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Matthew 9:1-8 by Robert Dean
What if someone could read your thoughts? Even when you're thinking something bad about them? This is what happened to the scribes when Jesus told a paralytic man that his sins were forgiven. Listen to this lesson to see that the scribes were shocked and were mentally accusing Jesus of blaspheming. See how Jesus showed them that He had the power to forgive sins and also to heal, revealing that He was God. See the significance of the title, Son of Man. Learn about four types of forgiveness and that all sin is basically against God. Decide to forgive others who have wronged you just as God graciously forgives your sins.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:58 mins 7 secs

The Power of Jesus; Forgiving Sins
Matthew 9:1-8
Matthew Lesson #053
October 5, 2014

The focal point now is on forgiveness, forgiving sins. I want to stop for a minute as we begin by just thinking our way through this section of Matthew.

Matthew records these events in the life of Christ not in a chronological manner, which is what we expect, but in a topical manner, a thematic manner. The general structure in Matthew is chronological but within that chronology he takes snapshots of different things, and he sets the stage in each one of those snapshots so that it demonstrates a particular point. This snapshot covers the eighth and ninth chapters, and the focal point of this section is to demonstrate the authority and the power of Jesus as Messiah. It is structured in a way where there is a group of miracles and then following that one or two incidences that relate to discipleship. Then there are two or three miracles, another couple of instances that talk about discipleship; then three or four more miracles and a concluding emphasis on the need for disciples because of the need of the work in order to proclaim the gospel.

In going through this I have purposely done my own thematic arrangement and I am not going to deal with the discipleship passages until we get to the end. So I am going through each section of the miracles as they are presented and then we will come back and look at these discipleship passages. And there is a connection between the two. Jesus is performing these miracles to demonstrate who He is. The implication is that this is incumbent upon us as believers to become disciples. Not all believers are disciples but a disciple who has made the decision to be a consistent student of Jesus Christ, the teaching of Scripture and the Word of God. A disciple is a believer who is committed to spiritual growth and spiritual maturity.

But discipleship isn't ever presented in Scripture as something that is really an option for believers. It is not presented as, well yes, you can just go to heaven and then discipleship, well that's just something else; you can do one without the other. You can't have one without the other.  The implication of Scripture is that because of the authority of Jesus Christ, because of who He is, it puts an incumbent responsibility on us to follow Him because of who He is. That is the internal connection here.

Now lordship salvation comes along and tries to introduce backdoor works to this and says if you don't become a disciple then you weren't truly saved to begin with. They equate the term disciple with being a believer, and that is just not true. Discipleship is something in addition to simply trusting in Christ alone for our salvation.    

So we are looking at each of these examples, and the first three miracles that I covered at the beginning of chapter eight were the miracles of healing, demonstrating that as Messiah Jesus could solve one of the greatest consequences of sin, which is physical illness, disease, problems of health as well as death. Jesus is going to be able to solve that. That will be solved in the kingdom and so He is giving this preview of coming attractions in each set of miracles. In the second set, where we are now, these are miracles of power. The last set relate to miracles of restoration. Each points to His role as the promised Messiah who will bring in the kingdom. 

The three miracles presented here are the stilling of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Second, Jesus casts out demons from the two demon-possessed men. The question was asked: what happened to the demons after the pigs drowned. They just went back to their immaterial, invisible abode. The world, we are told, is not only material but there are immaterial beings who surround us. There are both holy angels as well as fallen angels.

The third example that we are looking at now is Jesus heals a paralyzed man at Capernaum in order to demonstrate that He can forgive sins, that He has divine prerogatives, and He is stating that He is divine by His forgiving of sins. It is an interesting passage because it doesn't bring out or emphasize the aspect of His hypostatic union but it is very subtly there within the text, both in terms of the fact that He makes His claim to forgive sins, and only God can forgive sins, so that is a claim to deity; but then He refers to Himself as the Son of Man, which is an emphasis on His humanity. So behind the scenes here, underneath what we read in the text, is this subtle allusion to the hypostatic union; that Jesus is both undiminished deity and true humanity united together is one person.

