by Paul George
Matthew has been focusing on various miracles of our Lord in chapters 8 and 9 that are intended to present the deity of Jesus Christ, and His role as the Messiah of Israel. In other words, Matthew records a series of miracles not only to prove that Jesus is God, but also to show Jesus is fulfilling Messianic prophecies and expectations, so that Israel would know that He was the Messiah and would introduce the Kingdom of God to the world.
The stilling of the storm, (see Authority over Nature, posted on this site) fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies that predicted the Messiah would set up a Kingdom and overpower the curse in the physical world. In Isaiah 30:23- 24 there is the prediction about how there will be, an abundance of rain and crops will flourish in ways never known since before the fall. Isaiah 35:1-7 predicts the blossoming of the desert like a rose. Similar evidences of physical restoration are seen in Isaiah 41:17-18; 51:3; 55:13; Joel 3:18; and Ezekiel 36:29- 38. Animals that have been natural enemies will no longer be so. Life will lengthen, for if a person dies at a hundred years of age, he will be considered to have died young.
The Old Testament also speaks of a time when Satan will bring his great hosts against the people of God and be defeated. In Zechariah 3:1-2; Daniel 7:24-27; Daniel 8:23-25; and Daniel 11:36-12:3 we are told Satan wants to oppress the people of God and ultimately will send his demonic forces and Antichrist to fight against God’s people. Therefore, the Messiah must be able to overpower the supernatural world of demons and Satan himself, which is precisely what Matthew seeks to prove in showing that Jesus casts out demons (see Authority over Demons, posted on this site.).
The Old Testament also tells us that the Kingdom will be marked by forgiveness in such passages as Ezekiel 36; Isaiah 33:24; 40:1-2; and 44:21-22, here in Matthew 9:1-8 we find that the Lord Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, is able to forgive sin.
Having healed the demon-possessed men on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus returned in the boat and came into His own city. Now you might think that Nazareth, where He grew up, was His city. However, if you read Matthew 4:13-15, you discover that He moved to Capernaum at the beginning of His ministry. In fact, Luke 4:29-31 indicates that He left Nazareth because He was a prophet without honor in His own country. He reestablished His home several miles away in the little town of Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is even likely that He had taken up residence in the house of Peter from such indications as Matthew 8:14, where He healed Peter’s mother-in-law.
Before He crossed the Sea of Galilee, Jesus had been doing miracles in Capernaum and the surrounding area. He had been healing all kinds of diseases and had been casting out demons. Such demonstrations of power had caused the crowds to swell. As He came back, another huge crowd had come to the place where He stayed, and a paralytic was brought to the place where Jesus was staying.
Note, in Mark and Luke we find that there were four men, possibly friends or relatives who brought the man to the place where Jesus was staying. They had heard that Jesus was in town and wanted the paralytic to come to Jesus. The paralytic may have even recruited the four to help him.
In Biblical times, it would have been extremely difficult to be paralyzed, because the ambulatory apparatus and the medical knowledge that we have today was not available. A paralytic would have to be cared for in all of the necessities of life. As a result, there was probably more of a social stigma attached to such disabling illnesses than there is now. Furthermore, the paralytic probably thought that he was sick because he was sinful, a common conclusion of the time. You may remember some disciples asking Jesus about this issue (John 9:2). Now the disciples were right in the sense that all sickness is linked to sin, because if there were no sin, there would be no sickness. However, they were wrong in assuming that a person became sick from being sinful. In fact, such thinking had been around for a long time, going all the way back to the Book of Job, possibly the first book ever written in the Bible. Job’s friends had essentially told Job that. Therefore, the paralytic not only suffered from the disease itself and the stigma and incapacitation that accompanied it, but also from an overwhelming sense that he was sinful, and therefore directly responsible for his illness. Although it would not be uncommon for such people to seek to be alone and shun the crowds, the paralytic wanted to come to Jesus. There can be no doubt the paralytic came to Jesus primarily because of his sin, not his sickness. That is why Jesus said to him, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven” (v 3).
Jesus addressed the man as “Son,” a term of tenderness. Here was a man overwrought with his sin by social condemnation from without and the guilt from within. Believing that Jesus possessed the power of God, he was willing to put himself in the presence of a Holy God and take his chances. In the midst of his fear, the Lord said to him, “Take courage” in other words, there is nothing to fear. “Take courage” is an expression of comfort and encouragement to one who was fearfully conscious of his sickness and sin. That is the tenderness of Christ, who can love the sinner even though He is offended by his sin.
In one sense, Jesus is asking the paralytic “what are you afraid of? There is nothing to fear.” There is plenty to fear if you come before God as a sinner without repentance. However, there was nothing to fear when the paralytic came, because he had a broken and a contrite heart.
