Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 12 2013 - Matthew 9:1-17 – Your sins are forgiven

Again we have an account of Jesus performing an act of healing, but this time with an added twist. A paralysed man is brought to Jesus, carried on a mat by some of his friends. Jesus' words to the man seem a little strange, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven" (Matthew 9:2). Certainly they catch the attention of some of the teachers of the law who had gathered among the crowd to see what Jesus was doing and listen to his teaching. To them these words seemed blasphemous; no one can forgive sins but God alone. Jesus, knowing their thoughts says, "Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?" (9:5). Then to show them that he has power to forgive sins, he commands the paralysed man "Get up, take your mat and go home." And he did so.

What is going on in this strange story? Why does Jesus first declare that the man's sins are forgiven rather than simply healing him? Is he suggesting that the man's paralysis is the result of his sin? Why does he link the two?

Jesus made it quite clear on another occasion that there is no necessary link between an individual's sin and their sickness or disability (see John 9:1-3). Sickness and death come to all alike. Nevertheless, there is a link between the two. It is because of sin that sickness and death have entered the world. We live in a world in rebellion against God and a world that, in consequence, is in process of dissolution. Jesus came into the world not only to heal the sick; he came to deal with the problem of the world at its root; he came to deal with sin once and for all. It is for this reason that Jesus links sin and sickness when confronted by the paralysed man. He wants the crowds to understand that he is more than a wonder-worker; he has come to heal the deep hurt of the world; he has come to forgive sin and transform the sinner.

To the teachers of the law, Jesus' words appeared blasphemy. Jesus' response is, in effect, to say, "Do you think this is mere empty talk?" It's an easy thing to say that someone's sins are forgiven. Nothing changes visibly. It could be mere words. Jesus then heals the man with a word to demonstrate that his words have power. He can heal the hurt of the world.

As we read the Gospel accounts we are continually confronted with the person of Jesus and the ultimate question, "Who is this?" Who is this that can still the storm with a word, heal the sick and forgive sin? He is the Saviour of the world who alone can heal its hurt – my hurt.

Surely he took up our pain
   and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
   stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
   and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
   each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)

This incident is immediately followed by the call of Matthew the tax collector – the sinner. Jesus forgives sin and embraces and transforms the broken and the outcast. No wonder his disciples celebrated when he was with them.

Lord Jesus, you know me through and through. You know how I have fallen short of all that you created me to be and have often deliberately chosen the path of rebellion. Lord, your word gives me comfort and hope for I know that through your sacrificial death you have paid the price for my sin and I hear your wonderful words, “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” Like Matthew, I rise up to follow you. Help me to celebrate in your presence today by keeping close to you and walking in the path of your commandments.

Peter Misselbrook