As we looked at the previous ones we saw that Jesus demonstrated His authority and power over the forces of creation to show that He is the creator who sustains and controls creation, and He will reverse the damages of sin (through the example of illness and disease) during the kingdom that He is offering. Second, He demonstrated His authority and power over Satan and the fallen angels, the demons, which gives a preview of the fact that during the kingdom Satan and the demons will be confined to the abyss and will not be a force or a factor during that thousand-year rule and reign of Jesus on the earth. Third, He is showing that He has the divine prerogative to forgive sins, which will be a hallmark of His messianic reign.

Three things are brought out here:

1.          He demonstrates His authority and power to forgive sins to show first of all that He is God. He is making a claim to deity, and He is doing it in a particularly significant environment. He is making a claim to be God by exercising a divine prerogative: only God can forgive sins. So when Jesus says that He forgives the sins of this paralyzed man it is obvious that He is claiming to be God. 

2.          He is demonstrating that, as Messiah He will save His people from their sins. Gabriel announced that the reason Jesus should be called Yeshua—which comes from the Hebrew verb yasha, which means to save or deliver—was because Jesus will save His people from their sins.

3.          As Messiah He is showing that He has the power and authority to bring in a kingdom based on those redemptive promises and prophecies from the Old Testament that were given to Israel throughout her existence, and even before that back to Genesis 3:15.

So lets see what is going on in the text. Remember that these examples are not necessarily chronologically related. Matthew is just picking them and organizing them in a way so that he is presenting evidence of his basic thesis, which is that Jesus is the Messiah. So he just gives us a very brief picture of each of these events.     

Matthew 9:1 NASB "Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over {the sea} and came to His own city."

He tells us that this occurs roughly some time after the casting out of the demons from the two demoniacs, and that the way in which He returned to Capernaum was via the boat. His own city indicates that He is now living in Capernaum. This was no small town; it was a commercial fishing village that was situated on a major trade route. Mark puts it a little differently: "When He had come back to Capernaum." He doesn't tell us how He got there.

Mark 2:3 NASB "And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men." He gives a little more detail. [4] Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying."

This fits with architecture of homes at that time. They were not constructed with a thatched roof. Luke 5:19 "But not finding any {way} to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles into the middle {of the crowd,} in front of Jesus." So the picture is that they removed these tiles to create a large enough opening so that they could then lower the stretcher down into the room."

Luke tells us that this crowd wasn't just made up of local people. Matthew talks about there being scribes within; Luke tells us they also includes teachers of the Law and Pharisees. So there were a number of Jewish religious leaders present. Luke 5:17 NASB "One day He was teaching; and there were {some} Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting {there,} who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and {from} Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was {present} for Him to perform healing." So there was a large group present from all over Judea. They were representatives of the Jewish religious leadership. This is important to understand because this fits the pattern of the way in second temple Judaism the religious leaders looked at those who claimed to be the Messiah. They were there to investigate Him.

Word had gone out about Jesus healing the leper. That was the first miracle of healing that we studied at the beginning of verse 8. Healing a leper was considered by the Pharisees to be one of the indisputable signs of the Messiah. It wasn't a healing that could be faked. The other miracle that they believed was exclusive to the Messiah was the healing of someone who was blind. Jesus performed that miracle in John chapter nine, and we also have another example near the end of Matthew chapter nine men are healed in Jericho.

So the first miracle has taken place, word has gone out to the Jewish leaders, and now they are coming to investigate. According to the law of the Sanhedrin there were two stages of investigation for any messianic claim. The first stage was simply a stage of observation where an official delegation would be sent to anyone who made claims or seemed to be making claims to be the Messiah, and they would be observed. They would observe what He said, what He did, what He taught, what His disciples were saying and doing. They didn't ask any questions or raise any objections; they were simply there to observe what was happening and to determine what was going on. After a period of observation they would then go back to Jerusalem and meet, and they would decide on whether or not this claim had any significance. If it didn't have any significance they would just drop it and forget about it, but if there might be something to this then they would ramp things up to a second stage investigation, which they called the stage of interrogation. In this stage they would begin to interrogate the individual who claimed to be the Messiah. They would interrogate his disciples and those that were following in order to get further details.

