If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew, chapter 9. In our past studies, we have commented that in Matthew 5 through 7, we have the words of life from our Lord. In Matthew 8 and 9, we have deeds of power by our Lord that we may see by His words and deeds that He is indeed the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. In our previous study of Matthew chapter 8, we saw the Lord's power displayed in 3 ways. In the first 17 verses of Matthew 8, we saw His power displayed in healing – three distinct scenes of miracles of healing that He performed in the first verses of Matthew chapter 8. Then in Matthew chapter 8:23-27, we saw the Lord's power over nature itself, as He stilled the sea in the midst of the storm. And then in Matthew 8:28-34, we saw His power over the forces of evil, His power to cast out demons. And so, consecutively, we see the power of Christ in Matthew chapter 8: His power over bodily diseases, His power over the forces of nature, and His powers over the forces of evil.
Today we continue along that same theme: the theme of Christ's divine and supernatural power continues here in Matthew 9 verses 1 through 8. So let's hear the word of the living God beginning in Matthew 9 verse 1.
Our Father, we thank You for this Your word. It is our instruction in the way of truth, but even more it is Your own revelation, the revelation of Your glory, the revelation of Your Son. Especially in this passage, we behold the Lord Jesus Christ in His power and authority. We ask that You would apply this truth to our hearts by the spirit. We pray, O Lord, that You would enlighten our minds that we might embrace the Lord Jesus Christ; embrace His truth and know His favor. We pray, heavenly Father, that even our reading and hearing of this word would bring honor and glory to You. For we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.
J. I. Packer, in one of his books, says that the secret to soul-fatting Bible study is to first ask the question, “What does this passage teach me about my God?” So often we are taught in methods of Bible study that the first question to ask is, “How does this apply to me?” But Packer points out that the prime blessing that we derive in the study of the Scripture is learning about our God. And this is a glorious passage to test that truth on, because Matthew here has our focus directly on our Lord and Savior. He is reminding us again of His power, His glory, His authority. And there are many things that we learn about Christ in this passage, but I'd like to direct your attention to three or four things today.
I. We here behold the Justice and Mercy of Christ
The first truth that we see in this passage is the justice and the mercy of Christ. We here behold Christ's justice and mercy on display. And we learn that the Lord Jesus Christ is both righteous and compassionate. We see it in verses 1 and 2: “Getting into a boat Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. And they brought to him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Take courage Son. Your sins are forgiven.’” Don't miss the first words of this passage, “Getting into a boat Jesus crossed over the sea,” because those words point you back to the story that we read last week at the end of chapter 8. You remember the Gadarenes had come to the Lord Jesus after the exorcism of the demon from the demoniacs, and they had said, ‘Jesus, please leave. Depart our city. Depart our borders. Leave our region.’ And so the Lord Jesus did.
It is a frightening thing, my friends, when the Lord Jesus absents Himself from us. But Christ does not tarry long where He is not welcome. And so we must not trifle with Him when He comes to do business with us. The Lord Jesus’ justice is seen in that when He is rejected by the Gadarenes, He departs that place. You know, one of the sad things is, nowhere in the remainder of the gospels are we ever told that Jesus went back to the region of Gadera. It is a frightening thing to reject Christ, to trifle with Him. But the Lord Jesus did show mercy to those folks. He could have called down the judgment of God from heaven upon them even as on Sodom and Gomorrah. But the Lord Jesus left them a missionary. We are told in Mark chapter 5, verses 18-20, and in Luke chapter 8, verses 38 and 39, that the Lord Jesus left that demoniac behind. That man who once was possessed by demons, He left him there to preach the word of God to them, to remind them of what God had done for him. So He did leave them with a testimony.
