Part one of a mini Series by Nigel Beynon on Matthew 9.
This week v1-8. "Your sins are forgiven."
You could sum up this sermon – or the take home message - in four words – your sins are forgiven. If you trust in Jesus – your sins are forgiven.
As you hear those words – as you hear the conclusion of where we’re going – what you think?
Some of us might think – I know. I’ve heard those words often. Grown up with them maybe. They are part of the furniture of my life. And with that there is the danger of assuming them to be true - taking them for granted.
Some might think - what sins? – why do I need forgiveness?
Others might think – if only. I’d love to know, to feel I’m forgiven. But I don’t, I feel guilty.
I hope by the end of this sermon those four words will be the most precious words we could hear. Or if not the most precious – more precious to us. More prized and valued. Words that - whatever else is happening in life - bring joy to us & put a smile on our face or on our heart.
We’re going to start by thinking about
The priority of forgiveness
V1, 2a READ.
Up until this moment in the gospel Jesus has been healing people of everything and anything – so if you have a friend who’s paralysed it’s pretty obvious what to do. You pick him up and take him to Jesus to be healed.
Only then Jesus says, v2 READ.
It’s not hard to imagine the friends thinking – what? We didn’t bring him here for that. Or Jesus’ disciples rather embarrassed – whispering to Jesus – legs, look at his legs.
But of course this is no mistake by Jesus – rather he’s showing us he has a different set of priorities. For Jesus – forgiveness takes priority over healing.
That’s not to do this man’s situation down - Jesus would have been well aware of how terrible paralysis was – no welfare state to help – a constant burden on his family. The emotional and mental turmoil.
But as he lies in front of Jesus – maybe the pain on this man’s face summing up all his need and anguish – Jesus looks at him sees something more important. Forgiveness.
Now why is that?
I think it helps to see how this fits with what comes before. In Matthew 8 we’ve seen Jesus deal with the different elements of this broken world – he’s overcome sickness, natural disaster, demons – and in doing that he’s been giving us a picture of heaven – a trailer of how he’ll put this world right one day and establish his perfect world.
And he could do that again here - but it’s as though Jesus thinks – we’ve done enough demonstration now - now it’s time to move from the symptoms of this broken world – to the heart of the problem in this world. And that is our sin.
When my sister was a student she rented a room in a house which was pretty rough. On one wall of her room the paint was cracked and peeling off. Hope this isn’t sounding too familiar. She told the landlord – he had a simple solution – repaint the wall. The new coat of paint looked good – for a while. But then it started peeling again.
Imagine my sister got round a builder & surveyor - he examines the house and says – what you need is to get a plumber. Plumber – but what about the wall? Exactly he says, behind that wall is a leaking pipe – causing damp – making the paint peel. And if you don’t fix that you’ll have far bigger problem than peeling paint – the whole wall is going to come down.
Well we face many problems in this world - but they are actually symptoms of a deeper problem – and here Jesus comes to the heart of it – it’s our sin.
Now when I say sin we’re in danger of thinking of wicked acts – immoral actions. But we must remember fundamentally sin is how we have treated God – how we have ignored and rejected him.
And that is the heart of the problems in our world. Sin is what has thrown our world into it’s fallen mess. And more than that – sin will destroy us. Ignore the leaking pipe and eventually it will bring the wall down. Well sin eventually will bring us down. We will face God – and will face his judgement.
And that means Jesus can look at a paralysed man – and in the face of all his suffering say – there is a deeper problem here – there is something you need more than healing. There is something more important than walking. You need forgiveness.
Now, that is quite a challenging thought.
There are all sorts of things that compete for our attention aren’t there. From global issues – destruction of the Amazon – spread of ebolla – Brexit chaos. Or personal needs - problems in relationships, bereavement, health, loneliness, stress, depression, pressure at work, a place to live, and we could go on and on. And understandably, they are very often the priorities we have.
But Jesus is showing us here – in the face of all those needs, there is a bigger need – a higher priority – forgiveness.
Now - I’m aware that if I say - forgiveness is what really matters – that’s easily is heard as – as forgiveness is the only thing that matters. As though those other needs don’t get a look in.
So let me be clear I’m not saying that. Those other needs in our world and our lives – do matter. And God cares about them and thinks they are important. Jesus has just been healing people and solving problems in like that. And he cares about the problems in our lives and helps us with them.
But - imagine if you could ask this paralysed man what was more important – healing or forgiveness. What would he say? Well surely he’d say something like -
Being healed was great – I could walk, run, work, play with my kids. Life changing. But being forgiven. To be accepted by God – accepted into heaven. To be with him – enjoy him – serve him. That’s eternity changing – that’s in a different league. What’s more important – are you joking?!
There’s the challenge to us. Issues in our lives and the world are important – forgiveness is more important. While those other issues do matter – forgiveness matters more.
So we need to ask will we see forgiveness of sins – as Jesus does? In our what we value and care about, in what we pray for and long for, in what we dream about, in what gives us joy - will we make forgiveness the priority. Jesus says it is.
Secondly we need to think about.
The authority to forgive
v2, 3 READ.
They see a man in front of them claiming to forgive sin – but they think that is something only God can do. And they are right.
I guess some of us drove here this evening and parked on the street. Imagine if Al was late and so he screamed round the corner and crashed into your car. This didn’t happen by the way – it’s OK.
Then Al comes in and explains to you what’s happened – and I overhear it and then interrupt and say - that’s OK Al, I forgive you.
How are you feeling? Well you’d be outraged wouldn’t you? How can I forgive something against you? Only the person offended can forgive.
