Matthew 9:1-8
The Forgiveness Of Sin

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. Starting from chapter eight of The Gospel Of Matthew are recorded a series of miracle stories. One of them is the story dealing with the healing of the man with the palsy, which we read today. But, the healing of the disease which is written down in today's passage is quite different in a number of elements from other healing accounts. The words of Jesus in verse two are especially featured [here]. "Son, cheer up! Your sins are forgiven." This statement does not show up in any other miracle story. We ought to see the unique message of this passage.

Your Sins Are Forgiven

2. The statement that we see here of "Your sins are forgiven" do not mean "You will be forgiven some day." It means, "Now, right here, your sins have been forgiven." Therefore, [we've] got [some] manuscripts which put this verb in the past tense of "Your sins have been forgiven." In short, Jesus announced forgiveness of sin to the man with the palsy disease.

3. But, hasn't this announcement of forgiveness saying "Your sins are forgiven" been a statement whose context [we have] probably ignored just a bit too much? The one who was brought to Jesus was a sick man. He was palsied. Because it says he was brought while placed on a bed or a mat [of some kind], he probably could not move one bit. This immobile man and those who brought him must have been seeking more than anything else that he would be healed of this disease. I think that the reason they brought him with his palsied condition was that they had heard rumors of miraculous healings performed else where. But, here [in this case] Christ did not heal him right off, but announced forgiveness of sin. It is not even clear if Jesus had originally intended to heal him after his announcement to him because as we see later, the healing of this man was not just for the man himself.

4. Whenever a person is sick, he or she needs to be healed from the sickness more than anything else. That's about to be expected. When somebody is hurting, he or she hopes for the hurt to be resolved away. One hopes for a deficiency to be met. People seek for their suffering and sorrows to be taken away. We usually consider that to be more important than anything else. Thus, many persons with illnesses had come to visit Christ in order to be healed and the Lord certainly did heal them. The gospel stories tell us so.

5. But, as we come to this point, Christ makes plain out in the open what it is that people really have need of. [He shows that] first of all people need to be forgiven by God. Humankind is in need of forgiveness. He had to announce forgiveness of sin. In that way then, we need to be made alive in a righteous relationship with God and in fellowship with him. Thus, in the story that continues, the Lord tells them next why he had come, "The reason I came is not to invite the righteous but to invite the sinful," (9:13).

6. The words that Christ spoke to the palsied man were, "Son, cheer up! Your sins are forgiven." This phrase of "cheer up" is translated as "Be at ease, don't worry, everything is okay now" in another passage, (14:27). Rather than a word of encouragement so much it has more the meaning of "You're out of trouble now." [These words of] "You're out of trouble now" didn't result in his being healed or being able to move. Because he was still not healed. He was still on his bed. However, the Lord said to him, "You're out of trouble now." Why did [he say that]? [He said that] because he was already in fellowship with God.

The Power To Pardon Sin

7. But, these words of Jesus became an occasion for controversy because to the lawyer/scribes who happened to be there these words were blasphemous against God. The same story is recorded in The Gospel Of Mark in chapter two, but there a few more details of the hearts of the scribes are given in the record. They were murmuring in their hearts as follows: "Why did he say such a thing? He is blaspheming God. Who can forgive sin besides God alone?," (Mark 2:7). The scribes' thinking wasn't off. To begin with, the forgiveness of sin is tied in with authority and begins to have its meaning there. Only by having the authority to charge a person with sin can one begin to deliver a pardon for sin as well. Ultimately it is God alone who can rightfully judge and condemn anyone for sin. Thus, it is God alone who has the authority to pardon sin. Because of this then, in the eyes of the scribes, when Jesus announced forgiveness of sin, this act was that of making himself equal to God and only appeared to them as blasphemy unto God.

8. Of course, Jesus himself knew how his words would be received. Therefore, the Lord went on to say, "If [one] says 'Your sins are forgiven' or if [one] says 'Get up and walk,' which would be easier? That you might know the son of man has the authority to pardon sin on the earth," (verses five and six). Jesus also made an issue of authority. He made an issue of the authority to pardon sin against which the scribes had stumbled. The Lord himself was emphasizing that he has "the authority to pardon sin on this earth."