And He came to His own city. We are told that the Lord Jesus came to His own city; that's in reference to Capernaum, not Nazareth. It's not the city that He grew up in; it was the city that was the base of His operations, which Matthew here calls the Lord's own city. Capernaum was that place from which He did most of His ministry in Galilee. By the way, those of you who are closely following the parallels in Mark and in Luke will immediately note that Mark and Luke have this story of the healing of the paralytic before the Sermon on the Mount, and Matthew has it afterwards. Without going into a lot of detail, just realize that Mark and Luke are giving you a chronological account, and Matthew is giving you a thematic account. He is laying, first Jesus' teaching, then Jesus' deeds, side by side, and He is listing these deeds in an ascending order of climax. You are going to see a logic to what Matthew is doing here in Matthew 8 and 9 in a few moments. But for those of you who are interested in paralleling these passages, and giving a chronological account of it, you see that Mark and Luke are giving you the story as it happened chronologically.
At any rate, Christ's warm-heartedness and His tenderness towards this ill man, this sick man, this man who faces some form of disease which has left him paralyzed, is evident in His words. He says, “Take courage, my Son.” These are, on whatever account, words of compassion. These are terms of endearment. He refers to him as ‘His child.’ He refers to him in such a way to encourage him, to tell him to be of good cheer. And Christ's concern as this man is brought to him is to emphasize the forgiveness of sins. We are told in this passage that when the Lord Jesus saw the faith of this man and of the men who brought him, He immediately said, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Now there's a very interesting exchange that goes on here. We know from Mark and from Luke that the people who brought this man to Christ went to a great deal of trouble. There was a huge crowd in this home, and they couldn't get in through the front door. This is the instance in which the men actually went up onto the roof, lifted part of the roof off, and let the man down in front of Christ so that Christ could heal him. And we are told that the Lord Jesus saw their faith. He saw their outward determination to get this man before him. They knew that the Lord Jesus could heal him. And they were humble. They didn't go to the Lord Jesus and say, ‘Lord, you have got to come heal our friend.’ They took their friend who couldn't move, who couldn't walk, and took him to the Lord Jesus. So they were humble, and they were determined in their faith.
And this is also an interesting account because in neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke do these men make any requests of Christ. In most miracles, first there is a request: ‘Lord, heal me,’ ‘Lord, heal my Son,’ ‘Lord, heal my daughter,’ ‘Lord, heal my friend.’ In this context the men put the man in front of Christ, and Christ speaks first. And His first words are, “Your sins are forgiven.” He highlights for us the primacy, the priority of forgiveness by the words that He speaks. It's evident that these men want this man healed. It's evident that this man needs to be healed from His illness, bodily speaking, but it is not so evident that this man needs business done with His soul. And so the Lord Jesus Christ points us to the importance of forgiveness by the very words that He speaks.
By the way, the Lord Jesus makes no particular or specific connection between a sin that this man has done, and the illness that He has. Sometimes the Lord does, in His miracles. Sometimes He'll say something like, ‘O.k., you are healed. Go now and sin no more,’ implying that there was some relationship between the person's malady and the sin of their own life. In this passage, the Lord Jesus doesn't make that connection. In this passage, the Lord heals as an expression of His own sovereignty, and with a desire of emphasizing the forgiveness of sins.
We learn many things from this passage. We learn that as we contemplate our sin, and as we become aware of its magnitude, as we become aware of our need, it is very easy to be despairing. It's one of the most devastating things in the world to see ourselves as we are. Some of our friends are drawn into public sins, more obvious sins, which force them to deal very forthrightly with their sin. Many more of us, however, are surrounded by private sins. Sins that not, perhaps, many people know. And it's easy for us to delude ourselves that those sins aren't as bad after all when you really think about it. But everyone in whom the Spirit is doing a work of grace, sees their own sin, and as that need becomes apparent to them, it is very easy to be despairing about that, to be left prostrate on the floor, on one's face, feeling like, “How could God forgive this sin? How could anyone forgive this sin?”
It is precisely in that posture that the Lord Jesus Christ want us to see the message of this passage. That He has compassion for those who are in need. He has compassion for those who are in the grip of sin, and we must not put Christ off. The Gadarenes put Christ off. They said, “Go away. We don't need this.” The scribes in this passage are going to put Christ off. But there may be no tomorrow. Just like there was no further visit of Christ to the Gadarenes.