Well we’ve said sin is fundamentally a rejection of God. So only God can forgive sin.
But here is Jesus – forgiving.
That means he’s either blaspheming – he is a man pretending to be God - acting as only God can. Or, he isn’t just a man, he’s God.
Those are the two alternatives aren’t they? I say that because often people think of Jesus as a nice man, with some good ideas but they wouldn’t accept him as God. Might be you’ve thought that – or have friends who think that.
But what we see here rules that option out. He doesn’t say, I’m a prophet sent by God to let you know he forgives you. Or – let me share my insight into how God forgives. He says – I’m forgiving you now. He talks like he’s God.
So you can’t say he’s a nice bloke with some good ideas. His idea is that he’s God. So he’s either a blasphemer – a fake. Or he’s not just a man. He’s God.
Let me sum up this point by quoting the writer CS Lewis who puts this so well.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Jesus claims to be God – and so claims to have the authority – the right – the power – to forgive our sins.
Again, I think it might help us to set this into the context of what’s been happening. Do you remember we talked about Jesus coming early. Back in 8v29 the demons say – READ. They know there is a future time – judgement when the world will be put right and they will be destroyed. But they say – why are you here now? Why have you come early?
Well answer one – he’s come to show us he’s the king who will bring about a perfect world – gives us a demon – a trailer – of that future.
But now – answer two - he has come early to offer us forgiveness.
That gives us just a sense of what is happening here. Jesus is the king of the world, he’s the one we’ve rejected and offended, he’s the one who would rightly judge us as he puts this world right.
But he has come early - in advance - not to tell us off, or give us a hard time, but to say “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.”
It’s very loving isn’t it – very tender – “take heart, my son.” I know you’re guilty, I know you deserve judgement – judgement from me in fact - but I’ve come early to forgive you.
Jesus is the one, the only one, who has the authority to give us what we really need – the forgiveness of our sins.
Let’s finish by thinking about,
The proof of forgiveness
Jesus’ purpose is clear – v6 READ.
Jesus wants to prove to us – to demonstrate - he does have the authority to forgive sins.
However, the logic of how he proves that isn’t quite so clear. Actually this is something I’ve changed my mind on. I used to understand it by emphasising the word “say” in v5 – Jesus asks, which is easier to say? I thought it’s easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ because no one can tell if it’s happened. It’s harder to say ‘get up and walk’ because it’s obvious if that happens or not.
However, I think that puts too much weight on taking ‘say’ in that particular way. And it’s not obvious Jesus uses it with that sense.
I think a more natural reading is that Jesus is simply asking – which is easier - to forgive or heal? Answer is simple – both are impossible. Both are things only God can do.
But it’s true that forgiveness is a hidden thing and healing a visible thing – and so Jesus says – in order for you to know I can do an impossible hidden thing – I’ll do an impossible visible thing. I’ll heal so you know I can forgive.
In fact remember illness and sin are connected – we’ve said illness is a symptom of sin – in a general way. So Jesus here says – I’ll prove I can sort out sin – by sorting out the symptom of sin – illness.
It’s like with that leaking pipe – the plumber says – I’ve sorted the leak out. You think – all plumbers are cowboys – how do I know? But then he says - I know you can’t see the mended pipe – but look the damp has gone. The symptoms going – prove he’s sorted the problem.
That is what Jesus does here.
Now we’ve got to be clear – while Jesus offers us forgiveness today – that doesn’t mean we’re healed from all illness. He doesn’t promise to overcome all the symptoms of sin today. He promises he will in the future but not today. But he does it here to show us – to prove to us – he really can forgive sin.
That’s his aim – he wants us to know – to be sure – he has authority on earth to forgive.
I wonder how confident we feel about being forgiven.
Some years ago when the evangelist Billy Graham was interviewed he was asked, 'Dr Graham, what do you believe will happen to you when you die?' And Billy Graham replied, 'I'm quite certain that I will go to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven.' To which the interviewer said, 'Isn't that a very arrogant thing to say?'
In our culture being confident about something is often taken as arrogant. Maybe we think being confident about forgiveness – a place in heaven – is arrogant.
And it would be arrogant if we were sure because of anything to do with us – because we’d lived well enough, were good enough for God, better than others etc. But if you think you get to heaven through being forgiven by Jesus – question is simply – can I trust Jesus?
Here is Jesus saying – let me show you I can forgive sins. Let me demonstrate to you I have the authority to forgive sins. I want you to know, I want you to be sure – I can forgive your sins.
So it’s not arrogant to be confident – actually you could say it’s arrogant to think, no, you’re wrong Jesus, you can’t forgive my sin. I’ve sinned too much, too often, too badly. So I have to go round with a nagging doubt, and sense of being a failure.
That sounds humble – to be down on yourself - but actually it’s a weird form of arrogance – because you’re saying you know better than Jesus. Won’t accept what he says.
Humility – means we believe what Jesus is showing us – we’re humble enough to accept what he is saying to us.
And Jesus is saying to us tonight – if we have faith in him – he’s saying - take heart, your sins are forgiven. He’s saying that to us individually and personally - take heart April, your sins are forgiven. Take heart Dave, your sins are forgiven. Take heart – put your name in – take heart – your sins are forgiven.
It’s your greatest need – your highest priority – I’m God, and I’ve got the authority to forgive you.
Are you sure Jesus? Is that really true?
Oh yes – look at this man walk – I did that so you might know this is true. True for you.
Four words. Precious, valuable, joy giving, eternity changing words.
Your sins are forgiven.