Matthew 9:1-8

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Matthew 9

1 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.

The miracle accounts in the gospels all have something in common: the power and glory of God is demonstrated in them as is His love for humanity. Even so, it seems that with each miracle we learn something new as well. It is as if God’s miraculous work is like a glorious diamond or emerald that, when turned this way and that, shows new and previously-hidden treasures within as its various angles are illuminated.

One can see this especially in Matthew 8 and 9, two chapters that contain three series of miracle stories. David Platt does a nice job of laying out the structure of these two chapters.

…Matthew has arranged chapters 8–9 to work together. By seeing this relationship, we can understand better what Matthew is trying to tell us. There are three sections containing three miracle stories each (8:1-17; 8:23–9:8; 9:18-34) and two sections that each contain two descriptions of discipleship (8:18-22; 9:9-17). Chapter 8 ends two-thirds of the way through the second section of miracle stories.[1]

Taking that outline into account, we can break down the two chapters like this:

Miracle Section 1                   8:1-17

Miracle 1         Healing of Leper                                           8:1-4

Miracle 2         Healing of Centurion’s Servant                      8:5-13

Miracle 3         Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-Law                  8:14-17

Discipleship Section 1            8:18-22

Miracle Section 2                   8:23-9:8

Miracle 1         Calming of Storm                                          8:23-27

Miracle 2         Healing of Demon Possessed Men                8:28-34

Miracle 3         Healing of Paralytic                                        9:1-8

Discipleship Section   2          9:9-17

Miracle Section 3                   9:18-34

Miracle 1         Healing of Ruler’s Daughter and Woman       9:18-26

Miracle 2         Healing of Two Blind Men                              9:27-31

Miracle 3         Healing of Demon Possessed Mute Man       9:32-34

What is interesting about this is the way that the two emphases on discipleship are situated in the midst of the three miracle sections. It is almost as if by so structuring these stories Matthew is saying, “Now remember: these stories of miracles are not here to amuse or even dumbfound you. They are here to help you follow Jesus better and worship Him more fully! They are here to make better disciples of us!”

I think that is certainly the case with our text this evening: the healing of the paralytic at the beginning of Matthew 9. It is an important story for the new angle it reveals as well as for the truths that have already been expressed in chapter 8 and are seen here yet again.

Leon Morris interestingly points out that this story “is found in both Mark and Luke, and characteristically Matthew’s account is the shortest.” Matthew, he reveals, “has 126 words, whereas Mark has 196 and Luke 212.”[2] What is a bit curious is that in those 70 more words that Mark has, he reveals one of the really cool parts of this account that Matthew chooses to leave out: that in this episode the paralytic’s four friends lower him down to Jesus through the roof!

Who knows why Matthew leaves that out? Maybe it is because he thinks that the words of Jesus should be amazing enough for us without that intriguing detail. And, he is right. What is truly memorable about this story is not how the friends get the man to Jesus. What is truly amazing about this story is what Jesus does when they do!

Not all sickness is a result of sins, though all sickness is a result of sin.

There is an interesting theological/anthropological revelation in our text that we need to unpack first.

1 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.”

This revelation arises from the fact that Jesus’ first words to this disabled man has to do with his soul: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” This would naturally lead the hearer to assume (1) that the man was sick as a result of his sins and that (2) possibly whenever anybody is sick it is because he or she has sinned.

On these points, we must be very careful and take heed of the whole counsel of scripture. Can it be said, for instance, that if a person is sick it is because of some sin that he or she has committed? Not necessarily so. Consider, for instance, the story of the man born blind in John 9.

1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Here, Jesus drives a stake through the heart of any argument that all illness can be attributed to some individual sin, secret or otherwise. Notice, however, that Jesus words—“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”—are not a refutation of the idea of the universality of sin. Jesus clearly believed that the world is fallen and all human beings are sinners (see Matthew 7:11, for instance, as well as numerous Old and New Testament passages asserting the universal state of humanity as fallen and sinful, including Genesis 6:5 and Romans 3:23).

No, what Jesus was rejecting in John 9 was the notion that every instance of illness was a result of some individual sin, as if there was some kind of cosmic quid pro quo by which a person sins and bam! God sends a sickness upon him or her. While there are sicknesses and infirmities that are a direct result of sinful behavior (think, for instance, of a heavy drinker destroying his or her liver), we must not seek a behavioral antecedent to all illness. And there are groups who actually do this and who argue that if you really love Jesus you will not get sick. This is absurd! “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

However, in another sense, it can be said that all sicknesses, all physical ailments, all handicaps, and all human impediments are, yes, a result of sin as a universal reality. It is widely held, for instance, and I think rightly held, that the curses of Genesis 3 are specific instances pointing to wider truths. So when, for instance, God tells Adam the ground is now cursed and will bring forth thorns and thistles, that is actually a wider statement about the fall and decay of the whole natural order. The same principle is at play in the curse spoken to Eve:

16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.

Yes, this was spoken to Eve about childbirth, but it is also spoken to all of us about the entry of pain and suffering into the whole physical realm of life. So sin as a trait of the human condition does lie, in that sense, behind all ailments. Consider what Paul wrote in Romans 8:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

The “creation,” all of it, is in “bondage to corruption.” (Notice the allusion to Genesis 3:16 in verse 22’s words about the creation.) “And not only creation,” Paul writes, “but we ourselves” “groan” and await “the redemption of our bodies.”

Thus, we, as part of creation, are fallen with and in creation. This means that all the rotten fruits of the fall, including illness, bear a connection to the cause of the fall, sin.

