Matthew 9:1 And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. 2 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.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing 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, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 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.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
From Scripture Studies (author unknown)
Now, when Jesus said, “Take heart…”, there must have been great expectation that Jesus would heal the man right away. Instead, Jesus first addressed the deeper need. He said first: “Your sins are forgiven.” Upon hearing this, the crowd must have felt a let down. Certainly, the men who toiled to lower the paralytic through the roof felt let down. They expected a physical healing, not a spiritual healing! What about the paralytic? Did he feel let down that Jesus forgave his sins rather than heal him? Perhaps Jesus discerned that the paralytic felt heavily burdened by his sins. And if so, the paralytic would have felt relieved to have the burden of sin removed. Perhaps the paralytic thought that his physical malady was caused in some way by his sins. In that case, for him, the more basic need would have been the forgiveness of sins.
Indeed, in general, for all of us, the forgiveness of sins is much more important than any physical healing we may require. We have heard it often said that good physical health in this life is the greatest blessing. This is not correct. Good spiritual health is much more important. Many people with crippling physical maladies lead a joyful life in Jesus Christ because of their healthy standing before God. Likewise, many physically healthy people lead miserable lives because they are not spiritually healthy: they live under the burden of their sins.
So, the crowd may have felt let down at first because they thought that they had missed out on seeing a miracle of healing. But, in actuality, Jesus’ ability to forgive sin represented a much greater miracle than any physical healing He did. First, Jesus was God incarnate, so He had the authority to forgive sin. The coming to earth of God, in the body of a man, is an astounding miracle, one that we humans cannot fully understand. We can comprehend how Jesus, the Creator of the Universe, can heal a man. But how can the Creator of the Universe limit Himself and live in a human body for thirty-three years? Second, the fact that the plan of God left room for the forgiveness of men of their sin through the death and resurrection of His Son is not only a great mercy, but also a great miracle: a demonstration of God’s great love for men, despite their sin. May the Lord be praised!
Jesus’ statement, “Your sins are forgiven”, was essentially a claim that He is God. Note that Jesus did not say, “Your sins will someday be forgiven.” Rather, He said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus forgave the man’s sins right then and there. The teachers of the law realized that Jesus was claiming to be God. They said, as Luke tells us, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (see Luke 5:21). God Himself told the Israelites, through Isaiah: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isa. 43:25). Matthew reports that the teachers of the law said to themselves: “This fellow is blaspheming!” (vs. 3). And if Jesus were a mere man, the teachers of the law would have been 100% correct! However, Jesus was not just a mere man. The teachers of the law immediately jumped to the conclusion that Jesus was blaspheming, without considering the possibility that Jesus, indeed, had the authority to forgive sins.
Jesus answers the teachers of the law with a marvelous, doubly ironic question: “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”?’” (vss. 4–5). At first thought, the answer to this last question is that it is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” than “Get up and walk”, because if you say “Get up and walk” then your authority to say it will be immediately verifiable. If the paralytic does get up and walk away, it will be demonstrated that you have special healing powers. However, if the paralytic does not get up and walk, you will look like a fool. Now, if you say, “Your sins are forgiven”, who can prove that they aren’t? In fact, all false religions make the erroneous claim that “your sins are forgiven.” False religions make a claim that you can have peace with God apart from Christ. This is the same as saying “your sins are forgiven”, without having the authority to say such a thing. But who can prove them wrong? They get away with saying such a thing, because the statement, in itself, is not verifiable in this life.
So, from the point of view of us in the world, the statement “your sins are forgiven” is easier to say. However, in actuality, the statement “get up and walk” is easier to say. There is no moral reason why God should not give someone special healing power to heal paralytics. In fact, the twelve apostles, and many prophets, of the Bible were given special healing powers at times. Paul even raised someone from the dead. However, no one except God has the authority to forgive sins. Such a power is not transferable. We sin against God, and so only God can forgive sins. In God’s truth, the statement “your sins are forgiven” is the more difficult statement to say, because it could only be said by God Himself. Moreover, God’s plan of atonement for sin entailed that sins could only be forgiven through blood sacrifice. Ultimately, for Jesus to be able to forgive our sins, He had to come into the world as a man, and then die on the cross for our sins. Certainly, when this is taken into consideration, the cost, for Jesus, of being able to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, was much greater than any physical toll from healing the paralytic.
The bottom line is, then, that both statements are exceedingly difficult to say. None of the two by any means is “easy” to say. Both works—healing the paralytic, and forgiving his sins—were recognized by the witnesses as the work of God. Both were impossible for men, in and of themselves. And so, since the healing of the paralytic would be so clearly a work of God, Jesus used it as a proof that He had the authority to forgive sins. For, why would God give Jesus the ability to heal the paralytic if He preceded the healing by blaspheming God by erroneously stating that the paralytic’s sins were forgiven? As Jesus put it: “‘But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…’ Then He said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home.’ And the man got up and went home” (vss. 6–7).
The witnesses to the healing realized the significance of it:“When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men” (vs. 8). It was clear to the witnesses of the healing that it was a miraculous event. They were “filled with awe”. They had witnessed a great work of God, and so“they praised God.” One test for true works of God is whether they result in the praising of the True and Living God. Far from “blashpheming”, this work of Jesus resulted in praise for God.
The crowd was not only awestruck by the act of healing, but also by what it signified: Jesus had the authority to forgive sins. The implications of this are astounding, earth-shaking. With each miraculous work of Jesus, culminating with His resurrection from the dead, the witnesses were given another proof that Jesus indeed was who He claimed to be. Each miracle that Jesus performed provided proof that He had authority to say what He said, and provided proof that what He said was true. So, when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25), and then followed this by raising Lazarus from the dead, who could deny that “whoever believes in [Him] will live”? The healing of the paralytic gave proof that Jesus could forgive sins. And so, when Jesus later said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), who could deny this? The One who is able to “forgive sins” would also certainly know under what conditions those sins could be forgiven. Jesus stated, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” This statement testifies that they are lying who say that you can come to God apart from Jesus. This statement testifies that they are lying who say that there are many paths to God. There is one way to God, only one way to forgiveness from sin. This way is through Jesus. Again, He stated, “I am the way…”