Power over Sin

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Matthew 9:1-8 (The paralytic)

INTRODUCTION: We are continuing in our series from Matthew 8-9 on Ten Miracles of Jesus. We have seen that this section of Scripture relates ten miracles of Jesus interspersed with four dialogues on discipleship.

We have already looked at the first three miracles which were all healing miracles of unlikely people. Then we looked at the first dialogue on discipleship which focused on the cost of following Jesus. Then we began to look at the second group of three miracles which are all miracles of power – showing Jesus’ power over nature, power over Satan, and power over sin.

Today we come to the last of these three miracles of power, the healing of the paralytic which shows Jesus’ power over sin, specifically, the power or authority to forgive sin. This passage is also a hinge passage between chapters 8 and 9. It is the last of the three miracles of power which began at the end of chapter eight. But it is also the first of three controversy stories which continue into chapter nine. Immediately following this miracle, we will move into the next two dialogues on discipleship, both of which contain controversy between Jesus and the Jewish authorities, which, as we will see, is also an important part of today’s passage on the healing of the paralytic. (Read Matthew 9:1-8 and pray.)

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Although today’s passage is an example of another healing miracle, the real focus of the passage has to do with the forgiveness of sins. We already saw Jesus heal another paralytic in Matthew 8. If you remember, the centurion’s servant whom Jesus healed was paralyzed.

The focus in that passage was not so much the healing of the servant but the centurion’s faith and Jesus’ ability to heal from a distance. But the focus in today’s passage is clearly on the forgiveness of sins. Today’s passage focuses on two questions in particular. Does Jesus have the authority to forgive sins? And, how can we know that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins?

We will look at this passage in three parts. Verses 1-2 introduce the miracle and teach us the important truth that your greatest need is for forgiveness. Verses 3-7 relate the actual healing miracle and show us that Jesus does indeed have the authority to forgive sins. And then finally, verse 8 wraps it all up by reminding us that God’s forgiveness of our sins through Jesus should fill us with awe and praise.

I. Your greatest need is for forgiveness (1-2)

So let’s get started. The first thing we need to understand from this passage is that your greatest need is for forgiveness.

   A. Jesus provided forgiveness first rather than healing
      – Psalm 103:2-3; Isaiah 53:4-5

And we see this in the fact that Jesus provided forgiveness for the paralytic first rather than healing. Look at verses 1-2 with me:

“Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’” (Matthew 9:1-2)

So Jesus crosses back over the Sea of Galilee, this time Matthew says to his own town. Now this was not his home town of Nazareth where he was born. Nazareth was further up north. This was not Nazareth but Capernaum. Capernaum was his adopted home town. This is where Jesus set up shop – not a carpenter’s shop but his center for ministry.

So Jesus comes to Capernaum and these men bring him the paralytic, lying on a mat. Jesus first gives him a word of encouragement. He tells him, “Take heart!” or “Be of good cheer!” When you’re paralyzed and lying on a mat and you’ve been brought to a healer, and he tells you to take heart, you know that something good is coming. And you would probably expect that something good to be a healing. But instead Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” I like the way the gospel of Luke puts it. Jesus says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:20)

Does that mean the man was paralyzed because he had sinned? It’s a legitimate question. We saw earlier in this series that sickness and sin are connected in this world, but not always directly. Sickness or disease is a general result of sin in the world That’s why we see a connection between healing and forgiveness in such passages as Psalm 103: “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103:2-3) Or again in Isaiah 53: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:4-5) So sickness or disease is a general result of sin, but we cannot necessarily blame a specific sickness or disease on specific sin. So that’s the first thing we learn from these opening verses. Jesus provided forgiveness first rather than healing.

   B. We are powerless to save ourselves (as signified by the paralytic)
      – Romans 5:6; Ephesians 2:1

Another thing we learn from these opening verses is that we are powerless to save ourselves. Throughout this series we have seen that each of Jesus’ healing miracles carry a spiritual meaning along with the actual physical healing. Each of the various diseases Jesus heals represents a different aspect of sin in our lives. For example, leprosy represents the uncleanness of sin. Blindness represents our inability to see the truth. Deafness represents our unwillingness to hear the truth.