What we see here fits what we understand the Sanhedrin would have done. They were sending a group that had come from all the different regions within the land and they were there simply to observe this Jesus of Nazareth who was clearly making claims by His Words and deeds that He was the Messiah.

When Jesus looks at this particular crowd He recognizes who they are and why they are there. This is why His response is different from other healings. In the other healings people came to Him to be healed and He healed them. He did not make proclamations about forgiveness of sins. In this particular episode as Matthew presents it He sees the paralyzed man on the stretcher in front of Him and says, "Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven." He specifically focuses on forgiveness of sins. Why in the world would Jesus do that? He is making a claim in front of those witnesses, those observers who had come from Jerusalem. He knows the Pharisees, the scribes and the lawyers are there and He is making a specific statement to them on His claim to be the Messiah.

Matthew 9:2 NASB "And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, 'Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven'."

The word that is used there for forgiveness is APHIEMI, a word that is most often used to indicate forgiveness of sins. It has a range of meanings. It means to forgive something someone does, to permit someone to do something, or free them from something like a debt. Those are the primary meanings we should associate with forgiveness. Something is cancelled. It is used in passages to indicate the cancelling of a debt; it is a financial term. It is an important thing to remember, that forgiveness is the cancelling of a debt. What is the debt? The debt is the debt of sin. Remember that in rabbinic thought sin was a debt against the character of God. We owed God something because we sinned. They used these financial terms to express the ideas of what happens when somebody sins. When somebody sins it is against God, it is a debt against God, and that debt must be paid. In forgiveness, therefore, God is forgiving that debt of sin or cancelling that debt of sin. This financial idea is very much present in helping us understand what takes place.    

Jesus makes His claim to forgive the sin of the paralyzed man and this provokes an immediate hostile reaction from the scribes and the Pharisees.   

Matthew 9:3 NASB "And some of the scribes said to themselves, 'This {fellow} blasphemes'." Remember, according to the Sanhedrin law they were not to object, to ask questions, to talk; they are just there to observe. So they are just thinking within themselves. This fits precisely with what we see in our study of the customs of the day. They remain quiet but as soon as this happens they have interpreted it.

This is what happens with people. We have what is described as presuppositions or assumptions, and often those assumptions are extremely strong and they put blinders upon our thinking. Rather than seeing things as they are, we see them as we want them to be. Those presuppositions put a straightjacket on our thinking and destroy all objectivity. As soon as these observers witness this, in empiricism they have an experience but they wrongly interpret the experience. It doesn't even occur to them that Jesus could be God because they have already discounted that presuppositionally; they have rejected that.

Mark describes it this way in Mark 2:6, 7 NASB "But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 'Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?' " They are having a little internal dialogue; they are talking to themselves. They are saying, "Why does this man speak that way?"

They are right at their starting point which is only God can forgive sins. But their next point is that this is a man, not God. So their second premise is a false premise. It is that false premise that skews their ability to accurately and objectively interpret what has happened around them.  

Something I want to point out here is that the reason that God is the only one who can forgive sins is because all sin is against God. You and I may commit some sins that involve other people. For example, David committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba. He then intensified that sin by conspiring with his general Joab to have Bathsheba's husband put in the forefront of the battle so he would be killed, and he was missed up in all this deception so that his sin impacted people around him.    