Sometimes in the midst of bodily illness or injury, we show the focus of our lives, don't we? We will pray fervently for our bodies or the bodies of our loved ones to be healed in the midst of disease or accident, and then when that crisis is past, our prayer subsides. We can be fervent about the need for cure of the body. Are we as fervent about the need for forgiveness? Christ reminds us here that it would be a terrible tragedy for a man's body to be healed, and His soul to be empty; for a man's body to be healed, and yet for His soul to be condemned before the Lord. And so He points us to the forgiveness of sins, and He shows Himself to be a just and a merciful Savior.
II. We here behold the hardness of some men’s hearts
There is a second thing we learn in this passage, and we see it in verses 3-5. Here we behold the hardness of some men's hearts. Even in the face of a miracle, blind men cannot see. Even in the face of a miracle, those who are spiritually blind cannot see the work of the living God. Let's look at verses 3 through 5: “And some of the Scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” And Jesus, knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?’” These Scribes were apparently there in the house for the purpose of criticizing. They were apparently there in the house for the purpose of finding some dirt on the Lord Jesus which they could use to besmirch His reputation. And so the minute they hear Him declare this word of forgiveness to this man, they raise an objection. They say, “Wait a minute. God alone has the right to forgive sins.”
Well, they are right so far. God alone does ultimately have the right to forgive sins. Yes, we are commanded to forgive one another, but we are commanded to forgive one another particularly in the context of sins that are done against us. Jesus had not, as far as they could see, been offended by this man. And suddenly He is saying, “Well, son your sins are forgiven.” And they object to that. ‘Only God can forgive sins’, they say, and therefore they accuse Him of blasphemy, not realizing that it is God in the flesh standing before them.
Jesus, meanwhile, shows that He is God in the flesh by knowing what they are thinking. These men are thinking this to themselves, “This man is a blasphemer.” Jesus says, “I know what you're thinking. Don't think that.” Can you imagine the shock of these men in the corner of the room, wherever they were, thinking to themselves, “This irreverent, this man who claims to be a religious teacher saying something so irreverent, so offensive to the Almighty God.” And suddenly the Lord Jesus says, “I know what you're thinking. Don't think that. Is it easier for me to heal a man than it is to say, ‘your sins are forgiven’?”
Jesus responds to this criticism by connecting His power over the body with His power to forgive sins, and He says, “Look, you will see My ability to forgive sins in what I am about to do in the healing of this man. You will see that I do have the authority to forgive sins. You will see that I have the authority of God, the authority of heaven, to forgive sins by what I am about to do with this man.”
Isn't it amazing that the Scribes can sit here and watch a miracle, and still harden their hearts? Some men can harden their hearts in face of anything, no matter how dramatic. Sometimes the same event, the same circumstance in a person's life can produce two radically different spiritual results. One person goes into the hospital with a dread disease. The prayers of the saints are lifted up. The person is dramatically cured. Spiritual indifference. Hardening of heart. Apathy towards things of the Lord, things of God, things of Christ. Another person can go into the hospital with a dread disease. The prayers of the saints go up. The person is dramatically cured. A life change occurs: commitment to Christ, following in this ways, giving to His cause, serving in His kingdom. Same events, same circumstances, two radically different results.
Some men can harden their hearts in the face of anything. Don't ever let anyone tell you that it's a lack of evidence, a lack of proof, that keeps men from coming to Christ. It's not at all. It's moral perversity. It is stubbornness of heart that blinds the reasoning of the mind. And we who sit under the word week by week, must make sure that we do not allow ourselves to be hardened by apathy, by indifference to the word of truth and its claims upon our own hearts.
