Christ’s Divine Authority

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’” (v. 2).  

- Matthew 9:1–8

Continuing to display His divine authority through the working of miracles, Jesus returns to Capernaum (“his own city,” Matt. 9:1; see 4:13) where the people are glad to see Him. Unlike the Gentiles in the region of the Gadarenes, the citizens of Capernaum apparently want Jesus to stick around. He is back only a short time when some men seek Him out to heal a paralyzed friend (9:2). 

In Jesus’ day most people slept on mats that were laid upon the floor. These pallets served as a stretcher that was fairly easy to carry, and the paralyzed man was lying on a mattress of this kind. Our Savior’s first response is to pronounce the lame man forgiven (v. 2), and some commentators believe this indicates that sin is the cause of the man’s paralysis. Sin can indeed cause many illnesses, but note that Scripture never teaches that disease is always proof of transgression in a person’s life (John 9:1–3). In any case, Christ’s declaration of pardon does not sit well with the scribes. Forgiveness, it is well known, is the prerogative of God alone (Ps. 130:3–4). An ordinary man who claims this right puts himself in the Creator’s place and commits blasphemy (Matt. 9:3).

Yet Jesus is no ordinary man. Seeing that He is accused of breaking the third commandment (Ex. 20:7), Christ asks the scribes what is easier to pronounce — forgiveness or healing (Matt. 9:4–5). Of course, it is easy to declare sins forgiven since divine forgiveness cannot be verified or falsified with the senses. However, healing can be tested empirically. To say that a person is healed when no healing has taken place makes the would-be healer a liar. In pronouncing forgiveness, Jesus has made the easier declaration, but to show that His pronouncement of forgiveness is not merely wishful thinking, He declares the paralytic healed and restores the man’s health (vv. 6–7). The truth of His healing word verifies the truth of His forgiving word. John Calvin comments, “As it is not easier to quicken by a word a body which is nearly dead than to forgive sins, there is no reason to wonder that he forgives sins, when he has accomplished the other.”

The citizens marvel that such authority has been given to Christ (v. 8). After all, if Jesus can forgive sins, then He is more than a man. He is God incarnate.  

Coram Deo

Some theological traditions tend to pursue physical healing as if it is the ultimate need of human beings. Yet while it is good to ask the Lord to heal us when we are ill, we fundamentally need our sins to be forgiven. This forgiveness has been purchased by Jesus and is the great blessing of God on all of those in Him. If you doubt the Lord’s pardon, know that He forgives the repentant; therefore, each day ask Him to forgive your sins.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 103:6–14
Micah 7:18–20
Luke 5:17–26
Colossians 1:13–14

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.