But in Psalm 51:4 which describes David's confession to God he says in verse four, "Against You, You only, I have sinned." That is why it is only God who can forgive sin, because it is His righteousness that is violated. It is His righteous code that is violated; it is not the righteous code of the human being we have involved in our sin. That is not to say they are irrelevant, it is saying they haven't set the standard. If you commit fraud or murder, when you are arrested you are taken to court and tried. Your sin, if you committed murder or robbery, involves other people. You have committed some action against other people, but it is not up to them to press charges because you have violated the law of the land. The government takes you to trial and the government prosecutor brings the case against you, not the person you have offended. If the person who has been offended or is the victim of your crime wants retribution they take you to civil court. But the issue in criminal penalization comes because you have violated the law of the land. Sin is, as it were, a violation of God's law, in the broad sense (not the Mosaic Law)—God's law, God's standards, God's absolutes in the broad sense. This is why David said: "Against you, You only, I have sinned". That is why God is the only one who can forgive sin.

I can forgive someone who hurts me, takes advantage of me, or violates my person or my possessions; but that has nothing to do with their spiritual life or their ultimate relationship before God. Only God can forgive sins.

In rabbinical thought—that is, in that straightjacket of their presuppositions—they believed that all disease, all physical illness was a sign of divine displeasure. They were a lot like Job's three friends in the book of Job. They didn't have a robust concept of the doctrine of sin and suffering. They have a diluted view and they just think that if you are sick, it is something you did. They had a very limited concept of suffering in this world.

Another point just in terms of background is that in the Mosaic Law there is no such thing as official forgiveness of sins or absolution involving the priesthood. A leper, according to the Law, could be pronounced clean by the priest; a transgressor might bring sin offerings and transfer his guilt; on the Day of Atonement sins might be cleansed ritually, but forgiveness is not a concept in the Old Testament that we see because the cross hasn't occurred yet. In a sense it is real but the actual payment has not taken place yet. So they clearly understood that only God could forgive but at no point in the tabernacle or temple ritual did the priest ever say your sins are forgiven. They were cleansed but it is never said their sins were forgiven.

Jesus knows what they are thinking. Mark tells us He does this by the Spirit. In the English Bible in Mark it has a lower case s, but that should be translated with an upper case S because Jesus is walking by the Spirit and so the Spirit is communicating with Him and He understands what is going on in their thinking.            

Matthew 9:4 NASB "And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, 'Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?'"

They are accusing Him of blasphemy, which means He is violating God's standard and showing disrespect for God. But in fact they are thinking evil in their hearts. So this is a divine viewpoint on rejection of Jesus as Messiah as evil. We often think of just those horrible things that somebody does—like ISIS beheading those who are not Muslims, in their opinion; someone who is committing genocide, mass murder, something of that nature—but the Bible shows that evil not only involves religion and the so-called good things but it also involves those horrible things. So evil is anything that is a sin. It is anything that is a violation of the character of God, and thinking that somehow you can gain approval from God through your good deeds is really a form of evil. So there are different kinds of evil in human experience. There is evil that goes in the guise of good and there is evil that goes in the guise of overt sins.    

The evil that they are thinking goes back to something that happened earlier in their lives, and that is that when they reached God-consciousness they rejected God. This is the structure of the teaching in Romans chapter one. Romans 1:18 NASB "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." Those who are the receptors of God's judgment in this case are those who have rejected Him. Romans 1:19, 20 makes it clear that God's existence is evident through His creation, that His invisible attributes are manifest through the visible material universe that He has created, and so the individual can look at creation and say I know this was created by someone greater than us, this couldn't just happen by chance; I want to know who that is.

That may all get covered up in the years to come, like with the apostle Paul. The apostle Paul was essentially positive toward God, but he went the wrong way and it all got covered up with all the religiosity of the Pharisees until Jesus had to dramatically break through that on Paul's trip to Damascus. It was at that time that Paul was able to break through the blindness of his own sin and suppression of truth. Jesus illuminated him in that unique way in that situation. But there are many others who when they come to God-consciousness say no, I really don't care, or I think I can figure this all out on my own and they go negative at God-consciousness. But they get mired deeper and deeper into their own truth suppression mechanisms and there is no recovery.

