Matthew 9:1-8 (NIV) Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “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 so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And 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 men.
Jesus had quite a reputation as a teacher, and so, wherever He was, He drew teachers of the law who wanted to hear what He had to say. This day was no different. The house where He was teaching was so crowded with people, including teachers of the law, that the friends who brought this paralyzed man to Jesus had to lower him in through a hole in the roof! (Cf. details in Mark 2:3-4.)
Jesus’ intention was never to leave the young man paralyzed, only pronouncing his sins forgiven. But this man had been told for quite a while that it was most likely his past sins that had caused the paralysis in the first place – it was a common theology, most likely shared by the teachers of the law as well. But despite the man’s repentance and seeking forgiveness, the paralysis had remained. Jesus merely started out by recognizing the man’s faith, and pronouncing God’s forgiveness over him, clearing the way for the physical healing that He fully intended to give.
But before He had a chance to proceed, another opportunity presented itself: the opportunity to teach the teachers of the law some things about sin and forgiveness in the kingdom of God.
In the Old Testament economy, only a sacrifice on the altar could confer forgiveness for sins committed. So the idea that a mere man (as they saw Jesus) could simply pronounce someone forgiven seemed to them a horrible heresy, maybe even blasphemy. Of course, without understanding who Jesus really was, and without understanding that He Himself was the ultimate sacrifice for sins, the teachers were justified in what they were thinking.
Jesus pulled the curtain aside just the tiniest bit to help them get a glimpse of the great truths of His identity and His God-given authority. Pronouncing forgiveness of sins was simple, just a matter of words without any objective results to demonstrate that forgiveness had actually taken place. But if these teachers truly believed that the man’s paralysis was caused by his sins, which they most likely did, then the removal of the paralysis would prove that the sins had been forgiven.
Notice that Jesus pronounced no specific words of healing here. The purpose of the command for the man to get up, pick up his mat, and go home was not primarily to heal, but to prove to the teachers of the law that the Son of Man really did have authority on earth to forgive sins. And when the young man complied, any charges of blasphemy against Jesus for claiming such authority vanished, because, as Matthew notes in the last verse above, even the people recognized the healing as proof that God had given authority to Jesus to forgive sins.
Father, those who are only willing to see Jesus as a man close themselves off from being able to see so many other things as well. Help us to not only accept Jesus for who He was – the eternal Son of God in the flesh, but to continually work to help others to see Him that way, too. Amen.