes to open the cell, that pardon doesn’t do the prisoner any good either. Dear saints, that is the picture of the absolution.

God has heard the case against you. And the evidence of Jesus’ death and resurrection means that God declares you to be holy, righteous, pure, free, and pardoned. Then, God sends others with the keys to open your cell and let you out of prison.

This has already been done here today. After we confessed our sins, God sent your pastor with the keys to your cell to open it by saying, “By Christ’s command and authority you have the entire forgiveness of all your sins.” I love my job! Thank you for calling me here to do that.

But know, dear saints, that this isn’t just for pastors to do. It is good and right for there to be someone appointed to do that in a congregation where things should be done in an orderly way (1 Cor. 14:40), but that does not mean that the absolution should only be spoken by a pastor in a church service. You can also forgive sins because Jesus died for sinners. Christians are the fellowship of those who have been set free and absolved of all our sins. And we are the fellowship of those who are deputized to declare to others that their sins are forgiven as well.

So, when you talk to others, do that! It’s one thing to rejoice in the forgiveness you have, and we should, we absolutely should, do that. But do you declare this forgiveness to others? Hopefully, you forgive others when they have harmed and sinned against you. Christians should be the quickest to do that. But have you declared forgiveness to someone whose conscience is troubled by sins that don’t involve you? You can!

According to Scripture, every Christian has this authority. Again, Jesus says to you, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven” (Jn. 20:23). You have been absolved and set free from your sins. You have also been authorized by Jesus to set others free from their sins. God has put the same declaration of the Gospel into your mouth. Look for sins to forgive. Look for people who feel the guilt and bondage of their sin. Say to them something like this, “Dear friend, Jesus died for you. In Jesus’ name, your sins are forgiven.” Speak these words with authority.

These words are life, freedom, and joy. These words of Jesus, “Your sins are forgiven,” are words for your ears, and they are words for your tongue. May those words be in your ears, engrained on your hearts, and freely spoken from your lips. Dear saints, you are forgiven, and you are authorized to forgive others as well. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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