Pastor Scott L. Harris
March 7, 1993
Jesus’ Authority Over Sin
If you ask someone what man’s greatest problem is, you will get a different answer depending upon who you ask. Some psychologists would say it is the trauma a person goes through in childhood, while others would say it is the fact that the individual is not in touch with themselves so they do not know why they do what they do. Still others would say the problem is a lack of self-esteem. An eastern mystic might say not reaching Nirvana and being caught in an endless cycle of reincarnation. A New Ager might say self-realization of man’s godhood. A philosopher could describe man’s greatest problem in terms only another philosopher could figure out. A medical doctor might say it is the wearing out, disorders, and diseases of the human body. A social worker might point out society’s corruption, and certain politicians are saying that is the fact that the citizens are not taxed enough.
But Scripture cuts through all these things and goes to the core of man’s problem, and none of the above are the problem. The problem is sin. The story of Adam and Eve is not a mythology developed to explain the origin of evil like Pandora’s Box of Greek Mythology. Evil extends prior to Adam and Eve to the rising pride of Lucifer, “the star of the morning,” (Isaiah 14:2) that rebelled against God Almighty and became the being we know more commonly as Satan. The story of Adam and Eve does not just record the entrance of evil into man’s world, but also the ramifications, the consequences of Adam’s fall into sin.
God created man to have relationship with Himself. Man was to commune with God and do God’s will upon the earth by taking care of what God had created here. But when Adam took and ate off the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he willfully turned his back on God, and sin entered his heart. Man’s very nature has been corrupted since that point in time (Romans 5). Other consequences were the immediate spiritual death of Adam and Eve. Remember that death is a separation. Physical death is the separation of the soul and the body. Spiritual death is the separation of man from God. That is why Paul is several places in the New Testament speaks of those who have not yet come to Christ as being “dead in their trespasses and sin” (Ephesians 2, Colossians 2). A person must be “made alive” if they are to be in communion with God.
Another consequence of Adam’s fall was a curse on his physical existence. Sin brings death physically as well as spiritually. Our bodies begin to physically die as soon as we are conceived. Chromosomes break apart, or malfunction, giving us genetic disorders. The cells in our body wear out and die and have to be replaced at an incredible rate. How fast? Studies have shown that 80% of the “dust” in an average home is dead skin cells that have been shed and replaced by new cells. Cancer is nothing more than cells that have gone wild and no longer reproduce themselves according to the bodies design, but in ways harmful to the body. Not only the body itself degenerates, but it is attacked by a host of diseases including parasites, fungus, bacteria, and viruses. These things are functioning apart from the original design. That is more clearly seen in viruses, spirochetes, etc. which are really the degenerated by-products of what once was “alive.” Rouge DNA and RNA strands that are not alive themselves, but destroy what is alive by altering a living cell’s function and reproduction ability.
Creation itself was affected by Adam’s sin. As already alluded to, nothing functions the way it was originally designed. In Genesis 2 we find the curse on the earth of weeds sprouting where plants beneficial to man used to grow, and so man has to earn his living by the sweat of his face. The Apostle Paul records in Romans 8 that creation itself groans awaiting its redemption at the end of the age even as we do.
Man’s greatest problem morally, physically, and environmentally is sin and its consequences. And if sin is the greatest problem, then the most important, the most valuable thing that could exist, is a solution for the sin problem. This morning we are going to find out that Jesus has a solution.
Matthew 9:1, “And getting into a boat, He crossed over, and came to His own city.” Remember that Matthew is not holding to a strict chronology. Matthew is arranging these different events in the earthly ministry of Jesus to prove his point that Jesus is the Messiah. Each event builds on the previous. It is one thing to touch a leper and heal him (Matthew 8:1-5); it is even more to heal the Centurion’s servant by just speaking a word (Matthew 8:5-13). Jesus also healed the fever Peter’s Mother-in-law had, and that evening He healed all the ill people brought to Him and cast demons out of others. Jesus had authority over disease. (See: Jesus’ Authority Over Disease). Matthew 8:23-27 then makes the case stronger by showing Jesus has authority over nature itself in the narrative of His calming the wind and the sea by commanding it. (See: Jesus’ Authority Over Nature). And Matthew 8:28-34 further strengthens his argument once more that Jesus is the Messiah by showing that He has authority over the supernatural. (See: Jesus’ Authority Over the Supernatural). Now Matthew is going to add more evidence to his claim by showing that Jesus has authority over sin too.
