Forgiveness First, Healing Second

“Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him 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.” (Matthew 9:1-8)

There are passages in the Bible like the one we’re looking at today in which Jesus seems to say and do the unexpected. He doesn’t quite respond in ways we assume He should (or that we would if we were in His shoes). When that happens, it begs the question: why?

This familiar passage from Matthew 15 relates the story of a group of guys who brought a paralyzed man lying on a mat to Jesus. It was obvious by their actions that they believed Jesus could do something for their friend; specifically, that He could heal him. And that’s probably what everyone expected Jesus to do given His reputation as a healer and miracle worker.

Instead, Jesus says to the paralyzed man his sins are forgiven. Why would He address a sin problem when, clearly, the issue at hand is his sickness? Bible commentator David Guzik explains it well: “Jesus addressed the man’s greater problem. As bad as it is to be paralyzed, it is infinitely worse to be bound and lost in your sin.”

If Jesus had healed the man’s physical body without addressing his sin problem, one could argue He wasn’t acting out of love, which is impossible. You see, Jesus had to deal with the paralyzed man’s sin because it was the most loving thing He could do.

  • Additionally, Matthew Poole’s Bible commentary explains there are a number of other reasons why Jesus addressed forgiveness first and healing second:
  • Because sin is the root from which all our evils come.
  • To show that forgiveness is more important than bodily healing.
  • To show that the most important thing Jesus came to do was to deal with sin.
  • To show that when a man’s sins are forgiven, he becomes a son of God.
  • To show that the response to faith is the forgiveness of sin.
  • To begin an important conversation with the scribes and Pharisees.

Of course, the teachers of the law misunderstood Jesus and condemned Him in their hearts. If we’re honest, sometimes we do the same thing when we don’t understand what Jesus is doing in our lives or why He hasn’t answered our prayers for healing or otherwise. We begin to question His goodness or His ability to deliver us.

As Jesus said to the Pharisees then, He also says to us now: “I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” That’s the most important thing we need to hear because our healing—both spiritual and physical—begin with the Gospel.

DIG: It could be said that Jesus deliberately addressed the paralyzed man’s sins first to get the attention of the scribes and Pharisees who were witnesses to the miracle that followed. What do you think He wanted to communicate to them about sin, forgiveness and healing?

DISCOVER: Have you ever asked God why He hasn’t answered your prayers a certain way or why He’s allowed certain circumstances in your life? How might Jesus be working in unexpected ways in your situation and what might He be saying to you in the midst of it?

DO: Like the paralyzed man’s friends in this story, let’s be people of faith who bring not only our own needs but also the needs of others to Jesus, believing that He will respond in His way and His time and rejoicing in the fact that He has already performed the greatest miracle of all: forgiving us of our sins!