And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This [man] blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, [Thy] sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitudes saw [it,] they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.Matt. 9:1-8
Notable Details of this Account
This noteworthy event with Jesus both forgiving this man’s sins and healing him from the palsy, is also recorded in the Gospel accounts of Mark 2:1-13 and Luke 5:18-26. The latter two accounts provide further details worth noting surrounding this event. Jesus was inside the house in Capernaum, filled with a great crowd of people desiring to hear him. When the individuals accompanying the man with the palsy arrived and then saw the multitudes, they took it upon themselves to gain entry into the house from the roof, “And when they could not find by what [way] they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with [his] couch into the midst before Jesus.” [Luke 5:18]
The account from Mark also adds a little more context to this scene by noting the effort the individuals went through to access the roof, “And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken [it] up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.” [Mark 2:4] Clearly, this was a remarkable scene given that the house was filled right out to the door with people wanting to hear the preaching of Jesus and for people to then witness the very roof being removed to gain access for this poor fellow would have only added to the interest in hearing Jesus.
The evidence of such incredible faith from these individuals and the man who was sick of the palsy, immediately prompted this reaction from Jesus, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” [Mark 2:5] The physical healing of this man stricken with a debilitating paralytic disease was one thing, but the controversy that ensued thereafter with the scribes and the Pharisees was a result of this statement; the fact that Jesus, whom they saw as a mere man, was acting in the place of God by forgiving this man of his sins.
The dispute with the religious leaders was further documented more fully in this scripture passage, “And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? ” [Luke 5:21] This tends to raise two questions for readers of this passage with the first one being, is Jesus really God and the second one being, what does it mean to be forgiven of your sins? Avid readers of these studies have no doubt seen many scriptural references outlining the deity of Jesus, therefore, this study will focus more toward the subject of having one’s sins forgiven.
Atonement of Sins – Old Testament
The very first record in scripture relating to the forgiveness of sins dates back to Genesis 50. The story unfolds upon the return of Joseph to Egypt after burying his father in the land of Canaan. With the father now gone, the brothers of Joseph feared repercussions or retribution that may await them, given that they had disbanded Joseph from the family many years before. Further to this, the entire countryside was at the mercy of Egypt as a result of a great famine and with Joseph now second in command to Pharaoh, their concern likely had some merit.
As with their previous plot, they were once again at it and schemed to send a messenger unto Joseph, “So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we [be] thy servants.” [Gen. 50:17-18] What is perhaps most interesting and notable in this account is the response from Joseph, “And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for [am] I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; [but] God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as [it is] this day, to save much people alive.” [Gen. 50:19-20]
To be forgiven of sins before God is truly something that rests in the power and authority of God and God alone. While the ancient Israelites were given detailed commandments from the Lord articulating the many requirements to atone for sins, it was the Lord who forgave them of their sins. One of the first records of the Israelite’s priestly duties is shown here, “And he shall do with the bullock as he did with the bullock for a sin offering, so shall he do with this: and the priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them.” [Lev. 4:20] Forgiveness of sins throughout scripture has always involved a sacrificial act of atonement to appease the Lord God.
