Personal Forgiveness vs. Public Justice

Mark 2.5
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

There is a difference between personal forgiveness and public justice. While personal forgiveness is concerned with the relationship between victim and offender, public justice is concerned with the relationship between public and offender. Sometimes, however, the line gets blurred. In our criminal justice system, for example, victims can present evidence at sentencing hearings to convey the harm they have experienced as a result of the crime in question. Although some of them express their personal forgiveness at these hearings, the criminal justice system does not encourage it because, regardless of how the victims may feel, the public has an interest in making sure justice is done. [1] 

The Jewish scribes of the first century may not have used our judicial terminology, but they did understand the difference between personal forgiveness and public justice. This is why when Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven”, they were outraged. As Mark tells us, “Some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” They understood that Jesus was not talking about personal forgiveness; after all, what had the paralytic done to him? The scribes understood that Jesus was offering public justice; he was speaking on behalf of God the Judge himself.

Jesus knew it too. He said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” This was God-in-charge in a new dimension. His kingdom was not just about healing physical ailments; it was also about something much more crippling – namely, the forgiveness of sins.

Lord, our sin is our biggest problem because you love justice. In your holy presence, we confess our sins and acknowledge that our hearts are prone to sin and consciously yield to it. Yet Jesus bore our sin on the cross and, thereby, satisfied your requirements of justice. Therefore, he is able to declare, “Your sins are forgiven.” Lift up our eyes to him as we rejoice that your kingdom is about healing our crippled bodies and souls. Amen. [2]

Justice Through Christ
Part 5 of 5,

Today’s Readings
Genesis 31 (Listen – 7:47)
Mark 2 (Listen – 3:54)


This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Genesis 32 (Listen – 4:40); Mark 3 (Listen – 3:41)
Sunday: Genesis 33 (Listen – 2:59); Mark 4 (Listen – 5:01)



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[1] Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991) (holding that victim impact statements are constitutionally admissible in court so that the victim is seen as an individual). | [2] Scripture references, in order of appearance: Mark 2.6-7; Mark 2.8-11


TBT: Justice and the Kingdom of God

By Carl F.H. Henry

“The time has come,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” — Mark 1.15

Some evolutionists have argued that human beings came gradually to depict divinity in terms of ethical norms. But the Bible presents man as standing from his very beginnings in ethical relationships to God, and nowhere portrays law as a gradual conjectural equalization of human interests later declared to be divinely sanctioned. 

The conception of law as purely juridical, and the enforcement simply on grounds of custom or social legislation, reflect a later societal development in which man is considered the originator or revealer of law; such a development first obscures and then eclipses the truth that law in its absolute sense is the revealed will of God.

To be sure, many humanists engage vigorously in the struggles for justice and freedom; their effort, in fact, is sometimes more energetic than that of Christian believers, and should be commended whenever it coincides with the requirements of objective morality. But humanistic ethics has no secure way of transcending a relativistic theory of justice. Factual observations and utilitarian considerations on which humanists base their social concern imply no normative principle; they accommodate no logical transition from the is to the ought. 

The Christian vision of justice is comprehensive and spans all areas of good and evil; it not only vindicates the truly just man condemned to a criminal’s cross, but also summons to final judgment the self-righteous who vaunt themselves as paragons of virtue. 

Reminding his disciples of the approaching, inevitable judgment and justice of God, Jesus commends trustful prayer. His prayerful and faithful followers are to anticipate the Son of Man’s return in power and glory to vindicate the justice that God ordains. 

— Abridged from Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority.


O Christ, essential Day, O Light
that peels the darkness from the night,
we know you for the Heart of light,
who tell the blessedness of light.

O holy Master of the night
we beg defense against the night
and rest against your breast this night
and peaceful sleep throughout the night.

See what snares the foe prepares
see what villainy he dares—
in vain: your blood has bought your cares
for us, your guidance victory bears.

— From an anonymous hymn used in numerous medieval liturgies.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 30 (Listen – 6:10)
Mark 1 (Listen – 5:05)

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