John 20:21–23 

21So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

One of the great controversies that surrounded Jesus’ ministry was the forgiveness of sins. Some men brought a paralytic to Jesus and let him down through the roof into the house where Jesus was teaching. Jesus looked at the man and declared, My son, your sins are forgiven you.” Immediately, the Pharisees began questioning among themselves, Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?

The Pharisees’ question was entirely reasonable. While each of us can forgive those who sin against us, we dare not presume to forgive their sins against God – only God can do such a thing. So the dilemma of our human condition is this: we all have sinned against God, so how can we know whether God has forgiven us? Who speaks for God on earth? In the old covenant, God appointed the priests to speak on His behalf through the sacrificial system:

And it shall be, when [someone] is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin. (Lev 5:5-6) 

The priest shall make atonement for him – the priest shall sacrifice the animal and announce to the sinner, Believe God’s word! He has provided a substitute to bear the guilt of your sin. My son, your sins are forgiven you.”

So why was Jesus’ forgiveness of the paralytic controversial? Precisely becaue He was not an Aaronic priest, nor was He at the temple offering a sacrifice, and yet He was declaring the forgiveness of this man’s sins. How dare He presume to speak for God? Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?

Jesus knew their doubts; He knew their questions. So He asked, Which is easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Arise, take up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” (he said to the paralytic), “’Arise, take up your mat and walk.’ And immediately the man arose, took up his mat, and walked.

According to Jesus, the healing of the paralytic proved that He has authority on earth to forgive sins. Jesus was announcing the end of the temple and the sacrificial system; declaring that the Judaic Age was over. In the Messianic Age, this time where Jesus rules over all, the Aaronic priests no longer speak for God; Jesus, the Son of Man, does. And He has commissioned His disciples to announce the forgiveness of sins to all peoples in His Name, through His sacrifice. 

So every Lord’s Day, following our confession, I have the privilege of reminding you, assuring you, that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, there really is forgiveness with God. My word does not grant forgiveness; only the sacrifice of Jesus can do that. But the good news is that God promises to forgive all who acknowledge their sin and turn from it, seeking His forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Your calling is to hear that promise, even as the paralytic heard the words of our Lord, and to believe it. “My son, your sins are forgiven you.”

So reminded this morning of the gift of forgiveness that God grants through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, let us confess our sins in His Name, trusting that God will indeed forgive all those who come to Him in faith. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.