The Word Among Us

June 2012 Issue

Which Is Easier?

Jesus really does have authority over every sin.

Which Is Easier?: Jesus really does have authority over every sin.

At some point between the writing of this article and its printing, the world population passed the 7 billion mark. So let’s do some math. If we imagine that, on average, each person commits 10 sins a day, a total of 70 billion sins are committed each day.

Now, mul­tiply that by 365, and you get over 25 trillion sins every year. If you multiply 25 trillion by the current average life expectancy of 68, you come up with over 1.7 quadrillion. This figure does not include those 6 billion people who lived on the earth before us. Of course, there is no way of truly estimating how many sins are committed each day, but just looking at calculations like these gives us a sense of the immense number of sins committed against the Lord and other people.

And Jesus died for each and every one of them.

It can be very easy to say that we believe that Jesus died for our sins, but still miss out on all that this state­ment means. But putting some kind of numerical value on this truth of our faith brings it into glorious per­spective. What an act of love! How generous Jesus was! And how deep was the darkness that he must have entered when he “became sin” for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)!

This act of love is the foundation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Without Jesus’ death on the cross, there would be no sacrament to for­give us and to make us right with him. There would be no sacrament to ease our consciences, heal our wounded hearts, and restore us to the peace that Jesus came to give. How can we help but thank the Lord for his unending love and boundless mercy?

A New Revelation. The Gospels tell about a time when Jesus was speaking to a large gathering in a house in Capernaum. The house was jam-packed with all kinds of peo­ple, ranging from everyday workers to highly educated Pharisees and teachers of the law. While Jesus was teaching, a few men arrived carrying a friend who couldn’t walk. Since the house was so crowded, the men cut an opening in the roof and lowered their friend down on a mat, until he was right in front of Jesus.

This bold move gave Jesus the opportunity to reveal himself more fully than he had done so far. Up to this moment in the Gospels, we can read about Jesus’ birth, his teaching, his miracles, and his call to repen­tance. But there is not one word until now about Jesus having the authority to forgive sins. While everyone was watching to see if Jesus would heal the man, he surprised them all by saying instead: “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).

At that moment, the atmosphere in the house changed radically, and the Pharisees began to grumble. Only God could forgive sins! It seemed that Jesus was saying something about himself that they simply couldn’t accept. Jesus—a mere man like them­selves—couldn’t possibly be equal to God. He could only be a blasphemer.

Responding to the Pharisees. As he did in so many other situations, Jesus turned the tables on them. “Which is easier?” he asked them. To forgive sins or to heal this man? The real answer is that the spiritual healing is more difficult. Everyday logic may tell us that spiritual healing is easier, since it can’t be confirmed by any external change in the person healed. But the Bible is filled with sto­ries of miraculous healings wrought by human beings, while there is no story of a regular person actually tak­ing away a person’s sins. Yes, there are sacrifices presided over by priests of the Temple, but they are merely vessels of God. None of them would ever claim the authority over sin that Jesus had just claimed!

Jesus was putting his whole authority and reputation on the line. By performing the spiritual healing first, he had to heal the man phys­ically to prove that the spiritual healing had taken place. Had this man’s legs not been healed, Jesus would have looked foolish. People would have rejected him. But that’s not what happened here. Instead, when the man arose from his mat, everyone was in awe of what hap­pened and they praised God.

Responding to the People. You can imagine that when Jesus first said: “Your sins are forgiven,” some of the people were a bit disap­pointed. They were hoping to see a physical miracle, not a spiritual one. They weren’t interested in theologi­cal disputes with Pharisees as much as they wanted to see Jesus perform another mighty deed. But that quickly changed when they heard him talk about the link between physical and spiritual healing.

Think also about the men who lowered their friend through the roof. They didn’t carry him all that way for forgiveness. They wanted to see him walk! Think about the man himself. Surely his main concern was about being able to walk, not about the state of his soul!

So how did Jesus answer all these people? He showed them that he had come not just to perform amazing miracles but to forgive sins as well. He showed them that the physical healing of two paralyzed legs, as great as it was, was only part of his mis­sion. Jesus has come to bring about a spiritual healing as well—the forgive­ness of sins. He had come to heal us so that we would no longer be para­lyzed by sin and guilt. He had come to raise us up and empower us to walk along the path of holiness and intimacy with him. He was a healer of souls as well as a healer of bodies!

Authority over Sin. This story gives us some important insights into the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It urges us to go to Jesus in the sacrament so that we can be healed, not just par­doned. It tells us that everyone who experiences his mercy and forgive­ness can find new strength for their Christian walk.

In addition to these encouraging, inspiring messages, this story also tells us that sin is a very powerful force—powerful enough to paralyze our hearts, and powerful enough to require God’s own healing strength. We cannot heal ourselves. We can­not forgive ourselves. Only Jesus can do this—and it’s something he loves to do!

Sin separates us from God (Romans 3:23). It has the power to enslave us (John 8:34; Romans 6:20). It causes us to rebel against God. It isolates us and harms our relation­ships (Genesis 4:8-16). It opens the door for Satan and brings us spiri­tual death (Romans 7:11). It makes us miserable and burdens us with guilt (Psalm 32:3-4). If you remem­ber nothing else, remember this: Sin is a destructive, evil force that has the power to cripple us and separate us from the love of God.

But despite how strong and evil sin is, Jesus has power over it. He has the authority to forgive us and to set us free. What’s more, he delights in doing this for us. He delights in for­giving us and healing us. He wants to remove every obstacle, including every sin, that separates us from him. This is why the message of Jesus is called the “gospel” or “good news.” This is why we rejoice!

The psalmist once wrote: “Happy the sinner whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven” (Psalm 32:1). And this is exactly what happens when we experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament is power from heaven to wash us clean and restore us to our heavenly Father. When we confess our sins, God wipes them away so completely that it is as if they never existed in the first place: “As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us” (103:12). This is the best news we will ever hear!

More Than Forgiveness. When we receive the Sacrament of Rec­onciliation, we discover how Jesus’ authority extends far beyond that one moment of forgiveness. Think of the other spiritual effects that the paralyzed man and his friends received that day.

Certainly they were very happy as they rejoiced in what Jesus did. Imagine what they all said to their friends and family members who weren’t there. Surely they were filled with a new peace and a deeper love for God. Surely their faith increased, and they began to believe that Jesus was God. Surely they received an increase in both spiritual strength and grace, which helped them live a holier life. In other words, they were drawn closer to God in many differ­ent ways.

That is exactly what will hap­pen to us as we go to the Lord and receive this amazing sacrament.

One More Thing. . . While it is valuable to receive the sacrament as often as possible, it’s not always practical. But we can do the next best thing. We can repent in the quiet of our hearts. Of course, this is true only for minor, venial sins, not for grave, mortal sins. But that doesn’t take away the power of per­sonal repentance. All we have to do is come before the Lord with a sin­cere and humble heart and ask him for forgiveness. If all of us reading this article were to commit ourselves to daily repentance, we would see great things happen, both in us and around us. So confess to the Lord as often as you can—at least once before bed each evening. Not only will you sleep more peacefully; you’ll be closer to Jesus, and his grace will find a bigger place in your heart.