Matthew 9:1-8

Sermon preached on January 17, 2010 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Marg's father was very generous. On many occasions I experienced his generosity as did many other people. But there was one aspect of his generosity that a lot of people still talk about. What he did with his grandchildren and some of his great nieces and nephews is something that none of them will ever forget. Here's what he did with each of them individually. When one of them was four, five or six years old, he would take them shopping alone. No parents were allowed. He would take them to a store like Walmart or Kmart and after he got there with them he would say to them,

"Pick out anything you want. I'll buy it for you. You can pick out anything in the store."

That was always amazing to the child. No one had ever said anything like that to them before. I mean, I had never said it to my kids. That never even entered my mind. But that's what Marg's father would say to them and he never failed them. Whatever they picked out he would buy it for them. But what was interesting about it was that I don't think anyone ever picked out something really expensive. Actually one of the funniest stories about his doing that was with one of his nieces. He actually gave her two picks because her first pick was a package of bubblegum. The girl's father still talks about what he said to her when she got home and he found out that Nelson had offered to buy her anything in the store and she picked a package of bubblegum. He said,

"Bubblegum! Bubblegum! Why didn't you pick a new bike!"

He was incredulous that when she had the pick of any item in the store she would pick bubblegum. He told her that she made a bad pick.

But in actual fact, many people are just like that little girl. In their prayers, when they ask God for things, they don't ask for the very best things but they ask for lesser things. Many of us are too focused on earthly things that we neglect asking for the very best things. Perhaps this is true of all of us, for in Romans 8:26 the apostle Paul wrote,

"the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
We do not know what we ought to pray for,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us
with groans that words cannot express."

We have something like that in our text. A group of men have a friend who is paralyzed. They decide to bring him to Jesus in order for him to be healed. There was certainly nothing wrong with that as is evidenced by the fact that Jesus healed him. But when Jesus saw him, instead of healing him right away, He said,

"Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

William Lane writes of Jesus' words, (Mark, p. 94)

"The pronouncement was startling because it seemed inappropriate and even irrelevant to the immediate situation."

They were looking for physical healing but Jesus spoke about something spiritual—the forgiveness of sins. People were flocking to Jesus for physical healing. But in doing that it is likely that many of them were unaware His main purpose in coming to this earth. Jesus was much more than a great healer. For a person to come to Jesus for healing and nothing else would have been a great tragedy. So Jesus makes sure that this man and the others there don't make that mistake. He was making it clear to everyone that

He came to give us forgiveness of sins.

He came to take our sins upon Himself so that we could have forgiveness of sins through Him. You'll remember what He said when He instituted the Lord's Supper. In Matthew 26:28 He said,

"This is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

After His resurrection He appeared to His disciples and said to them, (Luke 24:44–48)

"Everything must be fulfilled
that is written about me in the Law of Moses,
the Prophets and the Psalms. Then he opened their minds
so they could understand the Scriptures.
He told them, 'This is what is written:
The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,
and repentance and forgiveness of sins
will be preached in his name to all nations,
beginning at Jerusalem.'"

On the day of Pentecost Peter told the people, (Acts 2:38)

"Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ
for the forgiveness of your sins.
And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

In Acts 26:17-18 the apostle Paul told King Agrippa about his conversion and the mission to the Gentiles that God gave him. Jesus said to Paul,

"I am sending you to them
to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light,
and from the power of Satan to God,
so that they may receive forgiveness of sins
and a place among those
who are sanctified by faith in me."

The forgiveness of sins is what human beings need more than anything else. This is what you need. Without the forgiveness of your sins you cannot be reconciled to God, you cannot enter into heaven, you cannot have life to the full. Without the forgiveness of your sins you are doomed. You will perish unless they are forgiven.

Sin is the great barrier between us and God. Your sin has placed you in an awful predicament. As we read in Romans 6:23,

"For the wages of sin is death…”

But here we have the answer to our sin. What a remarkable statement Jesus utters. This is the greatest statement a person could ever hear. Jesus said,

"Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

What a statement of joy! What a statement of relief! What a statement of hope! What we have in Jesus is the forgiveness of sins.