That is what we see with the Pharisees and scribes and those who are here. They have immediately interpreted the empirical data of Jesus healing the paralyzed man, and saying no, this is not what it claims to be, this man is just blaspheming God; so they reject that.

Matthew 9:5 NASB "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, and walk'?"

If you tell someone their sins are forgiven there is no empirical data that they are forgiven. Anybody can say that, but that doesn't mean their sins are actually forgiven. So Jesus is going to give an object lesson here to prove that what He said is actually the case and actually true. He is pointing out this distinction between just saying something and doing something. What is evident here in the background is that the opposition to Jesus is beginning to increase. It is going to build for us in Matthew's narrative until we see the crescendo in chapter twelve where the Pharisees and the scribes and the Sadducees reject Jesus and say that He is doing all these miracles in the power of Satan.

Matthew 9:6 NASB "But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—then He said to the paralytic, 'Get up, pick up your bed and go home'."

"Son of Man". Here He brings in this really subtle point. He is claiming a divine prerogative; He is going to do something only God can, which gives evidence of His deity, but He calls Himself the Son of Man. This phrase Son of Man comes out of one of Daniel's visions when God revealed the future to him in Daniel chapter seven as depicts the end of the Tribulation period. Just before the Messiah comes to the earth and establishes His kingdom there is presented in Daniel chapter seven where the Son of Man [the Messiah] comes before the Ancient of Days [God the Father]. The term Son of Man indicates He is human as well as divine. In Hebrew the idiom is that when you are describing the character of something you would say that it is the son of that attribute. That doesn't mean physical generation, it just means that if you are honest you will be called the son of honor, if you are a thief you will be called the son of a thief. These terms are important because they reflect back on who Jesus is in terms of His deity and His humanity in the hypostatic union.      

Jesus is clearly referring to Himself as Messiah, using a messianic title. He knows exactly what He is doing in front of these observers. 

Matt 9:7, 8 NASB "And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw {this,} they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men."

What they are reflecting there is, they are still looking at Jesus as a man and that somehow God has given Him this power to heal. They don't quite have the picture down.

Forgiveness is one of those concepts that a lot of people aren't real clear on. I think that is because it is really hard for us to forgive people. Forgiveness is vital to the Christian life. We are to forgive one another. But forgiving one another must be based upon really understanding the forgiveness that we have from God. Forgiveness from God cancels or obliterates sin, but it doesn't necessarily cancel or obliterate consequences.

The day of Atonement is a great illustration from the Old Testament on forgiveness, because on the day of Atonement the high priest would take two goats and he placed his hand on the goats and confesses the sins of the people. One goat is then taken to be sacrificed, indicating the penalty for sin, the other goat is taken off, far away, out into the wilderness where it is released, indicating that once forgiveness has taken place God removes sin completely, it disappears and is no longer found. The Scripture says God removes the sin from us as far as the east is from the west. It is a complete and total cleansing but it is based upon a penalty that is paid.

If we bring out the issue of consequences, sometimes we can forgive a person but that doesn't mean they are absolved of consequences. When David committed the sin with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite and it was over with, God removed the death penalty, which was part of the Mosaic Law. If David had gotten what he deserved he would have been executed for adultery. God ameliorated that from the penalty, but God didn't remove all the consequences. There were four distinct consequences that occurred to David as a result of that sin. The child born as a result of that adulterous union died. And all of these had something to do with sexual sin that David had committed. There was a daughter and a sin who were half-siblings, and the son raped the daughter. Then another son, Absolom, killed the son who raped the daughter. That involved two separate sins, the rape and the killing of the one who committed the rape. Then the final disciple was the rebellion of Absolom and Absolom's death. So there we see that God ameliorated the most extreme form of discipline but there were still consequences to David's sin.

Sometimes God completely and totally removes all the consequences of our sins. Many times He does that. Other times He reduces the consequences: it is not as bad as it ought to be but you need to learn a lesson. At other times because we have been so rebellious God lets us feel the full force of the consequences of our decisions.

