Theologian R.C. Sproul was asked by his counselor friend one time to leave his ministry and to join his counseling clinic. R.C. responded, “I don’t know anything about counseling.” The friend said, “I don’t need a counselor, I need a theologian. People need to hear from a theologian that their sins are forgiven. It would cure most of my clients.”
There is a deep longing in the heart of everyone to know that they have been forgiven for the mistakes, foolish choices, and downright rebellious sin that they have committed in their lives. I suspect every one of you has something in your past for which you long to know forgiveness.
This is one of the reasons this account in Matthew 9:1-8 is so interesting to us. Even though the account speaks to the issue of the sin in our lives, that is not why this account was recorded. The real reason for including this account in the gospel of Matthew is because Matthew is giving us evidence for the divine nature of Jesus.
Other religions (like Islam) proclaim that Jesus never said he was God. However, in these first chapters of Matthew it is clear that is exactly what Jesus was saying and demonstrating.
Last week Rick showed us that Jesus had power over the demons. May I add a postscript? I’ve spent all week wondering, “Why did the demons want to be cast into the pigs only to lead them to commit suicide?” I think the answer is this: they knew their actions would result in the people turning on Jesus because of the negative economic impact of His actions. But then why did Jesus give them what they asked for? I think it is because Jesus knew there were going to be some people who said, “demons aren’t real, these were just people with psychological problems.” If they were just psychological problems . . . how do you explain the pigs? Anyway, after being asked to leave,
Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. 2 Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”
3 But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?”
4 Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? 6 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
7 And the man jumped up and went home! 8 Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for sending a man with such great authority. (Matthew 9:1-8)
It is possible that you remember the story with a few more details. In Mark 2 we read the story this way,
Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. (Mark 2:2-4)
Luke 5 adds even more
One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus.
Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:17-20)
Skeptics jump on the differences in the accounts and say this proves that the gospels are not reliable . . . they contradict each other. But . . . they DON’T contradict each other. In fact, the differences in details actually argues for the truthfulness of the account.
I made the point two weeks ago and we’ll do it again. In the book Cold-Case Christianity, former cold case police detective J. Warner Wallace looks at the evidence from his perspective as an investigator,
no witness is likely to have seen every detail, so I must piece together the accounts, allowing the observations of one eyewitness to fill in the gaps that may exist in the observations of another eyewitness. That’s why it’s so important for eyewitnesses to be separated before they are interviewed. True, reliable eyewitness accounts are never completely parallel and identical. Instead, they are different pieces of the same puzzle, unintentionally supporting each other. . . meaningless details are just what I would expect to hear from eyewitnesses who were simply describing what they saw, including the details that don’t really matter in the larger narrative.[i]
I suspect the scene was common. Jesus came to town, stayed at a home, and people flocked to hear Jesus teach and to see Him perform miracles. People longed for healing of their bodies and their souls.
This time, things were different. Four men had a friend who was paralyzed. We don’t know who the men were. Were they related to the man or just really good friends? They had heard about Jesus and believed He could help their friend walk. They traveled some distance transporting their friend. It had been a long day, but they were determined. When they arrived, the house where Jesus was teaching was packed full. I suspect they tried to find a way in, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Everyone wanted to be as close to Jesus as they could be.
As I said, these men were determined. They went up to the roof of the house and dug a hole in the roof. At this time, most houses had one story with a flat roof. The roof was made by laying beams on the walls of the house. Between the beams they interlaced sticks and reeds which created somewhat of a woven thatch. On top of the beams and thatch were several inches of mud. Builders used rollers to pack and smooth this mud until it became hard like tiles. In fact, this was a prosperous area and they may have used actual tiles.
Most homes had stairs that led to the roof. Families would go to the roof for fresh air, and would eat meals and entertain guests on the roof. Getting onto the roof was not a problem.
It would have taken great effort and great determination to get through this hardened material and the people in the house must have known they were digging through the roof long before they broke through. They would have had to enlarge the hole so they could lower their friend into the room. (Is anyone else wondering what the homeowner was thinking during all of this.)