The paralytic was burdened down with grief, overcome with fear, and burdened with guilt, the Lord responded in answer to his faith, “your sins are forgiven.” Forgiveness is a divine miracle that ranks with any other miracle, it is instantaneously bestowed with a word. If the paralytic had never said a word, how did the Lord know that forgiveness was what he wanted? Simply because the Lord knows the heart of every man: He read the heart of the paralytic and He read the hearts of the scribes. As the giver of all-good, He gives before we even can ask Him. The paralytic was no different; Jesus read the man’s heart and forgave him.
This is the good news, when the Lord sends our sins away, He sends them as far as the East is from the West, buries them in the depths of the deepest sea, and remembers them no more.
The Bible says that sin is the transgression of the Law (1 John 3:4), defiles God’s image in man (John 6:70), displays gross ingratitude toward God (Joshua 2:10-12), affects all men (Romans 3:23), brings man under the dominion of Satan (Ephesians 2:2), brings man under the wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3), and dooms men to hell forever (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
If sin so affects all men, then the best news you could ever give is that God forgives sin. The paralytic was living proof.
Jesus forgave the crippled man, but some of the scribes claimed that Jesus was a blasphemer. They even failed to acknowledge their own need for forgiveness. Such an attitude has been around for a long time. Today, when a message is preached on forgiveness, some will open their hearts to Christ, and others will leave uninterested, failing to recognize the problem of sin and therefore not willing to accept the solution of forgiveness. Furthermore, instead of accepting the fact that Jesus could forgive sin and relieve the pressure of their guilt, Jesus’ opponents realized that since only God could forgive sin, and Jesus was claiming to be God, He was therefore a blasphemer. To them, the ultimate blasphemy was to claim to be God by saying and doing things that only could be ascribed to Him.
The scribes were right about the fact that only God can forgive sin (Isaiah 43:25), however, they were wrong about Jesus because He is God. In fact, the divine ability Jesus demonstrated by reading their thoughts was evidence of His omniscience; He knew what was in the heart of the paralytic and He knew what was in the minds of the scribes because He is God. Accusing Jesus of blasphemy was part of the ever-increasing antagonism that ultimately led to His crucifixion.
In response to the evil thoughts of the scribes, Jesus asked them, “Which is easier, to say, your sins are forgiven, or to say, get up and walk” (v 5).
The scribes could not give an answer, because neither is easier, both are impossible for men, but are possible for God. They could not truthfully say either one, let alone do them. However, Jesus could say both, because He could do either with the same divine ease. Only God can heal, and only God can forgive. The scribes were the ones who taught that disease and sickness were a result of sin. If they really thought about it, their own theology told them that the One who could heal diseases could forgive sin and vice versa. So He said, in effect, “Which is easier, to forgive or to heal? If I can do one, then I can do the other. I am not a blasphemer, I am God.” They were trapped, because they knew He could heal, and they knew that God was capable of both. If Jesus had power over disease, and disasters, then He could certainly deal with sin.
There is another interesting way to look at this verse and that is from the human viewpoint.
Which one of the two miracles is easier to say? It is easier to say, “your sins are forgiven.” Why is it easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven?” There is no way to prove whether a person’s sins have been forgiven. However, to tell someone take up his or her bed and walk can be verified. Therefore, the latter statement would be more difficult to say.
If all that Jesus said were, “Your sins are forgiven,” those watching would have never known that He actually did that. Therefore, by saying, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home” (v 6) they would conclude that Jesus had forgiven his sins because the two are inseparably linked. Jesus was demonstrating His healing power as proof of His power to forgive sin, which was the root of the paralytic’s problem. Any pretender can claim to forgive sin, and through the centuries, some have claimed that they had the power to do so. However, Jesus did not want the people to think that He was making an empty promise, so He accomplished the visible miracle, which proved He had the power to do the invisible one.
Verse 7 – “And he got up and went home.”
Can you imagine that? The paralytic’s four friends had their heads through the roof, according to Luke’s account (Luke 5:17-26), watching, the people were listening, the scribes were accusing and Jesus simply said, “Get up and go home” and immediately, the man got up, rolled up his little bed under his arm and picked up its wood frame and went home. You had better believe that an aisle was instantly created as the man walked out of that place. When he got outside, you can imagine the excitement when he met his four friends. What power they had experienced. Not only did Jesus have the power to heal that man’s disease, He forgave his sins.
The good news, He still does.
Verse – 8 – “But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”
We should in like manner be in awe of Christ. That type of fear should characterize the Christian today as it did the early church. Acts 9:31 says that the church was “walking in the fear of the Lord.” It is essential that we be in awe of Christ, not only because we see the response of fear to the power of God demonstrated in the gospels and in Acts, but also because Christian behavior is to come out of the reverential fear of God. The people who witnessed the healing of the paralytic glorified God and so should we. They were in awe of His presence that is the right response.