Matthew 9:2-8 — Some men brought to (Jesus) a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.
Why did these men bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus? Did they want him to hear the words of Jesus, or, to experience his healing touch? I would guess they brought their friend so he might be healed and walk again. Yes, people wanted to hear what Jesus had to say. But on this day, these friends and the paralyzed man had one thing in mind– the healing power of Jesus.
So it must have been a disappointment to them to just get words– verse two: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”
The statement created a theological problem for the scholars that were there. Jesus read their thoughts and began to answer their objections. And the crippled man was still lying on his mat, probably thinking that he missed his one chance at healing.
But then a surprise. Almost as an afterthought, Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and walked through the crowd.
This is a wonderful story of healing. We, like those who were there, are most likely to focus our attention on the healing. But we must realize that the attention of Jesus is focused on something entirely different. He does the healing, yes, but not right away. What was most important to Jesus was that he told the man that because of his faith, his sins were forgiven. Given the context of the story, that seems like an irrelevant and unimportant thing to be concerned about. The man came for healing. Why does Jesus put the emphasis on words?
But consider what this looks like from a larger perspective. That was the way Jesus always looked at things, and it is this larger perspective that the Bible is always opening our eyes to see. Think of it this way: what does it matter now, in 2014, that the man was healed of his paralysis that day and was able to walk? He and everyone else in the story have been long dead. The effects of that healing, amazing as it was to all who saw it, lasted only a few more years. Then the man died, as all men do, and then there was no more walking around for him anyway.
Now think about the words Jesus spoke to him while he was still laying on his mat: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Think about that means. In the last three phrases of the Apostle’s Creed we say we believe in “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” The forgiveness of sins MEANS that God will now raise our bodies from the dead and we will live with God in his home forever. Any benefit that man on the mat received from being healed that day is in the distant past. But bring forgiven by Jesus that day brought him benefits that will last for all eternity.
So also in our own lives. What seems most important right now? Money, possessions, families, good health, work, homes, entertainment, and so on. Those are the things that get our time and attention. How can a few measly words of forgiveness spoken in a Sunday morning worship service compare with those far more important matters and more pressing needs?
But in a hundred years from now, when you are dead and gone, and everything you ever had is left behind, what then will matter more than anything?
The only thing that will matter then is that you heard those same words of forgiveness from Jesus, and believing in that word, received the promise of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. When your heart stops, and you are taken from everything you have and know, all that will matter is the relationship you had with the Creator and giver of life. The Bible tells us our sins have destroyed that relationship, and we can be reconciled to God in only one way– and that is by believing in the forgiveness of sins, won for us by the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.
This then, was indeed the most important thing that paralyzed man received that day, and even if Jesus had NOT healed him, he still could have left there a happy man. Jesus first words to that man gave him what he needed– the forgiveness of sins.
In just a few short years, the time will come when everything you now love and think about and plan for and care about will be be gone, and you will be gone. But even then, it will still matter that you heard and believed these words of Jesus, spoken first to that paralyzed man: “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”
Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from you. Make us hungry for your Word, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life. Through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven, by whose death we are forgiven. Amen.