Friday, February 3, 2012

Who Can Forgive Sins? Can I?

Let’s be honest, Jesus demands you to make a decision. It is not possible to be on the fence about him. Either you love him or hate him. Either he is a nut job (and deserved to die), or he is the Son of God (and had to die).

His message is offensive to the proud and religious elite but to the desperate Jesus is the only source of hope they have. By chapter two in the gospel of Mark, Jesus has a reputation as a healer and travelling preacher-man. He has a significant group of followers. If you want to see Jesus, it’s best to arrive early because there isn’t even standing room if you are late.

The religious elite, the teachers of the law, are probably keeping an eye on the new guy but are not very concerned because Jesus tends to stay with the working class; he’s fairly removed from religious leadership and doesn’t seem to be gunning for their positions. But in Mark 2:5-7, suddenly he goes too far. He forgives sin.

What Jesus did was offensive for two reasons. First, the Pharisees kept the law meticulously, and they lived with entitlement that A+B=C but when someone circumvents the system and A+B does not equal C, then they fear they’ve lived their life in vain, counting and tallying theirs and others’ sins so the scales balance but in the end it doesn’t even matter.

Second, Jesus was a man, like themselves. No one can forgive sins but God. As a child, growing up in the church, I never questioned this and other stories of Jesus forgiving the sins. Jesus is God and that explained it all. I understood he was a God-man, meaning for the purpose of miracles, signs & wonders and the forgiveness of sins Jesus put on his “God” hat, but when he was only walking around teaching and preaching, then he was a regular man.

In recent years, I’m no longer satisfied with the answer and I’ve come to understand why the religious elite take offense at him. Jesus disrupts the way people think.  Jesus did not put on and off his deity at a moment’s whim, otherwise he would not be an example for us. He was God, and he was man, I believe it but when he performed miracles he was a man on whom the Holy Spirit rested. That is why he said to the disciples in John 14:12 they would do even greater works (miracles, signs & wonders) than him.

So, my question is this: if Jesus forgave sin (before he died for them), can we also forgive sin?

Before I am called a blasphemer, understand I am not suggesting new doctrine or theology which makes us like God. . I think there is more to our role and participation in the kingdom of God than we’ve realized. I would rather ask hard questions and search for an answer than be found to be ignorant of what Jesus taught. Perhaps you’ve had questions about it as well.

In John 20:23, Jesus tells his disciples whomever they forgive, it will be forgiven but when they withhold forgiveness, forgiveness will be withheld. Huh? If that’s not confusing enough, Matthew 28:18 infers the authority held by Christ is given to us to do what he did and in Matthew 16:19 Jesus gives Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven and tells him whatever he looses or binds has spiritual implications in heaven.

John 8:1-11 tells a story of a woman caught in adultery. Certain religious men brought the adulteress, full in her shame, to Jesus to test him. There was no question about the woman’s guilt and by law, she deserved punishment. In the end, she was forgiven. What if, they hadn’t forgiven her? What would Jesus have done then? I think he would have had no choice but to make a judgement on her.

Sin requires punishment, that is true, but there is a higher truth where mercy triumphs judgement – every time. I think when we forgive someone for their trespasses we stand in the gap and act as an intercessor for them. We can’t do this by our own righteousness but by the righteousness we have through Christ.

Jesus could stand before God and be totally self-righteous because he was without sin and he could offer forgiveness as a man, and God would agree because mercy triumphs judgement. The self-righteous religious Pharisees couldn’t do it, even though they had followed the whole law for their lives. Jesus changed the way things were, and it was offensive for they who had lived their lives according to the law. No one likes to have the game change if they are the ones who appear to be winning.

2 Corinthians 2:15-16, For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.

Jesus is offensive, no doubt about it.

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