Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.
What do you consider your greatest need right now? Your answer will probably depend on your circumstances. It may be health or employment related, or perhaps it is relational. If you’re a believer, you may be waiting on the Lord in prayer to intervene and bring relief. But as you wait, you may feel discouragement. Our reading today will challenge your perspective. In Matthew 9:1-8, Jesus heals a paralytic, meeting an obvious physical need, but not before He has pronounced the man’s sins forgiven (verse 2). Why this sequence? Let’s take a closer look.
Some men bring a paralysed man to Jesus. They believe Jesus can heal him (verse 2). This is no surprise, after all Jesus has already healed many (cf. Matthew 8:16). What is a surprise, however, is Jesus’ response, given the man’s physical need: When Jesus sees their faith, He says to the man, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven’ (verse 2). Jesus’ pronouncement indicates a link between sin and sickness, but prioritises the sin problem (Psalm 41:3-4; 103:2-3; cf. Matthew 8:17).
The teachers of the law accuse Jesus of blasphemy because God alone can forgive sin (cf. Mark 2:7; Isaiah 43:25). Forgiveness is God’s prerogative because all sin is ultimately against Him (cf. Psalm 51:4). The teachers of the law, therefore, believe Jesus lacks authority to forgive sins. Jesus describes their thoughts as ‘evil’ (verse 4). Jesus then asks them a rhetorical question: ‘Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? Surely the former, because it cannot be verified. Jesus then heals the man to prove that he, the Son of Man, has the authority on earth to forgive sins’ (verse 5-6). The crowd who witness this healing are filled with awe and praise God (9:8).
We learn a number of important lessons from this miracle story:
- Jesus has the authority to forgive sins
- Forgiveness of sins is by faith
- Forgiveness of sins is your greatest need
If you have experienced Christ’s forgiveness, ‘take heart’ or ‘be encouraged’ (NLT), says Jesus (verse 2). This forgiveness is far more important than relief from any physical or material need, no matter how great. Indeed, your greatest need is hidden from view; it is sin, says Jesus, and I have met that need at the cross, once-for-all! Take heart; your sins are forgiven!