Scripture: And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—”Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” Matthew 9:2-6 ESV
Observation: All the authors of our Bible composed their documents in one continuous collection of writings, whereas the partitioning of chapters and verses developed in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, respectively. As such, not all the chapters provide a logical break in the flow of the author’s train of thought. Chapter 9 of Matthew is an example: its first story concludes a thematic segment of miraculous healings that comprises most of chapter 8. As further evidence, Matthew begins Chapter 9 with a segue that Jesus (and implicitly the Twelve) crossed over the Sea of Galilee back to his “own city” (v.1), which scholars concur refers to his home base of Capernaum.
This same story appears with more details in Mark 2:1-22 and Luke 5:17-26. Here, though, Matthew captures the essentials:
- People bring the paralytic to Jesus (whom they lowered through the roof of the house where Jesus is teaching, per Mark and Luke’s account).
- Jesus shockingly addresses not the physiological affliction but the man’s spiritual condition and thus extends forgiveness.
- The scribes and Pharisees in attendance mutter to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.”
- Jesus, able to discern their evil thoughts, challenges these judgmental religious leaders regarding which is easier: to forgive sins or heal a body?
- To prove his authority to forgive sins, Jesus commands the paralytic to rise, pick up his mat and go home.
- The restored man (spiritually and physically) obeys (v.7).
- The eyewitnesses first respond in fear and then glorify God for giving Jesus “such authority” (v.7).
Matthew’s final notation regarding Christ’s authority appears only in his Gospel, and he likely adds it to tell his readers that Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.” As D.A Carson explains, those who continue to hope for the messiah would have understood that “God’s gracious reign has come ‘on earth’; the kingdom of David’s Son, who came to save his people from their sins, has dawned” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, p.223).
Takeaway: In our story, Matthew juxtaposes the judgmental response of the scribes and Pharisees to that of the people’s reverent fear and praise. He also contrasts the religious leaders’ contrived human authority with that of Immanuel’s divine appointment. Indeed, while the incumbent religious leaders attempt to exert control as gatekeepers of the law, compassion and love spur Christ’s true dominion over the law. By extending forgiveness, Jesus offers something eternal better than temporary physical healing. Nevertheless, understanding this man’s present suffering that attests to our sin-marred world, Christ also extends physiological restoration.
So what’s our takeaway? A couple of points come to mind. First, while Jesus and the epistle writers encourage us to persevere in prayer, we need to remember that ultimate renewal comes not in this life but in Christ’s return, where our Lord will adorn our spirits with new bodies free of sin’s disease (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). Meanwhile, the suffering we encounter in this life will not compare to the future glory revealed to us in the heavenly realm (Romans 8:18).
Secondly, the same compassion and love Jesus extended to the paralytic he now extends to us—and more! For we who live in this post-resurrection era know:
- the extent of the Father and Son’s love, mercy, and grace revealed by the Cross and Pentecost;
- the presence of Immanuel, who is not only with us but in us; and,
- the guiding and refining work of the Holy Spirit in us.
Thus, as children of the kingdom of God on earth, we, too, must submit to Christ’s authority and rise and go as his new creations: forgiven and commissioned to make disciples while keeping our sights set on our eternal home.
Prayer: Father God, we sincerely thank you for your Son, who, at unfathomable cost to the two of you, has healed us of sin’s disease and commanded us to rise and go as his ambassadors. So would you please help us submit to the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work to fulfill our calling to glorify you and grow your kingdom? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling