2And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. 3And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, ‘This man blasphemeth.’ 4And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? 5For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? 6But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. 7And he arose, and departed to his house. 8But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men. ~ Matthew 9:2-8 (Also in Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26)
- Focus on the Spiritual over the Physical
- Focus on Deeds over Declarations
- Focus on Salvation over Miracles
A man sick with palsy (i.e., the inability to move or control body movement) was brought to Jesus. With the common people and the religious leaders looking on, Jesus first forgave the palsied man’s sins and then healed him. This encounter establishes three principles.
First, the spiritual state of a person is more important than their physical state because it is their spiritual condition, not their physical condition, that qualifies them for the Kingdom of God. Accordingly, the focus of Jesus’ work is redemption (spiritual) not rehabilitation (physical).
The second principle is that it is our actions, not our declarations, that identify us as belonging to God. How we treat others reveals whether or not we are qualified for the Kingdom of God.
Lastly, misplaced faith produces misplaced expectations. The qualified put their faith in Jesus and expect Salvation. Those who are not qualified for the Kingdom, put their faith in miracles and expect lives of ease. Let us examine these principles in more detail below.
Spiritual vs. Physical: How do you see yourself?
When the man with the palsy was brought to Jesus, the expectation was that Jesus would heal him. Aside from the simple fact of his suffering, prevailing Jewish religious thought/philosophy taught that disease was a sign of sin (John 9:1-3). And, according to Scripture, the sinful are rejected by God. Therefore, according to the religious scholars of Jesus’ day, having the palsy disqualified the sick man from God’s Kingdom. Thus, from the people’s perspective, the only way to help the man was to heal him physically.
However, Jesus (as he often does) did the unexpected: He forgave the man’s sins first, instead of dealing with his paralysis first. By forgiving the palsied man of his sins, Jesus prioritized the man’s spiritual health over his physical health. Jesus demonstrated that qualification for the Kingdom is based on spiritual state ALONE.
As Jesus explained (and as shown in Paul’s life), physical sickness is not necessarily linked to sin. Our physical state (healthy or sick, rich or poor, thin or fat, red or yellow) neither qualifies nor disqualifies us for entrance into the Kingdom of God: the ONLY thing that matters is our Spiritual state: whether our sins have been forgiven. If God forgives your sin, then you are in.
Indeed, the scribes in particular should have known that the lame had equal standing among the people of God. Speaking through Jeremiah God had specifically included the blind and the lame among those who He would call into fellowship as His people returned from captivity:
Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither. ~ Jeremiah 31:8
The story doesn’t end there, however. Jesus does go on to heal the man of his physical illness. It is clear, therefore, that Jesus DOES care about our physical condition. Jesus takes no pleasure in our physical ailments; He is not untouched by our infirmities (Matthew 8:16-17).
A defective nervous system paralyzed the man’s body and a defective (sinful) nature paralyzed his spirit. However, while his body would only be alive for a few years on earth, his spirit would live eternally, either in Heaven or in hell. Therefore, his spiritual state was infinitely more critical than his physical state. And so, Jesus fixed his spiritual problem, first.
Accordingly, God is preoccupied with our spiritual condition; that is why Jesus died on the cross to save us. Illness/disease is a scourge on our lives, but they don’t last forever, and God can still work through physical illnesses to minister to mankind.
And he [the LORD] said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9
But spiritual illness, sin-sickness, completely blocks our ability to fellowship with God and serve Him (which is our calling).
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. ~ John 3:3
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. ~ Romans 8:7-8
The worst that physical sickness can do is to end our life here on earth, but spiritual sickness, uncured, leads to eternal death.
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. ~ John 5:28-29
The questions we must ask therefore are,
- How do we see ourselves?
- When we look at ourselves, do we only see our physical needs?
- Or, do we also see our spiritual needs?
- Which one (physical or spiritual) do we want God to fix most?
- Which one keeps us up at night? For which one do we spend most of our time praying for help?
- Are we preoccupied by our physical state or consumed by our spiritual state?
Deeds vs. Declarations: How do you see your brother?
When Jesus forgave the palsied man of his sins, the scribes (who were part of the religious elite) questioned in their hearts His authority to do so. Jesus, knowing their thoughts asked them: “For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, ‘Arise, and walk?’” (Matt. 9:5).
The religious leaders had great socio-political influence and the common people were generally afraid of upsetting them (John 5:12-16, John 9:18-23). They determined who was breaking the (Mosaic) law and who was obeying it. Those who broke the law and those who had certain physical ailments (like blindness (John 9) or palsy) were excommunicated (made social outcasts).
Jesus, however, constantly contended with the religious leaders because they made no effort to uplift the people and reveal to them God’s love, grace and mercy; they never actually tried to help those in need: neither spiritually nor physically.
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in… Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith… Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. ~ Matthew 23:13, 23, 28
Therefore, one of the reasons Jesus asked the question (v. 5) was to remind them of how easy it was to just talk about who was a sinner/lawbreaker and who was not. (The other reason was to initiate a legal debate.) Verbal declarations are easy (whether positive or negative); the true challenge was in helping people in spiritual and/or physical need. The scribes had a problem with Jesus forgiving the man’s sins, but what had they done to help him spiritually or physically… Nothing! It’s always easier to talk than walk. They simply ignored people, like the palsied man, in their plight. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had nothing to offer those in need.