Jesus marveled at the faith, love, and determination of these men. What Jesus did next created a firestorm of controversy. Instead of healing the man he told him his sins were forgiven.
Why did Jesus say the man’s sins were forgiven? Was the man’s physical problem caused by guilt? Was Jesus illustrating that though physical problems are significant, the greater problem that needs to be addressed in all our lives is sin? Was He using this moment to make a statement about His own deity? We can’t know for sure but all of these are a possibility.
When Jesus declared the man “forgiven” the Pharisees and teachers of the Law almost had a stroke! They understood that no one can forgive sin but God alone. This is because the only one who can forgive an offense is the one who was offended. Sin is rebellion against the clear instruction of our Holy God. No one can forgive sin but God alone.
Immediately the teachers screamed that Jesus had committed blasphemy. This was a crime punishable by death. However, it is only blasphemy if Jesus is NOT God! If He is God . . . well, He is then doing what only He can do!
Jesus follows with these words,
Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
This question, “Which is easier to answer?” is tricky. On the one hand, it is much tougher to accurately tell someone that their sin is forgiven because only God can do that. Other people (like the disciples) could do miracles, but only God can forgive sin. However, in this case, Jesus is making a point: anyone can say your sin is forgiven because you cannot tell whether or not it has happened. So Jesus healed the man to verify that He had authority to heal not only the body, but also the breech in man’s relationship with God.
Jesus told the man to take up his mat and go home . . . and that is just what the man did. (Don’t you wish you could see the faces of the friends of this man? Were they high-fiving, dancing, or stunned with everyone else?)
Once again a holy awareness of God’s presence fell upon the crowd. The New Living Translation says,
Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for sending a man with such great authority.
Everyone in that crowd knew that this was no ordinary man.
What Are We Supposed to Learn?
There are several lessons to take away from this text. First, we need to see that Jesus was the Messiah; the One sent by God to save us. Only God can forgive sin. Only God can instantly heal diseases. Only God can cast out demons. Only God can still the storms. Only God can walk on water. Only God can conquer death. Jesus does all of these things. Jesus may have never said, “I am God” (which would have had people saying He was crazy) but I don’t know how anyone can deny that He is sure making the claim to be God by the things he does and says.
Any view of Jesus as less than God in human form is a false teaching. It is a teaching that denies the clear testimony of Jesus Himself and usually goes on to deny the sacrificial death and actual resurrection of Jesus.
Second, we see forgiveness is possible. Let me be more personal and direct: YOU can be forgiven! I hope you see that forgiveness is the greatest of gifts because it meets our greatest need. We can be healed physically but still find ourselves spending eternity in Hell.
You and I desperately need forgiveness. We deny it with every justification we can think of and try to convince ourselves that we are “not so bad” because we compare ourselves to others around us. However, when we stand in the presence of the Holiness of God for even a moment, we are completely undone. We see immediately that we are in big trouble.
Jesus is our hope. He is the One who can pay for our sin and bring about our forgiveness. The Bible tells us that those who come to Him will not be cast away. We know that John told us that if “we confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) One commentator writes of forgiveness,
it includes the “putting away” of sin in two ways: (1) The law and justice are satisfied because Jesus paid the penalty that our sins deserved; thus, they can no longer be held against us. (2) The guilt caused by our sin is removed and replaced with Christ’s righteousness. We are so forgiven that, in God’s eyes, it is as if we had never sinned. If Jesus had done this and nothing more for the man, the man should have been satisfied. If Jesus had healed his body and had not dealt with his sinful condition, the man would have been ultimately worse.
Are you haunted by your past? Do you spend your life drowning in a sea of guilt or running fast to numb the sense of shame and condemnation that overshadows your life? What would it mean to you if you could know that you were forgiven? This passage declares that there is hope. Forgiveness is available. You can be set free from the prison of regret!
I know, some of you will say, “I believe God forgives me, but I just can’t forgive myself.” I said this once and someone said to me, “How arrogant are you?” (Frankly I thought of myself as pretty humble in my statement). He went on to explain: If the creator of all that is has forgiven you . . . who are you to refuse to forgive yourself? In other words, once the Supreme Court issues a ruling there are no more appeals. Once God says you are forgiven, you are forgiven. It doesn’t matter what any lower court (which is you) says.