So consequences and the experience of consequences, has little to do with forgiveness. If you have been the victim of abuse as a child, as an adult, as a spouse, you can and must forgive the person who abused you. But that doesn't mean that you go right back into the relationship; it doesn't mean necessarily that you absolve them of all consequences; it doesn't mean that you do something foolish. We have to use wisdom as to how we act with regard to a person who has injured us. We need to forgive them, because if we bare a grudge; if we bear mental attitude sins against them; then the person that hurts is us. It keeps us out of fellowship; it prevents us from growing spiritually. It creates a burden in our soul that just increases its weight down through time. We have to understand the dynamics of forgiveness.

In the New Testament we have three verses where this word for forgiveness is emphasized. In Ephesians 1:7 as well as in Colossians 1:14 we have the statement: "We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins". So it relates forgiveness to redemption. The word redemption means to pay a price. I didn't understand for many years until I started digging down into the meaning of APHIEMI that forgiveness also is a financial cancelling of debt. So there is a parallel and a synonymous relationship between redemption paying the price and forgiveness cancelling a debt. This is what happened, though, at the cross in terms of the cancelling of the debt of sin against mankind.

Forgiveness is emphasized in Acts 13:38 NASB "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you." That is a summary of the gospel. John would summarize it as the offer of eternal life; Peter summarizes it as the forgiveness of sins. In Acts 26:18 it is expressed in terms of receiving the forgiveness of sins. There are two different aspects here. There is one aspect of forgiveness of sins that occurred objectively at the cross, and another aspect of forgiveness is when it is individually applied to each person when they believe in Jesus Christ as their savior.

The two words used in Scripture, and often translated forgiveness, are APHIEMI—a more precise word which means to forgive, to cancel a debt—and CHARIZOMAI, which is a word from the noun CHARIS (grace), which means to act graciously. In certain contexts it means to forgive, and that shows that the emphasis in forgiveness is to act graciously. They don't deserve it. Grace means giving someone undeserved favor, unmerited kindness. They have committed some infraction against us but we need to forgive them. We have committed sin against God and we don't deserve anything, but God graciously provides us with a solution; He sent His Son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. This is what happened objectively.

Paul summarizes what happened at the cross this way. Remember there are two kinds of forgiveness: an objective forgiveness, which is what happened at the cross; a subjective forgiveness, which happens only when we trust in Christ. There is also a subjective forgiveness after salvation whenever we confess our sins, and there is a personal forgiveness when we forgive one another.          

Colossians 2:13 NASB "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him [regeneration], having [because He has] forgiven us all our transgressions." The chronology here is, we are regenerated because He has already forgiven you of your sins.

The question: when did He forgive us? How could He cancel that debt? By wiping out the certificate of debt against us.

Colossians 2:14 NASB "having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."

When did He cancel the debt against us? He did it when He nailed it to the cross. That happened in AD 33. That means that forgiveness of all trespasses was accomplished by wiping out or cancelling the debt against us. That happened historically at the cross. So this is talking about positional or legal forgiveness. That is the key to unlimited atonement. Christ paid the penalty for all sin at the cross.

Here is my paraphrase of this: "And you, though you were dead in trespasses and the uncirumcision of your flesh, He has already, when we believed, made us alive together with Him because He had previously, graciously forgiven [CHORIZOMAI] you of all trespasses, by cancelling the debt that was against us".

We were born spiritually dead, born lacking perfect righteousness, and we were born under the condemnation of Adam's original sin. We were born under a death penalty. What happened at the cross is that Christ paid the death penalty. It cancels the debt against everyone. They are still born spiritually dead, born unrighteous; but the debt is paid. That secures forensic or legal forgiveness for everyone. But it doesn't make them saved; they have to trust in Christ. When they trust in Christ, then they are regenerate.

When we trust in Christ we receive the imputation of Christ's righteousness and when we trust in Christ we are declared righteous—justification. That is based on the fact that redemption occurred historically at the cross, which forgave us legally.