Jesus then did what they wouldn’t and couldn’t do, he helped the palsied man, by healing him miraculously. Indeed, both the power to forgive sins and the power to heal come from God alone.
As it was in Jesus’ day, people around us today are in great need, both spiritually and physically (though the spiritual needs are of far greater importance, the Bible makes it clear thatthe physical needs of our fellow man should never be neglected, e.g., Matthew 25:31-46, James 1:27). It is easy for believers to talk about the situation the world is in; hold meetings and conduct talk-shops. But it is our deeds that are really important, not our declarations: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26b).
What will we do to help those in need? If the society is in decay, what will you do to stop it? The world grows darker when our (believers) lights grow dimmer. Church attendance is crucial (Hebrews 10:25). However, it is often what we do outside, rather than inside, of church that has the greater impact. Which is easier, to talk and moan about the unsaved, or to live the Gospel for them to see, to speak the Gospel for them to hear and to help them in their needs because of the Gospel?
Jesus did all he could to help the palsied man, both spiritually and physically. Let us do ALL we can do to minister to the needs of people that come our way. The least we can do is, like the palsied man’s friends, carry those in need to Jesus (Mark 2:3). Qualification for the Kingdom is evidenced in deeds, in how we treat others, not just in what we say. Those who are qualified for the Kingdom of God do, those who aren’t qualified, don’t… They just talk.
But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. ~ 1 John 3:17-18
Therefore, we must ask ourselves the question: How do we see our brothers/sisters? Are our brothers/sisters worth enough to us that we will do whatever we can to meet their spiritual and physical needs? Or, is it enough to just talk about them, to discuss their plight, what they’re doing wrong and what not doing right?
Salvation vs. Miracles: How do you see Jesus?
After confronting the scribes (the religious elite) for their impotence, Jesus distinguished himself from them, and established His deity (v. 6), by healing the palsied man (vv. 6-7). In so doing, Jesus clearly defines the purpose for miracles: “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:6). The whole purpose of Jesus’ miracles (and all miracles) was to reveal Jesus as SAVIOUR. In other words, miracles were to help those who saw/experienced them to turn to Jesus for Salvation. That means miracles are never to be an end in themselves.
To grasp the importance of this concept, consider the reaction of the people to Jesus miracle, “they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men” (Matt. 9:8). As awesome as the miracle was, though they glorified God, they still failed to recognize Jesus as Saviour! They still only saw him as a man; a man imbued with great power, but still only a man, not The Saviour. They glorified God, but they failed to recognize (that Jesus is) God. This was the central issue obstructing them from accepting Jesus as their Saviour and Lord: they could see God in the miracles because they had tangible (physical) results, but they did not see God as Jesus because that required faith (spiritual engagement).
This pattern is also repeated elsewhere in the Gospels. For example, after Jesus fed the five thousand He warned his awestruck followers they focused on the wrong message from the miracles:
“Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” ~ John 6:26-27
Instead of the miracles showing them Jesus as the source of everlasting Salvation, they only saw Jesus as the source of everlasting food. The rest of John 6 shows that they abandoned Jesus because they were frustrated that He wouldn’t agree to accommodate their fleshly fetish for free food. Jesus wanted them to put their faith in Him and receive salvation by Grace; but they were unable to look past their physical circumstances.
The purpose of the miracles was to identify Jesus as Saviour, but (like most of the people in Judea) most of us miss that point completely. Instead, it is far too easy to see only what Jesus can do for us physically, while being completely unaware/unconcerned about our far greater spiritual needs (for Salvation, for Restoration, for Righteousness).
We often seek miracles to obtain personal relief from medical, emotional or financial problems in our lives or the life of a loved one. However, physical benefit is only a byproduct and not the purpose of miracles. When God performs a miracle, the goal is to transform us spiritually. Indeed, there is a real danger that when God does perform a miracle in our lives that we will stay the same spiritually.
For all the miracles Jesus performed, the people of Judea still crucified Him! For all the miracles Jesus performed, many Judeans were still lost! If our attention is focused on our problems instead of our Saviour, miracles won’t really help us. If our physical crisis is miraculously solved, but our spiritual crisis is left unattended, then God will have touched our lives, but our souls will not be the better for it.
Finally, the greatest demonstration of Jesus as Saviour, the one that no one can miss/misunderstand/misinterpret, comes from the lives of everyday faithfulness that believers (should) lead as salt of the earth and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16); as a body of believers that share His love and live in unity.
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” ~ John 13:34-35
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. ” ~ John 17:20-21
There is no ambiguity in the message spoken by love and unity. And Jesus has chosen this way, above miraculous displays, for His disciples to make Him known as Saviour and Lord to a world full of problems.
Those who are qualified for the Kingdom of God look to Jesus and see their Saviour: one to fix/secure their eternal future. Those who are not qualified for the Kingdom only see a miracle worker: one to fix/secure their earthly present.
Therefore, the question is, How do we see Jesus? Is Jesus our Saviour onto eternal life in fellowship with God? Or, Is Jesus a tool to fix problems in this life? When faced with life’s problems what do we want from Jesus? Do we want exercise our faith or ease our flesh? Do we want His “strength to be made perfect” in our “weakness”?
- If the spiritual is more important than the physical, how should we spend our time and effort?
- If what we do is more important than what we say, how should we approach ministry?
- If (the ongoing work of) Salvation is more important than miracles, which one do we to solve our problems?