There’s a reason Jesus chooses to link this particular miracle with forgiveness rather than any of the other healing miracles. And that’s because the spiritual meaning of paralysis is powerlessness. The man’s paralytic state represents our powerlessness to save ourselves when it comes to sin.

This same truth is taught elsewhere in Scripture. For example, we read in Romans 5:6: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6) The whole reason Christ died for us is because we were powerless to save ourselves.

In fact, the Bible tells us we were not just paralyzed but dead! Ephesians 2:1 says: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) Christianity isn’t a crutch for the weak. You don’t need a crutch – you need a miracle! You need to be raised spiritually from the dead!

And so this man’s paralysis is a picture of our complete and utter spiritual inability before God. It’s not a very complimentary picture, but it’s true. We are powerless to save ourselves from the penalty of sin. We are powerless to save ourselves from the power of sin. We are powerless to save ourselves from the presence of sin. We are powerless to save ourselves.

   C. We are saved by faith alone
      – Ephesians 2:8-9

And then the third thing we learn from these opening verses is that we are saved by faith alone. Matthew says that when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2) The “they” here must include the paralytic himself. Jesus might heal someone on the basis of someone else’s faith, but we are only forgiven through personal faith in Jesus ourselves. We read in Ephesians 2: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) The Bible is clear that we are saved by faith alone.

This whole first section of the miracle teaches us that your greatest need is for forgiveness. Do you believe that? Then repeat after me. “I would rather be forgiven of my sins and paralyzed for the rest of my life than be unforgiven and have full bodily movement.” “I would rather be forgiven of my sins and have cancer than be unforgiven and cancer free.” “I would rather be forgiven of my sins and die tomorrow than be unforgiven and live a long and trouble-free life.” It’s true. Your greatest need is for forgiveness.

II. Jesus has the authority to forgive sin (3-7)

The next section of this miracle teaches us another important truth. Jesus has the authority to forgive sin. And that is good news. If my greatest need is for forgiveness, then it is good news that Jesus has the authority to forgive sin. Look at verses 3-7 with me:

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” 4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 And the man got up and went home. (Matthew 9:3-7)

   A. Only God can forgive sin
      – Psalm 32:1-2, 51:4; Isaiah 43:25

Jesus tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven, and immediately the teachers of the law say to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” You might wonder why they accuse Jesus of blasphemy here. Well there are two basic ways to commit blasphemy. One way is to ascribe evil to God. But it is also blasphemy to ascribe divinity to people, especially to yourself!

So, when Jesus told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven, the teachers of the law considered this blasphemy because the Old Testament clearly teaches that only God can forgive sin. That’s why we read in Psalm 32: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2) Notice it is God who forgives sin. It is the Lord who does not count sin against a person.

We can forgive other people for what they have done to us, but only God can forgive sin. This is because all sin is really directed against God. That’s why David in the Old Testament when he confessed his adultery with Bathsheba said the following to God in Psalm 51: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” (Psalm 51:4)

Think about it. David had sinned against Bathsheba. He had sinned against Bathsheba’s husband. And yet ultimately he had sinned against God, and he needed God’s forgiveness, because all sin is directed against God. That’s why God says in Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25)

We can only forgive people for what they have done against us. We cannot forgive people for what they have done against others, and we certainly cannot forgive people for what they have done against God. Only God can forgive sin.

The teachers of the law accused Jesus of blasphemy. Jesus accused them of having evil thoughts. So who was right? If Jesus was not God, then the Pharisees were right. Jesus was blaspheming by saying he could forgive sins, and only God can forgive sins. But if Jesus is God, then Jesus was right. The teachers of the law were blaspheming by having evil thoughts about him.

   B. Jesus demonstrated his authority to forgive by healing the paralytic

So Jesus and the teachers of the law are at a standstill. How do we know if Jesus actually forgave this man’s sins? How could anyone know? There is nothing visible about forgiveness. It is an act that takes place in the spiritual realm. Anyone can say, “Your sins are forgiven.” But how do you know if they really have the authority to forgive?

