When the paralytic was brought to Jesus (Matthew 9:1-8), he experienced something he may not have expected. He was forgiven of his sins. When Jesus said these words, “Your sins are forgiven,” the Scribes were outraged that Jesus would say this. Only God can forgive sins.
Christians would agree that only God can forgive sins, but I wonder if we give much thought to why this is the case? It would be correct to say that God alone can forgive sins because when we sin, we always sin against God. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalm 51:4). Who else could truly forgive sins other than the One we have sinned against?
The fact that we have sinned against God in every sin committed says something about God. It says that God is the ultimate standard and that there is no standard above God. Even when we sin against each other, in doing so we ultimately sin by not living up to God’s perfect standard. We miss the mark of God’s standard in our nature and in the standards he has set out for us in His Word. Only God can forgive because God has always been sinned against. Only God is God.
While the Scribes would be well aware of this fact, they would also be well aware that eternal forgiveness of sins requires absolute sovereign authority. The paralytic had done nothing to Jesus. He was just brought on a stretcher and yet Jesus told him his sins were forgiven. Can Jesus even do that? How can Jesus pardon a man for all eternity if he does not have the power to hold it in place? Forgiveness of sins means an eternal pardon in a court that holds sway over every power. If there is not absolute sovereignty in this situation, then the possibility of a higher power revoking this pardon is a reality. Any Scribe worth his salt would understand that forgiveness of this nature is of the highest possible claim. The Scribes would have to remember the countless Old Testament verses that show that the only unquestioned authority to forgive in the universe is God.
Perhaps one of the countless Scriptures brought to mind might be that of Isaiah 45:7. “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” The type of sovereignty that Jesus is claiming is one that has no equal and is comprehensive. When God, through Isaiah, tells exiles in Babylon that he is the God who forgives and saves, he explains that there is not a single power, element or occurrence in this world that is outside of His sovereign will. Between light and darkness, fortune and misfortune, nature and history, there is not one single aspect that is outside of God’s sovereign will. Even King Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon, was simply an instrument in God’s hands. If Israelite exiles in Babylon were to find comfort in the hope of salvation, it could only be that the kings and their so-called gods in this world are all subservient to the ultimate God of all. Who has the power to pardon Israel? Answer: God alone.
When we come to Jesus in repentance of our sin, we come in realization that we have offended our Creator and are rightly under his judgment. We come to the One who has been sinned against and we come claiming no right or passage of our own. We come to the mercy seat of God. We place ourselves at the absolute mercy of God. The eternal judgment passed on us can only be overturned through an absolute act of sovereign power that changes an eternal death sentence into eternal life. If there is one single element outside of God’s control, it becomes a single element of doubt that God can eternally pardon. Praise God there is not. Forgiveness truly is forgiveness and the cross of Christ is the very place where we see the sovereign power of God pouring out eternal judgment so that this forgiveness might flow. In sovereign power only Jesus could withstand a holy justice upon sin and display absolute authority over the grave.
So, when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” he really means that there is no power in any perceivable realm that can overturn your pardon. Unless God is absolutely sovereign, there is no certain hope of eternal forgiveness. But…..God IS Sovereign.