Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 9:1-8

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And 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.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing[a] their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For 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. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

————————————————————————————————-

Accounts of this miracle also feature in Luke’s and Mark’s Gospels.

I wrote about Luke 5:17-26 two years ago. That post includes a discussion of all three accounts. Mark’s version — Mark 2:1-12 — is actually one of the readings in the three-year Lectionary.

Matthew’s account is somewhat abbreviated by comparison. In verse 1, we read that Jesus was in His own city. Matthew 8 ends with the healing miracle of the two men with demons in the Gadara region. That was on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The townspeople were afraid of Jesus after He sent the demons into the pigs which then ran off a cliff into the sea. The people asked Him to leave. He and His disciples sailed back home. They were now in Capernaum — probably at Peter’s house — as we know from Mark 2:1:

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.

Matthew does not mention the setting for this miracle, but Mark and Luke do. Mark 2:2 tells us:

2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.

The first sentence of Luke 5:17 says:

17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem.

Matthew tells us that Jesus saw the faith of those who brought the paralytic before Him and that He pronounced the man’s sins forgiven (verse 2). Luke and Mark describe the extent of this intense faith. Luke 5:18-19:

18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

Mark 2:4:

4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.

One can imagine the commotion that must have caused.

While the idea of climbing on to someone’s roof sounds alarming to us, the houses in Jesus’s time had ladders or some sort of staircase to the roof where people often gathered in warm weather.

As for the forgiveness of sins, the King James Version has a lovely wording of Jesus’s absolution in verse 2 (emphases mine below):

Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

As my post on Luke’s account says, not every illness was or is a result of sin, although this man’s paralysis was. John MacArthur says in his corresponding sermons for Luke and Matthew that it is possible this man had syphilis, which can result in paralysis.

That our Lord calls the man ‘son’ shows His true affection for and spiritual adoption of him. John MacArthur looks at the original Greek equivalent:

The word teknon could probably be translated child.  It’s a term of infinite tenderness.  Here is a man who is overwrought with his sin.  It’s been thrown at him from the social viewpoint, it’s bubbled up inside of him from the guilt of his own soul, he knows he is a sinful man, he believes that this man has the power of God, he has the faith as a sinner to put himself in the presence of a holy God and take his chances, and he is afraid.  That is why the Lord says to him, “Don’t be afraid.  Take courage.”  It simply means stop being afraid.  There’s nothing to fear.  The man is afraid because he’s a sinner.  But how wonderfully does the Lord say to him, “Child,” a word of tenderness.  How thrilling to face the Holy One, conscious of your sickness, conscious of your sin, in grief and terror and fear and hear Him say, “Child.”  That’s the tenderness of Christ, to love the sinner, even though He was offended by his sin.

Not surprisingly, the scribes accused Him of blasphemy (verse 3). Jesus replied by asking why they think in such an evil way and which would be the easier to utter: forgiveness or healing (verses 4 and 5). John MacArthur offers this analysis:

Which is easier?  Well they’re stuck.  You notice they don’t give any answer.  There is no answer because neither is easier.  Both are impossible to men; both are possible to God.  “Which is easier, to say, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’; or to say, ‘Arise and walk?’”  Well they knew they couldn’t say either one, but He could say both.  He can do either with the same divine ease.  They’re both just as easy to Him.  God doesn’t sweat doing anything.  Only God can heal.  Only God can forgive.  And they were the ones who taught that disease and sickness was the result of sin, so the two things were inseparable: One who could heal disease could forgive sin and one who could forgive sin could heal diseases.  If they thought about it, their own theology told them that.  So He says, “Which is easier, to forgive or to heal?”  And the answer is that neither is easier.  Both are impossible to them.  They’re impossible. So the Lord is saying, “Look.  You’re stuck.  If I can do them, if I can do one I can do the other.  And if I can do the other I’m not a blasphemer, I’m God.”  They were trapped.  They knew He could heal and when He said, “Is it easier to forgive?” they couldn’t say yes because it wasn’t.  Only God could do that and only God could do the other.  Just shows you that their rejection was a willful rejection against the truth.  If Jesus put away sickness, disease, and demons, and disasters, and death, He could certainly deal with sin.

Jesus then went on to say that He would show His divine authority not only by forgiving the man’s sins but also healing him (verse 6). The man picked up his bed and went home (verse 7).

Matthew Henry explains:

He that had power to remove the punishment, no doubt, had power to remit the sin. The scribes stood much upon a legal righteousness, and placed their confidence in that, and made no great matter of the forgiveness of sin, the doctrine upon which Christ hereby designed to put honour, and to show that his great errand to the world was to save his people from their sins.

When I was a child, I always wondered why Jesus told the man to pick up his bed and not hand it to him out of mercy. Henry says Jesus had a reason for this instruction:

Now, 1. Christ bid him take up his bed, to show that he was perfectly cured, and that not only he had no more occasion to be carried upon his bed, but that he had strength to carry it.

Unlike the Gadarenes, the crowd’s response was very different. Of course, this can be explained by the crowd’s religious knowledge and belief. Although only a handful of them probably ever believed that Christ was their Messiah, they knew this miracle came from God and felt a righteous awe (verse 8). Henry tells us:

Though few of this multitude were so convinced, as to be brought to believe in Christ, and to follow him, yet they admired him, not as God, or the Son of God, but as a man to whom God had given such power. Note, God must be glorified in all the power that is given to men to do good.

MacArthur makes this distinction about the onlookers:

This fear, this phobos, this reverential awe of God, is the substance out of which all Christian behavior is to come.  They glorify God and so should we, but they did it because they feared God, they reverenced, they were in awe of His presence.  That’s the right response.  I hope you have such awe of Christ.  So Jesus forgives sin; the greatest message we have to give.  All I can say to you is I hope you’ve had that forgiveness.  When the crowd was split there were those who were forgiven and those who were furious.  It doesn’t tell us about another group, but they were there too, those that were fickleThey just took it in and walked away

I can add nothing to the conclusion of his sermon:

Christ offers forgiveness, blocks out all the past, washes away all sins; plural is the word here, past, present, future.  The greatest news you’ll ever have.  It’s available to you.

Next time: Matthew 9:14-17

Advertisements