[Matthew 9:1-8] Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over and came to his own city. 2And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7And he rose and went home. 8When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
The Core Issue
A group of four men [Mark 2:3] had a friend in great need. Their friend was paralyzed, living his life cast down on a mat, having to be carried by others. These men hear about Jesus who had a growing reputation for healing – healing the sick, cleansing the unclean, making the crippled well.
These men carry their friend to the house where Jesus is. Such a crowd had gathered in the house that they could not get through the door, so they remove tiles from the roof, dig through, and lower their friend down to Jesus on his mat [Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26].
These four men bring their paralyzed friend and entrust him to Jesus in the house where Jesus is teaching. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’”
Jesus doesn’t even address the obvious, at first – the man’s paralysis – but says, “Your sins are forgiven.” “Take heart” – be of good cheer – “you are forgiven of your sins.”
Very likely, paralysis, the man’s bodily problem, is what was on his mind and his friends’ minds that day. Our anxieties may be laser-focused on this or that problem – a bodily problem, or a difficult circumstance, or an inward issue – but Jesus speaks to our truest need, to our core issue, even when that’s not what we’re looking for.
For us, the symptoms, the effects, are the most obvious problems that we cry out about. By His words, “Your sins are forgiven”, Jesus heals the underlying injury and illness.
The paralyzed man is not paralyzed because of some specific sin he committed [John 9:1-3]. It’s not karma – that’s not how these things happen. But we do exist in a broken condition – physically and morally – and the root cause is that we are fallen in sin.
From the time of our conception, we are inclined toward the wrong. We don’t naturally fear, love, and trust in God who made us. We are tilted away from Him from our very start – “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” [Psalm 51:5].
None of us come from a blank slate. When Adam, our first ancestor, sinned, we all fell because we are all made from his fallen nature. Body and will, flesh and human soul – every part of me has in it this sin-fallen corruption. It affects everything about us, bodily and spiritually.
“Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin and so death spread to all menbecause all sinned” [Romans 5:12]. We call this “original sin” or “hereditary sin”. It is the source of our physically and morally broken condition, in each of us, which becomes manifest in sins, in disease and illness, in tragic conditions or situations, and in death.
These men bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, but none of them truly realize how serious their condition actually is. We are all more than paralyzed. We are dead in sin as we walk in it – “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” [Ephesians 2:1-2] – and there is sin that you are walking in.
Our God and Lord became flesh – human body and soul – Jesus, who saves His people from their sins [Matthew 1:21]. He has carried your sin – your sins committed and that hereditary corruption – to the cross, in His flesh, where He suffered death and punishment in your place. He died that you would live.
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness – His righteous death for you – leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.” [Romans 5:12,18-19]
When you find yourself lying paralyzed in this life’s many troubles – in body, in soul, in guilt, in desperate circumstances – Jesus is the Savior who has healed the core trouble, has forgiven your sin, and therefore is able and willing to untie the knots in your life and lift you up.
“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” – maybe that’s not what these men nor their paralyzed friend were looking for from Jesus, but it is what was needed most.
But to some in that house, it was blasphemy – “This man is blaspheming;” “Who can forgive sins but God alone” [Mark 2:7].
These Pharisees not only fail to recognize that Jesus is God and Lord but also that the Lord who has become flesh does exercise His power to forgive sin through men – through those called into His ministry of preaching the Gospel.
Jesus proves His authority to forgive sins by raising this paralyzed man from His bed – “which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.”
After this, the crowds marveled, and, it says, “they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”Amazingly, the text doesn’t say “to a man”, singular, but “to men”, plural. Scripture here is pointing to the ministry through which the Man, Jesus, delivers His saving Gospel – and forgives sins – through men. God has given such authority to men.
Jesus says as much after His resurrection when He says to the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them…” [John 20:21-23]. And elsewhere, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 18:18]
This why, when you’re lying on your hospital bed, or in the nursing home – or at home shut in or recovering – a man sometimes shows up to see you, comes in, and tells you, “Take heart; your sins are forgiven.”
You have your doctors. You have your nurses and aids. What do you need a pastor showing up for? Through the mouth of His ministers, and through their giving of the Lord’s Supper, His true body and blood, Jesus meets your truest need in that hour – He forgives your sins. That’s not always what we think we need, but Jesus gives it nonetheless.
“Take heart” also means something like “Be of good cheer” [KJV]. Remarkably, Jesus tells the man to be of good cheer even while he’s still paralyzed. That God has forgiven my sins through Jesus is cause enough for joy.
Yet Jesus still takes care of those other needs too, according to His wisdom and perfect timing. He is our ever-present help in every need [Psalm 46:1]. And He is returning to bring perfect health and righteousness to our bodies in the resurrection [1 Corinthians 15:51-55].
Here and now, be where Jesus comes down to us – through His ministry of the Gospel – in His house, right here. And, above all, be a friend. Like those four men, take every measure to bring a friend. Carry them to where Jesus gives them what they most truly need. Amen.
Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023.