Healing in this life, or making this life better somehow, is ultimately meaningless unless we respond to Jesus in faith. Jesus is focused on the eternal person, the spiritual person. That’s where his priority is, and I think that is where our priorities should be also.
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Matthew #30 . Matthew 9:1-8
This time, we will take the incident with the paralyzed man and his friends. Mark and Luke include the detail that the paralytic man’s friends couldn’t get him through the crowd, so they lowered him from the roof to set him in front of Jesus. Once again, there is no reason to assume that this contradicts Matthew. Matthew often omits details supplied by Luke and Mark. Again, I think it is the result of the fact that Matthew is relying primarily upon his own memory of these events, whereas Mark and Luke had to do research before writing, thus turning up details that Matthew either forgot, or did not think were important. Matthew is usually concerned most of all with focusing on what Jesus said and did, rather than giving extraneous details.
What Jesus says first is quite surprising. These men had brought their paralyzed friend and laid him in front of Jesus. What would you say? I might say something like:
“You are blessed to have such friends – take comfort from them!” Or maybe “See how many people love you!” If I had healing in mind, I might have said, “Do you believe you can be healed?”
But Jesus looks at him and says: “Have courage, son, your sins are forgiven.”
Matthew records that this caused a murmur among some of the onlookers; they called it blasphemy. Luke and Mark explain why:
“Why does He speak like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? ” (Mark 2:7, HCSB)
We need to be clear here. This is one more answer to the question: “When did Jesus claim to be God?” By telling this man his sins were forgiven, Jesus was claiming to speak as God, and many of the people at the time understood that was exactly what he was implying; that’s why they called it blasphemy.
So, I do think that one reason Jesus says this is to let people know who he is, and to set up the opportunity with this paralytic to more or less prove it. But I think there is something else here. I think Jesus also says it for the sake of the paralyzed man. John records an incident where Jesus’ disciples encountered a blind beggar:
As He was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples questioned Him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? ” (John 9:1-2, HCSB)
In that culture, it was common to think that if someone had a great physical disability, it was the result of some sort of sin. It was considered punishment from God. It is very likely that this man felt not only the misery of his condition, but also the misery of knowing that he had caused it by his sin, and public shame that everyone else knew what a bad sinner he must be.
Into this situation, Jesus spoke in front of large group of people, publicly removing his sin and shame. Now, everyone sins, and there is no doubt that this man, like every other human being, committed sins. Jesus did not say, “you didn’t sin.” That would have been a lie, and the man would have known it was a lie. But Jesus says, in front of a big crowd: “You are forgiven. You sin isn’t on you anymore.”
There is an old debate among Christians about whether it is more important to care for a person’s physical need, or address her spiritual condition. One argument says that you should start with caring for the physical need, and only then, once that need is addressed, will she be able to really hear the gospel and respond appropriately to it. I want to point out that Jesus did not take that approach here. To Jesus, the most important thing to do for this paralyzed man was to free him from the paralysis of sin and shame. Of course, he did eventually address the physical need also, but he started with the spiritual problem, which goes against a lot of today’s conventional Christian practice.
There’s another thing about Jesus’ approach that I think is very important for Christians in America and other well-off countries. We put so much focus on this life, and what we can get out of living on earth. Many American Christians have even come to see Christianity as a means to attaining a safe and comfortable life here on earth, and many of them abandon God when that doesn’t seem to work out. In fact, I believe that Christianity as a whole has never been more focused on this life, and making things comfortable here on earth; and I believe that is a huge mistake. The truth is, that paralyzed man’s body has been dead for two-thousand years now. The healing he received back then is meaningless to him right now. What Jesus really wanted to give him was something eternal – forgiveness, leading to reconciliation with God and the promise of a body that will never die or become ill. Suppose Jesus had not healed the man. He would have had a hard life, lasting maybe 80 years, and he would have experienced a high level of suffering, for sure. Even so, presuming he did respond to Jesus in faith, for the last 2,000 years he has been in glorious grace and joy, and he still has an eternal, imperishable body to look forward to, one that will be forever healthy. The eternal, spiritual gift is much greater than the gift that lasts only for one mortal life. Healing in this life, or making this life better somehow, is ultimately meaningless unless we respond to Jesus in faith. Jesus is focused on the eternal person, the spiritual person. That’s where his priority is, and I think that is where our priorities should be also.