In the Old Testament, this involved elaborate animal sacrifices for the ancient Israelites. As this process was performed by the priests before God, the resulting effect took place, “For on that day shall [the priest] make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, [that] ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.” [Lev. 16:30] To clarify though, it was not the priest who was forgiving sins, rather it was the Lord as indicated, “I, [even] I, [am] he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” [Is. 43:25]
Atonement of Sins – New Testament
Let us now transition into the new Testament, where the final and atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ took place for sins as recorded by Paul, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” [1 Cor. 15:3-4] To ensure there is a proper comparison of both testament methods of atonement, let us revisit a reference to the Old Testament one more time, “For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This [is] the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” [Heb. 9:19-22]
While this is only a brief summary, readers should realize the key concept here is noted by the statement, “without shedding of blood is no remission.” The writer of Hebrews contrasts not only the distinction between the Old and New Testaments (or covenants), but also the transition that now takes place from the old over to the new, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? ” [Heb. 9:14] As the writer continues with this back and forth contrast, he then concludes his position by saying, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” [Heb. 9:28]
Christ, the Final Atonement for Sin
With this context in place on the forgiveness of sins, let us also consider the words from Luke as this draws in the deity question from above about Jesus, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” [Acts 20:28] At this point, seekers of faith should start to see the correlation between Jesus in this week’s scripture reading and his authority on earth to forgive sins, for as the scribes and Pharisees rightly said, Who can forgive sins, but God alone? While they were right to ask the question, they were wrong time and time again in failing to see that Jesus Christ was God standing before them. This mystery of godliness was highlighted by Paul in his writings, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” [1 Tim. 3:16]
Perhaps, one further note from Paul will help to illustrate the divine position held by Jesus as he wrote this memorable and notable passage of scripture in one of his letters to early believers,
“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven, and [things] in earth, and [things] under the earth; And [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[Phil. 2:6-11]
The New Covenant
Let us pursue the point of Jesus’ sacrifice further in scripture to demonstrate what his sacrifice means to us. As Jesus spoke to his closest disciples during the well known last supper along with the breaking of bread and wine, he described the wine figuratively as the actual sacrifice he was about to make for mankind, “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave [it] to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” [Matt. 26:27-28]
We will now connect this to a scene from Jesus with his disciples after his resurrection, so readers will see how it all starts to harmonize together in this study on the forgiveness of sins,
“And he said unto them, These [are] the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and [in] the prophets, and [in] the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”[Luke 24:44-47]
The New Testament therefore is representative of the new blood covenant between God and humanity, thus replacing the old covenant. This is further noted in other letters from the apostle Paul as he writes, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, [even] the forgiveness of sins.” [Col. 1:14] One additional reference is provided to further strengthen the case in confirming the association of forgiveness of sins with the shedding of blood, “And from Jesus Christ, [who is] the faithful witness, [and] the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” [Rev.1:5]
Of crucial importance to the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ, much like the animals from the Old Testament, who were without blemish, is noted in this passage of scripture, “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.” [1 John 3:5] The Lord Jesus Christ was indeed without sin, and therefore became the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind before God by taking our sin upon himself and in turn imputing his righteousness upon us!
Repent and Believe
To close off this study on the forgiveness of sins, where does all of this leave readers, whether believers in Christ or seekers of faith? Thus far, significant references have been made from scripture to support several key themes – Christ is the new covenant, his blood atoned for our sins, he was God manifest in the flesh. But what do we need to do to be forgiven of our sins and what happens if we reject his sacrifice for our sins?
Well, perhaps this scene from the scriptures will help to illustrate the consequences of not believing in his atoning sacrifice for your sins. During another encounter between Jesus and unbelieving religious leaders, their continued denial of who he claimed to be resulted in Jesus making this ominous statement, “And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am [he,] ye shall die in your sins.” [John 8:23-24] Jesus made this statement because there is a need to believe in who he is and what he has done for you through his atoning sacrifice.
As people come to this realization, there is also a need to repent for your sins as described in Acts 2:38, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” [Acts 2:38] To better understand the need for and importance of repentance let us reference a few passages of scripture, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid [his] face from you, that he will not hear.” [Is. 59:2] Further verses of this nature also occurred in Proverbs, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh [them] shall have mercy.” [Prov. 28:13]
Finally, as the psalmist rightly stated, the sins of all people are ever present before the Lord in Ps. 69:5, “O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee.” [Ps. 69:5] Sin after all, is the great divider between man and God. Praise God though for the provision is there for people from all walks of life for confession of their sins before his holy presence as the apostle wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1:9] This is indeed a verse worth treasuring in your heart on the forgiveness of sins!
Bible Study Questions
- In this study on the forgiveness of sins, does the fact that this event was recorded in three separate gospel accounts help to further substantiate its validity as a real event?
- Why did the scribes and the Pharisees accuse Jesus of blasphemy during this event? Hint – Luke 5:21
- Why do you think God commanded an offering of blood as an atonement for sins?
- The New Testament or covenant is based around the fact that Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice for sins by shedding his own blood upon the cross at Calvary, true or false? Hint – 1 Cor. 15:3-4, Matt. 26:27-28
- What was the distinguishing fact about the sacrifice of Jesus over anyone else as an atonement for sin? Hint 2 Cor. 5:21, 1 John 1:5
- Why is repentance so important in coming to and believing in what Jesus on the cross to atone for your sins?
- Memorize the last verse as words of encouragement in your faith, on the forgiveness of sins, 1 John 1:9.
WORD GUIDE – (palsy – paralytic-type disease)