Therefore, when Jesus forgives the paralytic man he was not necessarily saying that the man’s paralysis was a result of some secret sin. Rather, in forgiving the man, Jesus was pointing to the interrelatedness of all life—the physical and the spiritual—and the fact that our physical fallenness and infirmities are themselves bound  up with the fallen human condition.

In other words, all sick people need forgiveness not because they are sick but because they are human, whether there is a specific behavioral antecedent to their sickness or not. Jesus was therefore not necessarily making a statement about human illness and infirmity as much as he was making a statement about the human condition, be it sick or healthy. The man’s heart needed healing, paralytic or not! So do our hearts!

Jesus is able to heal at a deeper level than the merely physical.

It might be said that what is happening in this text is that Jesus is giving us a wide-screen view of his redemptive work. As the camera pans back in this story, Jesus reveals that He is the God who heals both body and soul, that He heals at a deeper level than the merely physical.

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.”

“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven!” The heart thrills to hear these beautiful words! The Good Physician can heal the outer man and the inner man. He is able. He is capable. And, indeed, we need both kinds of healing, for even if we live in relative health through the course of our lives, the fact remains that our lives will complete their earthly course. That is, we will all die. Our bodies will breathe their last. And this further demonstrates the connection point between body and soul, for “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

But Jesus can prepare us for ultimate healing in both spheres: through the resurrection of the body and through forgiveness of our sins. Forgiveness is at the very heart of the gospel! The church must strive to alleviate the physical suffering of human beings, but we will still die! Therefore we must proclaim salvation through the forgiveness of sin. And this is what the church did. Consider Peter’s Pentecost Sermon in Acts 2:

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Or Paul’s beautiful words in Ephesians 1:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

Redemption. Forgiveness. Riches of His grace.

In forgiving this paralytic, Jesus was saying, “I am here to do so much more than just fix your bodies! I intend to heal every aspect of you!”

Jesus polarizes the crowd.

Amazingly, the religious leaders miss the beauty and power of this moment. They are, in fact, incensed at Jesus’ claim to be able to forgive sins. And, as the story unfolds, we see the polarizing effect of Jesus on the whole crowd.

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.

The scribes were religious elites, authorities. Ironically, they were the very ones who should have understand that Jesus did indeed bear the authority to forgive sins. However, tragically, standing in the very presence of the God they professed to understand and teach, they missed Him. R.T. France helpfully observes:

This is the first mention of opposition to Jesus, which will be a recurrent theme. It derives from the scribes, now seen (unlike 8:19) in their typical role as representatives of the official religion which necessarily reacted against the radical claims of Jesus. How Jesus is blaspheming need not be stated (as it is in Mk. 2:7): Jewish religion of the time had no room for a personal declaration of forgiveness, still less for this to be uttered by mere man, on his own authority.[3]

Indeed, it was Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness that most offended the scribes. Jesus did not help things when He challenged them outright and, in addition to forgiving the man, healed him. And it is at this point where the polarization can be seen, for whereas the scribes opposed Him, “the crowd,” we are told, was “afraid” and “glorified God.” And why did they glorify God? Because He “had given such authority to men.”

The crowd saw, in other words, at least part of what it meant that Jesus claimed to forgive sins. To be sure, so did the scribes. The scribes saw it and thought, “Blasphemy!” The crowds saw it and thought, “God is at work here!”

Craig Blomberg points out that Jesus calling Himself “the Son of Man” brought further clarity to the radical implications of what was transpiring here.

A key Son of man reference appears here too. As in 8:20, it need mean nothing more than “I,” but “on earth” suggests that Jesus is contrasting his present life with his heavenly preexistence and that Dan 7:13-14 (13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”) is again in the background.[4]

What is the radical implication that so polarized the crowd? Simply put, this: that Jesus is God. This implication is found in the fact that Jesus did things that only God can do. As David Platt puts it:

Only God is able to calm the wind and the waves. Only God is able to command disease. Only God can forgive sins. Therefore, since Jesus does all these things, we conclude that Jesus is God. In other words, the King is here.[5]

This is the great scandal. This is the great point of polarization. Jesus is forever and always setting people at odds. Such is the nature of His identity and His work. Some hate Jesus for what He does and for who He claims to be. Others worship. We see this dynamic over and over and over again in scripture.

Jesus can unite like no other, and He has: He has united people from every tribe and tongue and nature and ethnicity into one body, the church! But Jesus can divide like no other, and He has: He has divided families and homes and friends and workplaces and marriages and even institutional churches in which, in reality, both believers and unbelievers populate the membership rolls.

What was true in the episode of the paralytic is true in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and wherever people hear the name of Jesus throughout the whole world: some are drawn and some are offended. Some turn to Jesus and some turn away. There is no middle ground.

Perhaps this is why these miracle sections of Matthew 8 and 9 are interspersed with the discipleship sections. Few things polarize people like the power of Jesus on display.

How about you? Are you drawn to Christ as He is or do you turn away? Do you move toward Christ or away from Him?

It should give us pause that it was the religious people who seemed to miss the point of Jesus. Others, however, saw and marveled and came to Him!

Dear friends, may we come to the healing, forgiving, wonderful, wonder-working Jesus, who is still in the business of changing those who will believe!

 

[1] Platt, David. Exalting Jesus in Matthew (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (Kindle Locations 2228-2231). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992), p.213.

[3] R.T. France, Matthew. The Tyndale New Testament Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), p.165.

[4] Blomberg, Craig L.. Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) (p. 154). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[5] Platt, David,  Kindle Locations 2263-2264.

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