In the parallel passages in Mark 2 and Luke 5, we are told that Jesus had been busy in another village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He and his disciples have traveled by boat back to His own city. Jesus’ own city at this point in His ministry is not Nazareth. Matthew 4:13 and Mark 2:1 both point out that Jesus had left Nazareth and was now residing in Capernaum, located on the Northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This is the city of Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
Mark and Luke also point out that it was several days after Jesus had come back to Capernaum that the word got out and the crowds started arriving again. Matthew does not say anything about the crowd, he just immediately points out the central player in the event that took place that day. Mark 2:2 points out that the crowd that day was very large, “And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, even near the door; and He was speaking to them.” Jesus was busy speaking to the people, but there were so many that they were even crowded at the doorway. Luke 5:17 tells us that among these people packed into that house that day “there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law (scribes) sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem.” That is the setting. Jesus is at His home in Capernaum teaching the people who have filled His house. Many of these people were religious leaders, Scribes and Pharisees, and they came from all over Israel. Into this situation came a group of men seeking out Jesus.
Matthew 9:2, “And behold, they were bringing to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed.” Mark tells us that it was four men that were helping this paralytic. We do not know if they were relatives or just friends. We also do not know if the paralyzed man was young or old. All we know is that he could not help himself and had to rely on others. Luke tells us that these men tried to find a way into the house so that they could bring the man in and lay him before Jesus, but the crowd was so great they could not get through to Jesus.
The men then decided to go up to the roof, make a hole and lower the man through it. Now this is not as strange as it sounds at first. The roofs of the houses were flat and used as part of the living area especially in the warm afternoon where you could cool off in the afternoon breeze by being up on the roof. Stairs were provided in most homes in order to give easy access to the roof. So the men are not in some precarious spot where they were all likely to fall off. The roofs were made of a lattice work covered over with tiles, and then a layer of mud would be placed on top which would make it waterproof. That is why Mark records that the men “dug an opening” and Luke records that they “lowered him down through the tiles.”
There is nothing to indicate a wanton destruction of property, but instead it shows that the men were serious about making sure that the paralyzed man would get to see Jesus. And if that meant putting a hole in the roof, then they were willing to do it. They would deal with fixing the hole later. Of primary importance now was getting their friend before Jesus. So the seekers made a hole and lowered him down in front of Jesus.
Why such earnestness on the part of these men on behalf of their friend? Simply because the man had a severe problem, and they knew from what they had seen Jesus do for others, or at least from all the reports they heard, that Jesus could help their friend. Jesus was the solution to their problem.
But Jesus uses the occasion to show that He is the solution to more than just the problem of the man’s paralysis. Jesus is also the solution for the ultimate cause of the paralysis.
Matthew 9:2b, “And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “‘Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven.'” Jesus was very aware the Scribes and Pharisees were present and He knew what was in their hearts and were thinking about this disabled man. Jesus uses this opportunity to demonstrate His authority to forgive sin, which is the real solution to man’s problem. Handicapped people have always suffered social stigma and neglect, but in the Jewish culture of that time this was compounded by the belief of most Jews that all disease and affliction was the direct result of somebody’s sin. There is some measure of truth in the thought that disease and affliction are the result of sin, but they tended to want to always find the person to blame. Such was the point in the disciples question to Jesus in John 9 about the man born blind, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Job had suffered greatly, but his affliction was compounded by his supposed friends who added to his grief by saying things like, “whoever perished being innocent?” The thought was that you get just what you deserve, and if you are severely afflicted it must be because you have severely sinned.
In many cases that adage is true, because as it says in Galatians 6:7, 8, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.” God’s wrath is demonstrated against all ungodliness (Romans 1:18) and part of that is a person receiving the natural consequences of their sin. Sexually transmitted diseases are a good illustration of this. God has set the standard of a monogamous relationship between a man and woman. When that standard is not followed, whether it is in promiscuity or serial monogamy, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, or other sexual perversion, there are a lot of diseases that follow. Certain diseases go with certain behaviors. There can be direct sinful cause and effect relationships. BUT there are always the exceptions such as hemophiliacs and blood transfusion patients who get AIDS. There are those like Job who suffer not because of any particular sin they have committed, but because of the general consequence of sin being in the world. Affliction occurs not just because a person is reaping the consequence of their own sin, but also because sinful people afflict others (drunk drivers, etc.) and because sin has corrupted the world (flu, genetic disorders).