More importantly, how do we know that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins? That’s really important to know – especially seeing that so many of us are trusting Jesus to forgive us of our sins! So how do we know? Jesus demonstrated his authority to forgive by healing the paralytic. That’s what Jesus said to the teachers of the law. “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” (Matthew 9:6)

This is the second time in the gospel of Matthew Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. The first time was back in Matthew 8:20. Remember we learned then that the Son of Man is the title given to a divine figure in Daniel 7 who brings the kingdom of God. Jesus began his ministry preaching that the kingdom of God was near, and then he demonstrated that he was bringing the kingdom through his various miracles. Once again by calling himself the Son of Man and by performing these miracles Jesus is showing that he is divine and has the authority to forgive sin.

But to make it absolutely crystal clear, Jesus demonstrates his authority to forgive by healing the paralytic. He asks the teachers of the law, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5) Notice he doesn’t ask them which is easier to do, rather, which is easier to say. It’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” because no one can tell whether it actually worked. But when you say to a paralytic, “Get up and walk,” he’s either going to get up and walk or he is not. And everyone will know whether you had the authority to speak those words or not.

Jesus is taking it to the mats – literally! He says to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And Matthew tells us, “The man got up and went home.” Jesus demonstrated his authority to forgive by healing the paralytic.

III. God’s forgiveness of our sins through Jesus should fill us with awe and praise (8)

1) Your greatest need is for forgiveness. 2) Jesus has the authority to forgive sin. And 3) God’s forgiveness of our sins through Jesus should fill us with awe and praise. Look at Matthew 9:8:

When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:8)

   A. The crowd was filled with awe at the healing of the paralytic

Notice first why the crowd was filled with awe. They were filled with awe by what they saw. In other words, the crowd was filled with awe at the healing of the paralytic. They may not even have heard Jesus’ words about forgiveness. They only knew that man went into the house paralyzed and lying on a mat. And he came out of the house walking and carrying his mat. And they were rightly filled with awe.

   B. The crowd praised God for giving such authority to men

Matthew also tells us that the crowd praised God for giving such authority to men. Once again, this is all in response to the healing of the paralytic, not the forgiving of his sins. This is all in response to what they saw, and you cannot see the forgiveness of sins.

   C. We should be filled with even greater awe and praise for Jesus’ authority to forgive sin
      – Psalm 130:4; Romans 3:25-26

So here’s the lesson for us. It was good and appropriate for the crowd to be filled with awe and to praise God for the healing of the paralytic. But since forgiveness is a more important need than healing, we should be filled with even greater awe and praise for Jesus’ authority to forgive sin. In Psalm 130:4 the psalmist prays to God: “With you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” (Psalm 130:4) The word “ fear” there means to be filled with reverence or awe before God because he is the only one who has authority to forgive.

You might wonder how Jesus could forgive this man’s sin when Jesus hadn’t gone to the cross yet. The same way God forgave all the people in the Old Testament who put their faith in him before Jesus went to the cross. We read in Romans 3: “God presented him [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:25-26)

How did God forgive people before Jesus went to the cross? It was still on the basis of the cross. There would be no forgiveness apart from the cross. But God, knowing that Jesus would go to the cross, forgave people beforehand when they trusted him through the sacrifices pointing forward to Jesus and when they trusted God’s promise to send a Savior.

And so what God has done through Christ to provide us with salvation is truly amazing. God’s forgiveness of our sins through Jesus should fill us with awe and praise.

CONCLUSION: Jesus’ healing of the paralytic teaches us these three fundamental truths. 1) Your greatest need is for forgiveness. 2) Jesus has the authority to forgive sin. And 3) God’s forgiveness of our sins through Jesus should fill us with awe and praise.

Like all of Jesus’ miracles, this miracle was both a demonstration of his power and a pledge of things to come. Jesus took care of sin at his first coming. He will take care of suffering at his second coming. Once again, the miracles of Jesus give us a preview of God’s coming kingdom.

Only God has the power to forgive sins. Jesus demonstrated his power to forgive sins. Therefore, Jesus is God, and we should worship him and come to him for the forgiveness of our sins.

Your greatest need is for forgiveness. God made provision for your forgiveness through Jesus’ death on the cross. If you have never trusted Jesus as your Savior, will you do so today? Jesus has the power to forgive sin. And when you put your trust in him, he will speak the same words to you that he spoke to the paralytic on the day of his healing: “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

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