And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his 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, take up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.
Matthew 9:1-8 NRSV
Forgiveness is a topic we often hear about but do we often take it to heart. Do we understand that forgiveness is a Devine action and God's way of giving us a fresh start? However, it’s more than a fresh start, or a second chance, forgiveness is a way of life. It is how we, the people of God, the new creation operate. These new human beings are baptised, forgiven Christ-followers and have a unique identity that supersedes gender, race or ethnicity.
In this series, I'm looking at what forgiveness means to the Christ-following people of God. Forgiveness allows us to walk free in three ways, receiving forgiveness from God, forgiving others and forgiving ourselves.
Defining human forgiveness or asking for forgiveness, we can begin by apologising to the person you've hurt by saying, “I'm sorry.” Then, explain your actions to them and take responsibility, but avoid making excuses for what you did. Next, tell the person what you plan to do to make things right between you and how you'll act differently in the future.
In our story, Jesus meets a paralysed man, and immediately offers the forgiveness of his sin. Maybe because Christ knew his heart weighed heavy, or because of the common first-century thought that perhaps his sin bought about the paralysis but certainly not because he had sinned directly against Christ. However, Jesus states there is no link between sin and sickness in John 9 but maybe this man thought that was the case.
Which is easier healing paralysis or forgiving sin? What followed was judging by the keepers of the law, and anger at the suggestion Christ was above the law, claiming blasphemy and placing himself in the position of God, the only one who can forgive sin.
My first point is that there can be some difficulty in persuading some people about the need for forgiveness in our modern culture. Many don't see they have any sin while others have the attitude that we can do whatever we like as long as it feels good and morality is relative. Additionally, many see themselves as right in their own eyes, making themselves equal with God in deciding what is good and evil.
Why do we need Forgiveness?
Paul, writing to the Church in Rome, a culture not living by the Jewish law, speaks of the whole of humanity in the same situation when it comes to its relationship with God. Paul, realising he is speaking to a mix of both Jews and non-Jews (gentiles) takes time to make the point clear in chapters 1-3 that ignorance regarding knowledge of the law, is no excuse, we all need Christ.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.
Paul continues emphatically stating there is no advantage in being Jewish and following Jewish law.
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;
Romans 1:18,20,2:12,3:10 NRSV
However, God had a plan for humanity before time began and writing the letter to Ephesus, Paul tells us that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be pure and spotless before him in love. It was to the glory of his wonderful grace that he freely lavished on us that, he destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will. Paul goes on to say in verse 7;
In Christ, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
Ephesians 1:7 NRSV
The riches of God's grace is shown in both Christ's walk here on earth, with the paralysed man, and for all eternity because of the redemption he provided for us, in His sacrifice once and for all time, by faith we are adopted into being the people of God.
My second point is the story of the woman caught in adultery.
2. Divine grace verse law.
In John Chapter 8 we read of a time that Jesus’ authority was being questioned. Would Jesus follow the law or break it?
So early one morning while Jesus was at the temple, which was his custom in those days. There came some religious people with questions, trying to test him.
It is worth noting if you read how Jesus answered questions and faced these tests that his approach was different depending on the situation. For example, if someone who was self-righteous approached him, the law was often his answer, however, if someone knew they were a sinner and was seeking forgiveness, grace was extended. (see Luke 18)
Self-righteous people are still about today, with the attitude I know what is right and wrong and judging ourselves by our set of standards and even further denying there is an absolute moral law.
The test as to whether Jesus would follow the law came about as they bought a woman caught in adultery. Remember the law came by Moses but grace and truth come through Christ.
Moses bought in the Jewish law because of sin, while this provided God’s guidelines, there was a problem, because those who failed, even in the minute detail were made sinners and sentenced to death. even though they were the people of God, they went into exile for failing to keep the law.
In the grand scheme of things, one of the main areas that the Jewish people failed was their worshipping false gods. Idolatry, which is a heart issue was central to the Israelites dwelling in the land or not. Being the people of God meant loving and serving God only, with heart, mind and soul. Some say well, that's not a problem today we don't sacrifice animals to Molek or make golden calves. Yet do we always put God first and foremost. Idolatry, as with most sin, is a heart issue, it is not bowing down to some stature. Jesus said it's our hearts that God wants and he also said that murder and adultery are equivalent sins to hate and lust.
Back to our story in John 8, the self-righteous came to Jesus and questioned Him trying to put Him in situations so they could get one over him. Jesus critiqued them as in their hearts they were still far from God.
The ultimate test, bring a woman caught in adulatory. Realising they had him they were delighted, if he condemns this woman he has to throw stones at her or if not then he breaks the law.
Instead, Jesus is very quiet simply writing on the ground. After their constant questioning, he says “Anyone who has never sinned can throw the first stone at her.” Slowly people began to walk away, Jesus continued writing on the ground.
Jesus raised again and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one judged you guilty?” She answered, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “I also don’t judge you guilty. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.” John 8:10-11.
Jesus, technically could, as one who was without sin, kill this woman. However, he shows mercy, probably thinking of the passage which describes God’s character and God’s mercy. (Exodus 34)
God’s forgiveness opens the door, we still have to walk through it, we do this by trusting in Christ for our salvation. God then gives us a new life, a fresh start, which open a gateway in our innermost being that allows the love and forgiveness to flow both ways.
In our example above we see a woman who is hurt and hurting others, Jesus allows her the chance to be healed but warns her and perhaps empowers her not to continue in this pathway of hurting others.
In our first example the paralysed man, encounters Christ looking for a healing, Christ is both willing and able to heal him and forgive his sins. Walking away as a new person, forgiven, healed and restored.
What is interesting to note is neither the disabled man in our first story nor the woman in John 8 asked for forgiveness. Jesus makes a way for them to walk free, even without them asking. Christ, The Son of Man demonstrates his divine power in both healing and compassion.
The grace of God that we find today in Christ is not dependant on how bad our past may have been, or if it is our fault that we are the way we are, it is in the nature and character of God to be merciful gracious and full of compassion.
So how do we receive this divine forgiveness?
First, we come to God with a humble heart, not with pride or self-righteous attitude, saying I deserve this or that or claiming that I am not a bad person. We acknowledge our need for a saviour and that we cannot be right with God by our efforts. In addition, we take hold of the promise of God that through Christ we have both forgiveness of all our sins and redemption from our old destructive life. We also receive the empowerment of the Spirit of Christ, we receive his love, his nature and his ability to walk out a new life and to be fully flourishing human beings.
John writes that we come into forgiveness as a way of life, both in confessing our sin and looking to the one who is faithful, just and forgives us.
If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9 -
Confessing that our sin is forgiven is a way of reminding ourselves what God has provided in Christ and the new way to live as human beings. Walking in forgiveness changes our nature and character both in the willingness to and the empowerment for us to live as God intends. In this new life, as flourishing human beings, we walk in the footpath of forgiveness, we stand with confidence, not arrogance, that all our sin has been forgiven and we are cleansed by what Christ has done for us.