Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:2e “. . .be forgiven thee.”
Sins can be forgiven. This is one of the most distinct and blessed teachings of Christianity. A person can be made right with God, and know it for sure.
The paralytic needed this assurance, for in his day people connected sins with sickness in an ironclad rule of cause and effect. Every sickness was believed to be the direct result of a particular sin. If you were sick, it was because you had sinned. Even the twelve disciples believed this. When they met the man born blind, they asked, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents” (JN 9:2-3).
This paralytic would have seen himself as a bad sinner, and thus would have felt he deserved this affliction. Whether or not he had committed a particular sin, he would have been convinced he had, because of the teaching current in his day.
It is true to say all sickness is due to the presence of sin in this world. Had man never sinned, sickness would not exist. It is also true to say sometimes there is a direct connection between sin and sickness, for example, gluttony and heart disease, alcohol and liver failure, drug abuse and hepatitis C, sex sins and sexually transmitted diseases. Where a sickness cannot be obviously and organically linked with a sin, we should not think or say the illness is due to sin or to a lack of faith.
When Lazarus fell sick, his sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus, “Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick” (JN 11:3). John confirmed their assessment of Jesus’ attitude toward the sick one, “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus” (JN 11:5). Lazarus’ sickness did not indicate Jesus’ displeasure.
Jesus spoke comfort to the paralytic, and declared his sins forgiven. This is Christ’s dearest gift because it meets our deepest need. We desperately want to know we can be given a right and true relationship with God. Past sin does not have to be our doom. Repentance brings forgiveness. Spurgeon told of a man who called on the Lord and was relieved of a deep sense of guilt. For a long time thereafter, the man would say of Jesus, “He is a great Forgiver.” Amen. He is. A man forgiven of sin should have evoked revelry, but not everyone was celebrating.
Matt. 9:3 “And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This
Jesus was having to work a tough, critical crowd. Luke (5:17) tells us the crowd included Pharisees and doctors of the law from Jerusalem and every town in Galilee and Judea. The religious leaders had gathered from near and far to check out this Johnny-come-lately rabbi from Nazareth.
They acted genuinely curious, but really came as spies, not observers. They evidently conspired in advance and predetermined what their conclusion would be, for they immediately and unanimously thought the same derisive verdict in unison.
They surely relished a smug sense of having caught Jesus in the act of wrongdoing, but dared not say anything negative out loud, for He was a favorite of the people. The leaders preferred to hold their remarks until they could huddle in private and secretly plot against Jesus, but the Master exposed their duplicity.
This scene is a watershed event in Matthew, for it marked the beginning of the religious establishment’s official hostility against Jesus. From this moment on, their critical animosity toward Him rapidly intensified until its crescendo finally resulted in His death. Their antagonism focused on four basic accusations:
1. Breaking the Sabbath
2. Neglecting religious traditions
3. Associating with sinners
In this story of the paralytic, the religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy because He claimed for Himself the power to forgive sins, a right which belongs exclusively to God. Only the person offended can forgive the sins of the offender. If a mother’s only child is killed, the courts can mandate punishment and remuneration, but only the mother can forgive. Similarly, only God can forgive sins, for sins are by definition violations committed against God.
Even if injury results to others, the worst part of the crime is in the mockery shown to God. David seduced Bathsheba and murdered Uriah, but when all came crashing down, he knew to Whom he had thrust the most grievous blow, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 SM 12:13). David needed God’s forgiveness most.
Only God can forgive sins, for He alone knows the hearts of men (1 K 8:39; 2 CH 6:30). He alone knows if one has truly repented inwardly, and can thus be pronounced forgiven. For any human being to claim the role of a priest who can forgive sins is a detraction from honor due solely to God, and is thus blasphemy.
The bold declaration of Jesus in pronouncing the paralytic’s sins forgiven brought the religious leaders to a significant fork in the road. They were savvy enough to know they were faced with only two viable choices:
1. Jesus is what He claims to be, God
2. Jesus is a charlatan.
Do not overlook the keen logic at work here. These were brilliant scholars. They knew exactly what Jesus was doing, saying, and claiming to be. They would heartily agree with Josh McDowell’s analysis; Jesus is either Lord, liar, or lunatic.
The currently popular notion that Jesus was not divine, yet a wise teacher and wonderful role model, will not hold water. Logic forbids this conclusion. Jesus is either everything or nothing, God or devil, Lord of lords or fool of fools.
The religious leaders were wrong in their final conclusion, but correct in perceiving what the only options were. They felt Jesus was setting Himself in the place of God, and claiming to do things only God can do. In this they were right.
At this point they should have taken the matter under consideration, and gathered information to accommodate thoughtful deliberation. Sadly, their refusal to believe was already too deeply rooted in their hearts. Their opposition to Him a foregone conclusion, they never took time to examine His claims methodically.
The same error is often still repeated. Many handle Christianity haphazardly. Some dabble in it or ignore it or hope to squelch it, seeking to silence its voice.
In the 1925 Scopes monkey trial, the atheist lawyer Clarence Darrow defended the teaching of evolution by asking if it were right for people to be forced to consider only one side of a given issue. We who believe in creation would like to revisit that concern. Has the evidence for evolution become so meager that it cannot stand up to comparison with arguments in favor of creation? Is atheism as a whole so tenuous that it fears the marketplace of open discussion? Is secularism so weak that it can survive only if Christianity is silenced? Should people be expected to close their minds and not be open to evidence favoring Jesus being God?
Biblical Christianity seeks no special favors. All we ask is an open mind, a legitimate hearing. We fear no scrutiny. Bring on skeptics, historians, archaeologists. We have nothing to hide. Truth is truth wherever it is found, and in Christianity truth is found par excellence. Jesus claimed to be God. Did He blaspheme? We think the evidence says no. It behooves you to weigh all the data deliberately.