A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on November 11, 2018.
And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. 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.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men (Matt. 9:1–8).
In one of the saddest verses in the Bible, we learn that on the shore of the Gadarenes “all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region” (Matt. 8:34). Having seen the evidence of the spiritual deliverance of two formerly demon-oppressed men and the subsequent drowning of a herd of swine, they valued temporal sustenance over supernatural deliverance, pigs over people, the unclean over the clean. In the presence of the Son of God, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and Savior of sinners, they begged him to leave. And he did.
In stark contrast, when landing upon the shore of Capernaum He was met by men of faith carrying their suffering friend. The Gadarenes had witnessed supernatural deliverance and wanted nothing to do with the Deliverer. These faithful men of Capernaum seized the moment of Jesus’ return for the supernatural healing of their friend. Such was the world in which Jesus walked; such is the world in which we live.
Some, like the Gadarenes, when confronted with Christ, beg Him to leave. Some, like the scribes, when hearing the words of Christ, consider Him a blasphemer. But others, by God’s grace, look to Him and believe. Such is the case with this young paralytic and his friends, in whom our Lord witnesses their belief.
Witness of Belief
Returning to Capernaum, Jesus is confronted with two things, one physical and the other spiritual: “some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed” and “Jesus saw their faith.” So quickly are these two facts revealed that we may easily miss the distinction. The man is physically disabled and bed-ridden. His only hope is a miracle. Capernaum has already witnessed the healing power of the Miracle worker, and now these men act on the testimony of Jesus. Their actions reveal their belief: “Jesus saw their faith.”
I’m reminded of the importance of others in the salvation of one. How many of us pray for friends and family? How many of us tell our children and grandchildren about Jesus? May we be faithful, like the paralytic’s friends, to bring our loved ones to Christ.
Witnessing the belief of the paralytic and his friends, Jesus says the unexpected: Not “Rise and walk,” but “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” He says nothing about the paralysis. He makes no direct correlation between the illness and a sinful life. He simply addresses the young man’s greatest need by virtue of his faith: “your sins are forgiven.”
Lest we deduce that this is simply a synonymous expression for “be healed,” Matthew reveals the mental response to what the watching scribes thought: “This man is blaspheming,” they say to themselves. As if to say, “He thinks He is God.” What would lead them to think this?
In thinking about this, consider the miracles of Scripture. Through the canon of Scripture we read that there were times in which men worked miracles by the power of God. From the plagues of Egypt to the bitter water of Marah, from the fire from heaven on Elijah’s altar to King Hezekiah’s sun dial, God has worked miracles through His prophets during temporary periods of revelation. But never in the history of prophetic miracles has anyone had the authority to forgive sins, until Jesus. On that day as the paralytic laid on his bed surrounded by his friends, on that day when the scribes accused Jesus of blasphemy, on that day they all witnessed the authority of the Son of God in these simple words: “your sins are forgiven.”
Witness of Authority
What would lead the scribes to mentally accuse Jesus of blasphemy? Sin is an offense to a holy God. Forgiveness is offered by the One who has been offended. Only God can forgive sin. If Jesus is not God, then the scribes have rightly deduced: “This man is blaspheming.” Let us congratulate these scribes on their zeal to defend the sovereignty of God, but if Jesus is God, then the thoughts of the scribes are evil. Which is it? Is Jesus a blasphemer or the scribes?
God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jer. 17:10). So, Jesus, knowing the thoughts of the scribes asks, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” As if to say, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind and find in you blasphemy, which is evil.” The very sin that the scribes presume Jesus has committed they commit in their hearts. The Lord has confronted their evil thoughts, which only He can do.
Accompanying this authoritative judgment, Jesus asks this penetrating question: “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” Pragmatically speaking, both are easy to say but impossible to do naturally. As the Lord’s prophet, Jesus could say, as he likely had to countless other invalids in Capernaum, “Rise and walk.” But only God can say, “Your sins are forgiven.” Such is the irony of Jesus’ question; such is the witness of His authority.
Confirming His intent, Jesus explains to the scribes the reason that He chose to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” rather than “Rise and walk” in order that “you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” They have witnessed His sovereign authority because He has chosen to reveal it.
I am reminded of when Jesus healed a blind man and one of his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). The presumption was that blindness was the result of sin. But Jesus confronts this theological error replying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
Similarly, Jesus took the opportunity in healing the paralytic to testify to something greater than a physical miracle: The forgiveness of sin through faith in the Son of God. Just as Jesus asked, “which is easier to say,” we shall remember the miracle of salvation. We must beware that we covet a miracle worker, when He has already given us His ordinary means of grace, of Word, prayer and sacrament. Beware, lest your heart mistake the sensational for the ordinary presence of our Lord in His means of grace. Jesus came not to entertain the bored but to save the lost, lost sinners like you and me.
So, we see that He who has authority over life and death witnesses the belief of this young paralytic and grants the forgiveness of God, and He who has authority to forgive sins reveals Himself to the unbelieving. And in that moment, when the paralytic lay forgiven, when the sinful scribes were stupefied, Jesus in His mercy says, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And the young man rose and went home, healed of his paralysis and forgiven of his sins. Not another thought is acknowledged or word spoken by the scribes, but “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” They were witnesses of His glory.
Witness of Glory
Note the conclusion of the crowd’s response carefully: “they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” Although we as the reader witness Jesus’ exchange with the scribes, the crowds do not. They witness the miraculous healing of the paralytic. They fear God in this, glorifying Him with their praise, attributing the healing authority of Jesus to God.
This is what God had revealed to them, and they unlike the Gadarenes have responded accordingly. But we, in this passage of Scripture, have witnessed more. We have seen the faith of the paralytic and his friends. We have heard the forgiving words of our Lord. We have heard the secret thoughts of the scribes. We have heard Jesus’ testimony of His authority to forgive and heal. We, far more than the crowds, are witnesses of His glory. With the crowds we are witnesses of Jesus’ miracle, but we also see that the miracle is not the focus. The focus of this passage, indeed the whole of Scripture, is Christ!
The Apostle John declares in his Gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Let us glorify Christ in our worship of Him, celebrating His grace and truth. Let us glorify Christ in praying for and bringing others to Christ. Let us glorify Christ obeying His commands and walking humbly by His Spirit. Let us glorify Christ remembering that He says to everyone who by God’s grace have believed in Him: “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”