No one else has ever claimed they can forgive sins except Jesus. The concept was incomprehensible at the time. Why did Jesus say this? Not once or twice, but all the time. Jesus’ response to this question was just as unconventional. He asks those that questioned him, Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Then even more puzzling, Jesus picks out a tax collector in the crowd and goes to his house to eat with him and other sinners. Tax collectors were so hated at the time that they were called out separately from all the other sinners. They were a special class of sinners. Can you imagine how Matthew the Tax Collector must have felt when Jesus picked him? Elated! He was the kid nobody liked, never got picked for the team, or the bully everyone hated.
The sinners associated with Jesus were probably some of the worst people of that time – thieves, con artists, prostitutes, rapists, the undesirables of society. People could not believe Jesus would associate with them, let alone eat with them! Today this would be equivalent to drug addicts, alcoholics, sex abusers, AIDS patients, the homeless. So while we are trying to be good and do all the right things, or busy taking stands against this sin or that one, hiding our own sin (if we are truly honest), Jesus is over there eating dinner with some of these same people!
~ Matthew 9:2-13 Dining with Sinners and Tax Collectors ~
Just then some men brought to Him a paralytic lying on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Have courage, son, your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the scribes said among themselves, “He’s blaspheming!” But perceiving their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why are you thinking evil things in your hearts? For which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He told the paralytic,“Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”And he got up and went home.
As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” So he got up and followed Him. While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when He heard this, He said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do.Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mercy not sacrifice says it all. This is how we should live our lives. When Jesus says that he did not come to call the righteous, he is referring to those who pretend to be righteous and therefore are not willing to repent. We must first admit we are sinners before we can repent and accept a Savior. Repentance is not considered a negative thing but a very positive thing!
I have often said to those I meet, “Just read Jesus’ words in the New Testament and you will be amazed at what He says.”
Tune out all the noise and constant bombardment of our society; disregard the rhetoric of those trying to determine if or what parts of the Bible are true; put aside the politics and debates over man-made laws; and for awhile, just come and listen to Jesus’ words. If Jesus is who he said he was, then the only thing that truly matters are His words.
I too was curious about my own advice. I have studied the Bible and devotions over the years, but I’ve been longing for some time to tune out and listen intently to what Jesus had to say; to quench my own thirst. I went to the bookstore in search of a book written solely about Jesus’ words from the Bible but could not find anything. So I decided to go directly to the source instead: the red-letter words of the New Testament and only recorded sayings of Jesus Christ, and read them for myself. I hope you will join me on this journey of discovering what Jesus said to us.
~ Matthew 1-3: To Fulfill All Righteousness ~
To keep it simple, I started with the first book of the New Testament, even though the books are not written in chronological order. There are several authors who contributed to the Bible at different times. This is good, because unlike the Quran, the New Testament is written by many witnesses who personally experienced Jesus over many years and places. The first recorded words of Jesus in the New Testament are found in Matthew 3:15. Here is a little background leading up to Jesus’ first written words.
Matthew begins by telling us the background of Jesus. He shows the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to David and Abraham. He explains how Jesus was born, the Magi that came to visit him, Joseph and Mary’s escape to Egypt, and how they later return to Nazareth after King Herod dies. “So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:23
Next, Matthew introduces us to John the Baptist, who went before Jesus speaking of “the One who is to come” and telling people to repent and be baptized. This was a new type of thinking in those days.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied,“Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. Matthew 3:13-15
Jesus had come to fulfill all righteousness. But what did these first words mean?
Jesus’ act of baptism performed here at the beginning of his ministry, and his final act of dying on the cross, are the two most meaningful actions that Jesus performed. Baptism represents repentance, and Jesus had come to show them the way to repentance and forgiveness of their sins. Through this act of humility, Jesus announced his mission and promise to all mankind. He did not come to be an earthly king or warrior, but a humble servant who came to love and save mankind. This was the fulfillment of all righteousness.
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:18.
I came across this magnificent looking church recently while taking a walk through the park of a nearby town. According to the sign posted outside the church, it was built in 1825. At a time almost 200 years ago, the country was in a period of rest in between two major wars. The American Revolution had ended almost 40 years earlier, and it was about 40 years before the start of the American Civil War. Located in a part of the American South where many old buildings were burned during the Civil War, this church stood as a testimonial to what Peter and the other disciples had fought and died for almost 1800 years prior to the beginning of this church.
I sat in the park across the street from the church, sipping my latte and enjoying free wi-fi, while I wondered what battles had been fought on this ground for my religion and other freedoms we enjoy today. I heard the church bells ringing in the background while people hurried back and forth to the train station down the street, or to the coffee shops and restaurants nearby. Did they know what this grand church represented and how a brave and faithful man called Peter lead the way for the first Christian church and for all the others that followed? But Peter’s story wasn’t always a brave one, and he was known for little faith at times. Then something changed that.
The story of Peter’s denial of Christ while Jesus is being taken away by the guards at the Garden of Gethsemane is a widely known story told throughout history. It’s been said there were 300-600 men there that night to take Jesus away. Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times and will abandon him in his greatest hour of need on this night. Peter emphatically says he will do no such thing, but he ends up doing it anyway. Yet there is more to the conversation between Jesus and Peter that night, a lesser known part to the story. Jesus said to Simon (for he was not yet called Peter, the rock):
“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32
I have prayed for you… Jesus prayed for Peter. Even before it happened, and even though Jesus knew what Peter would eventually do, he still prayed for him. Jesus, the Messiah, about to be betrayed and handed over to guards, was praying for Peter.
And when you have turned back… Jesus was not focusing on Peter’s shortcomings or sin. He was more concerned about his turning back, his repentance, his future. Jesus was praying that Peter would become stronger as a result of his trial, and that his strength would become a greater help to others. Jesus never belittled or embarrassed people because of their sin or lack of faith.
Even today, Jesus prays for us. He is fighting for us, interceding on our behalf, praying when we don’t feel like praying ourselves. It’s not about the straying away or falling down that is most important, but it is about the turning back, the repenting, the change of heart. It is in that moment of repentance and faith that we are brought to Jesus. It is knowing we have Jesus helping us back up. That is the essence of Christianity. This theme of Jesus’ ministry is found throughout the Bible and it is found in the redemptive stories of people’s lives being told today.
So the next time you pass by a grand old church or hear the church bells ringing in the background, stop and think of Peter, whom Jesus prayed for and who went on to build up and strengthen the Christian church. And know that Jesus is praying for you too.