And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” [Matthew 26:27-28 (ESV)]
When Jesus forgave the unnamed woman’s sins, he caused quite a stir among the Pharisees and religious leaders who were His fellow dinner guests. People can forgive an offense against them, but they can’t forgive an offense against someone else or God! While I can forgive your $10 debt to me, I have neither the right nor the power to say you don’t have to pay the $150,000 you also owe the Bank of America, Sallie Mae, Capital One and Chase for your mortgage, college loan, car financing, and credit card purchases. A person can’t do that but God can! Because only God has the authority to forgive people’s sins, implied in Jesus’ forgiveness of the woman’s sins, is a claim that He is God.
This wasn’t the only time Jesus shocked the Pharisees by forgiving sins. On another occasion, a paralyzed man’s friends brought him to Jesus for healing. When Jesus told the man, “Your sins are forgiven,” the religious leaders accused Him of blasphemy. The Hebrew Scripture made it clear that only God has the prerogative to pronounce forgiveness. The book of Leviticus laid out an elaborate temple system of offerings for intentional and unintentional sins, with different animals offered for different kinds of sins. Every year, there was a special Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, with its elaborate forgiveness ritual in which the nation’s sins were paid for with the sacrifice of a goat and the people’s forgiven sins were laid on another goat (the scapegoat) and sent into the wilderness. To the Pharisees, Jesus daring to pronounce forgiveness without being a high priest or making a sacrifice was a blasphemous claim to divinity. His actions would have been blasphemous had He not been God. As both the Great High Priest and the final sin sacrifice, however, Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law.
Knowing their concerns, Jesus addressed the religious leaders and asked whether it was easier to pronounce forgiveness or heal. He then told the man to pick up his mat and go home! As the man arose and started walking, the crowd was astonished. By healing the man, Jesus confirmed His authority to forgive. The physical healing was as much for the religious leaders as for the paralytic. Although the man’s forgiveness couldn’t be proven or disproven, his healing was obvious to all and there was only one being who could both forgive sins and heal broken bodies—God!
Jesus’ healings were observable acts that identified Him as the Messiah and yet the very people who should have recognized Him seemed to deliberately turn a blind eye and deaf ear. When Jesus healed the paralyzed man, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, or a voice to the mute, He was fulfilling Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy of salvation made some 700 years earlier.