Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God. Luke 5: 18-25 NIV
Only God can forgive sins…so say the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Who does he think he is?
I understand why the religious leaders consider Jesus’ statement blasphemy—he’s equating himself with God. But two questions arise when I read this passage of Jesus healing the paralyzed man.
- Why is it assumed his sin is related to his inability to walk?
There was a common belief in Jesus’ day that sickness was the result of sin. If we reflect on the condition of all humankind, this is true. The consequences of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden was death—both immediate and ultimate. Sin separated God and man, but it also created antagonism between humans and all of God’s creation. In the case of the sick man above, Jesus confirms his sickness is because of sin by equating the two statements: ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk.’ But is all illness is due to iniquity?
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. John 9: 1-3 NIV
In this case, the man was blinded in order for the power of God to be displayed. It was for the benefit of others. Astounding! The obvious suffering endured by this blind man until meeting with Jesus was not due to his or his parents’ personal sins.
Unfair, my heart cries!
But, even though this man’s blindness was not a result of a sin he commited, he was born in the state of rebellion against God as a descendant of Adam and Eve. Just as we may have the proneness to high blood pressure or diabetes, we also carry the propensity to sin. Which brings me to my second question…
- Why is God the only one who can forgive sins?
It seems to me, the one to forgive sin should be the one who suffered the offense. If someone slanders me, shouldn’t I be the one to retaliate or forgive? Yet in the case above, Jesus says he has been given the authority to forgive sins.
I have to step back and look at my own life to understand this better. If my son or daughter is aggrieved by someone, I too feel the injury. God has made all humankind in his image, we are his creation and his reflection. God’s image gives inherent value to our lives. In God’s law, he requires us to honor others simply because of the image of him we carry. So, any sin we commit against another human being is ultimately a sin against God.
Here is the point—all our offenses are truly against God and God alone can condemn or forgive us.
After being confronted by Nathan for commiting adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband murdered, King David said, “Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight…” Psalm 51: 4 NIV
This is bad news for us because we have all offended someone with our words or our deeds and are guilty of sin before God. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:23 NIV
But there is good news—God gave Jesus authority to forgive sins! He forgave the paralyzed man and he will forgive us if we ask. Jesus was born to bear the judgement of God for our sins on the cross—exchanging his righteous life for our sinful one. What a magnificent demonstration of love!
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NIV
On Christmas day, our means of forgiveness was born. But that’s not all…