But of course, some of the people in the crowd doubted that Jesus could provide the eternal gift. The healing miracle wasn’t primarily about making life easier for the paralytic. It was to prove to the people – and to the paralyzed man himself – that the forgiveness and eternal life Jesus offers is real. In fact, Jesus himself tells us that this is the reason for the miracle:
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. (Matt 9:6-7, HCSB)
What Jesus said was basically this: “You think I don’t have the authority to say this man’s sins are forgiven? Well let me show you what kind of authority I have: get up, son, and walk.”
Think about what a gift this was to the paralyzed man. Of course, it is huge that he has the full use of his body. But imagine him a year or two later, feeling aware of his failings, wondering if he is truly forgiven. All he has to do is think: “Can I walk? All right then, as sure as I can walk, I am forgiven.”
Pause for a moment and internalize this message. We all have things that we want changed in our lives. That’s normal and natural. We don’t have to feel badly for wishing that we were healthier, or had better opportunities, or that our marriage would be better, or any number of things. But we need to take our cue from Jesus – the eternal is greater and more important than our temporary struggles and trials.
The apostle Paul understood this. He wrote:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18, HCSB)
If you know anything about Paul, you know he had a lot of suffering in his life. But he didn’t consider that his sufferings had any comparison to the eternal joy and grace that were waiting for him. The difference between the suffering and the glory is so vast that the suffering doesn’t even deserve mention.
Fixing our lives here and now is pointless if we are not made right with God by trusting in Jesus. And even just one hundred years from now, it won’t matter to us one bit whether or not we had a better house, or a healthier body or an easier time paying our bills. However, everything will hinge upon whether or not we trusted and followed Jesus and received the grace and forgiveness he offers us.
I don’t mean it is wrong to try to relieve suffering on earth. I don’t even think it is wrong to try and better your own life. But I think both things are pointless if we don’t start out by receiving Jesus, and continue by trusting and obeying him. If your struggles and aspirations for this life here and now are getting in the way of Jesus in your life, listen to what Jesus says. “My child, let’s start with the eternal issue. Let me start by getting you in right relationship with me. We can deal with the other stuff – or not – later, as I see fit. Only trust me.”
Let Jesus speak to you first about the important issues, the eternal ones. Forgiveness and reconciliation with God are central to all our needs. These are more important than your immediate problem with this life. Jesus thought this was true, even for a man who was paralyzed.
We can’t pretend we don’t sin. And the excuse “everybody sins, anyway” doesn’t get us anywhere either. We may repeat that to ourselves, but if we’re honest, we know it isn’t good enough. What we need is true forgiveness, true acceptance. It starts with realizing that we are as helpless as a paralyzed man lying on a mat. True acceptance means that someone knows us truly for who we are, and yet forgives us anyway, and that is exactly what we have through the sacrifice of Jesus.
Pause and listen to Jesus for minute. Hear him say to you: “Take courage, my child. You are forgiven. Your shame is removed. Yes it is – it really is. I have the power to make a paralyzed man walk, of course I have the power to forgive you and remove your shame.”
Can we get it through our heads that what Jesus offers us is infinitely more valuable than the ability to walk is to a paralyzed man? He offers us something that will continue to bless and impact us through the infinite corridors of eternity, while we ask for shiny toys we will play with today and break tomorrow.
There is one other thing here. The way the paralyzed man’s friends acted is a great example for us. The man himself was helpless. They were helpless in that there was nothing they could do for him either. But they did the one thing they could – they simply brought him, and laid him in front of Jesus. This is a tremendous and encouraging picture of what we do when we pray. We take our friends and our own burdens, and set them down in front of Jesus. Jesus did what he wanted to with the man. He started out by addressing a need that none of them even thought about – the spiritual need.
Next time you pray, think about these friends of the paralytic. Picture yourself taking your loved ones and your own personal burdens and setting them down in front of Jesus. Be sure and bring them to him, but let Jesus decide what to do with them, and trust that what he will do is best for all eternity.
Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today.
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