So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own town. Just then some men brought to Him a paralytic lying on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Have courage, son, your sins are forgiven.”
At this, some of the scribes said among themselves, “He’s blaspheming!” But perceiving their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why are you thinking evil things in your hearts? For which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He told the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” And he got up and went home.
When the crowds saw this, they were awestruck and gave glory to God who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8)
Last week we looked at the astonishing claims implicit in Jesus’ words to the paralytic: first of his right to forgive sins committed against God, and then of his identity as Daniel’s “Son of Man.”
This week I want to bring home the gospel message inherent in the story.
The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” It encompasses the whole kingdom message that Jesus preached, his identity as the king, and the death and resurrection that sealed and vindicated that message and that identity.
The gospel includes the making of a new covenant in the body and blood of Jesus, his ascension to reign from a heavenly throne, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the redemption and transformation of the entire creation.
But for most of us, the gospel boils down to forgiveness.
And as much our modern-day gospel can be (rightly) criticized as overly reductionist and privatized … it’s still all about forgiveness.
When the Son of Man Comes
It’s no coincidence that Jesus declares himself as the Son of Man in this encounter. He is making a profound prophetic statement about the nature of the kingdom of God both in his words and in his actions.
As we saw last week, the term “Son of Man” denoted the Messiah: the anointed man who would be given dominion over the entire earth and whom all nations and peoples would worship.
(Daniel 7:27 underscores that the “Son of Man” also referred to a people, “the holy people,” who would be given an indestructible and everlasting kingdom. While this has led some to understand the “Son of Man” to be a symbol of the nation of Israel, Jesus’ application of the name to himself turns that interpretation inside out and adds layers and layers of meaning — which unfortunately we don’t have time to unpack here.)
As Daniel 7’s Son of Man, Jesus’ coming means that the age of tyrants and empires is over. The reign of darkness has been dealt a death blow.
No more will monstrous powers, human or demonic, oppress and enslave the world. The kingdom puts an end to all of that.
Understandably, the Jewish people of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah, the king, to literally overthrow Roman rule and reestablish the Davidic throne in Jerusalem. They expected him to bring the very this-worldly oppression they suffered to a total and permanent end.
But instead, he did something else.
He brought the kingdom in seed form … not in its mature, completed manifestation.
He did not bring the expected judgment of their enemies. Instead he forestalled judgment in order to forgive and to heal.
Final judgment is delayed, and instead we enter an era in which Jesus atones for sin and invites his human enemies to repent and become his friends, even as he undertakes a process of putting his spiritual enemies under his feet (Hebrews 10:13, Ephesians 6:10-12).
“Take Courage, Son”
It’s clear from Jesus’ interaction with the paralytic that this man had a felt need for forgiveness. He knew things were not right between himself and the God of Israel.
His own sin, his own shame, his own shadows had worn him down. He lived in a place of defeat, discouragement, and near death.
Maybe he saw his illness as a direct result of his sin. Or maybe it had just given him a lot of time to think, to introspect, and to become clear about the condition of his own soul.
Sickness and physical incapacity can do that to you.
If we are honest, the condition of this man is the condition of every human being in a broken world. If we get quiet, get still, and get honest with ourselves, we know something isn’t right. We know something is off — within ourselves, between us and God, between us and others.
Jesus looked at the man, saw his heart, and said, “Take courage, son. Your sins are forgiven.”
The Authority Given to Jesus
As we saw in an earlier post, the word “authority” (Greek exousia) does not simply mean power. It means the right to act. Authority comes from above; it means you are either the “author” or you’ve been commissioned by the author to do what you’re doing.
For Jesus to claim that he had “authority on earth to forgive sins” meant that God himself, the Creator, the Law-Giver, the Judge, had commissioned Jesus to release human beings from their spiritual and moral debts.
Jesus came from heaven to earth with the right and the power to cover everything that separates us from God and render it a non-issue.
He came with the right and power to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
So he could look at a man paralyzed by his own need — completely helpless, completely unable to do a single thing for himself — and say, “Take courage.” It was going to be okay. The debtor was being released. The separated was being made a son.
And it was all completely legitimate, completely authorized. There was no power in heaven or on earth who could say Jesus’ decision to forgive wasn’t valid.
It’s Time to Go Home
Jesus’ question to the scribes, whether it’s easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” or “Get up and walk,” appears to be a trick question.
On the one hand, it’s easier to say “Your sins are forgiven.” It’s unverifiable — no one else can say whether it’s true or not. By contrast, everyone can see a paralytic getting up and walking — or staying paralyzed, as the case may be.
But on the other hand, especially in the Jewish context in which Jesus lived, it is immeasurably harder to say, “Your sins are forgiven.”
No prophet ever did. Prophets in the Old Testament worked miracles, but they didn’t forgive sins. They couldn’t. Once in a while they pronounced God’s forgiveness, but they weren’t themselves the ones forgiving.
They did not have that authority.
Jesus did. And following on the heels of it, he had the authority to heal. “Get up and go home,” he tells the man.
Take courage, and walk back to where you belong — on your own two legs, on the bones and muscles and sinew that have been healed and restored. You’re not lost anymore. You’re not helpless anymore.
You can go home.
Ultimately, our world’s problem isn’t death, aging, and sickness; it’s the sin, the brokenness that lies behind all of that. We got ourselves out of alignment with God a long, long time ago, and the result is an existence that’s far off from our original purpose, our original aim.
The gospel is this: Jesus has come into the world, the man who is God, the God who is man, with authority to forgive and to heal. He has come into the world with the right and power to set us free from all that binds us, now and forever.
The first sin, all the way back in the garden of Eden, was one of disobedience and breaking trust. It was the shattering of a relationship.
And so the first step toward healing, the first step of restoration, must be the forgiveness that makes reconciliation possible.
That is what Jesus offers. And that is what the gospel is all about.
I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!
This is Part 113 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
This blog, Revelatory Creative, is a labor of love. My goal is to spend time studying and writing about the kingdom of God so that the church—you and me—can find our place within this largely forgotten but central Bible message.
But I can’t do it without your help.
You can become a monthly sponsor for $7, $15, or $25. In return, you will get free access to the audio version of my 7-week “Your Kingdom Calling” course, as well as digital books and video series related to this blog. Visit Support to become a supporter and learn more!
And thank you … from the bottom of my heart! This work is possible because of you.
Photo by Florian Pérennès on Unsplash