9. The part, where he says "That you might know that [the son of man] has authority to pardon sin," is the phrase of "In order that you might come to know that [the son of man] has the authority to pardon sin." The sentence is cut off midway. Instead of continuing this statement of "in order to that you might come to know .." the Lord suddenly turns back to the man with the palsy and commands him to "Get up, take your bed, and go back to your house," (verse six). Whereupon the miraculous healing took place right there. The man got up and went back home.

10. As we see here in this [text], the healing of the palsy wasn't for the man himself who was diseased. It was for those who were there, for them "to come to know that the son of man has the authority to pardon sin upon the earth." One of the understandings regarding the work of the healing that Jesus performed is expressed here in this [passage]. It was never a strange thing for a miraculous healing of a disease to be performed during the preaching activity of Jesus or even the preaching activity of the church in the period afterwards. Even during modern times it is not anything extraordinary. Miraculous healings of disease do take place. But, some are healed and some aren't. The final disease in human life is not healed. If healing were salvation itself, the Lord would have given his undivided attention to that. But, that's not what [he did]. In the second half of the gospel, hardly no miracles of the healing of disease are found. After his entrance into the capital city of Jerusalem, they practically can't be found at all. Therefore, in the miracles of the healings that Jesus did, we must see more than the suffering of the [people] being taken away. [What we must see] is the sign given to us. It is the sign that is pointing to the authority of Christ. His authority is one that is able to announce forgiveness of sin to a person in the world of this earth upon which we stand.

The Church Is Endowed With Authority

11. Well, the authority of Christ has major significance in relation to the church. At the end of this gospel, the risen Christ spoke to his disciples with the following: "I am endowed with all power over the heavens and the earth. Therefore, you will go and make my disciples of all peoples. Endow upon them the baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to keep everything that I have commanded you. I will always be with you, even to the end of the world," (28:18-20). Here the word "power" by which the Lord is endowed is the same word as "authority" which appeared in the text earlier. The Christ, who once pronounced forgiveness of sin to the man with the palsy is the same Christ who went to the cross to accomplish the redemption of sin. However, now, Christ brings about the redemption of sin and is with his disciples as the one risen from the dead. That is, the one with all authority over heaven and earth and the one with the authority to charge with sin and the authority to pardon from sin is with us as the head of the church. And with that authority the Lord announces the forgiveness of sin even now. This kind of figure of the church is also superimposed in today's passage of scripture.

12. The same story that I read you today is given in The Gospel According To Mark, but when you compare them, quite a few differences can be seen. One of them is the reaction of the people. The text says the audience saw this, became afraid, and praised God for having entrusted this much authority to a human being," (verse eight). "To a human being" is pointing to Jesus here in its context. But, in the original text the word "human being" is deliberately given in the plural. In other words, the text is saying here that it does not only point to Jesus as the human being but also to the later church as the body of Christ.

13. How did Christ exercise his authority? He uses it in the church and through the church. In fact, that is what we experience. In baptism, he announces "Your sins are forgiven." In the Lord's Supper and in the words of the sermon, he repeats his pardon of sin [to us]. Unless these are based on Christ's authority, they are utterly meaningless. But, the church, even coming up to today, believes the words of the Lord when he says, "I will be with you always even to the end of the world," and as the church under the authority of Christ we continue to announce his forgiveness of sin. Also, along with the announcement of forgiveness of sin, we certainly have received the message in its true meaning of "My son, cheer up! Be at rest. Because you are out of danger."

14. And one more thing. There is something that we understand right away as we compare this with Mark's Gospel, which is that, Mark's is shorter than Matthew's story. In particular, the column is abbreviated "They peeled off the roof around where Jesus was and made a hole, and let down the bed upon which the sick man slept," (Mark 2:4). As a story, their extreme actions attract interest, but Matthew seems to have attached more importance to the fact that they had brought the man with the palsy to Jesus rather than [the roof part]. He points to that and expresses that "Jesus saw the faith of these men ...," then the announcement of the forgiveness of sin goes on after that. In this way then, the forgiveness of sin is not simply an individual event but is something given within the fellowship of faith in the church. So what [the Bible] says is faith is not the doing of anything special. It is not the peeling off of the roof. It is that they came to the one with the authority to pardon sin, it is that they brought a person to him [the one with forgiving power].

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