Third, we are reminded that all disease is in some sense related to sin. We have to be careful here. Sometimes disease is a direct result of bad choices. For example, sometimes people get lung cancer after smoking for years. Some have liver problems because of excessive drinking. You can get AIDS from sharing syringes. People have heart problems because of stress caused by guilt, bitterness or regret. Some people get sick because of the bad choices of others (pollutants in the air, water, insulation, or perhaps in a bad batch of drugs or blood). In these cases, the disease has a direct cause and effect. Bad or sinful choices lead to illness. In some of these cases, the only thing that can help them is to know and believe they are forgiven.
Paul Tournier in A Doctor’s Case Book quotes an actual example of that: “There was, for example, the girl whom one of my friends had been treating for several months for anemia without much success. As a last resort my colleague decided to send her to the medical officer of the district in which she worked in order to get his permission to send her into a mountain sanitarium. A week later the patient brought word back from the medical officer. He proved to be a good fellow and he had granted the permit, but he added, ‘On analyzing the blood, however, I do not arrive at anything like the figures you quote.’ My friend, somewhat put out, at once took a fresh sample of the blood, and rushed to his laboratory. Sure enough the blood count had suddenly changed. ‘If I had not been the kind of person who keeps carefully to laboratory routine,’ my friend’s story goes on, ‘and if I had not previously checked my figures at each of my patient’s visits, I might have thought that I had made a mistake.’ He returned to the patient and asked her, ‘Has anything out of the ordinary happened in your life since your last visit?’ ‘Yes, something has happened,’ she replied ‘I have suddenly been able to forgive someone against whom I bore a nasty grudge; and all at once I felt I could at last say, yes, to life!’” Her mental attitude was changed, and the very state of her blood was changed along with it. Her mind was cured, and her body was well on the way to being cured.[ii]
Sometimes we are sick because we will not do as God instructed. Bitterness, resentment and an unforgiving heart are not good for you.
But even diseases that are not the direct result of someone’s choices or behaviors to the best of our knowledge (Alzheimer’s, heart disease, juvenile diabetes, leukemia and so forth) are the result of the sin that has messed up the perfect balance of the world.
Let’s say you are making your famous dessert. As you are mixing up the batter someone sneaks just a drop of poison into the mixture. What happens? The food becomes ruined and inedible.
Think of creation this way: God made the world and declared it good. It was in perfect balance. Everything was running just as designed. And then the poison of sin gained entrance by the choice of Adam and Eve. Sin is not just a mistake we make . . . it a poison that is given entry into our world. When sin entered the world creation was marred, the balance was disrupted, and as a result we have “natural disasters,” birth defects, various plagues and diseases, and our relationships with each other became largely adversarial.
Disease will not be eliminated by science. It will not be eliminated until the Earth is purified with the fire of God’s judgment and is recreated to make the new Heaven and the New Earth.
Fourth, we obtain forgiveness through faith in Christ. It was the trust of the friends of this man that led to his being brought to Christ. They believed, and acted on that belief. He found forgiveness because the friends believed that Jesus alone could heal.
You and I will find forgiveness; we will find a new beginning and even a new life by putting our faith in Christ. But, like these men, our faith cannot be merely intellectual, it must be active. It was not enough to believe Jesus could heal their friend . . . they needed to take action! We also must be willing to trust Christ and then to demonstrate that trust by the way we live, by the choices we make, and by the way we handle the hard times of life. If you have never done so, why not take a step of faith today.
Can I ask one more question? Is there someone you know who needs a faithful friend to bring them to Jesus? Can you be that friend? Will you trust Christ enough to bring that friend to the One who alone can make them well? You might be a person in need of the touch of Jesus or maybe, you can be one of the guys looking down the ceiling who are grinning from ear to ear.
 Bruce B. Barton, Matthew, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996), 172.
[i] Wallace, J. Warner (2013-01-01). Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Kindle Locations 3006-3009). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.
[ii] William Barclay, ed., The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1976), 327–328.