I would also point to one other thing is this passage. You see these interesting words in verse 5, where we are told that the Lord said, “Which is easier to say, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘get up and walk’?” “Which is easier to say,” the Lord Jesus says. Mortals cannot even comprehend the profundity of the question that Jesus is asking there. “Which is easier?” There was nothing that was going to be easy about what Jesus was going to have to do to forgive sins. When the Lord Jesus said to those men, “Which is easier for me to do, to heal or to forgive sins?”, He knew that to forgive sins was going to cost Him Gethsemane, and it was going to cost Him Golgotha. It's the most remarkable, the most amazing price ever paid in the history of the world. There's nothing easy about the forgiveness of sins. And yet the Lord Jesus Christ chose to bear the price so that He might say to you, “Your sins are forgiven.”
III. We here behold the power of Christ to forgive and heal
We learn another thing in verses 6 and 7 in this passage. We learn that Christ has the power to forgive and to heal. This is the focal point of this story that Matthew recounts for us. He's warning us to behold the power of Christ to forgive and to heal in this passage. Jesus, after speaking to the Scribes, says to them, “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, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he got up and he went home. Here Jesus demonstrates His authority and His power. Here He evidences His deity. He evidences who He is. He is explicitly making a truth claim here. In other instances, He was doing other things when He did miracles, but in this instance He is specifically making a claim, He says, “I am doing this that you may know that I have the power to forgive sins.” He is pressing home a claim of truth upon these scribes, and upon all those who are present.
And I want you to notice that His command is fulfilled immediately. The symmetry and the simplicity of the command, and the response to the command, the result of the command, is amazing. Jesus says, “Get up and go home,” and the man gets up and goes home. The passage reflects it beautifully, “Get up, pick up your bed, and go home. And He got up and He went home.” The Lord's power is seen in the immediacy of the cure of this man. There is no hesitation whatsoever. The cure of this man is absolutely complete.
The function of Christ's work, the function of this miracle in this passage, is to attest to the claims that He has made about who He is. The function of this miracle is to prove, is to evidence, is to compel those present to acknowledge that the Lord Jesus Christ has the power to forgive sins. And so this miracle is an attesting sign. It's a sign that corroborates His person, His claims, His message, His authority. And it makes sense only in the context of His fulfillment of the Old Testament. It's not just that the Lord Jesus says, ‘O.k. I'm going to do something really amazing, and now you believe me.’ No. He does something amazing that the Old Testament said that the Christ would do when He was among us. And the combination of the fulfillment of Scripture, and the evident power in the deeds of the Lord is meant to convince and to compel those who are present to acknowledge who He is.
Great men, no matter how great they are, don't go around forgiving people's sins. It's an amazing thing, isn't it, when Christ walks up to another man, a man who He has apparently never met before, and suddenly says, “I forgive your sins.” If you did that, people would think that you were just a few bricks short of a load. The Lord Jesus walks up to this man and says, “You're forgiven.” Great prophets, great moral teachers, philosophers, they don't do things like that. Only the sinless Son of God walks up to people and says, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
The thrust of this whole passage is to remind us that Christ has the power and the authority to do that. Think back to Matthew chapter 8:1-17, where Jesus is shown to have power over sickness. He heals, three times, in the most dramatic of ways. Think back to Matthew 8:23-27, where He is shown to have power over nature. Think back to Matthew chapter 8:28-32, where He is shown to have power over demons. Sickness, nature, demonic forces. Now, in this passage, He is shown to have power even over sin. So we move from sickness, to nature, to demons, and now even sin. The Son of Man has power over sin. In the remainder of this passage, we are going to find out that He has power over death. What is Matthew doing there? Matthew is driving a point home to you and me. He is saying, “Don't doubt the power of Christ to forgive sins, and don't doubt Who this is. This is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Now I want to say one other thing, and we see this in verse 8. We behold in verse 8 the astonishment of the people. We learn there that it is possible to be astonished by Christ, and yet not believe in Him for salvation. Notice the words of verse 8, “When the crowd saw this they were awestruck, and they glorified God who had given such authority to men.” The people were astonished. They had a better reaction to what the Lord Jesus had done than did the scribes. The scribes resented it. The scribes hated what He had done. The crowd, on the other hand, the people that were gathered there, they were amazed. They were absolutely flabbergasted at what they saw, but, they still did not understand. Matthew does not say, “And they all believed on Christ.” Matthew says they glorified God. That's good.
