Licensed to Forgive
Matthew 9:1-8 (ESV) And getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
Jesus forgives sins. That’s not such a strange proposition, is it? We Christians should be quite comfortable with the idea. But the scribes weren’t. They would have nothing to do with such a teaching. When Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven!” the scribes looked on with horror. “No human has the power to forgive sins!” they muttered among themselves. “This man is blaspheming!”
The scribes were right about one thing: only God has the power in Himself to forgive sins. The power to forgive belongs to God alone, so a mere man trying to forgive sins on his own authority would clearly be making Himself equal with God. This would have been blasphemy if Jesus were not truly the Incarnate Son of God, who had the power to forgive in Himself. The scribes could not accept this, for they refused to believe that Jesus was the forgiving God in the flesh.
Yet Jesus, the Son of God, could see right into the evil thoughts of the scribes in a way that only God can. He saw the wretched unbelief of their hearts, and their schemes against Him. And He brought the Kingdom of God among them anyway!
Jesus showed the presence of God’s Kingdom when He forgave the paralytic’s sins and made him walk. Jesus certainly wanted to relieve the man’s physical burden, but above all Jesus wanted to show through His Words and actions that His great Kingdom of forgiveness and healing had come. It was not possible for anyone to see sins being forgiven, so Jesus demonstrated His license to forgive by means of a miracle.
Jesus had already given the paralytic the most important gift of all, the forgiveness of sins, when He had proclaimed the Holy Absolution: “Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven!” This forgiveness gave the man salvation, true spiritual healing. Then Jesus showed that His forgiveness was truly God’s forgiveness by healing the man. The creative Word of Jesus made the Kingdom present for that sinful paralytic. His Word brought about the healing, just as it had brought about the forgiveness. By healing the paralytic, Jesus demonstrated His power and license to forgive, and He pointed forward to the healing that He still delivers in the Church to you today through the forgiveness of sins given in the Gospel, in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion.
But forgiveness of sins is not easy; it comes at a great price. The book of Hebrews says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” In the Old Testament, God ordained that He would not forgive sins without an atonement being made; no sacrifice, no forgiveness. So when Jesus asked the scribes, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk?” we can answer that question with the benefit of hindsight, with the benefit of the full revelation of the Gospel. Miracles are easy for God, but we know that the forgiveness of that paralytic and the forgiveness of our sins could only be accomplished with great pain and effort by the death of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, who came to earth to save sinners.
Jesus had the authority to lay down His life to earn the forgiveness of your sins, but He also had the authority to take His life up again. The Resurrection of Jesus established that all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth, even the license to forgive sins and open the Kingdom of Heaven to lost and condemned sinners through the Office of the Keys. Before His Ascension, the Resurrected Lord stood upon the mountain in Galilee and told His disciples to go forth into the world, teaching and Baptizing in His Name, proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name. Jesus sent forth these men to distribute the fruits of His suffering, death, and Resurrection to all nations. What is truly amazing is that Jesus delegated His license to forgive sins to these men so that His righteousness and salvation could be given out through the Word and Sacraments in His Church.
The license to distribute Christ’s forgiveness to sinners continued to be delegated to other men after the apostles were sent out. In every place where the apostles visited and established congregations, they set apart men to serve as pastors, men who were called into the Office of the Holy Ministry in order to proclaim and deliver Christ’s forgiveness through the Means of Grace. Today, Jesus still authorizes rightly called pastors of His Church to deliver forgiveness publicly through those same Means of Grace, and He authorizes you to believe that this forgiveness “is just as valid, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (Small Catechism).
In fact, Jesus gave the Office of the Keys to the whole Church, so you are authorized to use the keys with your fellow Christians. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” St. James says that we are to confess our sins to one another and forgive one another. The Key of heaven, God the Son, came down to earth in flesh and blood to win the keys of heaven for everyone. He gave them to Christians to use privately and to his pastors to use publicly, and our keys should be shiny from getting used so much.
Prayer: Almighty, everlasting God, for our many sins we justly deserve eternal condemnation. In Your mercy You sent Your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who won for us forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. Grant us a true confession that, dead to sin, we may be raised up by Your life-giving absolution. Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may be ever watchful and live true and godly lives in Your service; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.