Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:4 “And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil
in your hearts?”
The scribes and Pharisees thought duping the masses was one thing, but fooling the trained intelligentsia would be harder. The leaders did not believe Jesus had competence enough to hoodwink them. Our Master refused to shrink from their secret challenge. He confronted the hostility hidden in their thoughts.
Jesus exposed their contemplations as being evil, driven not by love for God, but by hatred for Jesus. The leaders, deeming Christ a threat to their status and authority, hated Him, but our Lord held no malice against them in return. He wanted them to believe, and often did all He could to change their thinking. On this occasion, at the very instant they were privately denying the possibility Jesus was God, He gave them a front-row seat to see two vital evidences to the contrary.
The first evidence was, He revealed the fact He could read their thoughts. The New Testament teaches Jesus had power to read people’s minds. When the scribes plotted to catch Him healing on a Sabbath, Jesus “knew their thoughts” (LK 6:8). As the disciples were thinking of their own greatness, Jesus was “perceiving the thought of their heart” (LK 9:47). Jesus “did not need any one to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man” (JN 2:25 NAS).
Jesus’ ability to read thoughts was vital, for the Jews adamantly believed only God could do this. When Barchochebas claimed to be Messiah, the rabbis chose to test him by the ability to read minds. They said if he were Messiah, he would be able to judge by sight, with no other evidence, whether a person was righteous or wicked. When Barchochebas was unable to do this, they slew him.
It is important to note Jesus’ detractors never accused Him of failing this test. By their own criteria, Jesus showed ample evidence to prove He is God.
The Jews were correct in thinking superhuman perception belongs solely to God. “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 SM 16:7b). Some do have keen insight into life and can make perceptive guesses as to what a person may be thinking, but only God knows all thoughts for sure. Thus, Jesus’ reading of people’s thoughts should help convince us of His divinity.
Christ’s ability to know our secret thoughts should warn us all. Since He possesses the sovereign discernment of hearts, sinful thoughts invade His private, personal space. He is disturbed when forced to hear evil thoughts. This is not the best way to enter God’s presence. Take care in what we think. God is listening.
Matt. 9:5-6a “For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to
say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of
man hath power. . .”
In this setting, Jesus’ first evidence of deity was His ability to read minds. He then fearlessly forged ahead to take up another challenge which would have significant meaning to the leaders. The second evidence was to demonstrate absolute power over sickness, a realm created by sin. Not all illnesses are due to particular sins, but all sickness does exist due to the entrance of sin into our world.
Since the results of “Your sins be forgiven” cannot be researched, it is a much safer assertion than “Arise, and walk.” The latter requires visible proof.
Since we have no way to prove whether or not a pronounced forgiveness has actually been accomplished, “Your sins be forgiven” is safe to say, especially if words are the only evidence we intend to bring to the table. It is always safer to make claims no one can verify or deny, but Jesus never had to hide behind hollow, nebulous statements. He offered more than just words, and never feared to make claims that could be tested, analyzed, and scrutinized in minute detail.
Knowing it would be impossible to prove His right to forgive sins, Jesus did the next best thing. Based on the prevailing beliefs of His day, healing the sick man would be the main thing Jesus could do to give evidence He can forgive sins.
Healing the palsy was an astounding argument to bolster Jesus’ claim. The leaders’ own Rabbi Chija Ben Abba said, “No sick person is cured from sickness, until all his sins are forgiven.” Jesus thus used their logic to attest His assertion.
Jesus did all He could to help us know our faith in Him is well placed. Faith is not a blind leap into the dark. It is a reasonable response to reliable evidence.
Matt. 9:6b “. . .on earth to forgive sins,. . .”
“On earth” contains the good news of our faith. Forgiveness is not a thing far off. It has been brought near to us. While Old Testament rituals held sway, the ultimate means of forgiveness remained hidden above the clouds, but has now been manifest among us. As long as earth exists, no matter how wicked it grows, forgiveness will be available. Beware five major hindrances to forgiveness.
The first hindrance is thinking forgiveness can be earned. The vast majority of humanity is trying to buy its way to eternal bliss. Prayers, baptism, rituals, religion, good works–none of these avail. Forgiveness is by grace alone (EP 2:8-9).
The second hindrance is assuming forgiveness will be attainable after death. “On earth” contains a caution. The world in which we live is the only place where sins can be forgiven. There is no purgatory, no reincarnation, no recycling of life, no second chance. After we leave this existence, it will be everlastingly too late to find forgiveness. Whatever spiritual condition we die in, we remain in forever. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (HB 9:27).
The third hindrance is believing forgiveness can be found apart from Jesus. He alone has power “on earth” to forgive sins because He alone came from Heaven. Only the Son of man can forgive sins because He only is also Son of God. Heaven’s inhabitants will include only those who turned from their sins and called upon Jesus Christ for forgiveness. It is appropriate that He who bore alone the agony of purchasing our pardon be the only One who has the joy of giving it.
The fourth hindrance is deciding forgiveness is not needed. Sin is a forgotten concept to many. Be not deceived. No one is perfect. “All have sinned” (RM 3:23). Perceived sinlessness is a dangerous, deadly mirage. “The wages of sin is death” (RM 6:23). Left unforgiven, sin results in everlasting separation from God.
The fifth hindrance is concluding God does not want to forgive our sins. Some feel they are too sinful to be forgiven. No mental burden can be heavier than the sensation of unforgiven sin. It drapes one’s whole essence with darkness.
“For stable, deep, lifelong, reliable courage and cheerfulness, there must be thorough work made with the black spot in the heart, and the black lines in the history. And unless our comforters can come to us and say, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” they are only chattering nonsense” (Maclaren).
In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the murderer buried his victim under the floor, but soon heard what no one else could hear, the beating heart, “a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. . . .louder! louder! louder!” Finally the assassin screams, “I admit the deed!–tear up the planks!–here, here!–it is the beating of this hideous heart!” Guilt is unbearable if deemed unremovable.
To allay this despair, Jesus told what may be the most beautiful parable ever, the story of the prodigal son (LK 15:11ff). The young son took his whole inheritance, went far away, and squandered it all in riotous living. A famine made him hungry, and he was forced to feed swine, the lowest job a Hebrew could have. He wanted to eat pig food. No one gave him anything. Then he came to himself–this is the story’s key phrase–he accurately assessed his dilemma and his dad. He knew his dad treated servants better than he was being treated. He decided to go home and try to get hired on as a servant. Dear friend, you have a good daddy in Heaven. Whatever pigsty you are in, you need to go home, and He wants you to come home. The father saw his wayward son a long way off, and felt compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. The son said, “I have sinned.” The father said, bring the robe, ring, shoes, and fatted calf; let us eat and be merry.
If you never have a burden over sins, ask God to give you one. If burdened with sins, ask Jesus to forgive you. He wants to do this, and has power to do it.