But Matthew also tells us that they said, “They glorified God who had given such authority to men.” Matthew gives you that phrase so that you recognize that these people didn't understand what Jesus was claiming. They didn't understand that He claimed to be more than man; that He claimed to be the very Son of God. The Son of Man is the Son of God. They had misunderstood the title of the Son of Man which He used in verse 6 in the healing of this man. They thought of the Son of Man in terms of the way that phrase is used in Ezekiel, simply to refer to a mortal, not in the way that it's used in Daniel, which is the passage from which Jesus draws His use of the phrase, “Son of Man.” That phrase, the Son of Man, indicates the One who is at the very right hand of power, that One who has the power of the Ancient of Days. Their admiration of Christ is a stern warning to us. It is possible for us to study the word and to miss the point, to fail to grasp the truth of who Jesus Christ is. It is possible to be impressed with Christ, and amazed with Christ, and yet not honor Him by believing on Him as Savior. C. S. Lewis, in a radio address once, pressed this point home, and it was later recorded in a little article of his called, What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ? Hear what He says, “
What are we to make of Jesus Christ? This is a question which has, in a sense, a frantically comic side. For the real question is not what are we to make of Christ, but what is He to make of us? The picture of a fly sitting deciding what it is going to make of an elephant has comic elements about it. But perhaps the questioner meant what are we to make of Him in the sense of 'How are we to solve the historical problem set us by the recorded sayings and acts of this Man?' This problem is to reconcile two things. On the one hand you have got the almost generally admitted depth and sanity of His moral teaching, which is not very seriously questioned, even by those who are opposed to Christianity. In fact, I find when I am arguing with very anti-God people that they rather make a point of saying, 'I am entirely in favour of the moral teaching of Christianity'—and there seems to be a general agreement that in the teaching of this Man and of his immediate followers, moral truth is exhibited at its purest and best. It is not sloppy idealism, it is full of wisdom and shrewdness. The whole thing is realistic, fresh to the highest degree, the product of a sane mind. That is one phenomenon.
The other phenomenon is quite the appalling nature of this Man's theological remarks. You all know what I mean, and I want rather to stress the point that the appalling claim which this Man seems to be making is not merely made at one moment of His career. There is, of course, the one moment which led to His execution. The moment at which the High Priest said to Him, 'Who are you?' 'I am the Anointed, the Son of the uncreated God, and you shall see Me appearing at the end of all history as the judge of the Universe.' But that claim, in fact, does not rest on this one dramatic moment. When you look into His conversation you will find this sort of claim running through the whole thing. For instance, He went about saying to people, 'I forgive your sins.' Now it is quite natural for a man to forgive something you do tohim. Thus if somebody cheats me out of £5 it is quite possible and reasonable for me to say, 'Well, I forgive him, we will say no more about it.' What on earth would you say if somebody had done you out of £5 and I said, 'That is all right, I forgive him'? Then there is curious thing which seems to slip out almost by accident. On one occasion this Man is sitting looking down on Jerusalem from the hill above it and suddenly in comes an extraordinary remark—'I keep on sending you prophets and wise men.' Nobody comments on it. And yet, quite suddenly, almost incidentally, He is claiming to be the power that all through the centuries is sending wise men and leaders into the world. What can we make of Jesus Christ? There is no question of what we can make of Him. It is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.”
That's precisely what Matthew is driving home. Jesus is not inviting you all to embrace Him as a great moral teacher today. He's calling you to embrace Him as the Son of God who alone can forgive you of your sins. If you have not done that, do it today. Do it now. Pray to receive Christ now, and if you don't know how to do that, you come and see me; and you come and see the elders in the chapel after the service, and we'll tell you how you can pray to do that. But don't delay now. Who knows but this may be the last time you will hear the gospel. Let us look to the Lord in prayer.