Authority to Forgive


The Prophet Isaiah paints and amazing picture of God’s favor descending upon a needy and broken people. Indeed, for him, life as he knew it then was much like a mirage, that deceptively captivating image of water in a desert place, that when approached gives way to nothing but burning sand. This mirage, Isaiah writes, “shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water” (Isaiah 35:7), when “God will come;” when he “will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:4).

I cannot help but wonder if this prophecy of the coming Kingdom was on Jesus’ mind as he sat teaching in a crowded room, the soft waves of the Sea of Galilee kissing the shore just beyond the window of the house in which he found himself bantering back and forth with the audience (the Greek language of Mark 2:2 strongly suggests this). It was in the middle of this conversation that something quite remarkable happened: And they came, bringing to Jesus a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay (Mark 2:3-4).

Now dust is swirling all around the house and twigs and clogs of dirt are scattered over a handful of people and the furniture and the floor. In the ceiling above where Jesus was sitting a large hole had appeared, and resting awkwardly directly below the hole was a simple cot with a broken down man lying there, appearing a bit embarrassed, apologetic, and looking with anticipation around the room until his eyes found Jesus. His four friends, peering through the opening in the roof, shared his expectant expression.

When Jesus returned the men’s looks, one by one, he gazed directly at the man on the cot and declared before everyone, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” The man smiled and sighed while a wave of murmurs swept over the gathered crowd. Seated just around Jesus with their stern demeanors were a small number of the scribes—Jewish seminary professors—who were recognized throughout the society for their expertise in religious law. Hearing Jesus’ words gave each one pause; not a word was spoken but the eyes betrayed what they were thinking. They simply could not believe Jesus had just spoken thus. “Blasphemy!” they thought. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Sensing their consternation Jesus spoke directly to them. “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” And with this he turned straight to the forgiven paralytic and commanded, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” If indeed the Isaiah passage was on Jesus’ mind, the presence of a paralytic would be noteworthy, for that same prophecy tells that “then shall the lame man leap like a deer” (Isaiah 35:6). And so the man did, much to the utter amazement of everyone.

A small handful of reflections should be shared here. First, for many of us life is like a mirage. Self-effort, religious effort, denial of shame and sin, and so forth, teases us into believing we have what we need for soul-satisfaction, but if we are honest any one of these things or all of them combined leave us empty and wanting. The refreshing water of healing and cleansing that we need is only provided by the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ. Let us quit trusting in the illusion and bathe ourselves in the real thing.

Secondly, with that in mind, let us acknowledge that Jesus alone has the power and authority to forgive because he is in fact Almighty God. The scribes got it right when they asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). That Jesus could display his authority to forgive by means of helping a “lame man leap like a deer” makes his claim credible. Everyone in the room knew exactly the claim Jesus was making: I am God in the Flesh.

Another point upon which to reflect is this: when was the last time you were amazed at God’s forgiveness in your life? The crowd is utterly shocked by Jesus’ authoritative words and work. Are you?

Fourthly, it should be noted that Jesus has the power to perceive what is within us. He knows everything, just as we see when he confronts the private thinking of the scribes. Nothing is hidden from our Lord.

Lastly, we must ask ourselves just how far we will go to take someone to Jesus. How much will it cost us with regard to time or money or reputation? The friends that brought the paralytic to Jesus knew that the price they would pay would be worthwhile in light of the work Jesus would do in their friend’s life. Do you think this way, and if not, why?



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“Write This Down” is a summary of select teaching moments offered by Pastor Matthew. The preceding summary is from the message “Authority to Forgive,” the tenth message from the series entitled “Jesus, God’s Beloved Son,” a study through the Gospel of Mark, presented on the weekend of February 17, 2013, at Bethel Church.

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