The great question is—have you gone to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins?

Have you heard the words, "Your sins are forgiven?" Have you received the comfort of those words by believing in Jesus? That's the most important question you will ever ask yourself.

If you have Jesus, if you have the forgiveness of sins—you have everything you need. The Bible uses many images to convey this forgiveness of sins. For example,
Psalm 103:12 says,

"as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed
our transgressions from us."

They are removed far, far from us. They are removed as far as possible from us. They are so far away that they are gone. They cannot harm us. There is now no danger because they are gone forever.

I also love the image that is used in
Micah 7:19. The prophet says about God,

"You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea."

Our sins are tread underfoot. The idea here is that they are so thoroughly routed and overcome that they are trampled under God's feet. Indeed, a more literal translation would be, (HCSB)

"He will vanquish our iniquities."

God has defeated them and vanquished them for us. Then He takes them and hurls them into the depths of the ocean. Again, the idea is that they have been thoroughly dealt with. They are gone forever. They can never come back to haunt us.

In other passages the illustration has to do with rubbing them out, eradicating them. For example, in
Psalm 51:1 David said to God,

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions."

Then in verse 9 he said,

"Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity."

David's request there sees his sins written on God's scroll and he's asking God to obliterate them, to have them erased, rubbed out, eradicated.

Isaiah 1:18 puts it still differently. The Lord says to His people,

"Come now, let us reason together.
Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."

The image there is that sin is the color of blood, of 'unjustly shed blood'. E. J. Young says that the picture here is that, (Isaiah)

"Even if the nation's sins are the deepest red, they may yet become purest white: the very opposite of what they now are, in other words, non-existent."

Other images that the Bible uses about the forgiveness of our sin have to do with our sins in relation to God. Isaiah 38:17 says to God,

"In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction;
you have put all my sins behind your back."

He puts them behind His back. The picture is that they are out of His sight. Jeremiah 31:34 has God saying about His people,

"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."

God tells us that He will forget our sins. He will not bring them to mind.

So we see from this brief survey that the idea of forgiveness of our sins basically means that
they are removed from us. They are dealt with in such a way that all guilt and every penalty is removed. (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 514)

What a standing we have with the forgiveness of sins. I love the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:33–34,

"Who will bring any charge
against those whom God has chosen?
It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?
Christ Jesus, who died—more than that,
who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God
and is also interceding for us."

But if you're not a Christian, the opposite of all this is true of you.

Your sins cling to you. They are not removed from you. They are not blotted out of God's book. God remembers them. He sees them.

Try to picture your sins clinging to you, polluting you, making you contemptible, making you filthy and vile. Have you ever wanted something far away from you because you didn't want to get dirty? We're dog-sitting this weekend and after I got dressed this morning before I left for church I was trying to stay away from the dog. She loves jumping up on you, especially when her paws are dirty. Sometimes in the summer I wear white pants and as I'm in the entranceway of the church I'll notice that there's a little child approaching my white pants and he has chocolate from a doughnut all over his fingers. I back away because I don't want chocolate over my pants.

Now, those of you who are not Christians, on the last day, if you're not in Jesus, the one thing that you will want is for your sins not to be near you, rendering you vile and contemptible. My examples of dirty dog paws are chocolate on white pants are poor, poor examples of how you will feel on the last day. Multiply those feelings trillions and trillions of times and you'll understand a little of the horror of having your sins cling to you on the day of judgment.

Don't let that happen to you. Go to Jesus now. Ask Him to save you. Believe on Him.

The second great truth we see from our text is that the reason that Jesus can forgive sins is because

Jesus is God.

Only God can forgive sins. The Old Testament passages that I quoted were about God removing their sins far from His people; about God treading them underfoot; about God hurling the into the depths of the sea; about God blotting them out. As God said in Isaiah 43:25,

"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions,
for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more."

That's why when the teachers of the law heard what Jesus said, they said to themselves, (verse 3)

"This fellow is blaspheming!"

There are people who will tell you that Jesus never claimed to be divine, that He didn't claim to be God and that that was something that His disciples made up after His death. But the only way you can believe that is if you don't believe the biblical teaching about Jesus. If this story is true it is quite clear that Jesus claimed to be God. There was no doubt about it among the teachers of the law. According to them He was blaspheming precisely because He claimed that He could forgive sin. In essence He was claiming to be God.

One of the great reasons you should go to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins is because He is able to give you that. No one else can. The loftiest angel can't give you forgiveness of sins. The greatest theologian can't give you forgiveness of sins.

But Jesus can. God came down among us. He took our nature. He took our sins. He died for them and rose again. As we read in Philippians 2:6–11

"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became
obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."

He can forgive your sins. Go to Him.

The third thing we see in our text is that

it is through faith that we obtain the forgiveness of sins.

In verse 2 we read,

"When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,
'Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

It's interesting that the reference is to both the faith of the man and his friends. When Jesus saw 'their' faith.

Now why would this be? We know that faith has to be personal. No one can believe for anyone else, for his friend, for his child, for his wife. Each one has to believe for himself. As we read in John 3:16,

"For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life."

So why would Jesus look at 'their' faith and not just the faith of the man who was healed? The first thing I would say is that we don't want to make too much of this. As John Calvin says,

"There is a synecdoche, therefore, in the word 'their', when it is said that Jesus saw THEIR faith: for Christ not only looked at those who brought the paralytic, but looked also at his faith."

The man himself had faith. There would have been no healing without that.

But having said that, one thing we should understand from our passage is that

God uses the faith of one or more to bless others who are near to them.

Perhaps the man's faith was very weak. Perhaps he had faith but it was ready to waver. But as Calvin says,

"where there is agreement in faith between us, our salvation is mutually assisted, more than we realize."

The lesson for you here is that you should have great faith so that you may be a blessing to others. Your faith should be an example to other Christians. It should be an inspiration to them, encouraging and strengthening their faith. Let not your faith be weak and wavering.

The last great lesson you should learn from our text is that

you shouldn't have your focus on lesser things.

This man needed physical healing. There is no doubt about that. Paralysis is very difficult to endure. But the man needed something a lot more than mere physical healing—more than anything else he needed his sins forgiven. John Calvin writes,

"Christ appears here to promise to the paralytic something different from what he had requested: but, as he intends to bestow health of body, he begins with removing the cause of the disease, and at the same time reminds the paralytic of the origin of his disease, and of the manner in which he ought to arrange his prayers. As men usually do not consider that the afflictions which they endure are God's chastisements, they desire nothing more than some alleviation in the flesh, and, in the meantime, feel no concern about their sins: just as if a sick man were to disregard his disease, and to seek only relief from present pain. But the only way of obtaining deliverance from all evils is to have God reconciled to us."

Focusing on the lesser things is very common. It was common in Jesus' day. You'll remember that when Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, Herod was, (Luke 23:8)"greatly pleased."

He had been wanting to see Jesus for a long time. From what he had heard about Him, he, "hoped to see him perform some miracle."

Herod was delighted to see Jesus. But it did Herod no good. He was only interested in seeing a miracle. He had no interest in Jesus' teaching about repentance and the forgiveness of sins. When Jesus refused to answer His questions Herod and his soldiers mocked Jesus.

It's the same way today. Many of you have heard the story about the woman who was melting cheese on her toast and after she took a bite out of it she noticed what looked like a woman's face on it. She assumed it was the Virgin Mary and told the world about it. Eventually she put it eBay and sold it to a casino for $28,000. Since then at least one enterprising fellow is selling a "Blessed Grilled Cheese Virgin Mary Creation Kit". I'm not sure if those things are true or if they're urban legends. But the point is that either way, there's an incredible amount of interest in it. Many in the world are intrigued by things like that. But there's very little interest in repentance and following the teachings of Jesus and the Bible.

So don't waste put your main focus on secondary things. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:33,

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…”

May God give us all grace to do so.