To find out what forgiveness really means, we need to go to the source ... to the place where forgiveness began.
An observation: people in general seem to be unsure as to what forgiveness really means, and even more, how to carry it out in life.
Mark records a fascinating story in the early chapters of his Gospel account. A group of people were gathered at a house in Capernaum to hear Jesus preach the Word of God. The house was packed wall to wall with no room for another person.
After Jesus started preaching, four men arrived carrying their paralytic friend on a stretcher. They had heard about Jesus and his healing touch. This was their opportunity to help their friend. They were determined to find a way to get their friend in to that house. The only option they saw was through the roof. They climbed atop the roof, cut an opening and then lowered their friend on his stretcher.
This was faith in action. When Jesus saw it, he looked at the paralytic and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Does Jesus’ response seem strange to you? Why did he say such a thing? Jesus’ statement confused the crowd as well and raised an eyebrow or two, particularly those of the teachers of the law.
They were thinking, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Let’s stop right there. These teachers of the law packed deep theological truth in that seven word question. They clearly understood that forgiveness originates with God. On this point, their theology was correct. God, and no one else, has the power and authority to forgive sins. This is why Jesus’ statement to the paralytic was so offensive to them. In their minds, a mere man was staking claim to God’s authority and power and was stepping in to do what only God can do.
Only God can forgive because he is the offended party, the person we ultimately wrong. Our sins are against him. We are in his debt.
They also knew that God was, and is, willing to forgive. The law, and specifically the sacrificial system, revealed this aspect of God’s character to them. “But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Nehemiah 9:17). This is what they knew about their God. He has made this even more apparent to us through Jesus. God’s forgiving character took action. Through Jesus’ shed blood, he freely forgave all of our sins. And he did so at his initiative, not ours.
Now back to the story. Jesus was not about to let their thoughts go unchallenged. Before these teachers could say a word, Jesus asked them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?” (Mark 2:8). I wonder if their palms started to sweat, or their stomachs started to knot. I think I would have looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Then Jesus pressed his point. “…the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Jesus, God in human flesh, with authority and power, forgave the paralytic.
What fascinates me about this story is the paralytic’s silence. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t ask Jesus to heal him. And he certainly didn’t ask Jesus for forgiveness. He wouldn’t have been there if not for the heroic efforts of his four friends. He was at their mercy and Jesus’. Jesus delivered his mercy with four simple words, “Your sins are forgiven.” This is grace.
Here is good news. Jesus says the same four words to you. These aren’t just nice words to make you feel better about yourself. Jesus is God. When he says your sins are forgiven, they are forgiven.
Excerpted from Simple Gospel, Simply Grace