Who Has the Authority to Forgive?
In March of 2015, Pope Francis made an announcement that he was convoking a jubilee year to be called the Holy Year of Mercy. He said that the church needed this year to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God. And give that consolation to every man and woman. He said,
“Let us not forget that God pardons and God pardons always… we entrust it as of now to the Mother of Mercy, because she looks to us with her gaze and watches over our way… Our penitential way, our way of open hearts, during a year to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God.”
If those statements seem unclear and even a bit contradictory you didn’t misunderstand them. God doesn’t pardon always. He only pardons those who seek His pardon. Furthermore, we don’t entrust ourselves to the Mother of Mercy.
Lastly, the very thought of a year of receiving special indulgence and mercy is irreconcilable with the biblical data. There is no prescription for a year of special mercy where certain sins that weren’t normally forgiven could be doled out by priests at their discretion. There was great pomp and circumstance that takes place to inaugurate this year (which just ended this month). To designate the so-called year of mercy, Francis opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Each of Rome’s major basilicas has its own holy door, which are traditionally sealed from the inside and only opened during jubilee years. The door usually is sealed with bricks as a symbolic reminder of the barrier of sin between human beings and God. Those who pass through a Holy Door during this jubilee year will receive a plenary indulgence, which removes the temporal punishment for sins committed up to that time—provided the recipient also goes to confession, receives Communion, and prays for the pope.
This brings up a fundamental question. Who has the right to forgive sins? The pope? The local priest in the confessional booth?
The issue of forgiveness is this: forgiveness is necessary because of sin. There is an offense. But the question is, who has the authority to absolve this debt? Catholicism teaches that it is through the mass, confession, communion, prayers. Various other religions have duties that bring about forgiveness.
The world also addresses this issue of forgiveness.
This is because even though as sinners we try to remove the reality of guilt, in our personhood we are fashioned in the image of God. Our hearts have the law of God written on them and so we experience guilt instinctively when we sin.
So how should guilt be dealt with?
Psychology defines guilt and describes a process of removing it. But it misses the point. It focuses on the neurology of guilty feelings… the sensation of guilt is reduced to chemical reactions.
Surely there are chemical reactions, but what causes these reactions? It isn’t merely chemicals exchanging. Rather it is the soul experiencing the awareness of the root cause, which is actual guilt.
The remedy according to psychology? Take responsibility (that’s good). Tell people you are sorry (that’s good). Then forgive yourself and accept that no one is perfect.
But how do you forgive yourself? Nowhere does God tell us to forgive ourselves. In fact, you can’t forgive yourself, and if you do forgive yourself it doesn’t mean anything.
Neither does accepting that no one is perfect reduce the judgment of guilt against you.
The reason why we feel the need to forgive ourselves comes as we face the hard reality of how sinful we actually are.
You will have regrets. I hope you have things you wish you had never done in life. Because your sins grieve Christ, and because they squandered what He gave you. A sorrow over missed opportunities and shameful thoughts and deeds is appropriate. It would be false to minimize the weight of missing the mark of God’s standards.
But the confusion is that as much as you want to be worthy, and as much as you would love it if you didn’t need a Savior, and as much as you want to look back on your life and feel good about who you are and what you’ve done… you can’t. You are a sinner! If you are honest with yourself, you have to recognize that you look into the mirror every sing day at a pathetic sinner.
And so comfort doesn’t come from letting yourself off the hook by lowering the standard. It doesn’t come from learning to be okay with who you are. Comfort comes from one place alone, and it is from being truly forgiven.
You need the lavish forgiveness that God alone provides (Ephesians 1:7-8). This is our topic at hand. Mark is going to record Jesus powerfully demonstrate His right and authority to forgive sinners.
This is one of the fundamental realities of the Gospel—God reconciling Himself to sinners by forgiving them of the debt they could never pay.
An outline for our passage today:
6 Parts to the Showdown Over Jesus’ Authority to Forgive
- The Packed Crib (1-2)
- The Penitent Cripple (3-4)
- The Polarizing Claim (5)
- The Pretentious Clique (6-7)
- The Perfect Comeback (8-12a)
- The Perfunctory Crowd (12b)
Mark 2:1–12 (NASB95)
1 When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4 Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. 5 And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? 9 “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? 10 “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” 12 And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”