1 And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. 2 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.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 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.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. – Matthew 9:1-8 ESV
According to the other two synoptic Gospels, this event actually occurred before the scenes depicted in chapter eight, but Matthew chose to place it here in order to continue his effort to prove Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Matthew seems less interested in providing us with an accurate timeline of the events in Jesus’ life than with evidence for His deity. Matthew has grouped these scenes together in an effort to display Jesus’ power over disease, nature, the demonic realm and, with this story, sin itself.
There are several interesting aspects to this story. First, there is the reference by Jesus to the faith of the men who brought the paralytic. There is no mention in the story of the paralyzed man exhibiting faith. His friends brought him to Jesus in order that he might be healed. And we know from Luke’s account of this same story, that the men had been unable to make their way through the crowds that had gathered inside the home where Jesus was teaching. So, they got creative.
…finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. – Luke 5:19 ESV
They were so determined to get their paralyzed friend in front of Jesus and so certain that Jesus could heal him, that they went out of their way to make it happen. And this leads us to the second interesting part of this story. The text tells us that Jesus saw their faith. Their actions were a visible manifestation of their faith. They had been willing to go the extra mile because they fully believed that Jesus had the power to heal their friend. This was exactly the point made by James in the book that bears his name.
Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.“ – James 2:18 NLT
And the visible faith of these men resulted in the physical healing of the paralyzed man. Nowhere does Jesus mention the faith of the man himself. The paralytic had been the fortunate recipient of the faith of his friends. But this brings us to the third interesting aspect of this story. Notice what Jesus said to the man.
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” – Matthew 9:2 ESV
He didn’t say, “Rise up and walk!” He forgave the man’s sins. This is not necessarily an indication that the man’s paralysis was a result of sin. It also does not mean that the man had been paralyzed by God as a form of punishment for a sin he had committed. Jesus is simply indicating that there is a close association with sin and sickness. Both are the result of the fall. Disease and death are the byproducs of sin’s entrance into the world. And by addressing the issue of the man’s sin, rather than his paralysis, Jesus was clearly indicating that sin was the greater problem. The man’s paralysis kept him from walking, but sin kept him from walking in newness of life. His paralysis left him bed-ridden, but his sin left him in bondage and condemnation, destined to an eternity separated from God. So, Jesus did for the man what only He could do: Forgive his sins. And in doing so, Jesus displayed His divine authority, not just over disease, but over death.
This action on the part of Jesus did not go unnoticed by the Jewish religious leaders. Upon hearing Jesus’ words, they immediately accused Him of blasphemy. From their perspective, Jesus was assuming divine authority, the ability to forgive sins. That was something only God could do. And that’s the point of the entire story. It’s the reason Matthew chose to place it at this point in his Gospel. Jesus had already proven He could heal, cast of out demons and calm storms. But in this scenario, He had upped the ante, displaying a unapologetic claim to have power over sin. What the scribes viewed as blasphemy was simply Jesus displaying His divine authority. He wasn’t claiming to have god-like authority, He was announcing that He was God.
And Jesus responds to these men with a question.
“For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” – Matthew 9:5 ESV
Of course, the answer to His question is simple. It is far easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” because there is no way to prove the veracity of your statement. How would anyone know if the man’s sins were truly forgiven? Only time would tell if what Jesus said was true. It wouldn’t be until the man died that even he would know whether his sins had been actually been forgiven.
So, Jesus does the more difficult thing. He tells the man to pick up his bed and walk and, not surprisingly at this point in the story, that’s exactly what the man does. But Jesus provides the scribes with the reason behind his actions.
“…that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” – Matthew 9:6 ESV
Jesus spoke and the man was healed. He was restore to perfect physical health. And the fact that the man did just as Jesus had commanded him, picking up his bed and walking home, was proof that Jesus had God-given authority over disease. But the real point of the story is that Jesus had authority over sin and death. Jesus had not come to restore men and women physically, but spiritually. The greater miracle performed that day was the forgiveness of the man’s sin debt. He had been spiritually paralyed by the debt of sin that hung over his life. He had been incapable of walking in community with God because of his unforgiven sin.
The fact is, every person in the crowd that day, including the scribes, were in the same sad state as the paralyzed man. While they had full use of their limbs, they too were paralyzed by sin. And as the author of Hebrews makes clear, “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). The sacrificial system was never intended to remove sin.
Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. – Hebrews 10:11 NLT
Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. – Hebrews 9:13 NLT
The scribes may have been ceremonially pure, but their sin debt had left them stained and impure before a holy God. And they were right when they assumed that only God could forgive sin. But that was the whole point of this entire exchange. Jesus was God. He was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29 NLT). And John reminds us, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV).
Matthew wraps up this account by describing the reaction of the crowd who had witnessed it all.
When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. – Matthew 9:8 ESV
The crowd had seen yet another miracle performed by Jesus and they were appropriately amazed by what they had seen. They even saw Jesus’ actions as God-ordained. There was no doubt in their minds that Jesus had divinely-provided power. But that does not mean they saw Him as their Messiah and Savior. It is likely that their response was driven by the man’s physical healing, because that had been visible and verifiable. They had no way of knowing whether the man’s sins had been forgiven or not. And for most of them, it probably didn’t even matter. They were stuck on a physical plane and more interested in the miracle of a paralyzed man suddenly able to walk. But had they realized that Jesus had come to provide forgiveness from sin and escape from the sin debt that paralyzed each and every one of their lives, they would have been truly amazed and glorified God all the more.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.