MATTHEW 9: THERE WAS A TIME WHEN IT WAS OFFENSIVE FOR JESUS TO FORGIVE SINS
PREPARING TO READ MATTHEW 9
Matthew continues a theme in chapter 9 that we need to pay attention to as we read: authority. In chapter 8 we've seen that Jesus has authority over the physical realm of human bodies when he healed a leper, a Roman servant, and Peter's mother-in-law, authority over nature when he calmed the storm that freaked out the disciples on the lake (and would have freaked me out too!), and authority over the spiritual forces when he cast out evil spirits from two men camping out among the tombs. Now in chapter 9 we see in a controversial command that Jesus has authority to forgive sins.
Jesus has opportunity to heal another person, and he uses the occasion to show he not only has authority over the physical realms of nature but also the spiritual forces for doing ultimate good, for saving someone's soul from the destructive forces of sin and death.
2 And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” 7 And he stood up and went to his home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings. (Matthew 9:2-8, NRSV)
N.T. Wright points out that while authority gets a bad rap or is usually flanked on all sides by an army, the authority of Jesus is much different, and it's important we pay attention to this important difference. This is a force, says Wright, that has nothing to do with violence, "and everything to do with the strange compelling power of freedom and love. Let's have some of that, you say. Well, that's what's on offer in the gospel."
The shape of Jesus's ministry, says N.T. Wright is that he has come as "the son of man, the Messiah, Israel's representative."
"And he has come, not just to deal with the oppression caused by Rome, but to address the deeper and darker oppression caused by evil itself. Beyond that again, he has come to challenge evil's ultimate result, which is not just paralysis but death itself."
Language in the story of the healing of the paralytic is beautifully foreshadowing of the resurrection. "Rise up!" and in describing what happened, Matthew says, "the man arose." Wright concludes, "When sin is dealt with, resurrection (at whatever level) can't be far behind."
Dear Father, we can see in Jesus the authority over anything life throws at us. Some of us are paralyzed. Physical sickness does this but it's a much unspoken truth that we are paralyzed by fear of death, fear of our children's deaths, fear of being exposed for the frauds that we are. We are paralyzed by guilt, shame from our own actions or the shameful actions of others that seems to confer shame on us. Would you touch us and forgive our sin, shame, guilt and give us faith that does not fear!
Is there something more than procrastination that paralyzes you from truly living joyfully, fully? What is lodged in your heart that has you stuck, turned inward, bent out of shape, constantly nutted up, stomach in knots, back out of whack? Do national or global events scare and paralyze you? Talk to a wise spiritual person, fellow church member, counselor, neighbor. Write me an email, leave a comment below.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are distant, we'll try to get you the help you need.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.