It is most likely that this paralyzed man would have held the same view as the religious leaders. He probably thought that his condition was direct punishment for some sin of his, his parents, or grandparents. A thought that would have added to his suffering. The fact that the man was so severely afflicted that he was paralyzed made him a picture of sinfulness. Therefore, his greatest need was not physical healing, but forgiveness of sin. He needed his sin problem dealt with before the health problem could be cured. And that is exactly what Jesus uses the man to demonstrate to the religious leaders present. The solution to sin was receiving forgiveness from God.
Jesus saw the faith of the men lowering the paralytic and He said to the man, “My son (actually, “my child”) take courage (in the sense of “don’t be afraid”) your sins are forgiven.” The word here means dismissed or remitted. The man’s sins were sent away. The solution to man’s problem is to have our sins forgiven and sent away from us. But there were those present who were skeptical that Jesus could do this.
Matthew 9:3, “And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This fellow blasphemes.'” The accusation of blasphemy is explained in both Mark and Luke where it says that the Scribes and Pharisees were reasoning in their hearts, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”
Skeptics are nothing new. They have always been around, and to be honest, we need to have a healthy dose of skepticism or we too could be led astray by the many false teachers around. They were correct in one aspect of what they were thinking. Only God can forgive sins (Isaiah 43:25; Micah 7:18, 19). But they were incorrect in thinking that Jesus was blaspheming. This should not have been something strange for them to hear Jesus say. They had already been given plenty of evidence that this was the Messiah, yet they refused to believe. They were looking more for opportunity to find something against Jesus than to learn from Him.
The idea that Jesus could forgive sin was foreign to them, not only because they refused to believe that He was the Messiah, God in human flesh, but also because they considered it unjust that a person could be forgiven simply by asking for it. Remember from our study in the Sermon on the Mount that these religious leaders were self-righteous. They demanded that other people earn their righteousness as they believed they had done. Two great barriers to salvation have always been a refusal to see one’s need for it and the belief that it can be earned or deserved. These skeptics were blinded by both erroneous beliefs. They needed forgiveness for their sins, and it could only come as a gift from a gracious and merciful God.
Jesus responded to what they were thinking. Matthew 9:4, “And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, ‘ Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, and walk?'” Jesus demonstrates His deity here too for only God can know what goes on in the hearts and minds of a man. Jesus knew what they were thinking and so He scolds them. “You are thinking evil in your hearts.” And then Jesus substantiates His claim.
They could not see any outward evidence of the man’s sins being forgiven, and so in their skepticism they discounted that Jesus could do such a thing. Jesus challenges them and He sets up a demonstrable test by which to substantiate His claim to be able to forgive sin. Matthew 8:6, “But in order to that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – then He said to the paralytic – “Rise, take up your bed, and go home.” And he rose, and went home.
Jesus’ authority to completely heal upon command backs up His claim that He also had the authority to forgive sins. The latter is an intangible thing. You cannot see it, hear it, feel it, touch it, or taste it. But you can verify that the paralytic was healed, got up, and went home. Luke tells us you could not only see it, but hear it too, because the man went home glorifying God. Jesus’ claim was substantiated in a way that they could not deny. Jesus has authority to forgive sin.
The result of the healing was a celebration. Not only the man who was healed, but the multitudes as well. Matthew 9:8, “But when the multitudes saw this, they were filled with awe, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” Mark says they said, “We have never seen anything like this.” Luke says they also said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” And indeed they had. Messiah had come. God was among them. There was cause for hope.
There is only one thing left to cover in this sermon this morning and that is a solicitation to you. You need to respond to what Jesus had done and can do for you. The authority to forgive sin is not arbitrary on God’s part. It is not based on Him deciding to forget all the wrong you have done against Him. God is not just a loving God, a merciful God, and a gracious God, He is also a just God, and simply “forgetting” about your transgressions against Him cannot satisfy justice. Instead God sent Jesus, His only begotten Son, the second person of the triune Godhead, to become a man, live a perfect life, and then pay the penalty for sin Himself. Jesus died on the cross of Calvary as a willing substitute as the payment for the penalty of your sin. It is on the basis of your sins being paid for that He can offer forgiveness.
If you are here today, and like that paralytic man have received Jesus’ forgiveness for your sins, then you have every reason to rejoice even as that man did. In a moment, we will be celebrating the Lord’s Table as a commemoration of what Jesus did for us. We have much to celebrate because of Him and have wonderful news to tell others.
If you are here today and are still paralyzed by the sin that surrounds you, you are still dead in your trespasses and sin. Today is the day to come to Jesus and be forgiven. It is really that simple for you. Will you come to Him and ask Him to forgive you? 1 John 1:9 puts it plainly, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Will you do that today?
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