But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home (Matthew 9:6).”
So far in my blogs, I have pointed out that most of Jesus’ miracles took place in the first part of his ministry (as is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels). Through those miracles, Jesus established his authority over at least eight different world powers. I then posted the first two examples of this in how Jesus revealed his authority by casting out demons with a word (thus establishing his power over demons and establishing that his word and his message were powerful) and cleansing a leper with his touch. His word proved to have authority over the world of demons and his touch proved to have authority over the world of what was clean and what was unclean – what was holy and what was defiled. These were the first two demonstrations of Jesus’ authority.
The third demonstration that revealed Jesus’ authority, recorded in all of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), was the demonstration of Jesus’ authority over sin.
The backdrop to this third miracle in both Mark and Luke were a crowded house. However, in Matthew, no house was mentioned and Jesus was in a different city.
In all the Synoptics, people brought a man who had the palsy to Jesus for healing (he was paralyzed to some degree and possibly had involuntary shaking). In all three Synoptic Gospels, Jesus commended the friends for their faith in bringing the man in need to him. In Mark and Luke we see why their faith was so amazing; for in those two Gospels, Jesus was preaching in a house that got too crowded for anyone to get in. So the people who brought their friend (or family member) for healing got creative in getting the man with palsy to catch Jesus’ attention. The friends got on top of the house and dug through the roof and lowered their friend down from the roof in front of Jesus. Seeing this craziness, Jesus commended the friends for their faith and told the man that his sins were forgiven.
Although I will address the issue of faith in more detail in coming posts, it is necessary here to point out that Jesus recognized faith when he saw how people came to him for healing and in what they said when they came to him for healing. Contrary to some modern day teachings, Jesus never told anyone who looked to him for help that they lacked faith. He did recognize that his haters who wanted nothing to do with him lacked faith (duh) and he also recognized that his own disciples lacked faith from time to time, but his disciples trained under him to become healers and preachers; so the only people who lacked faith among Jesus’ followers were the healers and not the seekers. Jesus expected more from his disciples, because they were the ones who would continue his ministry by preaching and healing the sick. And I would conclude that when someone lacks faith today, the lack of faith does not come from the seekers of healing, but the healers themselves who so quickly blame the seeker.
Throughout the Bible, and even in the New Testament, sickness, disease, blindness, leprosy, the falls of nations, lost battles, plagues, and a whole lot of different issues were blamed on sin and/or the devil. Doctors were at best, God’s tools for healing during the times the Bible was written (see “Medicine” in Encyclopedia Judaica http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0013_0_13493.html) . When people got sick in the ancient world, whether or not they sought doctors to help them with medicines, they believed that the spiritual world was usually the source of whatever ailed them. Medicine was rarely if ever the only solution to any health problem.
Even today, many blame sicknesses and diseases on the gods, the spirits, or other people who have cast spells, who give the evil eye, or were somehow able to pass on the malady through witchcraft, curse, or by some inward evil power one possesses and passes on to others. Many people go to shamans to find solutions for their problems and those shamans provide services most Western doctors would not. They offer explanations, incantations, prayers, spells, and medicines that are not recognized by Western medicine.
We don’t know the entire belief system of the First Century and all of what people believed about the source of suffering, sickness, and what we would call bad luck. And I admit that I don’t know anywhere near the amount I would like. But it is very clear that two main sources for sickness, deformities, and so on are sin and Satan/evil or unclean spirits.
When Job was faced with a form of leprosy and disaster after disaster in and around him, the writer of Job blamed Job’s suffering on a cosmic competition between Satan and God in which God allowed Satan to cause all of Job’s disasters. But Job’s friends claimed that Job had sinned and that his sin was causing all the health problems and disasters in Job’s life.
His friends based their conclusions on the best wisdom of their day, passed on from many generations. As some of the best thinkers of their day, they told Job to confess whatever sin he committed, get right with God, and if he followed their advice, his leprosy would leave him and his family and work would be rebuilt.
In the end, his friends were wrong. Sin did not cause Job’s problems and this book should have brought down the common wisdom of the day. But despite the attempt of the book of Job to debunk the idea that sin was the root of so much personal and national suffering, the concept of sin causing so much physical harm continued in full strength for centuries.
By the First Century A.D., when the disciples saw a man born blind in John 9, they turned to Jesus and asked him about the source of the man’s blindness. They didn’t ask Jesus if something happened in the womb before the man was born; they could only imagine two possibilities – either his parents sinned before he was born, or God was visiting his own sins on him before he was able to sin. The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Although there were no other possible causes for them, Jesus introduced a third possibility – it was for the glory of God. In today’s world we have even more possible reasons to explore.
Finally, to understand how much sin was viewed as a source of sickness in Jesus day, I turn to the Book of Sirach which was written 200 years before the New Testament and is included in Catholic and many Orthodox bibles. Sirach 38 gives us a view into the medical world in which Jesus lived:
9 My child, when you get sick, don’t ignore it. Pray to the Lord, and he will make you well. 10 Confess all your sins and determine that in the future you will live a righteous life. 11 Offer incense and a grain offering, as fine as you can afford. 12 Then call the doctor—for the Lord created him—and keep him at your side; you need him. 13 There are times when you have to depend on his skill. 14 The doctor’s prayer is that the Lord will make him able to ease his patients’ pain and make them well again. 15 As for the person who sins against his Creator, he deserves to be sick.
HEALING AND FORGIVING SIN
When the man with palsy was lowered before Jesus, Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven. Everyone in that room knew this man had sinned and that his palsy was the result of that sin. Jesus told him that his sin was now forgiven which was blasphemous in the sight of many there, because only God could forgive sin. If God didn’t forgive this man (demonstrated by the fact that he was never healed), how could Jesus claim to have power to forgive this man’s sin?
Jesus knew what they were thinking, but rather than starting an argument with them, he pretty much admitted it was easier to say someone’s sin was forgiven than to heal someone. Jesus then demonstrated his power to forgive sins by healing the man. He told the man to get up and walk, which he did, and everyone in the room saw and knew that Jesus had power to forgive sins – something only God could do. He showed them his power over sin by healing one whose sin ruined his life. Health was the sign that God had forgiven him.